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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Preached At:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
Title:True Praise Is Looking To Him Above
Text:Psalms 147 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

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

(Reading: Isaiah 40:1-31)
True Praise Is Looking To Him Above
Congregation in our Lord Jesus Christ...
     There has to be a certain perspective in praise.
          You cannot just “praise” anytime.
              For while you should be able to praise at many times, you have to be in a certain disposition to be able to do that.
     It’s like singing.
          You cannot just sing at any time at all.
              Because you cannot properly sing without the right frame of mind.
     I mean, you try it when you’re sad!
          In fact, you wouldn’t even think to do it then because you are so down!
     That’s why the theme to this psalm is that true praise is looking to Him above.
          For it’s only by looking up that you have the motivation to join in true praise.
     So, this is not something we can do automatically.
          You don’t push a button called “praise” and then start singing your heart out!
              Actually, you need to have that definite focus in your heart then.
     That’s what the psalmist helps us with here.
          Because by three features – three distinct qualities – we can look up.
              And they are all things helping us to look up that are being done down here!
     You can notice each of these different points in the psalm because they’re introduced by a stanza of praise.
          So a verse tunes us to sing to the Lord and then the verses following it keep us looking up.
     A bit like we might do with an opening note.
          The pitch is set and we all join in at the right key.
     The first of these actions the Lord does starts with verse 1.

          After the opening line which puts this psalm firmly in the “Hallelujah” psalms, the psalmist declares, “How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!”

     To this we all say, “Amen!”
          But true praise cannot be left there.
              There is always a reason for it.
                   You just don’t suddenly want to just praise the Lord.
     For you have been gripped.
          You are moved to do it.
              A great truth has struck you.
     And it’s hit you because you are in the very place where that happens.
          It’s the Spirit’s working to God’s glory.
     And now, in the verses 2 till 6, we meet the first thread to true praise in this psalm.
          For we have come to see that THE GOD OF HEAVEN ALONE SAVES.
     Here it helps to look at what was the most likely historical background.
          Verses 2 and 3 help us here.
              They clearly allude to a time of Jerusalem’s rebuilding and healing.
     So it’s in reference to a period when Israel had been defeated and dispersed.
          The most likely option for this would be the time after the Babylonian exile.
              This was when first Ezra and later Nehemiah were involved in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem and then the walls around her.
                   You can almost hear these words of verses 2 and 3 resounding from the Levitical choir in Nehemiah chapter 12!
     But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have come from an earlier time.
          David with his companions was once in exile.
              And there were other times in their history which were similar occasions.
     Whichever situation it initially was, what we must note is how they look to the Lord.
          They see His purposes at work.
              They rejoice to sing that THE GOD OF HEAVEN ALONE SAVES!
     The verses 4 and 5 bring out how much this is so.
          A theme developed in greater detail in Isaiah 40.
              And what imagery it is there?
     Verse 26 strikes us in the face.
          It makes us look up: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
              “He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name.
                   “Because of his great power and strength, not one of them is missing.”
     The God who has such intimacy with the vast universes is more than up to solving the problems of His people.
          The God who sets up planets in their orbits knows exactly how get things right for you!
     Here the psalmist tips on its head an old argument against God.
          For that argument says that since this universe is so great why would God be bothered with our small problems?
              But exactly because He is such a powerful God He can easily help us!
     In fact, verse 6 reverses completely the natural order in this world.
          Because out there it seems the powerful and the wicked get their way.
              But in the Lord’s plan it’s going to go completely the other way!
     Jesus was clear about this.
          In Matthew 20 He spoke about this to His disciples.

              As He declares there in the verses 26 till 28, “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

          He paid the price in His own Son.
              That’s how much He’s concerned for the small things – the little ones!
     Didn’t Jesus also say in Mark 2:17, and so many other places, “I haven’t come to call the righteous but sinners”?
          Dear friend, He’s looking out for you.
     Then comes the next stanza of praise.
          Verse 7 calls us to “Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp.”
     Congregation, we’re picking up another strand in the fibre of why we praise God.
          This introduces the next way we look to Him above.
     But let’s see the uniqueness in verse 7 also.
          It brings in the element of thanksgiving.
     Now, this is close in meaning to “praise”.
          It differs, though, in specifying gratitude.
              So while the earlier verses have focused on God’s qualities the next verses spell out God’s gifts.
                   In the words of the second aspect to this psalm, this says that THE GOD FROM HEAVEN CARES.
     Charles Spurgeon says that “the sweet harmonies should be consecrated to the honour of the Lord.”
          So not only what we say but also the way we play!
              We dedicate our best to Him because we have first of all been given everything by Him!
     Then the verses 8 and 9 develop the substance of this second theme.

          “He covers the sky with clouds,” might seem of little significance to those living in the land of the long white cloud but what a sight in our drought-stricken Australia!

               And the effect would have been similar in the psalmist’s day.
     For that meant the rains were coming.
          As indeed verse 8 goes on to describe.
              For the earth is supplied with rain.
     Because of that grass grows on the fields.
          It’s that grass which verse 9 pictures as providing food for the cattle and for the young ravens.
              So all of God’s creatures.
     This is the scene described much more fully in Psalm 104.
          There it flows from the skies upon the hills into the valleys, watering the fields, giving us the food to eat and what we drink.
          That’s what we see, congregation!
     And the psalm goes on to tells how blessed we are in this.
          Because again it’s not what the world looks at which counts.
              Certainly not in what God cares for.
     Verse 10 declares that it’s not the strongest creature that man can be upon that matters.
          Nor is it a man’s own physical strength that the Lord’s particularly concerned for.
              Those things are nothing to Him!
     You think about it.
          Those things which make us trust in ourselves make us think that God somehow needs us.
              Like the times in human history that men have felt they need to brandish the sword for the church.
                   Then the church made saints out of those who were doing the most unChristlike things!
     Rather it’s those who fear Him who are those that matter to Him.
          That’s how verse 11 so clearly concludes this strand in how we’re drawn to praise God.

     So it’s as we renounce all our dependence on ourselves, as we throw away hope in what we can do or say or imagine, then we are looking to Him.

          We depend on His mercy.
              Not a breath we take is our own – it’s a precious gift of life from Him!
     This is what the apostle Paul confirmed in Athens.

          In Acts 17 verse 25 he said of God, “he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”

     The Lord Jesus drew this out even more in His sermon on the mount.
          In Matthew 6, the verses 25 till 34, He tells us not to run after the things the pagans do.
              That’s looking down.
     Instead, after saying that the Heavenly Father knows what they need, in verse 33 He declares where they should be looking.
          It’s up!
              “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
          And then we praise the process through which He cares.
              Because He is also, in the third place, THE GOD IN HEAVEN WHO DIRECTS.
     Again we begin the new section with a stanza of praise.
          Verse 12 sings the song, “Extol the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion.”
     Though notice the uniqueness here.
          There is that Hebraic parallelism which emphasises the holy city.
              For Jerusalem is Zion.
     This is where John Calvin is incisive.

          He says, “Under the name of Jerusalem, the psalmist comprises the whole Church, for in that place the faithful then held their religious assemblies, and flowed together … to the standard of the Lord.

              “…he here commemorates the goodness of God as shown to his own people, in protecting his Church, bountifully cherishing it, enriching it abundantly with all blessings, and preserving it in peace and safety from all harm.”

     This is what verse 13 continues with the reference to the strengthening of the bars of Jerusalem’s gates.
          For the Holy City was being perfectly guarded by the Lord from all fear of hostile attack.
     It is confirmed by the verse which follows.
          For when verse 14 speaks of peace right to the border and of the finest harvest, it’s all God’s to give!
              It’s definitely nothing we achieve ourselves!
     Indeed, the verses 15 till 18 next almost poetically picture this for us.
          What powerful imagery “snow like wool,” and “frost like ashes,” and “hail like pebbles” is.
              It all reminds us of the one mind and direction behind all the different things we see.
     A control which covers everything.
          Even the “icy blast” is His cold; it’s His wind that thaws it.
     And then the psalmist shows the flow from general to special revelation.
          After bringing out the connection between God’s word and nature, he brings out God’s word and His covenant people.
     You see, in verse 19 we have to tie the mention of “Jacob” to the name “Israel” in the next line.
          Because the connection here is covenantal.
              And the covenantal theme is the climax.
     Derek Kidner says, “Here is no merely activating word, but, amazingly, a meeting of minds.
          “…God shows that He seeks a relationship, not simply a sequence of actions carried out.”
     Congregation, to think that God chose us to covenant with!
          What a grace is in election!
              And so how much isn’t election itself the loudest call for grateful adoration?
     So while verse 20 may at first sound somewhat exclusivist it is actually the cry of utter amazement!
          Indeed, if there were any pride in this then the name of Jacob certainly wouldn’t fit.
     What can we do but add our “Hallelujah!” to this?
          “Praise the LORD!” we have to sing again.
              And, you know, you don’t mind one tiny little bit!
                   You’ve got the mind for praise!
     It’s like Clarence Macartney wrote once.

          He said, “I have heard the grand music of Sr. Isaac’s Cathedral, where, in the gorgeous liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church, choir answers choir as the golden doors of the iconostasis swing open ’mid rising clouds of incense.

              “I have heard the pilgrim monks sing vesper hymns about the supposed tomb of the great apostle in St. Paul’s without the walls of Rome.

     “But there is no music to me like that of a Protestant congregation singing together the psalms or hymns of their fathers.

          “I have heard the Protestant Waldensians sing their songs on a Sabbath in one of their valleys, with the great mountain looking down upon them.

              “The mountains which had been wet with the blood of their fathers who had died for the faith of the gospel.

     “When a congregation sing together, speaking to themselves, to one another, and to God in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and making melody in their hearts to the Lord – then come to the surface all the traditions of the past.

          “There you find all the great convictions of the present.
              “And there will be all the glorious hopes for the future.”
     After all, you can only sing when you’re happy, can’t you?
          And that’s the way we’re facing.
              We’re looking up - together!
Let’s pray…
     O Most Loving and Powerful Father in heaven, how much don’t we look to You now!
          Our hearts are lifted up.
              We’re motivated to praise You from the depths of our souls.
     For You alone are the One who saves.
          You alone are the One who cares.
              And You alone are the one who so directs all that comes to pass.
     Please stir us in this.
          And keep stirring us this way because we’re looking through Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.
              It’s in His Name, the precious Name of Jesus, that we humbly pray, Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2007, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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