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Sermon - March 20, 2016

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1248

March 20, 2016 Luke 19:28-40

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

 

“The Subversive Act of Praise”

 

  • Praise the Lord!

 

We have heard it all of our Christian life, praise the Lord! I decided this week that I would see how many times we find praise in the Bible. Of the 215 uses of the word praise in the Old Testament, 137 of them are in the Psalms. If you add the 23 uses in the New Testament to the uses outside the Psalms, the Psalms still have more uses of the word praise than all the rest of the Bible combined. Now, I don’t think it is all that helpful to use statistics like that to make a major theological observation. But let’s consider this for a moment. The Psalms are the prayers of God’s people that have also become God’s word to us. If the Psalms include more use of praise than all the rest of the books of the Bible, it seems we could at least make the argument that the praise of God’s people is of vital importance.

There is one Psalm of interest in this area of praise that I thought I should mention, Psalm 22:3, but let’s start at the more familiar verse 1,

 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. 3Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

Now I am not real sure what to make of this notion that God is enthroned on praises. It almost sounds like the enthronement would end if the praises ended. Other versions use the phrase “inhabits” our praises. Perhaps it is to say that God is most intently present when we are at worship, singing His praises. God dwells in the places of praise! But the larger consideration here is the reason for Israel’s praises...God is holy. There are inexhaustible reasons to praise God and I will list a few of them in a moment, but I want us to think about this one of holiness. God is holy, therefore, we praise Him.

 

One of my favorite writers on holiness is actually a Jewish theologian, David Blumenthal. He writes that holiness is that which we consider sacred. Sometimes we consider places or objects or experiences as holy. With God it is the sense of otherness or that which is beyond us. He speaks of moments of holiness that we experience in nature, in stillness, in the voice of our conscience, in the silence of the soul, or in the rapture of beauty (David Blumenthal). The holiness of God goes beyond description. We know it when we see it or when we experience it. God’s holiness draws us in but also frightens us. God is holy in purity and sacredness. God is holy in His righteousness and faithfulness. God is holy in who God is and what God does. To know the holy God is to praise the holy God.

 

The act of praise connects us with God. It identifies us as worshipers of God. To praise God is to love God above all else. We praise God for many reasons: God's love, power, grace, mercy, forgiveness, gifts, and the list goes on forever. We also praise God because we are commanded to do so. We praise God because it is and activity God's people have done since created.

 

 

  • Forms of Praise

 

There are many ways to praise God. Too often we might limit praise to singing or speaking or anything that we do in worship. But I want to suggest that everything we do to God's glory is a form of praise. Maybe we could think of it in this way, anything that leads us to say or think, “praise the Lord”, is a form of praise. Let's read Colossians 3:16-17,

 

16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

To do everything in the name of the Lord is to praise His name. Whatever we do in speech or action is in the name of the One we praise.

 

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul is teaching about food and concludes that whatever we do should be done to God's glory...

 

31So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

 

Praising is found in everything we do, not just the obvious forms. Obviously there is praise in thanksgiving, service, prayer, music, or study, but imagine our lives in the understanding that everything we do and say can possibly be praise to the Lord.

 

Of course, we know too that we fail to praise the Lord in our sins. Romans 3:23 speaks of our sin causing us to fall short of God's glory. Thankfully, we have been justified in Christ and this brings me to my last point in the forms of praise.

 

The last point is in our presence or existence. Let's turn to Ephesians 1:3-6,

 

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

 

This is a passage filled with the blessings of Christ found in heavenly places. Those blessings for us are being chosen before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless, predestined for adoption, but what is important about this for our message today is that all of this is done according to God's will and purpose to His praise and glorious grace. If we are reading this correctly, our very existence as God's adopted sons and daughters is a form of praise. Just by being who we are we are at praise of the One who created and called us as His own. Isn't that amazing?!

We consider that with our own children. We think about children as reflections of parents. If that reflection is positive, it is to our praise, if it is negative, then they are the other spouses children! ☺

 

Know that your very existence is praise to the Lord. This is why just claiming to be a Christian causes the enemies of the cross so much disdain.

 

 

  • Jesus Enters Jerusalem with Praises

 

Praising the Lord is great! It is a positive experience for us and a blessing to the Lord. To praise the Lord can also be a threat to others, specifically those who do not worship the Lord. For instance, to praise Jesus as King makes a statement against all other kings. The praise Jesus as Lord threatens all other lords. Our story for today shows how this is true. When the people begin to praise Jesus and call out, “Blessed is the King,” the religious leadership starts to get nervous.

 

Luke 19:37-40

37 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, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

 

They probably told Jesus to stop the praises for two reasons, religious – that Jesus was not a king, and political – such praises could incite trouble from the civil government. Praises of Jesus were seen as a subversive act, subverting the authority of both the religious and the secular established power. A subversive act carries the intention to destroy or undermine an existing rule or system. It could be to change a set of beliefs or a government.

 

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. What had they seen? If we just confined our reading to Luke, they may have seen Jesus drive out a demon (Luke 4) or they could have seen him heal a withered hand (Luke 6). Maybe they saw or heard about raising a dead man to life (Luke 7). Jesus calmed a storm, he fed five thousand, he healed ten lepers. Does a crowd need any more reasons than these!? The subversion is in the fact that Jesus inverts everything! His kingdom topples all other kingdoms. His healing topples disease and demons. His forgiveness destroys sin. His power breaks all other powers.

 

Our praise today is for the 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. We praise God because of who God is as revealed in the Bible. And just as the disciples praise was subversive, so is ours.

 

 

  • Praise as a Subversive Act

 

Why is Donald Trump getting so much attention and praise from people in this country? My theory is simple, people are angry. There is anger at the current state of government, the current state of systems, and it is driving people to any non-politician candidate whether or not he is willing to talk about the issues we face. People are seeking ways to subvert the status-quo. People are tired of politics as usual from either side of the aisle. So Donald Trump gets praise and votes. Even Bernie Sanders gets lots of attention because he is not like the normal left status-quo, even further to the left than left.

 

Praise is subversive because it makes the claim that this God we praise is greater than the power the government thinks it has. Praise is subversive because is speaks truth to power. Praise was subversive when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. When they praised him as a king, every politician and every religious leader took notice. Praise threatens established power and even today, our praise of God is a threat to established power. This is one reason why the truth is a danger to the powers that be, the truth is praiseworthy. When the lies we are told come to light, no one will accept them except the very foolish or the established power who want to keep power that is based on lies.

Why do we praise God? Holiness, creator, redeemer, all the attributes that are revealed in the Bible. Righteousness, compassion, might, power, love, why do we praise? Look to all the Psalms that have the “praise for...” “he has...” Classic example is Psalm 117,

 

 Praise the Lord, all nations!     Extol him, all peoples!
2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

 

First, we are commanded to praise God, then we are told why. Praise the Lord for his love is great and his faithfulness goes on forever. We praise because we know that no other power on this earth loves us like God and there is no person or government faithful to us like our God. God's holiness will always be a threat to established power. No lobby can influence God's reign. No “bagillionaire” can buy God's favor. All the powers of the earth are in jeopardy from the holy God and when we praise the holy God we subvert the powers that be or perhaps I should say we praise the One who can and will subvert the powers of this world.

Let us not be caught off-guard, for the praises of God will indeed threaten all who seek to remove God from our nation. But we must praise God, for we cannot help but praise the One who has delivered us from sin and death. Hosanna, praise the Lord! Amen.