KALEO Notes: Psalm 96 – The Great Commission Psalm

Introduction: Albert Einstein once claimed that only eleven people in the world understood his Theory of Relativity. One of those was a South African leader named Jan Christian Smuts. Smuts wasn’t primarily a scientist, but a statesman—a brilliant one. He was a lawyer-turned-politician, who became the only man to have signed the peace treaties at the end of both World Wars, and also the only person to have signed the charters of both the League of Nations and the United Nations. Today most people don’t remember Smuts for his political career but for a single word he invented. It was a term he coined in 1926: Holistic. Rooted in the Greek word holos (all, whole, entire, total), holistic means that specific elements cannot be considered as separate entities but should be viewed as partners in a collective system. Physicians instantly knew what Smuts was talking about, and they popularized his term in medical circles. We can’t successful treat one problem without considering the person’s overall physical and psychological condition. Well, in Christian thinking we have often isolated worship and evangelism one from the other. I have two friends who are on the faculty of a particular Christian university. One is in charge of the worship area, and the other in charge of the evangelism. They were at loggerheads over which area was more important until they finally looked at both subjects holistically and biblically and wrote a book about it. but we can say that Psalm 96 beat them to the punch. Psalm 96 is so important it’s recorded twice in the Bible. It was first written in 1 Chronicles 16 as part of the song that David composed when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem. Then it was excerpted and given its own place in the book of Psalms as Psalm 96. It is all about worship and missions—worship and the nations. There are three paragraphs in Psalm 96, and all of them are introduced by a different command.

1. Sing (v. 1-6) – Oh sing to the Lord a new song: sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

In this section (v. 1-6), the Psalmist tells us to sing to the Lord a new song. There are nine times when the Bible tells us to sing a new song to the Lord. Six are in the book of Psalm (33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1), one occurrence is in Isaiah (42:10), and we find this phrase twice in the book of Revelation (5:9; 14:3). This means we should always be writing new compositions of praise, and it also means that we should always be having fresh experiences of worship. One of the difficulties I have sometimes as a pastor is that it’s difficult for me to worship as I should during our services here. I feel responsible for how every part of the service is going, and sometimes I’m distracted by my responsibilities. I’m thinking about what happens next, or what I’m going to say if I’m next in the order of service, or what to do if some distraction occurs. So I have to work at keeping my mind focused on worship. But we all have to work at it. We’re all easily distracted. Every experience of worship should be fresh. We experience new mercies, fresh every morning.

2. Ascribe (7-9) – Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth!

This is a remarkable passage. Here the Jewish author is inviting the Gentiles to come right into the Tabernacle or Temple courts. Three times the command is issued: ascribe, ascribe, ascribe. The word “ascribe” means to give proper credit to someone. As I writer, I have to be much more careful then I used to be about footnoting quotations and making sure I give proper attribution. Psalm 96 tells us to make sure we are giving God proper credit for all He has done. We must ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name.

3. Say (10-13) – Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity.” Let the heavens be glad; let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it. Let the field exalt, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness.

We’re also to take a message to our world, and it is a message that the Lord Jesus is coming to judge the world. That’s not a bad thing, but a good thing. He’s going to dispense with evil. He’s going to judge and eradicate whatever is wrong with His creation. The heavens and earth and seas and fields and the very trees of the forest are anticipating this moment when the curse will be lifted and evil will be judged. (See Romans 8:22-24).

I can’t read Psalm 96 without thinking of John Piper’s well-known quotation: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions…. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatest of God. ‘The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlines be glad!’”[1]

Conclusion: Joy Christopherson told me the other day there might be a lot of atheists among scientists, but comparatively few among mathematicians. This world is not random; it’s well-ordered with unchanging tables of mathematical equations that are rational and constant and absolute. There’s something especially remarkable about multiplication. In kindergarten we learned the numbers one through ten. Add them together and you get 55. But now try multiplying them: 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8 x 9 x 10. The total comes to 3,628,800. The accumulating totals become exponential. We might think we are influencing people one by one, but God turns the plus sign sideways and multiplies our work.

That’s how the church in the book of Acts went from twelve to 120 to 3000 to 5000 to multiplied converts to multiplied cities reached for Christ. As we reach people one by one, addition turns to multiplication as God crunches the numbers and touches each one with grace. Note how the book of Acts shifts from addition to multiplication:

  • Acts 2:41: So those who received his word were baptized, & there were added that day about 3000 souls
  • Acts 2:47: …praising God & having favor with the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
  • Acts 5:14: More than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.
  • Acts 6:7: The Word of God continued to increase, & the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem & a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
  • Acts 9:31: So the church throughout all Judea & Galilee & Samaria had peace & was built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord & in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
  • Acts 12:24: But the Word of God increased & multiplied.

God knows how to take our ones and twos, and turn them into multitudes in His timing. As we “each one reach one” God will use His divine algorithm to declare His glory to the nations, His marvelous deeds to the peoples.

[1] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad! (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 17.