The first time I attended Linebrook Church while visiting Ron back in February of 2014, what impressed me the most about the service was the music. I love to sing so you can imagine my delight when I saw how central the singing of hymns—lots of them, both ancient and modern—were to the worship here. For just as plays were meant to be acted and viewed and not simply read, so the truths expressed through much poetry may be enhanced by being sung. There’s something about the way in which words and music combine and intertwine in songs that enable them to touch the deepest part of us.

Well the God who made us and communicates with us by his Spirit in the Old and New Testament Scriptures, understands the power of song as a vehicle for expressing truth in ways that can touch and challenge and move us. In fact, the largest book of the Bible is a book of music. The Book of Psalms is a collection of 150 songs—some royal, some of praise, some of wisdom, some of thanksgiving, and some of lament. Our morning’s song, Psalm 96, is a royal song that calls God’s people to praise him. [1] Right off the bat it begins by putting forth a call in verse 1: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.” Though we often enjoy singing old, familiar songs, singing can also be a creative act. We have the ability to write new songs. The God who created us in his image calls us to be creative even as he is. And one form of that creativity may be found in singing a new song. Similarly, singing is an act appropriate to “all the earth” for all the earth has been created by God and thereby reflects his creativity.

Verse 2 focuses upon the content of this new song: “Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.” We have cause for singing to the LORD; we have cause for praising the LORD, for singing “Hallelujah” which means “Praise the LORD,” because the LORD is our Savior. If the only content of our song was to speak of the salvation God so kindly and abundantly and generously has bestowed upon us, all eternity wouldn’t suffice to sing about it. We must never forget that since the time of the Fall we are creatures who, apart from God’s salvation, would be blind, walking in darkness, and subject to death; but because of God’s salvation we have sight, and walk in the light, and will live eternally with and for him. We can and should proclaim these truths of salvation day after day after day after day for these truths are eternal. They never grow old.

Therefore, verse 3, we should “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” Don’t we love sharing good news with others? Don’t we, for example, delight in sharing about a son getting a sought-after job at Disneyworld? And about an expectant mother’s improved health during a difficult pregnancy? And about a woman’s better-than-expected recovery after a surgical procedure for cancer? Imagine how much more the good news of God and his glory are to be shared. How much more are the good deeds he has done to be shared. If God has helped his people attain victory in battle, as is likely the case in Psalm 96, then how much more ought we celebrate the victory he has granted over sin and death and the devil? How much more ought we to share and declare among the peoples and nations that the God who made us will deliver us, will rescue us, from our sins and shortcomings if we but turn to him? For as John teaches, when we confess our sins, and turn from our sins, he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.[2] This awesome and good news is intended to be shared!

As stated in verse 4, “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” There is only one true God, he who made us in his image, he who made us for himself. He alone is great. He alone is worthy of praise. We needn’t concern ourselves with other gods; we need only concern ourselves with our great LORD for, verse 5, “all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” Now in the Hebrew there’s a word play taking place in this verse between the words for “gods” and “idols.” As noted by one commentator, this play on words might be reproduced in English by stating, “The mighty gods are mighty useless!”[3] The alleged mighty gods are useless because they’re but pretenders to the throne; they’re but pretenders to be gods. There is only one LORD who is great and worthy of praise because there is only one LORD who made the heavens and earth and all that is in them. Creation is but one of his “marvelous deeds” (verse 3). And what deed can be more marvelous than creating out of nothing all that exists?

Only the God who made heaven and earth; only the God who made us and everything that exists, is worthy of praise. As stated in verse 6, “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.” These are images of kingliness in this royal psalm. The LORD God is King over all creation for he alone made it. The entire heavens and earth are his sanctuary. As stated in Psalm 78, “He built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth that he established forever.”[4] All heaven and earth are God’s temple, made for and sustained by him. All heaven and earth reflect the character of its Maker—his splendor, his majesty, his strength, his glory.[5] As we look to nature, we can see the hand of God. As stated in the opening of yet another song, Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” All peoples, all nations, everyone is able to recognize God’s glory and strength for we are all part of the awesome creation he has made.

After providing these many reasons for singing and praising the LORD, the psalmist continues to encourage his audience to acknowledge those qualities that are part and parcel of who God has disclosed himself to be. Starting in verse 7 we read, “Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,…” This ascribing to the LORD, this acknowledging of the LORD, is something all peoples can bear witness to for God is Maker, King, and Savior of all who turn to him. For even at the time in which the LORD initially created a nation for himself from one man, Abraham, God ever had in mind all nations.[6] So, again, all “families of nations” are called upon to “Ascribe to the Lord…glory and strength. 8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” Any glory and strength people may have is derivative of that which rightly belongs to God who made everything that exists.

Beginning with the second half of verse 8 we see what our response to witnessing such glory and strength ought to be, namely, to “bring an offering and come into his courts. 9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” To witness the magnitude of such glory and power should result in our acknowledging that if God is the one who made us and everything that exists in this vast world, then again we and everything that exists belong to him. Therefore we should acknowledge our dependency upon him by bringing him an offering, by bringing him a sacrifice, by returning to him—as we do each week when we present our tithes and offerings to him—but a portion of what he has stewarded to us. And we ought to worship not only by bringing him our offerings but also by falling down before him as we recognize his holiness and tremble at such awesomeness.

Now that the LORD made us and all peoples and nations, along with all the heavens and earth, and continues to guide and sustain the world he made, a world that reflects his power and greatness should cause us, verse 10, to “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’ The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” As we’re wrapping up another tumultuous year, isn’t this heartening to know?? Despite whatever trials or challenges or sufferings we may experience; despite the fighting and wars we hear about both here and abroad; despite natural disasters like fires that are hard to control or rains that won’t come or rains that won’t stop coming, “The Lord reigns” and “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” Though life may feel as though it is out of control and chaotic, we can rest in looking to God knowing that he has not—and will not—neglect his kingly rule in the world he has so carefully and lovingly made.

What is more, part of what it means for God to carefully and lovingly watch over his creation is that nothing that takes place in heaven or on earth goes unnoticed by him. This means, negatively, that he sees those involved in practicing evil and malice and wrongdoing; and, positively, that he sees those involved in living as he intended, caring for one another and for this earth. But God doesn’t simply see the good and evil taking place on his good earth but one day the LORD, our Judge and King, “will judge the peoples with equity.” He who knows our hearts will judge with equity, impartiality, and justice. And in this we should also take heart.

These truths are cause for all creation to rejoice as the psalmist again, beginning with verse 11, exclaims, “11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. 12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” Again, all creation is being called upon to express its delight in its Maker and LORD. From the heavens above to the earth beneath to the sea to the fields to the forest. All creation and everything in it are exhorted to rejoice and be glad and sing for joy. And why such exuberance? Because, as stated in the close of verse 13, “He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” We, the human part of God’s creation, ought to join in such rejoicing and jubilation. We, the part of creation, made in God’s image, ought to rejoice in our wonderful and righteous Creator and Judge.

Well this singing of new songs isn’t exclusive to the Old Testament but is also found in the New. As recorded in our passage, in Revelation 5 we’re presented with a new song from the future, from the end of time as we know it. In this revelation, in this unique disclosure that God has given his servant John, we see, as stated in verse 5 there, that Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has triumphed.” The royal God who granted his people victory during Old Testament times is the royal God who grants victory in the end of time through Jesus, his Son. He is the Lamb, the royal descendant of Jesse, [7] who looked, as stated in verse 6, “as if [he] had been slain.” The reason he looked as one slain is because he was slain. But this is no surprise for it has occurred in accordance with God’s plan. Christ, the Lamb of God, is the One promised who would “judge the peoples with equity”[8] and “in righteousness” and “in faithfulness”[9] as stated in Psalm 96. This is what Isaiah also prophesied when he spoke of the Suffering Servant who was to come:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.[10]

As we see this theme traced throughout Scripture, we remember that John the Baptist also recognized Jesus to be the Lamb our merciful Father chose to sacrifice for us and for our salvation as he declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[11]

And though this Lamb described in Revelation 5 looked as though he was slain because he was slain, we also know that the death that slew him was incapable of holding him. Though the scars of crucifixion marked his body, that very body rose from death. As Jesus testifies at the beginning of John’s revelation, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”[12] Jesus Christ, risen from death, is Savior, LORD, Judge, and King. As One who has risen from death, he conquered death; and, as God, he is the only one who is able to offer eternal life to all who believe and receive him. Notice that when he takes the scroll, verse 8,  “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb,” for he is the only one “worthy to break the seals and open the scroll” (verse 2) because he is the only true God.

Consequently verse 9 begins to record another new song of salvation that the creatures and elders sang to this precious Lion of Judah: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” With this brief new song of praise we see further connections between this song of salvation and the song of salvation from Psalm 96 as both emphasize the promise of God’s redemption for all peoples and nations that began with the call of Abraham and came to fruition through God’s coming to earth in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, Lion of Judah, slain and risen Lamb of God. It is through his blood and his blood only that “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” can be purchased by and for God. As Peter similarly bears witness to in his first epistle,

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.[13]

It is through Jesus Christ’s blood and his blood only that the peoples and nations of the world can be made “a kingdom and priests to serve our God” who “will reign on the earth.”[14] For all who place their trust in Christ are made his kingdom and priests. This, too, is a truth affirmed by Peter as he states, “9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”[15] Do you see what Peter is saying? Our salvation should lead us to praise God; our salvation should lead us to sing a new song of how God in Christ has made us his people, his royal priesthood, by delivering us out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Dear sisters and brothers, let us never take this salvation for granted;

Let us ever remember the great pains and price our loving and merciful God undertook to attain salvation for us;

Let us never forget that God in Christ, the Lamb of God, became a lamb since we, like sheep, had all gone astray; we like sheep had all gone our own way. Therefore God in Christ, the Lamb of God, came as one of us in order that we might turn from our straying ways and instead turn to him, our Maker, Savior, Judge, and King.

Christ, who along with the Father and Holy Spirit made the heavens and earth, came to earth and lived and suffered and died and rose from death in order that he might take away the sin of all who turn to him and embrace him and receive the salvation he so freely and sacrificially offers.

This very Jesus after rising from death and appearing to his disciples for forty days, ascended to heaven to now rule in his position as Judge and King at the right hand of God. What this means, as stated so eloquently by Abraham Kuyper, a theologian from the late 19th–early 20th century, is that “There is not a square inch on the whole plain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord over all, does not proclaim: ‘This is Mine!’’’

And so let us, like the psalmist; let us, like the four living creatures and twenty-four elders, fall down before the Lamb of God and sing a new song of salvation.

Let us sing that song far and wide as we seek to fulfill the commission of Christ, to whom has been given all authority in heaven and earth, that we go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as we seek to teach them to obey everything commanded by Jesus who is surely with us to the end of the age.[16]

Let us pray.

 

[1] Israel sang a form of this psalm when David brought the ark to Jerusalem. See 1 Chronicles 16:23–36.

[2] 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

[3] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Psalm 96:4–5. As noted there “The words gods [sic] (Hb. ‘elohim) and worthless idols [sic] (Hb. ‘elilim) sound alike, providing a play on words;”

[4] Psalm 78:69.

[5] For another verse that notes ways in which creation points to its Creator see Romans 1:20: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

[6] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[7] As the Lion from the tribe of Judah, Jesus fulfills the blessing that Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) originally gave to Judah as recorded in Genesis 49:8–10: “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

[8] Psalm 96:10: Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

[9] Psalm 96:13: Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

[10] Isaiah 53:4–7.

[11] John 1:29.

[12] Revelation 1:18.

[13] 1 Peter 1:17–21.

[14] See the opening of John’s vision in Revelation 1:4–6: 4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.[14]

[15] 1 Peter 2:9–10. See also 2 Pet 3:13: But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

[16] Matthew 28:18–20: 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”