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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Why Do We Praise the LORD?
Text:Psalms 118 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Love
 
Added:2022-11-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Ezra 3

Text: Psalm 118

 

WHY DO WE PRAISE THE LORD?

  1. Because He Loves Us

  2. Because He Saves Me

  3. Because He Saved Us

 

  1. Psalm 118: 1, 5, 6

  2. Psalm 119: 7-9

  3. Psalm 126:1-3

  4. Hymn 6:1-2

  5. Hymn 71:1-2

  6. Psalm 136: 1, 2, 9, 12

 

Words to Listen For: Wittenberg, choir, fox, gap, seraph

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What is important and meaningful about the address of all sermons?

  2. What is the ridiculous thing that we do as Christians that we must STOP DOING? Why?

  3. How is Psalm 118 like a very famous movie scene?

  4. What is vitally important, along with God’s love?

  5. What does this psalm have to do with Jesus?

  6. What are the options of interpretation for verse 24?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Jesus Christ our Lord,

And already, we must pause.  We must unpack these words that begin each and every sermon.

Sometimes they are a little different, sometimes “beloved in Christ,” other times, “beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,” but nearly always, the word “beloved” is in there.  No matter who is on this pulpit.

And why?

Is it just tradition?  I certainly hope not.  Tradition for its own sake is not only pointless, but dangerous.

When something is said, again and again and again, there must be a good reason for it.

So why “beloved” ?

 

Well, beloved because it is BIBLICAL, and beloved because it is our PRIMARY IDENTITY.

Though it is used more in Song of Songs than any other book of the Bible, referring to the romantic love between a man and a woman, it is also used for the relationship between God the Father and God the Son - at Jesus’ baptism - This is my beloved Son, and again, on the Mount of Transfiguration - This is my beloved Son.

But what should shock us, what should impact us so deeply, TO OUR CORE, is that the language used by a couple on the verge of their wedding day, the language used for the eternal bond of love between divine Persons of the Trinity, IS ALSO APPLIED TO US!

Indulge me here briefly as I go through a few passages

 

Ephesians 5:1 - Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children

     We are beloved children of God, and must show the family resemblance.

 

Colossians 3:12 - Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience

    We are chosen by God, chosen to be holy, chosen in that eternal divine love

 

2 Thessalonians 2:13 - But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

    The proof that we are beloved is that God has chosen us to be saved, giving up His other beloved - Jesus Christ - for us.

 

And finally, 

Jude 1 - to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

    We are those beloved by the Father, kept safe, kept secure, kept in Him forever

 

This is something that we must reflect on.  Something that we cannot take lightly.  We are the BELOVED OF GOD.

This is the most important part of our identity - we are the beloved of God. We should never get over the life-altering fact that Jesus loves us.

Jesus loves us, and our lives must revolve around this.  Everything that we think, everything that we say, everything that we do, must be a response to this most important fact about who we are: LOVED BY GOD.

Every moment of our lives must be an act of worship and thankfulness and praise.

Be prepared to answer those who ask you: 

 

WHY DO (WE) You PRAISE THE LORD?  Answer in this way:

  1. Because He Loves Us

  2. Because He Saves Me

  3. Because He Saved Us

 

Why do we praise the LORD?  Because He loves us.

Now, Psalm 118 is, by all accounts an interesting one.

Martin Luther writes that this was his favorite psalm, a psalm that gave him immense strength in difficult times.

Verse 8 - It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.

And again - All nations surrounded me…I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.

When Luther felt that he was taking on the corruption in the church single-handedly, God was still there.  And one man plus God is the majority.  Luther realized that it did not ultimately matter if he was fighting against Popes and Emperors and armies, with God, he was the majority.  With God, he had direct access to an unlimited reservoir of strength to keep fighting.

But to get a clearer picture of this psalm, we must go back many years before Martin Luther in Wittenberg.  We must return, at least to the days of Ezra in the land of Israel, if not further back.  Let me explain.

There is debate among scholars as to the authorship of this psalm.  As you can see in your Bibles, there is no superscription.

That’s the historical information about the psalm underneath the number and before the first verse.  For example, with Psalm 51, we know the author: David.  We know the reason: his sin with Bathsheba.  We even know the timing: After the prophet Nathan confronted him.

But with Psalm 118, we do not know.

Various authors and situations have been given, but the two main options are:

  1. King David, perhaps at his coronation, perhaps when the ark was brought into Jerusalem, perhaps at some other major event in his life.

  2. Or someone among the exiles who returned to the land with Ezra and Nehemiah.

 

We heard something very similar to verses 1-4 of Psalm 118 in our reading from Ezra.  Let’s read them side by side here.  First Ezra.

Ezra 3:11 - And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever toward Israel

And now Psalm 118 - Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!  Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  Let those who fear the LORD say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Not only are the words the same, but even the responsive singing is shown in the psalm - “let Israel say, let the house of Aaron say, let those who fear the LORD say.”

Whether this psalm was WRITTEN by the exiles or by David, or by someone else entirely, it was definitely sung by the exiles in Ezra 3.  There is one more reason that Psalm 118 is post-exilic, but we’ll get there later.  But first, let’s get into the text of our psalm.

 

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever.

This is language that has been completely adopted by the church - and on the one hand, this is so wonderful!  To take the inspired words of Scripture and say them, read them, sing them SO OFTEN that this has become “our words.”  Which is great!  But it’s also become a cliche.

We MUST BE THANKFUL, NO MATTER WHAT, because God is good.  Because God is loving.

And while this is true, and we should come back to this, we should not think of this in a simplistic way, as though any time something bad happens, as though any time that we are scared, the Christian thing to do is to lie to ourselves, discount our fears and our sadness and say, “No, as a Christian, I must be thankful.  I’m NOT feeling sad, I’m NOT feeling scared, what I’m feeling is THANKSGIVING!”  And we force ourselves to smile a painfully fake smile and say, “too blessed to be stressed” and smile, even when our heart is aching, even when it’s breaking.  Hide every trace of sadness, and maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, or next year, that smile will be true.

HOW RIDICULOUS.  STOP DOING THIS.  This isn’t CHRISTIAN!  This isn’t what God expects of you.  This is a warping of our beautiful comfort and hope.

Our comfort and hope, our Christian identity, our safety and security is there…Because IN our trials, there is still hope. 

Look at the rest of the psalm - the one who calls on all peoples everywhere to praise the Lord, giving thanks, is the one who was in distress (verse 5).  The one who felt surrounded by all the nations (verse 10).  The one who was falling (verse 13).  The one who, seemingly from the grave, proclaims boldly “I shall not die, but I shall live!” (verse 17).

The psalmist does not pretend that his life has been one non-stop joyride…so why would we?  We do not have to be ashamed of the difficult times in our lives, nor our emotional reactions to them.  This is a broken world, and we are right to have times of mourning.  We are right to use God’s gift of lament when we do not see God, when we do not understand what He is doing…with that lament turning into praise and thanksgiving when the sun DOES break through the clouds and shine on us again.  

When we see God working clearly and powerfully in us and for us.

When the darkness and death of Good Friday turns into the light and life of Resurrection Sunday.

But we do not only love and praise and thank the God who SAVES US...but we also have a God who LOVES US.

This is more foundational, this is more basic to our belief.

And…we have grown tired of hearing it.

     We’ve grown tired of hearing it because we’ve heard it so often.

     We’ve grown tired of hearing it, and that’s exactly why we need to hear it again.

This is what the psalmist proclaims in these opening verses.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!

These are words of the psalmist, essentially, TO THE PSALMIST.  Saying to his heart, preaching to his soul: remember God!  Thank Him!  He is good, and He loves me!  Forever!

But it’s not enough.  As an individual, the psalmist can’t express enough thankfulness himself, so he calls everyone to join him.

Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

    God’s people, God’s chosen nation - rejoice with me!  His steadfast love endures forever!

Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

    Literally preaching to the choir, the priests, the Levites, the temple singers…you who praise God for a living…rejoice with me!  His steadfast     love endures forever!

Let those who fear the LORD say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

    All the God-fearers, those who are not ethnically Jewish, those who have joined themselves to God’s people…rejoice with me!  His steadfast   love endures forever!

 

The repetition is necessary because our hearts are slow.

The repetition is necessary because our hearts are dull.

 

The psalmist is essentially saying, “let me say it once more, for the people in the back - HIS LOVE ENDURES FOREVER.”

Repeat it until you believe it.  Not to convince yourself of something that isn’t true, but to break through your doubts, to break through the fog of lies that devil has built up around you, that someone like God couldn’t possibly love someone like you.  Repeat it until the meaning sinks in.

It is like that well-known, emotionally powerful scene in the movie Good Will Hunting.  The main character, Will, is speaking to his therapist about the physical abuse he received at the hands of his father.

And, very simply, very powerfully, the therapist says 4 words: “It’s not your fault.”

     Will responds nonchalantly, “Oh I know.”

Again: “It’s not your fault.”

     Will smiles, “I know.”

And again: “It’s not your fault”

     “I know.”

Again and again, 10 times “It’s not your fault.”

You see, Will knew this intellectually.  Just like we know intellectually that God loves us.

He knew intellectually it wasn’t his fault.  But, because as a child, you implicitly love and trust and respect your parents, whether they are worthy of that love and trust and respect or not…when something like abuse happens, you think that it must be your fault.  It can’t be dad’s fault - he’s my hero!  And this is so deeply ingrained.

The mind can be convinced, but the heart lags behind.

 

It’s not your fault.

God loves you.

 

I know.

But do you?

 

The scene ends with Will in tears, sobbing in relief from this heavy burden.

And this is what we should feel when we hear these words.

His steadfast love endures forever.

Because what this means is that God loves you, He REALLY LOVES YOU, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

His steadfast love endures…FOREVER.

  • He loved Adam and Eve when they tried to be gods themselves, instead of Him.

  • He loved David when he committed adultery and murder.

  • He loved Peter when he denied Him, and the other disciples when they fled.

  • He loved the Apostle Paul when he persecuted the church

His steadfast love endures forever.

When you’re having a bad day, or you haven’t cracked open your Bible in weeks, when you’ve been caught in a particular sin for months…God loves you.  His steadfast love endures forever.

But it’s more than that.  Long before we were born, when we only existed in God’s imagination, and long after we are dead, long after our civilization crumbles to dust, when the stars themselves burn out…God loves you.  His steadfast love endures forever.

Do you understand?

Not only with your mind, but with your heart.  Can you accept that God loves you?  The thought should make us weep in relief.  In comfort.  In joy.  And in praise.

But love, love as merely a feeling, is not enough.  Love is the foundation of our faith, but our faith is grounded in history.  Our faith is grounded in a God who acted, out of eternal love, in infinite power.  I praise the LORD because He saves me.  Our second point.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever…out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.

The psalmist, having given his thesis: “God loves me…FOREVER”…after calling everyone around to praise the LORD with him, gives further reason for praising God.

God is LOVING…He will love you until the stars burn out…but He doesn’t just stay up in Heaven, loving you from afar.

Our God, beloved, our God is not only loving.  But He is powerful.  As we will sing later in the service, “all that His love and grace endeavor, shall Him His power not deny.”

Every good and wonderful and loving thing, every truly AWESOME, AWE-INSPIRING THING that God puts His mind to…WILL HAPPEN

A God who would sit up in Heaven helplessly loving us from afar would not be worthy of worship.  He would not be God.

But rather, our God is a God who ACTS.

We see that He acted for the psalmist and saved him.

 

Now, we have come to a bit of a challenge here, as we do not know with certainty who the psalmist is.

If the psalmist is David, as some claim, then this psalm looks back to David’s life of war and violence.  Perhaps David when he faced Goliath.  David was opposed by the giant himself, by the Philistine army, by his family, with very little support or trust from his king and country.

David was fighting alone.  But he was fighting with God on his side, and he was victorious!

Or perhaps when David was on the run from Saul.  He couldn’t stay in Israel because of the wicked insane king, he couldn’t safely live in foreign countries because they knew him as a great warrior who killed many of their own.  And so he resorted to hiding in caves and pretending to be a madman.  But God saved him, and he was victorious.

Maybe it’s David.

 

Or, if, as other scholars say, this is a post-exilic psalm, then one of the exiles, who was taken into Babylon for a life little better than that of a slave, an exile who worshipped God when all the rest had given up, had seen God’s deliverance when the people were released back into the land to rebuild Jerusalem, to rebuild God’s temple.

God had saved His people, a tiny nation that had been swallowed by the Babylonian and Persian empires.  God had seen His people cry out to Him and brought them back to the land.  And when they feared the opposition of Tobiah and Sanballat, this came to nothing.  Their mockery - “if a fox goes up on the wall, he will break it down” came to nothing - the walls WERE rebuilt.  Their complaints to the king came to nothing, the people stayed in the land.  GOD ACTED.

And ultimately, the point is that this psalm is written for the people of God to sing.  For the people of God to take on our lips.

Though our situation may not be exactly the same - few of us will be literally surrounded by nations attacking us like a swarm of bees, or seeking to destroy us with the speed and fury of a wildfire…this is how the Christian life feels at times.

This is how Martin Luther could take these words on his lips in his different situation.

And this is a psalm, especially as all people are encouraged to sing along with it, as we heard in our first point, this is a psalm that we are invited to make personal to us.

Because this is something that, similarly to the love of God, has become cliche and passe to us.  It isn’t real to us.  Not REALLY real.

God has saved ME.

We read, we sing, we pray about God saving US…we know that Jesus died on the cross to save HIS PEOPLE from their sins…we think of this in a communal way.  Jesus loves…HIS CHURCH.  Jesus saved…HIS PEOPLE.

And so we can feel sort of “lost in the crowd.”  We can feel unseen by God.  God saved us and loves us as a group.  God saved all of us.

Yes…He did…He does…BUT ALSO…God saved EACH ONE OF US.  God loves EACH ONE OF US.

You aren’t loved because you’re in the church…you’re in the church because you are loved.  Let me say that again: You aren’t loved because you’re in the church…you’re in the church because you are loved.

The psalmist wants all of those who sing with him to make this personal.  What is YOUR STORY of God’s salvation?  What is YOUR TESTIMONY?  If you’ve never written a testimony, that is your homework this week.  Write down what God has done for you.  How He has acted in your life.  Because we MUST be aware of how God has worked in our lives INDIVIDUALLY.

It is our past experiences with God that give us hope and trust in His promises today.

When you say, “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good, His steadfast love endures forever”…it is your own personal salvation story that will make it real for you.

Instead of saying these words despite your life of difficulty, trying to force yourself to believe that they are true, you will say these words BECAUSE of your life of salvation, joyfully appropriating this for yourself.

We are allowed to use the psalmist’s words to describe our own situation.  The psalmist himself does this - verse 14 is a direct quotation from the song of Moses and Miriam - The LORD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.

The LORD’s salvation, beloved, the LORD’s salvation, just like His mercies, is new, is refreshed each day.  It is the same mercy, it is the same love, it is ETERNAL, but it is new, it is refreshed and applied to each and every one of us in every situation in which we find ourselves.

What was true for Moses and Miriam and the Israelites - The LORD saving them from the hands of Pharaoh and his armies, was true for David - the LORD saving him from the hands of Goliath, was true for the exiles - the LORD saving them from the Babylonian and Persian empires, was true for the early church - the LORD saving them from the Romans, was true for Martin Luther - the LORD saving him from the hands of a wicked and corrupt church…is true for us, but more specifically YOU - today.

When you are distressed…remember…the LORD has answered you, and will answer you again.

When you are attacked by wicked men and friends and allies cannot be found - remember that God loves you…God loves you…REALLY, I MEAN IT…GOD LOVES YOU…and it is better to take refuge in the LORD than in any human helper, be he King, or Pope, or emperor.

When you feel as though you are falling, remember that the full power of God, the full power of His right hand will be used in your salvation.

When you feel as though you have one foot in the grave and can’t go on anymore…remember that you shall not die, but you shall live!  And you shall recount the great deeds of the LORD.

And in your salvation, your personal salvation from those who would seek to do you harm…remember, above all, the ultimate salvation won for all of us, the salvation accomplished through Jesus Christ on the cross.  Our final point.  

If you still have your Bibles open, you can see, not only thematically, but also physically, literally in the text, there is a break in the psalm between verses 18 and 19.

The LORD has disciplined me severely, but has not given me over to death.

__________

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them.

This clearly begins a new section.  And when you see that in your Bibles, when there is a gap, shown in the text, when there is a clear change in theme, we must always ask ourselves what is happening.  We must read Scripture in an in-depth way, asking questions when we don’t understand, to mine it for all it is worth.

So why THIS CHANGE?  What is THIS SHIFT doing here?

Well, this is a change from the “what” to the “what now?”

It wasn’t enough for the psalmist to praise on his own - he had to involve all the people - Israel, the priests, the God-fearers.

But it wasn’t enough for them simply to HEAR about God’s mighty salvation.

It wasn’t enough merely for them to repeat what we all need to hear - GOD LOVES YOU, AND HIS LOVE LASTS FOREVER.  No really…HE LOVES YOU…

But there was a third step to this praise.  A third step to recognizing what God has done.  And it is that of public, official worship - going up to the temple.  Celebrating the feasts that God has ordained.

We see a conversation, as it were, between the worshippers and the gatekeepers:

The worshippers want to enter and so they request, they call up to the men at the gate: Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.

Essentially - may I enter the temple to give official thanks and worship with my sacrifices?

And the gatekeeper responds: This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.

Essentially - Yes!  Come in, all you who are righteous, this is where you are meant to be at a time like this.

And this is exactly what we see in our reading:

Ezra 3, starting at verse 3: They set the altar in its place, for fear was on

them because of the peoples of the land, and they offered burnt

offerings on it to the LORD, burnt offerings morning and evening. And

they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written.

You see…fear was on the exiles because of the peoples of the land, and yet they worshipped the LORD.  For the LORD is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?

They worshipped properly at God’s altar, entering through the gate of righteousness.

And they even celebrated the Feast of Booths, where, some scholars say explains the rather strange description of binding the festal sacrifice onto the horns of the altar.

This, beloved, is the proper response to salvation.  To our individual personal salvations that God continues to work out in our lives - protecting us from those who would seek to do us harm - but it also points forwards, very clearly, to our ultimate salvation.  To the universal salvation for every tribe and tongue and nation, accomplished by Jesus Christ.

For when we read the verses 21 through 24, the salvation that wouldn’t be accomplished for hundreds of years after this psalm was written is stated SO CLEARLY.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

Not only is God the one who ACCOMPLISHES SALVATION, but God is the one who IS SALVATION.  This is most clearly seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ - His very name means “YAHWEH IS SALVATION.”

It was through, not only His mighty right hand working valiantly, but truly the entire body of our Lord, brutalized, tortured, and bled for our sins that our ultimate salvation was accomplished - once for all!

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Jesus is the cornerstone.  The foundation and the capstone of our salvation.  Our Saviour, rejected by man, but accepted and glorified by God.  Rejected and despised, a man of sorrows.

This is a description of who He was, and a stern warning to us.  WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH JESUS?

This is the most important question any of us will ever answer.

Will you believe the truth that He loves you?  I will repeat it as many times as is necessary until it sinks in for you…

HE LOVES YOU.

HE LOVES YOU.

HE LOVES YOU.

Do you believe it yet?  He loves you personally and eternally, long after the stars burn out and this world crumbles to dust.

And how far did He go to show that love?  To accomplish your salvation?  THERE WAS NO LIMIT to what He would do for you.  To what He DID DO for you.

As the hymn goes:

In vain the firstborn seraph tries

To sound the depths of love Divine!

 

Satan tried to find the limit of God’s love for us.

 

Will He actually TAKE ON HUMAN FLESH?

    Yes.

 

Okay, but will He be willing to be rejected and despised?

    Yes.

 

Well…what about tortured?

    Yes.

 

Would He be willing to be rejected by His Father, the One with whom He had eternal fellowship?

    Yes.

 

Would the God of life be willing to die?

    Yes.

 

There was NO END to what God would do.  No mountain too high, no task too difficult to deliver you from sin and Satan, and to deliver to you the message of His love.  HE LOVES YOU.  Do you recognize this?  HE LOVES YOU.

 

This the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

So joyful were the exiles in Ezra’s day that they could once more offer sacrifices and celebrate feasts, it was as though God created this as a special unique day for this purpose.

It is as though the sun rose on this particular day for this reason and this reason only - for the Israelites in Ezra’s day, it was worship at the temple, after 70 long years.

And then, when the sun rose on that first resurrection Sunday…the sun rose in the sky as the Son rose in the tomb…it was as though this was a brand new day, created for this very purpose.  THIS is the day that the LORD has made - not in the mundane sense of every 24 hours, the earth has revolved to a point where we see light, and the sun appears to rise in the east, all part of God’s plan, but God stepping in and doing something different.  Something unique.

And that brings us to today…how do WE understand this verse?  How do WE apply this verse?  Is it about Sunday worship?  In a sense…it can be.  We worship on Sundays because our Lord rose from the dead on a Sunday.  We gather here with the people of God, rejoicing and being glad as we look back at that day.

But we can also look back to the day of our conversion.  The day when love broke through and we accepted the truth that we are eternally loved.  The day that Satan’s grip on our heart and soul was broken, and we became glad slaves of God instead.

Or, as Spurgeon once said, “this is not only about the Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, but the entire GOSPEL DAY.”  We are living in the end times.  The time between Jesus first and second coming.

The time between the cross and the culmination.  Every day after the day that changed everything is the gospel day.

 

THIS is the day that the LORD has made.

THIS is the day of salvation.

THIS is the day when we have the opportunity to realize and truly accept that we are the beloved of God.  Accept that He loves, loves, loves you.

What better reason could there be to rejoice and praise, all of our days?

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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