Have you ever received a summons to appear in court? In my 60 years I've never been called for jury duty, others I know have been asked 2 or 3 times. I'm feeling rejected!
Did you know that each of you received a summons today? A summons to gather and praise our great God with joy; called to listen to His word and heed His warnings. Did you hear the summons from God today? Of course, you did and that is why you are here.
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. ~Psalm 95:1-2 (NIV)
This summons is from God but comes through his people, here are God's people calling on each other to come ‘let us’ sing, come ‘let us’ bow down and worship.
A man once complained to his minister, he said “I don't like the songs you chose today” The minister said “That's ok, we weren't singing them for you.” That is not quite true, we sing to God and we also sing to each other about God. When I sing “Amazing Grace” I'm telling you that I am a wretch of a sinner saved by God's grace and you’re telling me the same thing.
But Praise is not just saying praise you Jesus 50 times like some mindless mantra, it should never be praise for praise sake.
I once went to a Christian conference and the first 8 songs we sang had me telling God that I loved him but I was not given one clear reason why. God had done so much but the writer of the songs couldn’t give me one reason. Listen to the reasons in verses 3-5.
For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. ~Psalm 95:3 (NIV)
We shout and sing because He is a Majestic God. He is El supremo in the heavens and He has no rivals and He will not share His glory with another. Unlike the credits in a movie God will not share the billing, He will not co-star with other gods, He is the great King above all gods, He is supreme in the heavens and He is supreme on earth.
In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. ~Psalm 95:4-5 (NIV)
Like a potter with his clay, He gets his hands dirty in creation. Picture God at work as our maker, I will put Australia there at the bottom end because last shall be first and first last. For kicks I'll make Italy look like a foot and since I know that they will love football why don't I give them a ball to kick and I'll call it Sicily. Look, a little bit of mud on the ball, I just give it a flick and there we have the Island of Malta. Isn't that more interesting than plate tectonics?
In His hands are the depths of the earth, remember the song “He's got the whole world in his hands”. It was a sad day when that song was used to advertise Mastercard. With Mastercard, you can pretend to be a god until you can’t pay your credit card bill of $10,000.
But God is no man's debtor, the sea is His, for He made it, as are the peaks of the mountains, the simple rule is, you make it then you own it and it belongs to you. That’s the rule of copyright, you create something and it's yours.
Friends, you do not belong to yourself you belong to God and that is why Joyful Praise is the right response to a great God. He is not only a great God he is our God.
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. ~Psalm 95:6-7a (NIV)
He is both powerful and personal, He is Majestic and He is mine. A Great God has made us his own. He is not just creator, and judge, He is our covenantal Lord, our loving Saviour, our Father in heaven, and our Good Shepherd. We kneel before the Lord our maker, he is our God.
The bulk of the earth's population neither know Him nor are known by Him. The reason why mission happens is because worship doesn’t.
The hands that hold the earth, the hands that formed the dry land, the hands that rescued his people, they are the same hands where our names are written. We are kept safe in those hands, hands that were stretched out on the cross, that same hand that will raise you up on the last day. These are the same hands that are held out to you today.
In one way worship is the same in the Old Covenant and New, it's about responding to God on his terms. But the terms are redefined between old to new, worship for Jews was temple centred and you approached God through a human priest, with an animal sacrifice and at a physical temple.
The reality for the new covenant people is that we trust Jesus Christ who is the perfect High Priest who offered the perfect sacrifice, his life, to the perfect God at the perfect temple in heaven to make us perfect and that is what we are. It’s on that basis that we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, wholly and pleasing to God.
Worship language in the New Testament is for all of life, 24/7. You worship God not just with a song from your mouth but with the whole of your life. To reduce worship to 10 mins of singing on a Sunday is like breathing for 10 mins a day, you’re not going to get very far, BUT part of our worship is to gather and sing with joy. Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; we have a reason to be joyful.
John Wesley was a missionary before he was a Christian. On his way back to England, Wesley was on a ship that was sinking and he was petrified. He noticed that a group of people on the boat were singing songs of joy as they faced their death. He was shocked and wondered, had they done more than he to be so confident? They shared with him how through Jesus our great God has saved us, so when this boat goes down we will go up to be with the Lord. That is why its Christians alone who sing songs of praise, marked with joy, for our God not only wants to save us he wants us to know we are saved.
1. A God of wrath
But almost as an intrusion to this joy-filled sound comes a second summons, to hear God's word and heed its warning.
Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” ~Psalm 95:7b-11 (NIV)
Amidst the singing comes the warning, when we gather we not only sing we also listen and are warned.
Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts. It’s a living word with a real warning for this moment in time… This is a warning for TODAY! The warning is - Do not follow the pattern of Israel in the past.
Two places became the benchmarks for Israel's hard heart: Meribah and Massah. The names of the places tell the story in Exodus 17:7. Meribah means quarrelling and Massah means testing and that is what Israel did again and again.
Instead of trusting God, they decided to test God, even though they had seen his works. Within a month after God rescued them from the Egyptians, after seeing God unleash his power in the 10 plagues, after seeing the parting of the sea with them walking through it and after seeing the same sea closed in on their enemies.
On their way to a land flowing with milk and honey and being fed daily for 40 years, Israel complained against God about not having water and they wanted to go back to Egypt and they paid the price. A whole generation failed to access the promised land, God's warnings are his means of grace to keep his people fearing and worshipping him.
I remember when I had been a Christian for about a year, I started wishing I came to Christ a few years later because I had more sinning to do. I wanted to go back to my old life, forgetting why I left it in the first place, my heart was beginning to harden. Then one day I walked into the home of a Christian and there in the lounge room was the record cover of a Christian singer, Keith Green, the title “So you wanna go back to Egypt.” It was like God had hit me on the back of my head and I repented.
The warning is clear and the warning is for you. This is God’s voice and it is for you today and he is saying ‘Do not harden your hearts or you will miss out of the heavenly promised land.’
The warning to Israel is the warning to us, for forty years I was angry with that generation.
“So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” ~Psalm 95:11 (NIV)
This was not simply an emotional reaction, a whole generation died in the desert and they never made it to the promised land.
As a rule humans don’t like warnings, when they revised the American Anglican Prayer Book they left out the last 4 verses of Psalm 95 with God's warning of God's anger. The negative for our age is the church is so often ashamed of God's anger which flows from God's holiness. We must not change God's nature to suit our cultural preferences otherwise we end up worshipping ourselves.
But to show how different the church is from the Bible when the book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95 in the New Testament a 1000 years later, it only quotes the last 4 verses of this Psalm about Gods anger. After the psalm is quoted we then read
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. ~Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)
The word is the same, do not harden your hearts to Gods word. Specifically, they were tempted to not gather because the pressure of persecution made them withdraw.
We need each other and we need to encourage one another daily. What is your heart like toward this warning? Is it a HEART that is soft that melts like butter in the sun or is it a HEART hardened like butter in the freezer? The church is God's great declaration that you can’t do it on your own.
This is how it often works: you slowly begin to isolate yourself from God's gathering and for some its for the pleasures of life like sport and leisure or perhaps an addiction that everyone can see except you, the freedom of a new car or a first job or a new relationship or the distractions of a hobby. For others it's worrying: worries of money or job or business or over mortgaging or relationships.For many they get stuck in one of the phases of life: going to Uni/Work/Tafe, getting married, having a baby, buying a house, starting a business or having a sense of failure in a Midlife Crisis or an aimless Retirement.
For others it, not pleasure but pain: a person you refuse to forgive leaving you with bitter heart, an ongoing sickness that makes you disappointed with God, a persecution that feels that following Christ is not worth it.
Through it all your heart hardens and you begin to isolate yourself from Christians and your attendance moves from weekly to monthly to Christmas and Easter. You tell yourself ‘I can be a Christian and not go to church’ with no congregation to encourage you and no sermon to warn you, you slowly die a slow spiritual death.
Then when someone follows you up you get defensive and blame others for judging you, at which, ask God for mercy because the hardening is almost complete.
Our corporate worship is a subversive act and no matter what mood you’re in when you gather, the gathering does not leave you focused on you. It turns you away from your anxiety to a God who is in charge and worthy of our worship, it turns you away from your guilt and shame to a saviour who forgives and inspire us to joyful praise.
The Singing, the Bible read and preached, Prayers, Fellowship, these are getting you to live for a greater cause, Gods glory. To look away beyond your small world and to look to Jesus whom we both worship and who leads us in worship to our great God and Father. Since you’re listening to this sermon, I am confident that you’re on the right track.
We come before you in praise and worship
With joyful singing and thankful hearts
You are our great God and saviour
You are both powerful and personal
There is none that compares to you
Your hands which made this earth, were the same hands that were stretched out on that cross
Thank you for offering each of us a fresh start
Today we have heard your voice.
We beg you to deliver us from a hard heart
Help us to heed the warnings of your Word
Stop us from the urge to isolate
Help us to encourage each other daily that we may be found faithful till the end.
In Jesus name we pray.