Preached at Crossway Milwaukee Church, November 20, 2016
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing
Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
– Psalm 100
I am really thankful to be able to share God’s word with you this morning. One really cool thing about preaching here at Crossway is that you have been getting what is called “expository preaching”. And what is so good about that is that you and I have been trained to look no further than the word of God for your life’s direction and comfort and hope. And I think what we’ve all been learning through that there is nothing that can match a regular conversation with the God of the universe. He is the Great Physician, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and so everything both helpful and powerful is bound up in His infinitely wonderful counsel. And it really makes my job considerably easier this morning that you have repeatedly traversed this territory.
The Psalm we read is Psalm 100. This psalm has an instruction at the very beginning, “A Psalm for giving thanks”. It is the only Psalm out of the 150 Psalms with that particular instruction.
And Thanksgiving Day is now four days away. Our whole nation will gather at that time to celebrate. And what I find really interesting is how in recent years our culture seems to be hopping on board this idea of thanksgiving. I’m not even saying our Christian culture is doing this, that ought to almost be a given, but I mean popular culture. And our culture is having a love affair with this, this idea of ‘gratitude’. We are taught in many quarters of our culture that an attitude of gratitude is an intrinsically good thing.
The Huffington Post in Nov 24, 2015 had an article WHICH referred to a scientific study that found that even if you aren’t able to think of anything to be grateful for, simply asking the question is powerful enough to change your brain chemistry. When gratitude is present the brain chemicals are at their very best: things like endorphins and serotonin are present. The best neuroscience says that a grateful brain is a healthy brain. And so all this hullabaloo about gratitude has then also been the reason that we have seen hundreds of different vendors selling self-help books, pills and methods all geared to produce grateful brain chemicals in human beings.
But You KNOW THERE ARE SOME REAL PROBLEMS WITH TRYING TO MAKE GRATITUDE INTO A BUSINESS PROPOSITION. Are we really so clueless as to think that some temporary good brain chemicals are all we need, when there is no change to the underlying realities that caused those ungrateful attitudes in the first place? And it sort of begs the question: are we better off with a giddy “parrot-like” gratitude if nothing really fundamentally has changed? Doesn’t it just make us into emotionally unstable tall towers more prone to take a big fall? And doesn’t it make us into bigger hypocrites?
And so, I want to argue this morning that we, as Christians, and as we approach Thanksgiving, we really can’t afford to have a “parrot-like” approach to Thanksgiving. It is too costly. No, we need the real thing. We need to, by all means, pursue a heart-level posture of gratitude that makes Thanksgiving genuine, normal and natural.
And so we will look this morning at how the Bible positions thanksgiving. The Scriptures never cheapens thanksgiving down to the level of mere brain chemicals. It never tries to dress up ungrateful hearts, like putting lipstick on some pig or something ridiculous like that.
In Psalm 100, we don’t have a mindless repetition of things to only WORK UP our emotions. Emotions are a huge part of this Psalm, but that emotion is based upon strong and solid reasons to engage our minds, and let me add also certain things also to engage our wills. And the emotional piece of this is something that springs up out of the reasonableness of it. The engagement from our wills is not predicated on a “robot-like” thou-shalt-do-this mentality; it is a natural outcome of hearts that have been truly baptized into a better and more reasonable form of service: living one’s life unto the living God. Isn’t it nice to not have to function like a parrot or a robot, but instead, like a living human being?
And so, right at the outset, I want to stress that the God we serve, the God of the Bible, is not someone we serve “in the blind” so to speak. He is not a God that we just love and honor and worship for the heck of it, or because doing so just gives us good vibrations. No, we love him and serve Him for real reason and for real reason(s), plural.
And so, what I want to do this morning is walk you through this Psalm 100. And so this Psalm is really cool. It has a really simple approach. There are two, count em, two exclamations… or think of them as trumpet blasts of rejoicing. And after each blast of the trumpet, there is a reason given. There is an explanation. First, there is a trumpet blast. Ok, there got your attention. And now that I got your attention, listen up! I’ve got something to say about this, an explanation for why I blew this noisy trumpet.
And the Psalm-writer does this not once but twice. It’s something about these Hebrews. They’re really into parallel things. Everything comes in two. The bible scholars call this “Hebrew Parallelism”. I don’t know, I think it’s as simple as let me honk my horn twice and maybe I’ll have even a better chance of getting your attention.
The first rejoicing is this, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing”. And the reason he gives is this, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”
The first rejoicing is made on a very simple, straight-forward basis and for a very simple reason: rejoice because the Lord is God. Verse 3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God!”
Rejoice: He Is God!
We read not just Psalm 100 earlier but also Hebrews 11: 6 because I want to use the statement in Hebrews 11:6 to tease out what is said here in Psalm 100. Hebrews 11:6 has tow trumpet blasts of it’s own and we can better understand Pslam 100 from Hebrews.
The first prong of the Hebrews passage says “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists.”
How do we normally read and understand that passage in Hebrews? “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he EXISTS.” And of course the answer is; we must believe God EXISTS. And I think the way we normally hear this is….. to focus on the the existence of God …I must believe in God’s existence…..otherwise I would be an atheist or an agnostic. I’m a theist. I’’m a believer in God, and so, the takeaway is that I believe that God EXISTS
But I want to challenge you, as I have already challenged myself on this, to hear this statement in Hebrews perhaps with a different set of ears.
When you hear something, is your heart at that particular time a blank slate waiting to be written? Oh how I wish that were true. But may I be so bold as to say , that is probably never the case. Every time we hear something, even at the very moment the words are coming through our ears, I can almost guarantee that you have heard it with certain filters already in place. And I can almost guarantee when you hear that statement the filter you have in place is this one: I need to believe in the EXISTENCE of God.
I SAY THAT BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE OUR HEADS ARE AT AS A PEOPLE. We as a civilization have so exalted the scientific method and human reason that even we, as Christ-followers, are almost unable to hear this the way we need to hear it, the way the God of the universe would want us to hear it.
To make my point, let me change one little emphasis. “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that HE exists!” We have lost he HE-NESS of what is being said there. It’s not he EXISTS, it is HE exists. The HE is what gets revealed here is Psalm 100, the Lord, HE….HE is God!
OK, STILL NOT GETTING IT? This isn’t just any He. This He is not just a mental proposition that he either say yeah or nay to. This idea to believe in God isn’t just like picking a flavor of ice cream on Baskins-Robbins list of flavors. Hebrews 11 and Psalm 100 are not asking us to go through some mental gymnastics or make some reasoned judgement that “yes” must really exist. No, that’s not it at all.
You see, one problem is that we’ve made faith into a decision. The text doesn’t say DECIDE that He is God. How ridiculous would be for Psalm 100 to say “decide that He is God.” No, it says KNOW that He is God. There are plenty of things for us to decide in this passage, don’t get me wrong. We ought to decide to Serve the Lord with gladness, decide to make a joyful noise but don’t DECIDE that he is Lord and that he is God. Your decision about God’s existence and person does nothing! He was always God. Our decision doesn’t do anything. KNOW HIM! Know this HE who stepped into space of our frail humanity. Know that he HE came down, know that HE is here now and know that HE is God!
OK, I am really glad that ice cream exists. I am really glad that credit cards exist. But to put the existence of God, the fact of the existence of God on the same level as the existence of ice cream or credit card is taking this thing of being a cheesehead a little too far. If ice cream exists, ok so I get to have my taste buds dazzled every so often. If credit cards exist I get to make a few extra purchases that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. But if, GOD exists…..that changes everything. If God exists that, compadres, is a fundamentally different world. Ice cream doesn’t make a fundamentally different world. God does.
Ok I am definitely preaching now. I am definitely getting into your face now. If this is getting up into your face a little, that’s probably a good thing.
How can I make the right analogy? When we are out driving and a bug hits our windshield, it comes before our face but we barely notice it. A little squash on the windshield, a little bug juice on the windshield, maybe if we’re really observant we will even squirt a little window washer fluid and even put the wiper on it for a few seconds to wipe it clean. But because that thing, that bug, is on the other side of the window, it doesn’t really intersect our world so to speak. Your windshield inoculates you from feeling the force and the mess of a bug flying at you at 60 mph and being smashed against your face. And what I’m trying to say is that our culture, if we let it, will inoculate us from the reality of a living God. Culture can and does often act like a sedative to drug us into the feeling that this God being is just one more someone in our life and in our experience. And so, it makes it infinitely more difficult to see God as THE one consequential reality in our life.
But, compare that to the situation where, let’s say, a deer flies into your windshield. Yeah, one of those big tender looking 4-legged things that was trying to jump across the road. Splat! And all of sudden you are involved! What a difference! That is the difference that we are talking about.
You may have heard the phrase, “what about the elephant in the room”. When we talk about God, or when we factor God into the picture there is always an elephant in the room. He is always the one factor in the room that puts everything else in a subordinate and subservient place.
The Lord He is God! The HE that God is, is not like any other HE. There is no other HE who can substitute for God. God is a complete one-off, a completely unique being with no replacements. In Isaiah 46:9 God himself says, “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” And God said that through Isaiah thousands of years ago and he still needs to make the point. God is still wanting to make the point….look human race you are going to try to look at me as a little more powerful than the most powerful thing you’ve ever seen, a little wiser than the wisest person you ever met, a little more glorious than the most glorious earthly thing you have ever seen, but don’t go there. Don’t fall to that temptation. I am God and there is no other, I am God there is none like me
We need to escape, CHURCH, from the prison-house of our culture’s low expectations of who this Yahweh is. Let’s elevate this up to the level of who God really is, the one who reigns in majestic glory! The King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
But the text is not asking to just acknowledge him, and it is asking even more than that we acknowledge him as God. It is inviting us to know Him. “Know” that the Lord is God! This is not just acknowledgement of Gods existence. It is coming into a true knowledge of him. It is coming to a relational knowledge of Him.
So, we need to Rejoice HE is God, REJOICE He is the Lord, but also:
Rejoice: He Is OUR God!
And so IN THIS FIRST TRUMPET BLAST, A FEW OF THE NOTES AT THE END OF THE TRUMPET BLAST BLOW OUT THIS TUNE “Come into his presence with singing.” You see this is inviting into God’s presence. “Come into His presence.” This is about getting close to God. Our Hebrews passage if you will remember said, “Whoever would draw near to God…”. This is about drawing near to God. You can’t know anyone you are not near to. “Come into His presence.”
The idea in the Hebrew language is the idea of coming before God. Find a way to get into God’s presence, get before Him, and definitely see yourself as before Him, as before God himself, in His glorious presence.
And then, once we are in His presence, once we drawn into those close family quarters, now the love-language begins. Psalm 100 moves on to say, “It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.”
You see, it could get scary really quick to only know that God exists and to only know him as a glorious exalted being, if that is extent of our knowledge. If we only knew Him in the way the devils know him we would be in trouble. James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” That kind of knowledge may be only a shuddering kind of knowledge, a trembling kind of knowledge, a knee-knocking, bone-rattling knowledge,
No, we are to know Him in terms of a love relationship with Him, a family relationship with Him.
“It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” As wonderful as it the HE exists, the HE is the one who made US and more than that even—WE ARE HIS! Oh church, we ought to be extremely grateful for the WE-ARE-HISness of all of this! We should be extremely thankful for being granted eternal attendance at His table, eternal residence in His estate, eternally attached to saving, redemptive purpose in this universe! WE ARE HIS!
But before we catalog this in our minds that way, to say “We are His”, let me carry that one step further. Because you see God himself is speaking to us through these words this morning. No, the proper way to apply that statement is not WE ARE HIS. The text says WE ARE HIS, but that’s not the application. It is WE ARE YOURS! God himself is speaking to us through His word. God is not giving us mental propositions. Our minds so easily leap into cataloging this as a mere mental proposition. This is love speech! This is relationship music! This is about us and Him being joined. We are your people oh God! This is real this is happening right now in real time and space in this holy place where you convene with your people. This is a real offer by the infinite and yet personal God right here and right now to us individually and corporately.
In Isaiah 43:1 God says to us, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Notice how through Isaiah God says this. Wouldn’t it sound a little stiff if God had said, “I have called the Milwaukee people by name, you are God’s (or God’s possession).” No, God addresses us his very own. I have called YOU, YOU are MINE!
He has not left us alone or as orphans. Sin would leave us as orphans. Satan wants us all to be spiritual orphans. Satan says, let them have this orthodox belief but don’t let them go so far as to have any real ownership or any real stake in it. But God has made himself known, the great I AM, the one real difference maker – thank you! And God is pleased to be known as our God, and we are His people. Not by anything other than that He himself has acted on our behalf. He has made provision for us. He sent His Son to be our sin-bearer. He brought that same Son to life again as our surety of an ever-lasting resurrection; resurrection life, real life, the real deal!
The knowledge we are to have of God is relationship knowledge, it is rooted in the fact that we are made by Him, we belong to Him and everything about us is stamped with His own care and protection over us. And so this awesome God, the one who is the ultimately being worthy of glory and praise, the God over the whole universe, does the unthinkable. He comes down, comes into our space.
And so, that is the first pathway and the first set of reasons for our rejoicing: HE is God and He is our God. We can take a step back from this and maybe ask some basic questions about this. What is the cadence of your life? Is there the space in your life to acknowledge the reality of His awesome, awe-inspiring presence in your day? In the normal course of life, He’s not gonna beat you over the head with this. When suffering comes, when the winds of sorrow and challenge comes He often does scream to us in our pain and our confusion. But what about in the rat-race? What about in the so-called “normal life” that many of you here are experiencing? He is Lord in reality. Is He being experienced as Lord in your life?
But THEN IN PSALM 100 THE TRUMPET BLOWS AGAIN. The Psalm writer goes on to rejoice a second time. And what He says this time is “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” Earlier He had said get before God, get into God’s presence.. But we’re not done there. To be in God’s presence what do we need to do? We need to go through the gate. Enter His gates. It’s become more specific you see. This life of living before God is living in a specific place. There is a specific gate to go through. It is a specific gate leading to a specific courtyard or use the terminology of the first part, a specific pasture. Enter His gates with Thanksgiving and then once you’re through the gate into his courts with praise!
Even to get through gate is an accomplishment. In Ps 84:10 it says , “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
And it is within the actual gate, being found then in the courtyard of God, in God’s pasture there is a new kind of experience, a new kind of focus and a new basis for rejoicing.
And so, we’re in His court now. And what is the focal point once we are there? Of course the focal point is God himself. This is God’s court. Who is the focal point of God’s court? It is God. Give thanks to Him; bless His Name
And then, a second reason is given for this second rejoicing. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
So we are to Rejoice the Lord is God; we are to rejoice the Lord is OUR God, but also…
Rejoice: Because He Is Good! He is Good!
Do you see the progression in this? Do you see how one thing develops out of another? Now you’ve got a universe with a real HE, the one really worthy being exists, you have a universe where there is a personal God who chooses to relate to his creatures and who has joined Himself to his creation. And the Psalm-writer can’t help but lead us next to a reflection on God’s goodness. When you are in God’s courtyard, you can’t help but gazing upon him. He is the object of our worship and affection.
Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good.
The Psalm-writer now reflects on God’s goodness. And let me bring in again our companion passage, Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
And so the Hebrews passage tells us ALSO that real faith believes that He rewards those who seek Him. Faith sees not just the awesomeness of God, but also the goodness of God. Not only do find ourselves in a God-believing, rejoicing reality because HE exists, but then secondly we rejoice because He is good, because He rewards who seek Him.
And it is in those relational terms that the Psalm-writer then further expounds God’s goodness. He next mentions God’s love and God’s faithfulness: “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Now I feel almost like there is another or probably another 100 sermons in that last statement alone: it will take an eternity for us to explore, to observe, to reflect upon and to experience God’s goodness reflected in His steadfast love and His faithfulness to all generations.
But I have a few more minutes here this morning and I want to deal with the one other elephant in the room. I said to you earlier that when God enters the picture, any picture, the equation, the whole landscape changes because of the awesome uniqueness of who He is.
Well, there is another elephant in the room, and let me explain it this way: none of us by nature are able or equipped to appreciate God as the one truly awesome being in the universe and none of us by nature are able to appreciate God’s goodness. We are not God-praising people by nature, and we are not God-thanking people by nature.
And the elephant I am talking about is the human problem and your problem and my problem of sin. And when I say “sin” I am talking the objective fact of who we are and what we have demonstrated ourselves to be. We are all heart criminals. We are all heart lawbreakers. And God has given us the law, his commandments that our sin might be revealed. His law reveals that at the most fundamental level that we are heart criminals, for who of us do not covet, who of us do not envy, who of us operates with pure, untainted hearts?
But that objective reality, our sin, is not even the worst of it. That objective fact is grounded upon the desire of the human race to live apart from God. We preferred our own pig-slop, our own meager pleasures and desires and our so-called “personal autonomy” to the pathway of love and service to the God of the universe. And so the worst part is not even our sin, but the root of that sin which is our alienation from God, our spiritual and moral distance from God.
And if I can even paint the picture more completely by bringing out my black crayon one more time and draw out the fact that although our alienation from God was initiated by us, in this state of separation, we stand under God’s wrath. This I know, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!
And so, I walked you through this Psalm in the way the redeemed in Christ will see thingS in heaven. We will be in the presence of the living God. And we will be so enraptured by Him there that the whole trajectory of our hearts and minds will unmitigated, uncontested worship. We will be absolutely engaged with the glorious awesomeness of our great God. And only secondarily will be mindful of ourselves and how good God is to us and was to us. But we will also in heaven be mindful of His goodness and His goodness to us.
And if you are fully able to appreciate it in that way and that order God here on earth and here on this day, that God is an wonderful, delightful awesome being and secondarily that He is a good being, in reality if you are able to process it that way—it is only so because your heart has already been well-trained and instructed by grace and also, if you can follow that line of reasoning, you’re probably also having a good day too. The kids probably didn’t scream at each other on the way to church and you probably didn’t spill coffee on your favorite shirt
But the thing is, to be fair to some facts of life on this planet it is almost impossible for us to see it that way here on earth, here in the land of sin and suffering. Because of our sin and because of our separation, it is very normal for us to have to come through what I will call the “the back door of heaven”. We have to come through the Gospel, the main theme of this book, the Bible. It is the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Like I said earlier, it will never do for us to come to the Thanksgiving table, with only a few manufactured grateful brain chemicals. God has to provide for us the total solution, the total package. God has to solve our sin problem. He has to bring us back to Himself. He has to give us a real reason for hope, and has to supply for us a genuine gratefulness.
And praise God, through the Gospel God has done just that: “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.”
God has done a great work through His own Son. What we couldn’t do because of our own spiritual deadness God did. Out of His steadfast love God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ to earth as a man. And Jesus Christ took up residence on our planet and lived his life as a man. And in Psalm 100 when it says that God not just loving but also “faithful”, it uses a word that really means faithful to the truth. And what that means in terms of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life in prefect conformity to God’s law and God’s expectations for man. Jesus lived true to the law. And in doing that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
And so, when ChrIst died on the cross he could be and was the perfect sacrifice for sin. And because of what He did we can be made right with God. And it is perfectly legitimate, here on earth, my friends, that we come through the back door. We can come in because we feel the need, maybe for the first time, or may for the hundredth time, for the goodness of God, the love and the faithfulness of God in this glorious Gospel.
And this is all practicing for heaven. This is all just a prelude for heaven. In heaven we will see God face to face. We will then in heaven have the whole big picture laid out for us. We will be in different garments. They won’t scratch us or be too tight on.
But we get to come to Him now, right here on earth. We don’t have to wait for heaven for that. Thanksgiving day might be this Thursday, but genuiue thanksgiving is here at our doorstep, right here on south 16th street. It is here in our midst as the people of God gather and celebrate Him by the power of God’s Spirit.
He is God. He is our God. He is Good. Let us live in the light of this reality. To the extent that we can daily live in the light of those 3 statement about God’s Lordship, God’s family covenant with us and God’s steadfast and faithful love to us let us do so. And when are days are marked by sin, struggle, dissapointment, conflict let us realize that the Gospel is there for us, the back door of heaven is open and waiting to receive us. Let us pray.