The Second Sunday After Epiphany January 18, 2004
16, 134, 27, 50
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, And the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
The Philistines were one of Old Testament Israel’s greatest enemies. On one the occasions when the Philistines came up to do battle against Israel, the people pleaded with Samuel to pray for victory. Samuel offered up a burnt offering and cried out to the Lord on behalf of the people. In answer to the prayers of Samuel and the people, the Lord “thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines” so that they were confused and then defeated by the Israelite army (1 Samuel 7:10).
After the victory Samuel took a stone and set it up as a monument. He called the stone, “Ebenezer” which means “Stone of Help.” Samuel called the stone Ebenezer because, he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12).
Every time we come together to worship we are in a sense celebrating an “Ebenezer” of our own. We don’t set up a stone, but by coming together we are making a testimony. We declare our thanksgiving and praise to the LORD who has thus far helped us!
To you, to me, and to all, the invitation of the Psalm rings out: COME! LET US WORSHIP! I. We worship the great God II. We worship our God III. We worship for God.
The purpose of David’s words in this psalm is clear right from the very beginning, “O come, let us sing to the LORD: let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.” [v.1] The words cry out an invitation to every ear who will hear. The invitation is also very specific. It is not an invitation to come and worship an unknown god, a generic god, a god of your choice. It is an invitation to come and sing unto the LORD.
The LORD—Jehovah—is the name only one God can claim. It is the name that Moses was to use in identifying the God who sent Him to the children of Israel in Egypt. First, God told Moses to identify Him as, “I AM” — the only God in existence, the one who simply is, the one without beginning and without end. But then Moses was to further identify “I AM” as the “Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob…This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations” (Exodus 3:14-15).
David’s invitation is to worship this specific God and Him alone! The God we worship is the God who made His covenant promise with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who delivered Israel out of Egypt, the God who defeated Israel’s enemies, the God who fulfilled His promise to Abraham and made his descendants into a great nation and from that nation sent His Son to be a blessing to every nation. The LORD God—Jehovah—the God of the Bible is the one God for whom true worship is intended.
Now… how does one explain who this God is to someone who does not know Him? When Paul wanted to identify this God to the people in Athens he said, “God who made the world and everything in it…[the] Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24). David identifies the Lord in much the same way, “the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the heights of the hills is His also. The sea is His, for He made it: and His hands formed the dry land.” [v.3-5].
The God whom we worship is the great God because He is the God of Creation. He is the God who has made all things. He created the seas. He created the dry land. He is the God from whom we and all things come. From the deepest cavern in the earth to the highest mountain-top upon the earth, all things are in the hands of this great God whom we worship. The “deep things of the earth” are those deeply hidden things that can only be discovered by in-depth searching. All of the deepest, incomprehensible things of creation are in the hand of this great God. Not only does He know them, He understands them, He created them.
This great God whom we worship is the “great King above all gods.” There is no other god who is living. There is no other god who can create.
Human reason is a god for many. In the name of science human reason puts forth the theory of evolution as the way in which all things came into existence. Thus, the beginning of all things is explained as a series of random happenings. That is not creation. There is no greatness in an explanation for the origin of all things that depends on a “happy-go-lucky” jumble of parts that somehow comes together to be life. Human reason exalts itself as a god, but the Great God who created all things is the Great King over all other gods.
Technology can become a god. Modern technology can fiddle around with all sorts of genetic engineering even to the point of copying elements of life in cloning, but even the best technology can’t manufacture life. Even the most impressive of technological advances can only manipulate cells and copy cells from what is already alive. Technology cannot and never will be able to create life.
Billions of dollars continue to be spent on research and development in any number of fields because we haven’t yet begun to unlock all the hidden secrets of God’s great creation. These are secrets created and locked into nature simply by the power of God’s Word.
Money and resources are spent to push back the sea, pump out water, and create dry land, but often times the dry land is reclaimed by the sea. The dry land which the Great God forms is of long-standing. He tells the sea, “this far and no further!”
No other god can stop time as the Lord God did for Joshua when “the sun stood still and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies” (Joshua 10:13). Not Baal nor any other god could send fire from heaven as the Lord God did for Elijah when the prophets of Baal even slashed themselves with knives in the hope that their helpless god would answer their pleas (1 Kings 18). Try as it might, nothing else esteemed as a god can measure up to the Great God, the Great King above all Gods—the Creator of heaven and earth!
We worship this one, great God because He is God. People’s low expectations of what God is leads to false worship. “God” in the true sense of the word is an awesome being. Too often, what “God” means to people is something just a bit higher than us. People set low expectations on what God can do. Then God becomes just a good friend to whom we show respect and do our best to please. But God is the Great God! He Himself is the one who put us together. When we witness the tremendous power of storms, volcanoes, and earthquakes, it is just the fingertip of God’s power. God’s greatness also goes beyond sheer power. He is also holy, and our gracious Lord and Savior.
When we have a true picture of what God should be, then no one and nothing can measure up to being “God” except the one true Great God. Not only is He what a god should be, He is what GOD IS.
Many people believe that it doesn’t matter what god you worship as long as you acknowledge some kind of higher being. From this comes the conclusion, “I worship my god, you worship yours. We worship our own gods in our own way and that, my friend, is good worship.” However, when we say, “We worship our God” we mean to say more than “we worship our God, you worship yours.” There is a deeper significance to calling this Great God, “our” God. David also calls the LORD, “the Rock of our salvation.” [v.1] We have the Creator-creature relationship with God, but also the Savior-sinner relationship.
The one true God is our Rock of salvation because the Father saw our need for salvation from eternity. In time, the Father promised and sent His Son to save us. The Son of God willingly became our substitute. He came to the earth and was born a child and named Jesus. He lived His life perfectly to fulfill every command of God because that’s what God expected of us and we can’t do it. Jesus our substitute did it for us. He gave His life up into suffering, and then finally the shameful death on the cross. While on the cross He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) Why? Because God’s curse and condemnation on every one of our sins was being taken out on Him. The misery of Hell is the eternal separation from God and that is what Jesus endured on the cross.
On the third day, Jesus rose again from the dead to prove Himself the victor over sin and death. But remember, He is our substitute, so the victory He claimed is our victory. Jesus caused His Word to be recorded through the apostles and prophets so that each new generation of sinners could hear and learn about His saving work. The Holy Spirit comes through the Word to transform sinful hearts. He changes hearts that are at odds with God into hearts that love God and believe His Word. The Holy Spirit continues to strengthen and preserve faith in the hearts He has changed.
These are the things that God has done for us purely out of His love. These are the reasons why God is the “Rock of our salvation.” What other God can measure up to this? What other God would we possibly want to call, “our” God? The great God of Creation is also our God of salvation.
“O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” [v.6-7] Through the redeeming work of Christ, God makes us His own very special people. Jesus is the shepherd who died for the sheep who love to wander. We, the stubborn wandering sheep are called the beloved sheep of His pasture. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).
Not only does our Good Shepherd make us His sheep, but He also calls and gathers other wandering sheep (sinners) into His fold. Through the work of Christ we are uniquely joined to God as His children, but we are also uniquely joined to one another in Christ. It is because God has made us His children and we share our beloved Savior that we can pray with deepest meaning “our Father who art in heaven” and can call the Great God “our God” and the “Rock of our salvation.”
Thanks be to God for His grace and mercy that has led us to recognize Him as our Rock of Salvation and that He has so graciously kept us standing on that Rock.
There are many different forms of worship to the Great God of our Salvation. Christian congregations use different orders of services. The form of worship changes from country to country as well. For example, the worship services in Nigeria and India are quite different from our own. God gives the freedom for these differences in the form of worship as long as the worship remains, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Quite apart from the form of worship, there is something fundamentally wrong with a great deal of worship. This basic error in worship shows up in a variety of attitudes. It has been said, “I don’t go to church because I don’t get anything out of it. Church doesn’t do anything for me.” The error in this line of thought is the assumption that the only purpose of worship is for us and that we go to church and worship because of what we get out of it. Similarly, there may be times when the pastor does not convey the message in a clear way or in a way that fits us so that we can personally can identify with it. Admittedly, this is not an ideal situation, but it still does not mean that the worship has been for nothing.
The fundamental error in a great deal of worship is that it is self-focused and that it is believed to be worship for me. How often are not worship services rated on the basis of what they have accomplished in the feelings and emotions of the people?
There are worship experiences that are built around what happens to the people. Will they speak in tongues? Will they collapse onto the floor in uncontrollable ecstatic laughter? Will they be healed of their physical illness? And if these things do not take place then that worship seems to be lacking lacking something.
David’s invitation to worship leads us to conclude that we are not the focus of worship. Worship is not primarily for us, it is for God. Listen to whom David directs all of his verbs of worship in this Psalm. “sing to the Lord…make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation…come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise to Him with psalms…let us worship and bow down…let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
When we worship we are worshipping God. We serve Him as it befits creatures to serve their Creator. We thank Him for His countless blessings both in preserving our lives and saving our souls. Paul says, “Whether therefore you eat or drink or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). If life itself is to be lived for God then surely also our worship is to be the same.
Scripture, very certainly, tells us that worship also benefits us. God tells us that we are not to forsake assembling ourselves together in worship because to do so is for our benefit (cf: Hebrews 10:19-25). The hearing of Gods’ Word and instruction in it benefits us by teaching us the way of salvation. Our faith is strengthened by hearing and studying the Gospel. With the Word of God we are equipped to go out into the world and face whatever might be put in our path. Using God’s Word benefits us greatly, and that too is toward God’s glory. The more we learn, the more we will comprehend the depth of His love and the magnitude of His miracles. The more we learn, the more we will be moved to praise and thank God for all that He has done, and the more we will glorify Him by putting more trust in Him.
Paul encourages us to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19). The purpose for this is to aid us in “holding fast the confession of our hope” (Hebrews 10:23). This too serves toward God’s glory who “desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
If our worship is for God and to His glory, then it is inevitable that our worship will bring great, lasting, and beneficial blessings to us. Praise, thanksgiving, and glory to God are things that belong to Him and flow to Him just because of who He is and what He has done. We have every reason to worship Him! Even if somehow worship wouldn’t be beneficial to us, God would still be deserving of it. God does bless us through worship and for that we thank Him all the more.
When it is remembered that worship is for God and not something to be determined by us, then some of the tried and true reasons for avoiding worship disappear.
If it is not wanting to make time for worship that keeps someone away from worship, we need only remember that God does not punch a time clock for us in His preservation and salvation. Therefore, He is always worthy of worship and praise—time not withstanding.
If it is a matter of “I don’t feel I need it today, I’m doing O.K.,” God is still deserving of worship. The worship is for God whether you feel you need it or not. And, incidentally, sinners always need the reassurance of the Gospel and the blessings of worship.
It is highly unlikely that someone who had a direct invitation for an audience with a good king or other ruler would turn that invitation down because there were better things to do. To worship God is to have audience with the King who is above all gods.
One other aspect of worship that is clarified by a proper understanding is the instruction of children. “Pastor, I don’t bring my children to church because they are too young to get anything out of the sermons.” First of all, let it be said that children may learn more than what adults expect. Children’s learning and understanding of the worship service will grow if they attend regularly. Furthermore, let us not forget that children who are brought into the presence of the Lord receive His blessing. Children brought into the presence of the Lord have the opportunity to glorify Him as much or as little as they are able to do by reason of age. The presence of children in worship is to God’s glory. Jesus’ words still ring true, “Let the little children come to Me and forbid them not” (Luke 18:16).
True worship is defined by its content and where its focus lies. True worship is built on, centers on, and revolves around the Word of God. Proper use of God’s Word is worship for Him. It cannot be otherwise, because in the Word is what teaches us about the true God to whom all glory belongs. Through the hearing of God’s Word we are stirred up to praise and worship Him and through that Word we are given salvation which glorifies the Rock of our Salvation.
Oh Come! Let us Worship the LORD! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.