“When Isaac Watts was a teenager in late-seventeenth century England, he did not care for the type of songs being sung in churches at the time. It is said that one Sunday after returning from a service and expressing much dissatisfaction, his father replied: “Well then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?” Watts, then eighteen years old, accepted his father’s challenge. The next Sunday he produced his first hymn, and for the next two years, young Watts wrote a new hymn text for his church every Sunday. When threatened with a whipping for annoying his family by constantly speaking only in rhyme, legend holds that he cried out, “O father, do some pity take/ And I will no more verses make.”
The song appeared in his well-known hymnal of 1719, Psalms of David Imitated In the Language of the New Testament . Watts intended this collection to give the Psalms a New Testament meaning and style. More than a century later, in 1839, American composer and music educator Lowell Mason decided to set them to music, modestly including the phrase “From George Frederick Handel,” apparently to honor his idol, the composer of Messiah and many other masterpieces. For nearly 100 years, the world accepted this ascription, until musicologists pointed out that not a single phrase in the music can be said to have come straight from any work of Handel’s. The hymn is a paraphrase of the Psalm 98:4-9.” (RZIM, “A Slice of Infinity”)
Scripture does not instruct us about how to listen to music; it does instruct us who is to sing music; how to sing music; also tells us what to sing and why to sing, to whom we should sing. Too often arguments about worship focus on what the people up front are doing and not enough on what the worshipers are doing. Again, Bible says very little about leading, much about worshiping.
Present text is a “Crescendo of Celebration in Three-Part Harmony” – soprano voices begin by telling us why we should sing in celebration. Alto voices add their part giving direction in how we are to celebrate. Finally, baritone voices bring in the rest of the chorus and who should celebrate the coming of the King.
I knew you would ask that question, thanks for asking! Which coming is in view in this psalm? Written from perspective of the driver – looking ahead, through the windshield, also has rear-view mirror within range of vision. Looking primarily toward his next coming but has former coming in view also – seen in language like “He has done” (v.1) and “He is coming” (v.9). Is like several OT passages that have both comings in view. Suffering servant and conquering king – how can same individual be both? His first coming in humiliation, second coming in glory and power answers the seeming conflict. But, like the conscientious driver, focus is primarily on where we’re going while aware of where we’ve been.
Let the music begin – first the Sopranos with their song of salvation, why we are to praise the Lord.
A. Soprano – A Song of Salvation (vv. 1-3) why to praise
marvelous things – “that are unusual, beyond human capabilities; so abnormal as to be unexplainable except as showing God’s care or retribution.” TWOT
the sort of things that excite a sense of amazement, speechless wonder – unexpected and beyond what man is capable of doing or even explaining
God has done it all by himself – his hand, his arm that have accomplished victory; no one has helped, no one has contributed to God’s achievement, can take no part of the credit – all belongs to God and him alone
at first coming, demonstrated his power over all enemies – sin, Satan and death; final victory has not been declared…yet
1 Cor. 15:25-26 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be eliminated is death.
God’s enemies are our enemies, too – he exercises his power (hand and arm) on behalf of his subjects, for their good and his glory
made salvation known
God could have gained victory over his enemies and never told anyone; world (theoretically) could have remained in total darkness
sent his Son to deal with enemies publicly, then sent his Spirit to empower public witnesses
before end of 1st century Paul could say Col 1:6 “the gospel…is bearing fruit and growing all over the world.” — presently no known nation on earth where Gospel hasn’t reached
revealed his righteousness
his character made evident in many ways – natural and special revelation; it all coalesces (come together and form one whole) in personal revelation of himself in Lord Jesus, in his person and his work
as Christ is proclaimed to the nations in the Gospel, so God’s righteousness is revealed; just as important, God has revealed how his righteousness can be credited to sinners who turn to him in faith
mercy and faithfulness
Peter put it this way: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering” (2 Pet. 3:9)
God remains loyal to his people, keeps his promises to them – protects, provides, guides and sustains
especially true in the Gospel – came to the Jew first, then to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16); even in their rejection of Christ, God has not locked them up
salvation given to the Gentiles to make Jews jealous; but,…there remains a remnant among the Jews and promise of restoration (Romans 11:5, 11-12)
the whole world knows
Jesus told Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews”; great news and worthy of loud praise – salvation does not belong only to the Jews; is from the Jews but for the world
whole world has “seen” salvation already; will “see” it in far greater measure when Christ accomplishes final deliverance of his people from sin and death, when that last enemy is eliminated
B. Alto – Shouts of Coronation (vv. 4-6) how to praise
with jubilation (remember VE & VJ Day)
irrepressible excitement because our hero has won; deadly enemies have been conquered, no more worries – in this case, truly is “the war to end all wars” and the King, our King wins
John Wesley, Directions for Singing: “Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.”
with joyful singing
Keach’s Catechism, Q. 1. Who is the first and best of beings? A. God is the first and best of beings.
if God really is first and best, and he has adopted us into his family, have much to be joyful about; add to that the progress of the Gospel, more voices added to ours, more joy in the mix
finally, much cause for rejoicing in the King’s victory – “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail”
with soft instruments and voices – with loud instruments
in case you wondered, it’s not only the words that make good music; not the words that sanctify the music
instrumental portion must be worthy praise whether harp, trumpet or ram’s horn (shofar) – all voices should communicate same truths whether instrumental or human
if this is the hymnal for the Church, seems pretty clear that a capella hymns is only one way to praise
praise that is quiet and sensitive is equally pleasing to God as loud attention-getting music, so long as attention is directed to “the Lord, the King”
IT’S THE KING AND HIS VICTORY WE’RE CELEBRATING
because he is our king, it is our victory – the whole kingdom is included in the victory, triumph over enemies
want to know how to celebrate King Yahweh? Isa 6:3-5And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
C. Baritone – Sounds of Celebration (vv. 7-9) who should praise
every facet of creation has cause to rejoice – Rom. 8:19-22 – especially when the King comes back because of what he will do at his return
creation waits with eager longing…creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay…the whole creation has been groaning together…until now
Isaiah says “the mountains and hills will give a joyful shout before you, and all the trees in the field will clap their hands.” (55:12)
Mic 6.8 those who do justly, love mercy, walk humbly….because absolutely everything wrong will be set right
our “chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” – when forever gets closer, the King’s final victory nearly in sight, gives his people that much more to praise and celebrate
those who refuse to praise the King before his return will acknowledge him at the end
Phil. 2:10-11that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Stiller music such as made the stars twinkle with their soft kind eyes suited his first coming at Bethlehem, but his second advent calls for trumpets, for he is a judge; and for all earth’s acclamations, for he has put on his royal splendour. The rule of Christ is the joy of nature.” CHS
What’s not to be excited about! If have both comings in our view, should be able to do as Paul exhorted – 1 Cor. 15:51-58
“I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Doesn’t matter how it looks, what the news reports are, what the skeptics say, the work of the Gospel is not in vain. Verse 58 deals with our present (not our future) – if we really believe Jesus is coming back and that he wins, then we should live now in light of that confidence – standing firm, unshaken, always busy working for the Lord, praising him for his victory.