READ : Psalm 100:1-5
I’d like to share an invitation with you today. It’s to the greatest activity in the whole universe and best of all, it’s addressed to everyone.
One of the things that most distinguished Reformed worship at the time of the Reformation, that great renewal of the Christian faith that began in the sixteenth century, was their congregational singing. Believers from the Reformed tradition in particular sang Psalms in their churches. They sang the Psalms, that is, and only the Psalms; nothing but Psalms. For two hundred years following the Reformation, no other songs or hymns were considered appropriate and acceptable for divine worship. Reformed worship was biblical; it was Word-centered. The reformers looked to the scriptures for their instruction and inspiration. They wanted the content of their worship to conform closely to the language of scripture. So when they chose the music for their worship services, they thought: What human compositions could possibly match the divinely inspired songs of the Bible’s song book, the Hebrew Psalter? Thus, in Scotland and Holland, in France, Switzerland and Hungary, in old England and New England, wherever the Reformation took root the Psalms were the exclusive way reformed congregations sang their praises and prayers for two centuries.
Psalm-singing required two things. First you needed a metrical version of the Psalms. That meant translating each Psalm into poetry which both scanned and rhymed; that is, it must have a regular rhythm (so it fit the music), and it must rhyme (so it was easier to learn and remember). For example, the first verse of the metrical version of Psalm 100 goes like this:
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with fear, his praise forthtell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.
The second thing needed in order to sing Psalms was, of course, a tune. Early on a collection of tunes for the Psalms was written in the city of Geneva, Switzerland – the very center of the Reformed tradition. As first sung, these Psalm tunes were anything but dull. They were strong, lively and popular – you could think of them as a sort of original version of Christian contemporary music. In fact, the Metrical Psalms were a bit too lively for Queen Elizabeth 1 of England, who dismissed them as “Geneva jigs.” Some of those tunes are still being used and sung today. The most famous of all of them is “Old Hundreth,” which goes with the text I read a bit earlier. (Most Christians know it as the tune of the Doxology.)
INVITATION TO WORSHIP
Psalm 100 is an open invitation to worship the true and living God. It is addressed to the whole world, as verse 1 makes clear. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands!” (rsv). Notice that it says “all the earth” (niv), not “all the church.” Right from the outset we’re told that the worship of God is not a restricted activity. It isn’t just for selected local communities or certain peoples or nations or tribes. No, the whole world is invited, is urged, is commanded, to worship the one living God. Don’t ever think that worship is only a hobby for religious enthusiasts. The church is not a club formed in order to indulge the interests of people who happen to be keen on religion. The worship of God is everybody’s business. If there were many different gods in the world, then none of them could reasonably demand everyone’s attention. But since the God who speaks through the Bible is the one true God, he addresses everyone – the whole earth. Worship is a universal privilege because God is a universal God.
More than that, worship is a universal duty. It’s the duty owed by creatures to their Creator, by subjects to their Ruler, by redeemed men and women to their Savior, by servants to their Lord. There really are only two kinds of people in the world: those who know God and worship him accordingly, and those who ought to be worshiping him, but don’t, either because they don’t know him, or don’t care about him. The fact that it is our duty to worship God doesn’t mean that we drag ourselves to church and force ourselves to sing the Psalms and hymns. Our duty should also be our delight. Worshiping God is a pleasure; it produces joy. In fact, it produces the only joy and pleasure that can satisfy us fully and forever. God won’t force us to perform this duty. We may choose to ignore him instead of glorifying him. If we prefer using his name to curse rather than to praise, God lets us go our own way. But that isn’t a healthy choice. It demeans both God and us.
PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING
The two most basic elements in the worship of God are praise and thanksgiving. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name” (v. 4). To bless God’s name means to praise him for who he is. It means to recite the goodness and the greatness of the Lord. “Know that the Lord is God!” says the psalmist (v. 3). The word God is full and rich in connotation. It has a specific meaning to it. It doesn’t stand for anything and everything. Its meaning isn’t vague or fluid. God means God, and the Lord is the one who is God. There is only one God. His personal name in Hebrew is “Yahweh” – the Lord. You may choose to honor some other name, some other god, or spirit, or power, but in that case you wouldn’t be worshiping the real God. The true God, the “God who is there” (in Francis Schaeffer’s phrase), can only be known through his own self-revelation. We can’t search for and discover God by our own wisdom; he must make himself known to us. And he has! God has taught us his personal name. He has communicated to us all of his goodness, his steadfast love and faithfulness. He came to us in person when he became a man, Jesus Christ, so that we could see and hear his goodness and mercy, his truth, righteousness, and justice. And the place where we learn all of this is in the Bible, which is God’s revelation in written form.
When we worship the Lord, we not only praise him for who he is, we also thank him for all he has done for us. Our praise and thanksgiving can’t be dull and routine. Let me amend that: it shouldn’t be dull and routine. I must confess it often is. So often our singing is lifeless, our preaching (to get a little more personal) is insipid, clich?-riddled, boring. Our prayers are lackluster, limp repetitions of tired stock phrases. Most of us are far too unthinking and unimaginative in our worship. It’s not enough just to run through a short list of God’s standard actions or mention a few of his blessings and gifts to us. We usually manage to thank God, when we remember it, for the nice weather, for our families and our health, but that’s about as far as we get. If you can’t think of anything more than that that God has done for you, if you aren’t aware of all the praiseworthy qualities of God, if coming into his presence doesn’t stir your heart, if you don’t really know why you should worship the Lord, then perhaps you need to spend a little time getting better acquainted with him.
The worst thing in the world is a worship service where people are just going through the motions, simply, mindlessly repeating words and phrases and forms. Psalm 100 reminds us of the need for energy and excitement in our worship. We need to be passionately involved in what we’re doing and saying. Listen to these opening verses again.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands!
Serve [i.e. worship] the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Singing, gladness, exuberant noise – those are the notes of biblical worship. Now this doesn’t mean that our worship needs to be raucous or chaotic, or that the best form of praise is yelling and cheering, or that the ideal worship service should be a cross between a rock concert and a football game. The joyful noise of which the psalmist speaks is, according to Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner, “the equivalent in worship to a fanfare for a king.” In other words, when the psalmist urges us to shout for joy and sing with gladness, he’s drawing an analogy with the public musical greeting that in his society would be offered to the king. This is the Old Testament equivalent of “Ruffles and Flourishes,” the trumpet fanfare that welcomes the President of the United States whenever he enters a room. So the worship of God should be dignified and uplifting, as well as lively and exciting.
“WE ARE HIS PEOPLE”
Perhaps the most important truth about worship we learn from this song of invitation in Psalm 100 is that genuine worship is rooted in our special relationship with God. When the psalmist gets down to the foundation of everything in verse 3, he says this: “know that the Lord is God! It is he that made us, and we are his. . . . his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” If you really want to know how to worship God, you first have to really know God! The very best reason for worshiping the Lord is that he has saved us, redeemed us, and made us his own. We belong to him! God made us, and made us for himself. He rescued us when we had turned away from him through sin. We are now his people. We are the sheep of his pasture, and he is the Lord, our shepherd.
That powerful image was taken up by Jesus in the New Testament, and applied to himself. Jesus explained just how God saved us and made us his own. “I am the good shepherd,” he said. “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15). Jesus also explained in that chapter exactly who his sheep are, and how one becomes a part of his people.
- Jesus’ sheep are those people who believe in him, who have come to him by faith and have joined their lives to his life. “I am the door of the sheep. . . . if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7,9).
- Jesus’ sheep are those people who hear and listen to his voice. “I have other sheep also, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. . . . My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:16,27).
- Jesus’ sheep are those people whom he knows, and who know him. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own, and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:14-15).
- Jesus’ sheep are those who follow him and receive the gift of eternal life from him. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).
This wonderful image links New Testament fulfillment with Old Testament invitation. But exactly what does it mean to say that Jesus is the good shepherd and that we are his sheep? How does that happen? How do we in fact become that? It happens through the preaching of the gospel. That is how people hear Jesus’ voice today, and come to him. When the truth about him is spoken, when the promises of forgiveness and salvation and eternal life through faith in him are repeated, then Jesus himself is speaking. And those who are his will recognize the voice of their good shepherd, the One who gave his life for them. They will turn and follow him, and become one with him. Won’t you do that today?
Come and worship him now,
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.