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Sermon April 14, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1393

April 14, 2019 Luke 19:28-40

Dr. Ed Pettus

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

 

 

“Praise – A Counter Cultural Act”

 

  • O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise (Ps 51.15).

 

What does it mean to praise the Lord? How is praise vocalized or lived in our world today? Why does praising our God make so many people angry? Here are some suggestions: Praise is thanksgiving. Praising Jesus is a way of life. Praise is prayer and worship and hope and love and a confession of faith. Praise is a symbol of devotion and loyalty to One God alone. Praise identifies a people. Praise lifts the name of the One worthy of praise. On the other side of the coin, praise of God is an act of defiance to the world. Praise to the Lord is a politic statement to the government and all earthly governments. Praise is subversive. Praise counters the cultural nonsense we see on the news daily. Praise helps keep a civil society civil. Praise makes a stand against all who would oppose God and Scripture and is, in our time, a counter cultural act.

 

Today is a great day to consider praise since this is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem to the praises of the people. They praised with words, with spreading cloaks and branches. They praised with their presence and their joy. The Bible is filled with that kind of praise. 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.

I’ve opened the outline of this sermon with the words to Psalm 51,

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise (Ps 51.15). What an interesting prayer, a call for God to open our mouths that we might praise Him. It speaks to a life filled with praise of God. It speaks of a life devoted to God. It speaks of the God who is worthy of praise.

Another Psalm that is quite interesting in this is Psalm 22. We are most familiar with the beginning of the Psalm, the verse Jesus quoted on the cross.

 

1My 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 our 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.1 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 an activity God's people have done since created. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise (Ps 51.15).

 

 

  • Praise as a Way of Life

 

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. Check out 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. To let the word of Christ dwell in us is a form of praise, to teach and admonish, to sing, to give thanks, it is all a form of 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.

 

  • Blessed is the King!

 

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.”

 

What do we think was happening in this act of praise to Jesus?

  • Recognition of another king

  • Threat to the current king (rulers)

  • Threat to the religious establishment

 

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.

Such an act of praise also threatens the way of life in a society, that is, it is an act counter to the culture. 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. Our praise of Jesus affirms the words of Jesus and thus the words of the Bible. And because many faithful advocates of God’s way are continuing to praise and thus affirm the Truth, our praise will be perceived by the world as a threat to things like abortion or redefining marriage and all the other cultural regressions that have and are occurring.

 

 

  • Praise – A Counter Cultural Act

 

Praise is counter cultural and even subversive because it makes the claim that this God who is praised is greater than the power the government thinks it has. Praise sends a counter message to the powers that be. Praise 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.

Praise also invokes the Truth that speaks to culture. Why are Christians getting resistance in our culture today? It is because we refuse to stop praising this God who brings Truth to a false world, brings light to the darkness, speaks that which our culture deems intolerable.

Consider that we may not be able to combat everything that has changed in our culture. We may not be able to bring back what we know to be what God intends for a better society and culture, but in our praise we stand against all that would oppose God’s Word. In our praise we offer a counter to the gods of tolerance and all other false narratives offered in our culture. In our praise we make a stand with God and if God is for us, who can be against us (Rom 8.31)? As long as we are praising God, we will praise no other god, no other ideology, no other powers, no other groups, no gospel of tolerance or political correctness or whose lives matter this week. All our praise is reserved for One God, the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

 

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. Praise is one of the things we can continue to do in defiance of the changes in cultural values and political moves and judicial rulings. We talk about praying and getting involved in causes and other things as well, all good things, but here is a simple, disciplined, obedient act that serves as a witness to the world and the world’s lack of moral center – “Praise the Lord!” It is that simple. It is a dangerous discipline. It is a subversive act. It is our form of cultural resistance. Hosanna, blessed be the King! Praise the Lord! Amen.

1David Blumenthal, A Theology of Protest, (24).