Maximising Missions (Psalm 96:1-13)

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I could equally have titled this message “Great Expectations” because this psalm is one of great anticipation. Specifically, it anticipated then, and it continues to anticipate now, the day when the present reign of Jesus will be fully experienced in this world. This is why this psalm has been referred to as a messianic, missions and millennial song.1 There is coming a day when individuals from every peoples of the earth will sing the new song of praise to the glory of God. And since there are currently 11,238 people groups, comprising 6.9 billion souls, this is something to not only anticipate, but to also celebrate. I would add that such awareness should also motivate us in the Great Commission.

Fundamentally, this psalm is about the victorious reign of Christ over the nations, both now and through eternity. It is for this reason that I have approached this message with the theme of “Maximising Missions,” for this is precisely the idea behind the words. This psalm, we might say, is about “music and missions.” It is about “singing and salvation.” It is about those who were at one time marginalised from the blessings of the gospel being gathered in to join the heavenly choir as revealed in Revelation 5:9-10.

If Psalm 96 calls for a new song, then Revelation 5, it can be argued, reveals those who make up the choir that sings that new song. Revelation provides the lyrics of the new song: “You are worthy . . . You have redeemed us to God by Your blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Truly, that is something to sing about!

The Occasion of Celebration

As for the occasion of the psalm, there is no way to definitely know, but there are a couple of likely possibilities.

The Return of the Ark?

First Chronicles 16 contains much of this psalm. God’s people sang some of these words at the celebration of the ark being returned to Jerusalem (after being with the Philistines for many years).

In a sense, Israel had been without the throne of God and without His immediate rule. Their worship of God therefore greatly suffered. After all, the ark was the place of the Shekinah glory. Whenever a people of God lose the sense of the presence of God, both their worship of God and their work for God suffers. It always does. It does still today.

Upon the ark’s return, there was a celebration of the universal reign of Yahweh. And with Yahweh manifestly ruling over Israel, she now could fulfil her mandate (Exodus 19:5-6).

This psalm therefore celebrates this anticipated victory. It is for this reason that the nations are commanded to join with Israel in singing a new song—not new lyrics, but a new reason to celebrate the glorious and gracious name of God; to celebrate God’s gracious and glorious salvation through His name.

The nations are to anticipate with Israel the universal blessings of the rule of God over all; His righteous judgement—a judgement which is much more than the punishment of evil, but rather a just rule that ushers in peace and harmony and prosperity.

Second Temple Celebration?

The second possible occasion of this psalm is the restoration of Israel after her exile. The temple had been rebuilt, and once again the nation of Israel was well poised to fulfil her Great Commission of declaring God’s glory among the nations. By doing so, God’s temple would become a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7).

There are many images in this psalm that can be found in the book of Isaiah, and for this reason some maintain the suggestion that the psalm was composed with this second temple background. It is clear that some event of great magnitude led to its composition, and certainly the return from exile with the completion of the temple would fit the bill.

What We Do Know

Since we cannot say for sure, we need to focus on what we do know, and what we do know is found in the words of the psalm itself. Thankfully, this is not too difficult to discover.

The psalm can be divided into three major sections. Each section begins with a triplicate statement: “Sing, sing, sing” (v. 1); “give, give, give” (v. 7); and “let, let, let” (v. 10). These are imperatives, predicated upon indicatives. That is, the commands are founded on the condition of something having taken place. And a study of the psalm reveals what that something is the reign and rule of the Lord over the nations. It is anticipatory, of course, and so the commands are to be obeyed by faith.

As we prepare for our World Outreach Celebration, we will focus in this study on our theme, which is “Missions and the Marginalised.” Specifically, we will consider maximising our efforts to extend our mission to reaching and thus reducing the number of gospel marginalised.

The marginalised are those who have, for whatever reason, been left out of many of the blessings enjoyed by others. Someone has defined the marginalised as “a community or a group of persons that have been sidelined in terms of development and social amenities. These communities are usually vulnerable to social injustices and human discomforts. Marginalized communities are in most cases disadvantaged in all aspects of life.”2 This can be either material or spiritual (or both). We are primarily dealing with the latter, but the former has some bearing as well.

The marginalised are all around us—some even work in our homes. We have a responsibility to reach them with the gospel. But the marginalised, as I attempted to explain previously from the book of Acts, includes the “nations” (the Gentiles or the “peoples”) who have not yet been blessed with a viable gospel witness in their midst.

There is a section of the world referred to as the 10/40 Window. This is that portion of the world between latitudes 10 and 40 degrees comprising the eastern hemisphere (most of Asia) and western hemispheres (including parts of Europe and North Africa). Roughly two-thirds of the world’s population lives here (4.85 billion in 8,352 people groups).

Most of these are cut off from many of the economic benefits of the rest of the world, and so most of the world’s poorest live in this region. But most importantly, they live in political regions where there is much opposition to the presence of Christianity, as the majority of the people are Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, animist and atheist. In other words, humanly speaking, this Window is closed to the gospel.

When it comes to a meaningful presence of a gospel witness in the form of a local church, there is no doubt that, compared to much of the world (including South Africa), those living in the 10/40 Window are marginalised. These peoples have been marginalised, sadly, when it comes to mission efforts and missionary investment.

We call these groups “unreached” or “unengaged.” The unreached are those people groups where less than two percent of the population are evangelical Christians and there is no sustained indigenous church-planting movement among them. There are currently 6,545 such people groups comprising a population of 3.9 billion people. Unengaged groups are those where there is currently no strategy to reach them with the gospel. There are currently some 3,055 unengaged groups with an estimated population of 207 million lost souls. The Lord expects us to do something about this. We are to do something meaningful about it. We are to meaningfully seek to include these marginalised peoples in our missions efforts. We are to maximise our efforts to get the gospel to the marginalised.

Now, this seems like a huge task—and it is. We are talking about people risking their lives to reach these peoples. We are talking about lots of money to get Christians to these regions where disciples can be made and where local churches can be planted. We are talking about fighting the world, the flesh and the devil in the form of hatred, ignorance and misunderstanding, including wrong ideas of what constitutes being a Christian.

In the light of this, we may be tempted to see such a task as impossible. It is not. And one reason that I know that it is not because of this psalm before us this morning, and its counterpart in Revelation 5.

Pie in the Sky

This psalm constitutes a promise of what the church can expect. This is no sentimental pie-in-the-sky-until-you-die, melody but rather a prophetic promise of what the church can expect one day. But it also serves as a clarion call for the church to do something in the light of the anticipation that it reveals. In short, it commands the church to sing, to submit and to be steadfast. And to the degree that this characterises our disposition, to such a degree we will maximise our efforts to reach the marginalised.

Though I do not believe that BBC is guilty of this, nevertheless, generally speaking, Christians are often guilty of marginalising rather than maximising missions. This was clearly the case with the Jewish nation for centuries—and, to some degree, with the Jewish church in early New Testament days. So we must ask and answer, how do we maximise missions to the marginalised? This psalm will help us.

First, we must have a passion for the Lord’s desire (vv. 1-6). We must sing. Second, we must have a passion for the Lord’s due (vv. 7-9). We must submit. Third, we must have a passion for the Lord’s dominion (vv. 10-13). We must be steadfast. In short, we must have a passion for the Lord. In other words, the driving force behind maximising our mission must be theological; it must be God-centred.

Our driving force is not the pathetic socio-economic conditions in which the marginalised live, but rather the knowledge that they are not giving God His due by living under His rule. We should be driven to do something about this. And we can do so with confidence precisely because He has decreed that one day this indeed will be the case.

A Passion for the Lord’s Desire

In vv. 1-6 we learn that we must have a passion for the Lord’s desire. We must sing.

Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Honour and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

(Psalm 96:1-6)

Note the direction (the object) of the singing: “Oh, sing to the LORD.” We need a passion for the fame of God’s name. Albert Mohler says that “the most important dimension of any vision for world missions is a passion to glorify God . . . In missions we share God’s delight.”3 And God delights in His glory. That is why Jesus told us to pray, “Hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9-10).

The Desire to Sing

Boice reminds us, “These writers are usually not thinking of themselves of what they are able to accomplish. They are thinking about God. So the call to sing a new song is actually a call to sing about some new thing God himself has done.”4 The “new” thing that God has done is new in emphasis because of a new experience with God. In Revelation 5, the new experience is salvation from sin and its penalty. It is the experience of God’s redemption. There is a new appreciation for who the Lord is and for what He has done.

God’s gospel put a song in their collective heart. We need such a delight that produces such a desire to sing and to speak.

It is vital that we see that we are called by God to call the nations to sing, but that first we ourselves are to sing. Until we are singing with a new and fresh vibrancy to the Lord, we will not do much by way of calling others to sing.

We must join the choir before we start recruiting others to join the choir. As John Piper says, “You can’t summons the nations to sing if you are not singing.”5

We need to contemplate the gospel afresh and return to our first love. The old song says, “I sing because I’m happy.” But this may be precisely our problem: We are not happy in the Lord and therefore we are not able to call, with integrity, people to be happy in the Lord. Until we are happy in the Lord, we will only see missions as the hardest work in the world. But again, as Piper points out, missions is both “the hardest and the happiest business in the world.”6

Mohler notes, “Our vision for world evangelization is an important barometer of spiritual and theological health. A vibrant commitment to Christ leads to a passion for the Gospel. A grand embrace of God’s truth produces an enthusiasm to see God glorified as His name is proclaimed to the nations.”7 This is what has driven great missionary movements and men throughout history.

Missions is fundamentally about increasing the size of the choir. Missions is, in a very real sense, a huge music ministry. Perhaps this is why, unconsciously, the music ministry is so important during our WOC. We sing to celebrate what the Lord has done, what the Lord is doing, and what the Lord will yet do. Missions motivates us to sing “let the earth resound with songs of praise” and the singing in turn motivates us—by the truth of what is being sung—to maximise missions.

This was clearly the case here. Whatever the wonderful “salvation” experienced by God’s people, they were to make it known in song. And not only them, but all of the nations, were to join in giving honour to the name of God.

The Duty to Sing

Note the choir that sings: “all the earth.” This is a worldwide choir/congregation. That is, the command is that all the earth is to join this choir. It is to be an ever-expanding choir: no longer only the Jews, but all peoples. G. Campbell Morgan writes of these verses, “If the song of the Lord begins in the heart, it always grows to the chorus in which others are included in its music.”8 This was always God’s plan, but unfortunately the Jewish nation as a whole minimised its missionary mandate. At one time, the Jewish nation itself was marginalised. Sadly, though God graciously delivered them, they eventually marginalised others because they minimised the glory and greatness of God.

This expanding chorus will only occur to the degree that God’s people take seriously their privileged responsibility to proclaim the glory of God to the nations. This commission is essential, for those who are not in the choir are in fact worshipping false gods, literally “no-things.” This must stop. And so, moved by the glory of the name of God, we are to seek the fulfilment of God’s decreed desire: “Hallowed be Your name.”

Having noted the choir that sings, note further the content of the song: “Bless His name.” To “bless” means “to speak well of.” The message is one of “good news.” Interestingly, the Septuagint translates the word “proclaim” with the Greek word euagellizo, which means “to tell good news” or “to evangelise.” That is, the content of the song is the gospel. The singing is to be gospel-centred proclamation.

We are commanded to “speak good” about God, and we do so by telling the good thing He has done in saving us. This is how we recruit members for the choir.

Note next the celebration of the song. God’s “glory” and God’s “wonders” are intimately connected with God’s work of salvation. In other words, the celebration and the proclamation of the gospel is the means to the glorification of God. And I would maintain that this all begins with meaningful contemplation of the Lord, His glory and His glorious gospel. That will make you sing!

Deploying the Song

In sum, we are commanded to prioritise God’s desire. We are to sing of His glory, to speak of His glory and to spread His glory. Missions is about planting pockets of peoples around the globe who will live for the fame of God’s name. It is time for all of God’s people to reach all the peoples of the earth.

A Passion for the Lord’s Due

In vv. 7-9, the second major division of this psalm, we learn that we must have a passion for the Lord’s due. That is, we must have a passion for the worldwide worship of God.

Give to the LORD, O families of the peoples, give to the LORD glory and strength. Give to the LORD the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.

(Psalm 96:7-9)

This, of course, is inseparable from the first point, yet it is distinct in emphasis. That is, having a passion for the fame of God’s name is to also have a passion for Him being worshipped by all. But we need to start with the first if we will have the second. This seems to be the theme of this triumvirate of verses. To see this happen we must submit

A Glorious Realisation

There is a glorious realisation here that this is not about us. The NKJV begins v. 7 with the word “give.” Other translations (ESV, NASB, HCSB, etc.) use “ascribe.” Leupold comments, “Though the Hebrew says that these qualities are to be ‘given” to Him that clearly signifies that His possession of them is to be openly confessed.”9 It is because we know that we cannot actually give to God anything that He does not already possess that the word “ascribe” is used. The psalmist is saying that we are to acknowledge God’s glory and His power. We are to do so while at the same time acknowledging that all other gods are false. In other words, we are to acknowledge the exclusivity of Christianity. God is everything, all other gods are “no-things.”

Global Recognition

God’s due is to be recognised globally—by all “families of the earth” and by “all the earth.” The sad reality is that the majority of the world does not recognise the glory of God. Consider this story, shared by Paul Eshleman.

I was in a small Karamoja village in northern Uganda. One hundred and eighty thousand people had died of starvation the year before. On the outskirts of the village was a pile of human skulls that stood as a stark testimony to the tragedy. I picked up two of the skulls in my hands and realised that just six months before, these had been living, breathing, human beings. I wondered if anyone had ever told them the message of Jesus.

As we gathered some of the people together, I began to ask them, through my interpreter, to tell me what they knew about Jesus. One by one, the answers came:

“I don’t know who he is, sir.”

“Does he live in Nairobi?”

“I’ve never heard of him.”

Or in some cases, they just shook their head “no” as they looked at the ground. Finally, there was just one little eight year-old boy left. As I asked the question again, a tear ran down the little boy’s cheek.

“Sir,” my interpreter said, “He would like to tell you about Jesus, but he has never, ever heard his name.”’10

So what is required for the nations to hear and to reverently receive Jesus? Verses 8b-9 tell us.

Grateful Recognition

This submission, of course, will take on many forms, but it will always have the element of an “offering” in it. It will always involve sacrifice. This passage commands us to submit: for God’s glory, for our good and for the good of all “families of the earth” who will also submit. Those who submit will sacrifice.

Leupold notes, “Since in days of old every major act of worship found expression in sacrifice, all these subjects of Yahweh are bidden to ‘take an offering and come into His courts.’”11 The same holds true for the new covenant “choir.”

If we truly see the glory of God then we will be moved to sacrifice to Him. We will be reverently moved to give to Him in recognition of our experience of His grace. We might therefore call this a gospel recognition. We bring our sacrifices out of gratefulness to God for showing us His glory in the gospel. In other words, we give Him of our wealth as an expression of worship. And both are vital if we will maximise missions.

God desires worshippers; He desires people from all over the globe to give Him the glory that is His due. And by doing so we are blessed, for we are delivered from false worship, which is always destructive.

Think about the implications of passionately worshipping the true God and a passion for others to worship the true God. This will go a long way towards turning away from the false gods of our age—one which is materialism. And as we do so others, will be in a more advantageous position to be delivered as well. The truth is, materialism marginalises missions.

You will note that “all the families of the earth” are to do so. But how will this occur? By offerings given at God’s place appointed place for worship (see Philippians 4:10-20; 2 Corinthians 8—9; etc.). If we are truly reverent before the Lord then we will be willing to release what He has given to us—finances, time, plans, children, comfort, retirement, gifts and abilities, etc.—that He might be feared elsewhere.

Global Reproduction

It must be noted that the psalmist had in mind a particular location for such worship to take place. It was a particular place: the tabernacle or the temple (depending on when the psalm was composed). And as we have seen, this was designed by God to be a place of prayer (worship) for all nations/peoples. This psalm certainly has that in mind. God was to be worshipped globally in a particular location. But obviously this all points to the greater temple in the person of Christ and of His church (Ephesians 2:19-21; 1 Peter 2:4-10; John 2:13-22; etc.).

My point is simply that God’s expectation of missions is that there will be places all over this globe where He receives His due and thus His dues. And these dues are then used to spread the gospel so that God will receive His due and dues elsewhere as well. And when all of His due is secured in space and time history then the time will be due for God to do His thing for eternity!

We should seek to plant churches globally that themselves will seek to plant churches globally. All of us are called to maximise missions. God deserves His due! Worldwide worship will yield worldwide worship.

A Passion for the Lord’s Dominion

In vv. 10-13, the third and final major section of this psalm, we learn of the need to have a passion for the Lord’s dominion. We need the perspective of the Lord’s decreed, and therefore promised expected, righteous rule. This will require that we be steadfast.

Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns; the world also is firmly established, it shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all its fullness; let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the LORD. For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth.

(Psalm 96:10-13)

Our Message

The message we are to proclaim is the dominion of Christ. Verse 10 reads, “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns; the world also is firmly established, it shall not be moved.’” This verse clearly begins the final section. It introduces the theme of the rule and reign of Christ (which is the centrepiece of the psalm) and tells us what to expect in the light of His reign. This gives impetus to maximising the mission.

Kirkpatrick notes, “In the establishment of God’s righteous rule the Psalmist sees the prelude of the Messianic age which is to bring harmony and peace to all creation.”12 The world needs to hear that Jesus is King and that He is Lord of all. The world needs to understand that Matthew 28:18 is the reason we are dong Matthew 28:19-20. The church as well needs this reminder.

We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ in every nation because Jesus is Lord over every man. Leupold says of the phrase “the LORD reigns”: “Until one has appropriated this truth he stumbles about blindly. When it has been fully grasped, insight into the whole world and its government becomes absolutely clear.”13

We are to do all we can to inform the world that Jesus will bring righteous judgement to earth. And as I understand the various passages and promises in the Bible, the world will experience a measure of this in space-time history.

This judgement is not merely speaking of punishment, though certainly that is included in the rule of a government. Rather, it includes the putting right what is wrong. Phillips observes, “The predominant thought behind the word ‘judgment’ here is not punishment but peace and praise and perfect government.”14 Again, Leupold is most helpful when he observes, “In the days of the Old Testament this judgment was also thought of with most joyful anticipation, for judgment involved the fact that all things that are now in disarray and disharmony, suffering from injustice and violence, shall be set right and adjusted.”13

Our Motivation

Our motivation in this task is the destiny of creation. According to vv. 11-13, one day all will do what it was created to do. The entire creation will worship the Creator. This clearly anticipates the truth of Romans 8:18-22.

Scroggie captures the theme of these verse well when he writes, “So glorious a truth is this, that not only are all nations blest, but all creation; ‘heavens,’ ‘earth,’ ‘sea,’ ‘plains’ and ‘trees’ burst into song before the LORD.”16 What a blessed prospect. Such anticipation will go a long way to empower us to be steadfast in the mission. Again, small wonder that Piper can say that missions is both the hardest and the happiest of tasks.

Though today many live marginalised lives, and nature is no help to this, one day all nature will obey the Lord and will be under dominion of man again—under dominion of glorified man.

We need to be careful here, but it should not go unnoticed that so many of the “natural disasters” that have racked the world over the centuries have occurred in what we now label the 10/40 Window. Is there a corollary with the reality that this region is also the least Christianised in the world?

Joy to the World

The promise is that a better day is coming and this is intimately connected with the task of missions. We should be motivated to maximise our efforts because, humanly speaking, the sooner the nations submit to the dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sooner the blessings will flow “far as the curse is found.” Joy to the world, indeed!

It must be confessed that, when we read the news, we see little of vv. 11-13. We see rather nature red in tooth and claw, and death and decay in all we see. Yet that is why this psalm is so important. It is a challenge to our faith and it is a call to have faith. If we are to sing, sing, sing and give, give, give then we must first believe, believe, believe. This is not, as noted earlier, pie-in-the-sky; rather, it is a promise from God. And though I do not pretend to know how this will all look and how it will come to pass, I know that it will happen. That is enough.

As a Little Child

We need the faith of young Archibald Hodge (the son of Charles Hodge). When he was ten years old Archibald and his sister, Mary Elizabeth, gave a letter on to Princeton seminary graduate, James R. Eckard, who was soon to sail for Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Addressed to the “heathen,” it read:

Dear Heathen: The Lord Jesus Christ hath promised that the time shall come when all the ends of the earth will be His kingdom. And God is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent. And if this was a promise made by a Being who cannot lie, why do you not help it to come sooner by reading the Bible, and attending to the words of your teachers, and loving God, and, renouncing your idols, take Christianity into your temples? And soon there will be not a Nation, no, not a space of ground as far as a footstep, that will [lack] a missionary. My sister and myself have, by small self – denials, procured two dollars which are enclosed in this letter to buy tracts and Bibles to teach you. Archibald Alexander Hodge and Mary Eliz. Hodge, Friends of the Heathen.

At an early age, these children learned to believe the promises of God, and they also learned to maximise their efforts in the mission. Though they were too young to go, nevertheless they were not too young to give. They believed and sacrificed accordingly. We must continue to do the same.

We must be steadfast in the work of the Lord. And this will most certainly be aided as we sing and submit to Him. And to the degree that we do so, we will maximise the mission to the marginalised with the ultimate result that there will no longer be any marginalised to reach. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Show 16 footnotes

  1. W. Graham Scroggie, The Psalms, 4 vols. (London: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1972), 2:279.
  2. Ask.com, “What Is a Marginalized Community?” http://goo.gl/7JTJHJ, retrieved 2 March 2014.
  3. R. Albert Mohler Jr., “Christian Missions in the Third Millennium,” http://goo.gl/svpSL2, retrieved 2 March 2014.
  4. James Montgomery Boice, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 2:783.
  5. John Piper, “Declare His Glory Among the Nations,” http://goo.gl/aHYFWr, retrieved 2 March 2014.
  6. Piper, “Declare His Glory Among the Nations.”
  7. Mohler, “Christian Missions in the Third Millennium.”
  8. Boice, Psalms, 2:784.
  9. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1969), 684.
  10. Paul Eshleman, “Reaching the Unengaged,” http://goo.gl/NVNxFl, retrieved 2 March 2014.
  11. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 684.
  12. A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Psalms (Cambridge: The University Press, n.d.), 578.
  13. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 685.
  14. John Phillips, Exploring the Psalms, 2 vols. (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1988), 2:76.
  15. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 685.
  16. Scroggie, The Psalms, 2:282.