Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1343
March 18, 2018 Psalm 147
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
“A Song of Praise is Fitting”
Why is a Song of Praise Fitting?
Today is Palm Sunday and this is the day we set aside during Lent and before this week of Christ’s passion to praise and adore the Christ, the King, the Savior! It is the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem to face the toughest week of His earthly life. A song of praise was fitting on that day and a song of praise is fitting today!
Why do we praise God? Why to we praise Jesus and the Holy Spirit? Why do we adore the Lord in this act of worship and praise? Well, there are millions of reasons. Let’s take a closer look at Psalm 147 as one example of why a song of praise is fitting. The Psalm begins with the command or exhortation to praise…
Praise the Lord! The Psalm ends with the same word of encouragement, Praise the Lord!
That would be a good Psalm for our days, to begin and end each day with praise. The Psalmist then writes, For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
But why? Why are we doing this? Why do we worship and praise and adore God? We praise because of what God has done.
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.
Look at what God has done! He builds, gathers, heals, binds, determines, gives, lifts, and casts! Then the Psalmist cannot help but urge us to sing yet again.
Why? Because of verses 8-11...
8 He covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
He covers, prepares, makes, gives, and takes pleasure in those who fear him and hope in His love.
So, why don’t we praise Him!
13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.
14 He makes peace in your borders; he fills you with the finest of the wheat.
15 He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold?
18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.
19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules.
He strengthens, blesses, makes peace, fills, sends, and His word runs swiftly. He gives snow! We know this all too well! He scatters, hurls, sends, and so forth. Praise the Lord! What I want us to see are the verbs, the things that tell us what God has done, is doing, and will do. That is why we praise.
We could write our own Psalm, He gave us a home. The Lord blessed us with a family. He heals our wounds. He lifts us up when we are down. He gives us breath. He makes rain fall on our gardens. He speaks and creation happens. He gave us His word and His Son and His Spirit. He saves us from the sting of sin and death. Our lists go on and on and on. When we are telling others about Jesus we are, in one sense, telling others why we praise the Lord! When we tell of Jesus we are praising Him at the same time.
A Life of Adoration
Notice too the structure of the Psalm. As I mentioned earlier, it begins and ends with praise. This can be a model for our life of adoration. We begin our breathing life with a literal cry of praise and we end our lives with the last breath of praise. I say breathing life because these days you have to distinguish life, which really begins at conception. But even then we are praising God because it is God who forms us! Even in the womb, His creation is at praise, pointing to life and giving testimony to God’s initiative toward us. I think of Psalm 139.13, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.” Or Jeremiah 1.5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” More so in Luke 1:40-42, “[Mary] entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” Babies are praising God, in their own way, even before their first breath.
What the Psalms and all of Scripture reveal to us is all that God has done, is doing, and will do. These are all the reasons we praise and the reason we develop a life of praise and adoration. We might even consider the entire Psalter (all the Psalms) as a testimony to a life of adoration. It begins with mediation on God’s word and ends with praise (Psalm 150).
Bless The Lord, O My Soul
We also praise God when we bless God. I think of Psalm 103.1-2, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits...” Or Psalm 134 which begins with a summons to bless the Lord,
Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!
One of the physical ways to bless the Lord is to lift up your hands. Eugene Peterson writes about this saying, “We are invited to bless the Lord; we are commanded to bless the Lord. And then someone says, ‘But I don’t feel like it. And I won’t be a hypocrite. I can’t bless the Lord if I don’t feel like blessing the Lord. It wouldn’t be honest.’ The biblical response to that is, ‘Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord!’ You can lift up your hands regardless of how you feel; it is a simple motor movement. You may not be able to command your heart, but you can command your arms. Lift your arms in blessing; just maybe your heart will get the message and be lifted up also in praise.”1
Stand up, raise your hands, and bless the Lord. Isn’t it a bid strange that we have negative feelings about raising our hands to the Lord? Maybe some of us do that in private, but we feel odd about it, at least in Presbyterian circles, in public worship. We feel odd about it in public until our team scores a touchdown, then our hands fly up like some electric current shocked us all of a sudden. When the winning shot goes through the hoop, arms go up. When the home run wins the game, arms up! I am not advocating that we start raising our hands in worship, I’m not opposed to it either, but we might learn that when we sometimes do not feel like worshiping or feel like praying, we might be able to physically motivate the heart. The Psalm either invites or commands us to bless the Lord. If we don’t feel like it we could raise our hands until we do. Maybe for us it would mean simply getting out of bed and getting dressed for worship that could start the heart toward worship. Maybe getting down on our knees until we feel like praying. Maybe opening our Bible and placing it in a place comfortable for reading until we feel like reading!
We are quite stoic in our praise, only using words spoken or in song. But when I imagine the praise that occurred on Palm Sunday when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, I imagine a much more raucous time. Cloaks laid out, palm branches waving, hands lifted, loud singing and shouting. One verse in Luke’s account says, “As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highes” (19:37-38)! This is a classic formula for praise: the praise is offered and the reason for the praise is offered. In this case they praised God because of all the deeds of power they had seen.
The one time I lift my hands in our worship, there are occasionally other times, but the time I always do is during the singing of the doxology. I know it may seem more appropriate for the preacher, but you are all welcomed to give it a try sometime. It is amazing what lifting hands can do to our attitude of blessing and praise.
Psalm 134 ends with a blessing of God to us. We might call all that God has done His grace. We praise God because of all that He has done, His grace! And His grace is so abundant that even a Psalm that centers on blessing the Lord ends with a blessing to us. “May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!” I think that this means we cannot out-bless God. All we can do is give thanks all the time and give glory and praise. This is our purpose in life.
We would be remiss if we did not talk about the main word of praise on this particular Sunday, the triumphal entry of Jesus, Palm Sunday. We are familiar with the story and yet the story is a bit foreign to us. We do not relate to tossing our coats on the ground or setting branches out before dignitaries. It is not a custom on the western world. We probably like Palm Sunday because it is the only “happy” day in Lent, the only day to rejoice between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It is a welcomed respite for us in the midst of Lent. Rejoicing may draw us to Psalm 118. It is a text of thankfulness, joy, marvel, salvation, and blessing. Its positive feel strikes us in a way that Palm Sunday does not. It brings something more to the celebration, something new and exciting. Psalm 118 rekindles the fire of Palm Sunday. It is the text associated with the cry of Hosanna.
The petition in the Psalm to “save us” is the root word that gives us the word of praise “Hosanna”. Salvation is the theme and it is the one who comes in the name of the Lord who brings salvation.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! 28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. 29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
The overall tone of the psalm is one of victory after persecution and combat with a powerful enemy. It is a victory processional extolling the Lord's saving help. The image one gets from the psalm is of a representative leading a crowd of people who were saved by the Lord's intervention. They were going to the temple to give thanks. The scene described by the Psalm is quite like the scene described by the evangelists as Christ's triumphal entry.
In the end the question is why do we praise God? For the disciples on this particular day we celebrate, it was all the works they had seen God do. In the Psalms there are many reasons, but we often categorize them as the mighty acts of God. Our praise today is for the very same reasons, for all that God has done in our lives and in the world. We praise because God has given, God has acted, and God will act again. God has made a triumphal entry into our lives and saved us…for that alone we could praise God forever more.
I want to briefly mention another term we use in praise, Hallelujah. This term means “praise the Lord!” When we see “praise the Lord” and the beginning and end of Psalm 147, the Hebrew reads “Hallelujah!” It is scattered all over Psalm 150. See, you knew some Hebrew words already, you just did not know you knew. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!
A Song of Praise
For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. Today a song of praise is fitting. It’s Palm Sunday, a day for praise. But it is always a fitting time to praise God when we count our blessing, when we read and hear God’s word, when we worship and pray and, well, live! Your song might not be in the form of singing. It could be a “song” of the voice speaking, a “song” of actions, a “song” of service, a “song” of thought or writing or something that brings praise to the Lord, that brings glory to God.
In the end we want our lives to be a song of praise, a song of doxology, for every time we praise the Lord we are also saying we are not praising any other gods, not praising government, not praising money, not praising a denomination, not praising any one person or thing, but we are lifting praise and adoration to the One to whom it is due, to the Lord our God. A song of praise is fitting, so praise Him today, in song, in rest, in love. Praise Him, praise Him, all ye little children, for God is love. Amen.
1A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson, 188.