*This was a sermon preached at New Start Community Chapel in Springfield, MO, 2020.
Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
2 For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117)
I count it an honor to preach the Word of God wherever that may be, to whoever would listen. As I was thinking about what text to preach on for you all this Lord’s Day morning, I could not help but think of something that happened earlier last week. I was at a restaurant with my family and we were having a great time. We were sitting at a table in the middle of the restaurant, and at one point my three year old son stands up on his seat and begins singing Psalm 117 loudly and without shame. It was nothing but pure joy. And I was not going to stop that. In my home we sing the Psalms and we do so after dinner around the table, and so my son was just doing what he has been taught to do and he loves doing it.
Psalm 117 is a great Psalm for a three year old to memorize and sing because it is short and memorable. But as C. H. Spurgeon says about it, “This Psalm, which is very little in its letter, is exceedingly large in its spirit.” And it was that exceedingly large spirit which was bursting out of my little three year old at the restaurant as he was singing these great truths of Psalm 117.
The first thing we are to notice about Psalm 117 is that we are given a command to Praise the Lord, and this command is given three times, “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! …Praise the LORD!” We should note that when God gives a command, that means that He is not giving a suggestion. He is not giving a recommendation, an option, a good idea, or good advice. He is giving us a requirement, an imperative. This means that when the Bible tells us to Praise the Lord, we are required to do just that. It means that we do not have an excuse or an exception.
We must also notice that this is a command to praise a very specific God. This is not a command to praise just any old god, or just a generic deity, but we are to praise the same and specific God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who has since then revealed Himself to us in and through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. You will notice that we are told “Praise the LORD,” and you probably notice in your Bible that the word “LORD” is in all caps, (most translations do that anyway). What that indicates to us is that the actual word there is not the English word “lord” but the covenant name of God as revealed in the Old Testament, “Yahweh” as we pronounce it in English. The reason our translations do that is simply because of long standing Jewish tradition, but there is no reason for us not to use the name Yahweh when we see it in the Bible. The point that I am making in saying all this is to say that we are told specifically who we are to praise: the one true triune God of heaven and earth, and no other. This is not a command to worship any god that you want, as long as you do so with true sincerity. It is a command to worship a specific God – the God of the Bible.
One implication of this is that this means we will need to tell people that there is a specific God they owe their praise to. They need to stop worshipping whatever god that they want to, and turn to the one true God. On judgment day it will not matter if you were a good moral person who believed in a generic deity. It is not a generic deity who will be judging sinful man on the last day.
Having implied it thus far, we should specifically note that this is a command for all people. “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!” Even in the Old Testament times of Israel’s day, when this Psalm was penned, this command to Praise Yahweh, was not just binding on Israel, it was a requirement of all the peoples of all the nations. All the nations were to lay aside their pagan idols and false gods and Praise the one true God of Israel.
And so today as we live in the New Covenant Era when Christ has already come to earth, died, and rose again, and the gospel has gone out to the gentile nations and the church is full of all peoples, we certainly are not outside the scope of this command. All peoples and all nations are to Praise the LORD. No matter what ethnicity you are, man or woman, young or old, rich or poor, there are no exceptions – all are called to Praise the LORD. There is not a single person who falls outside of the scope of this requirement.
Now we know that not all people have heeded this command. Most of the pagan nations in the Old Testament era did not forsake their idols and turn to the God of Israel. Many peoples and nations throughout history and in our day today, have refused to direct their praise to our Triune God through Jesus Christ. There have been many people who have lived their entire lives with lips and tongues sealed off from giving praise and thanks to God in Jesus Christ. They have refused to use their mouths and lives for what they were given for. And those people now only taste the bitter sting of death and eternal judgment. There are no joyful songs that ascend from their hearts, but only screams of agony and pain. Oh friends, praise the LORD while there is still breath in your lungs, extol his name while there are still beats in your heart, worship him now while there is still blood in your veins! For there will come a day when we will enter into eternity to continue doing what we spent doing here on earth. The person that offered no praise to God will never have another opportunity to do so.
You see this is the reason why God published the gospel: because all peoples and nations have not praised the LORD. That is why God gave His only Son to die a heavy and painful death in the place of sinners. Instead of praising Him, mankind cursed Him and spit upon Him and despised Him – that’s literally what they did to Him when God sent His Son into the world. But that is why God sent Christ: to deal with those sins, to give His life for them, to forgive them for those who trust in Him.
So the reason the Father sent the Son to accomplish the gospel is because all people did not Praise the LORD, and because the Father sent the Son to accomplish the gospel, now all people will praise the LORD. Because what happens when God saves someone? What happens when a sinner who is convicted of his sin, finds forgiveness and relief in Jesus Christ? They turn around and they praise the LORD! Lips that once uttered curses, now utter praises to God, because they have found forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ. The only way that we can praise the LORD is by being redeemed through Jesus Christ. This is to say that the end of the gospel is that this command would be heeded.
This leads me to point out the basis for the command to Praise the LORD in Psalm 117. Notice that verse 2 begins with the little word “for.” That is a very important word. When we see the word “for” it is like seeing the word “because.” So whatever comes after the word “for” is the reason for whatever came before the word “for.” The reason that all peoples are to praise the LORD is because His steadfast love toward us is great, and His faithfulness endures forever. You see, we are to praise God for what He has done for us and who He is to us. Since this command is based upon God’s strong steadfast love and His unchanging faithfulness, our duty to praise Him will not expire. As long as God is who He is, we are to praise His name. And the Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This means that this command to praise God is a command that we are to start doing now, and one that we will not cease to do a million years into eternity.
So the basis for our praise of God is in Him, and not in us. So what is this basis in Him for our praise? It is His great steadfast love and forever faithfulness toward us in Jesus Christ. You may hear a lot of people say, “I praise God because I love him.” That’s good and true. But your love for Him is not the ultimate foundation for why you praise Him. You don’t praise because your steadfast love is great. You praise Him because His steadfast love is great. Your love may get hot and cold, it may waiver from time to time, it may be strong in one sense and just barely hanging on in the next season. We don’t praise God for how great we are, but for how great He is! His love does not grow cold, it does not waiver, it is never just barely hanging on. The Hebrew word for “great” there, actually means “strong.” His love is strong. It is not weak or fading or temporary. When ours comes and goes, His remains.
What has God done to prove His great steadfast love and faithfulness toward us? He has given us His only Son. He has pledged His love toward us through the blood of His Son. When Jesus was beaten and nailed to the cross with outstretched arms and blood flowing down, it was His great love being displayed to those who trust in Him. That place of the skull, Golgotha, that place of suffering and death is where we should’ve been. It is what we deserved. But it’s where Jesus went instead. He took it for us. “Greater love has no one than this that He laid down His life for His friends.” There is no greater love than what God has shown to us in Jesus Christ. We weren’t even His friends. We were His enemies, when Christ died for us. It is a love greater than any man can love, for Christ died for His enemies to make them His friends.
You see this is the basis for all the commands that God gives to us. His love for us is not dependent on our love for Him. God’s faithfulness to us in Jesus Christ is not dependent on us, but on Christ. No matter how we waiver God remains the same. No matter what goes on in the world and all around us in our lives, it cannot shake our unchangeable God. Friends may leave us, loved ones may betray us, sickness may overtake us, governments may oppress us, thieves may rob us, criminals may hurt us, politicians may lie to us, but Jesus Christ does not! The steadfast love of God toward us in Christ remains strong. His faithfulness remains the same. When Jesus Christ hung there are Calvary, dying for your sin, He cried out, “It is finished.” And that cry is still true. We may have everything in life stirpped from us, all of our friends, all of our family, all of our possessions, but we cannot and we will not have the love of God toward us in Jesus Christ taken from us. This world can take away everything that we have but it cannot take away the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to His people. Your sins are still forgiven, your eternity is still secure, your God is still on His throne, and there’s nothing that can change a lick of it. Because God has shown His pledge of commitment to us at the cross of Christ and His empty tomb, we can say like Job, “Though you slay me, yet I will praise you.”
I would venture to say that this knowledge of Christ is enough joy to make us act like kids again and stand up in our seats and sing God’s praise, in public. May the praise of God be always on our lips.
1) Now someone may object: “But I have nothing to Praise God for.” To that I answer: then you don’t know Christ. I don’t care what this world has done to you, don’t you have your sins forgiven? Have you not been spared the eternal flames of hell? Are you not loved with an everlasting love by a holy God? Have you not been made righteous in God’s sight? If you are a Christian you always have something to praise God for, it matters not what your earthly circumstances may be.
2) Another may object: “But I don’t feel like praising God.” To that I answer: What has that got to do with anything? Where in the text are we told we have to feel a certain way before we can obey God? Do you ever feel like taking out the trash or going to work or scrubbing the toilets? Yet we know these tasks must be done. And yet the praise of the God of the universe is far above these tasks, should we really think our feelings should guide us as to whether or not such a God who has given us His Son should be praised by us? Let us praise the LORD whether we feel like it or not, for it is what we need, and what is required of us.
3) Finally another may object: “But I continually fail.” To that I answer: God does not. And that is why we are to praise Him, because He fails not. We don’t praise Him if we are perfect, we praise Him because He is, and His Son was perfect for us. Since we are not the object of our praise, our wavering and failure is not the measure of whether we ought to give praise. The object of our Praise is a steadfast rock of faithfulness who perpetually ought to be praised, because He changes not.
I would like to close with these words from a hymn written by Horatious Bonar:
I hear the words of love, I gaze upon the blood
I see the mighty sacrifice and I have peace with God
‘Tis everlasting peace! Sure as Jehovah’s name
‘Tis stable as His steadfast throne, forevermore the same
The clouds may come and go and storms may sweep my sky
This blood-sealed friendship changes not, the cross is ever nigh
My love is oft-times low, my joy still ebbs and flows
But peace with Him remains the same, no change Jehovah knows
I change, He changes not, the Christ can never die
His love, not mine, the resting place, His truth, not mine, the tie.