Joy seems to be in short supply these days. Problems, challenges, and difficulties are all around. There are many joy robbers these days. The problem is that when we lose a sense of joy we succumb to fear, doubt, and unbelief. But what do we mean by joy? Is it an only an emotion? Or is joy something more profound and gives us sustaining grace in times of difficulties? Augustine of Hippo was born in 354 in North Africa, which at that time was part of the Roman Empire. John Piper relates in his book, ‘The Legacy of a Sovereign Joy:’
At first Augustine resisted the triumph of grace as an enemy. But then, in a garden in Milan, Italy, when he was thirty-one, the power of grace through the truth of God’s Word broke fifteen years of bondage to sexual lust and living with a concubine. His resistance was finally overcome by ‘sovereign joy,’ the beautiful name he gave to God’s grace.[i]
In his autobiography, called ‘Confessions,’ Augustine relates as a testimonial prayer:
How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose…! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure…O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.[ii]
For Augustine, the joy was knowing the grace of God that transformed even his deepest desires for what was less than what was best; namely knowing God and God’s wonderful, life changing grace. When we think of the celebration we call ‘Thanksgiving,’ we are reminded that this is a moment to be grateful for all that we have been given: family, and the things that make life worthwhile. But as wonderful as celebrating and being grateful for the blessings in our lives is, there is one element, regardless of how challenging life becomes, that is an even greater cause for us to be thankful and filled with joy. It is the amazing joy that Augustine relates: the joy of knowing God.
What is joy? Webster defines it as “a very glad feeling; happiness; great pleasure; delight, the cause of joy or happiness; the expression of this feeling.”[iii] Lexham Theological Workbook states that “Joy is the sense or state of gladness or elation that people experience through their relationship with God and through good things in their lives.”[iv]
Psalm 98 is the Old Testament text for Isaac Watts’s Christmas Hymn, ‘Joy to the World!’ The hymn celebrates the birth of Jesus as the coming of the LORD to rule the world with truth and grace. It uses the language and the themes of the psalm in order to say that the nativity is an event of the kind and significance proclaimed in the psalm. The psalm announces the coming of the Savior God as king of the world.[v]
While the nativity is the beginning of the redemptive work that brings our world such joy, there are many results of God’s grace that brings joy to us. One such aspect is the hope and joy we gain by realizing that not only is God in control and His kingdom has come, but that he will finally come to ultimately destroy all rebellion on this planet and bring a reign of love, joy and peace, allowing his righteous rule over the kingdoms of this world. There are three movements to this song of joy that will inspire us this Thanksgiving season.
I. THE FIRST MOVEMENT OF THIS SONG OF JOY IS A CALL TO PRAISE THE LORD FOR PAST VICTORIES.
Here the call is specifically to Israel, the people of God as a witness to the nations. We must keep in mind that as believers in Christ, we are the new Israel. We are now included in this amazing relationship with God’s people. As the apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans, we have been grafted into God’s family tree. What Jesus did when he died and rose again was to create a single grouping of people that contains both Jews and Gentiles into a body called the church. “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6).”
Here in Psalm 98, we see the call to praise God.
Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things, his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.[vi]
Here in our text the Psalmist is calling his people to praise God who rescued them in the past. The great redemptive act in the Old Testament was the Exodus which brought the Israelites, out of slavery, into the land of Egypt, and allowed them to enter into a covenant of love with God on Mount Sinai. Notice the expression: they were to sing a new song. But what does that mean? Often we read this and think, God will give us a new expression of worship, or new words to express our praise. Tremper Longman explains the context or meaning of this term:
‘New song’ occurs elsewhere in the Psalms (33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 144:9; 149:1), as well as Isaiah (42:10) and the book of Revelation (5:9; 14:3), in contexts connected to warfare. A new song is a hymn of victory sung after God has made all things new by his defeat of the forces of evil. God’s right hand and holy arm typically denote his power in battle (Exod. 6:6; 15:16; Deut. 4:34, etc.), so the salvation that the psalmist celebrates is a military one.[vii]
A new song comes after a time of God working to defeat the powers of darkness. Here we are told that the reason God does this for his people is because of His great love. This is that covenant love, the Hebrew word hesed. He comes to us in His amazing love, even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (cf. Romans 5:8).
Therefore a new song is an expression of celebration of which a great victory has been accomplished through the supernatural or miraculous power of God. In the Old Testament we see the deliverance of the people from slavery, which culminated at the Red Sea where the waters destroyed their enemies and we read of the song of Moses as the Israelites celebrated God’s victory. Exodus 15 is an expression of a ‘new song.’ This expresses the supernatural intervention of God’s redemptive purposes on behalf of this people.
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:
I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God and I will exalt him.
The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea.
Your right hand, LORD was majestic in power. Your right hand, LORD shattered the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you.
You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance-the place, LORD, you make for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.
The LORD reigns for ever and ever.[viii]
Here in Psalm 98, the marvelous thing that His right hand and holy arm have worked is the salvation of God’s people.
This salvation/victory is wholly supernatural, a single-handed exploit of the Lord. The supernatural aspect is expressed in the term marvelous things, which is more than a superlative, a standard term for the miraculous interventions of God, such as those at the Exodus (Ps. 106:7), to save His people.[ix]
The exodus event was the great redemptive act in the Old Testament but was a type or shadow of an even greater redemptive act of God in bringing His people out of sin’s slavery and leading them ultimately to a greater promised land: where you and I will live with God forever, freed from all of our adversaries: namely, sin, sickness, death and Satan. In that day we will sing a ‘new song.’ If we have experienced Jesus’ saving work of grace in our hearts, we have a ‘new song.’
II. THE SECOND MOVEMENT OF THE SONG IS A CALL TO PRAISE GOD AS KING IN THE PRESENT.
We have looked at the past event of God’s saving work on our behalf but we need to praise God in the now. Each and every day is a day of salvation.
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.
For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you. I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.[x]
Notice how this is a call to all humanity. Its call extends to all nations.
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn-shout for joy before the LORD, the King.[xi]
We need to live with great anticipation of our coming King, and so every time we worship Him in the now is a rehearsal for that moment when He shall appear.
So there are two levels to the scene: one, God’s day of power at His coming; the other, its anticipation in every act of worship. The psalms we sing now are a rehearsal, and God’s presence among His worshipers is a prelude to His appearing to the world.[xii]
It is the joyful shout or cry of victory that is being expressed. We gain a sense of this expression when we consider the prophetic announcement in Zechariah and then its fulfillment on Palm Sunday.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.[xiii]
How did the Jewish people understand this text? They believed that God would come as King and deliver them from their oppressors and bring peace not only to them, but it would extend throughout the earth. He would defeat their oppressors and would bring peace to the world. It is in that light that we need to see what was happening on Palm Sunday. Many people when they saw Jesus riding in on a colt, believed that what they were witnessing the fulfillment of this prophecy. That Jesus was the anointed King coming to claim supremacy over their enemies the Romans. This word for shout in the Hebrew language is a cry of victory after a military conquest. They were shouting as Jesus came into the city. Their shout captured the imagination of the people in the city. Matthew tells us, “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this (Matthew 21:10)?’” The Greek word for ‘stirred,’ is the word we get seismic from. They were shaken and felt the impact of the event. Matthew tells us that this event was a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. In Luke’s account of this event we see why they were rejoicing. They were rejoicing over the marvelous things that they had witnessed. “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen (Luke 19:37).”
In Psalm 98:1, it states that we sing a new song for the marvelous things (the supernatural work) that God has done on our behalf. He has revealed his holy arm and defeated our foes: sin and judgment.
III. THE THIRD MOVEMENT OF THE SONG IS A CALL TO PRAISE GOD AS JUDGE OVER ALL CREATION IN THE FUTURE.
As we come to the crescendo of this song or the conclusion, we see that all of creation should join in. There is something about to happen that is so amazing and marvelous that we have a glorious future hope. It’s the hope not only for us who have experienced God’s grace and forgiveness but also all of all of God’s creation.
Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;
Let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.[xiv]
A. Notice the poetic imagery and what it means.
It is a call for all creation to rejoice as well. When sin entered the world through human rebellion, all the created world was affected. Death entered into all of God’s creation and there is a longing within the created world for a full expression of deliverance and restoration. That is the nature of redemption. The apostle Paul expresses it so powerfully in the book of Romans.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.[xv]
The created world will one day be delivered from the effects of sin. No more earthquakes, volcanoes, tornados and hurricanes. The earth will be freed from the curse of sin. God reverses the damage caused by sin. We end up gaining new, eternal bodies. We end up being freed from all of sins effects upon our lives and relationships. We will experience joy such as we have never known it. No more diminishment in our lives. Yet, here we are told that we sing for the coming judgment. So, often we see judgment in a negative rather a positive light.
B. Why are we rejoicing that our God is coming to judge the world?
Bernhard W. Anderson explains, “Here the verb ‘judge’ means much more than the English word suggests. It refers to the power to obtain and maintain justice and proper order – power which human rulers should have (‘Give us a king to judge us,’ I Sam. 8:6) but which, in the biblical view, is vested supremely and ultimately in God.”[xvi]
In other words, all the disorder and injustice that we witness continuously, will come to an end, and God will make everything right. He will bring everything into its proper order, back to the original design.
Unfortunately in this present time there is a kingdom in conflict with the kingdom of our God, which will be ultimately destroyed in the future. That’s the amazing revelation that John had on the isle of Patmos. It’s the amazing conclusion of redemption’s power. God will destroy all the works of the kingdom of darkness, and He will rule forever and ever. It is interesting that in that vision John saw the saints singing ‘a new song.’ Remember that this is apocalyptic language. Powerful images to capture our imagination. Here Jesus is described as a sacrificial offering.
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.
And they sang a new song, saying: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.[xvii]
Then we see the culmination of this age as we know it in Revelation 11:15-18. [xviii]
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever. And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, [notice He is no longer described as yet to come] because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small-and for destroying those who destroy the earth.
Jesus is coming to destroy all that destroys our world: sin, disease, death and the devil and his evil kingdom. Redemption and deliverance comes when we receive the Messiah personally, but there is a day coming when we will witness the ultimate deliverance, and what is right and just will prevail.
In its original setting, the salvation accomplished by God, the Warrior was a military one. God won a victory for Israel, and the psalmists calls on the faithful in Israel to praise him. …In the New Testament, Jesus is our Warrior, but he fights against the spiritual powers and authorities, and not against ‘flesh and blood.’ Thus, Christians are not wrong to sing this song of praise to Jesus their Warrior who has won their spiritual salvation.[xix]
Jesus is the coming Judge to restore all of creation. Oh! That you and I know the joy of Psalm 98. Can you sing that new song where you like Augustine have had the ‘fruitless joys’ removed because the ‘ultimate joy’ has come?
Isaac Watts captured this Psalm so beautifully in ‘Joy to the World.’ Listen to the message: “Joy to the World! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.” Have you prepared your heart? Is there room for Christ to reign and rule in you? Listen to the song. “Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ.” Do you have a song in your heart? Are you singing this amazing new song? This song of being delivered from sin and judgment?
Isaac Watts goes on to talk about creation’s redemption: “While fields and floods, rocks hills and plains repeat the sounding joy. [Notice all creation is praising Him]. No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground [the curse of sin]”. So why does Jesus come? “He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” Jesus has come to address the curse of sin. “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness. And wonders of his love.”
Oh, to be so captured by His love that all the fruitless joys are abandoned because we are now experiencing the ultimate joy! The presence of the living God living within us!
[i] John Piper, The Legacy of a Sovereign Joy, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 18-19.
[ii] Aurelius Augustine, Confessions, translation by R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York, Penguin Books, 1961), 181 IX, 1 as quoted by John Piper, The Legacy of a Sovereign Joy, 19..
[iii] Noah Webster, Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Deluxe Second Edition, (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1983), 989.
[iv] Litwak, K. D., Joy. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press: (2014).
[v] James Mays, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 312.
[vi] Psalm 98:1-3 New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[vii] Tremper Longman III, Psalms, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vols. 15-16, (Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 345.
[viii] Exodus 15:1-4, 6-7a, 17-18.
[ix] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), 352.
[x] 2 Corinthians 6:1-2.
[xi] Psalm 98:4-6.
[xii] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 353.
[xiii] Zechariah 9:9-10.
[xiv] Psalm 98:7-9.
[xv] Romans 8:19-23.
[xvi] Bernhard W. Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak For Us Today, Revised and Expanded Edition, (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1983), 179.
[xvii] Revelation 5:6-10.
[xviii] Revelation 11:15-18.
[xix] Tremper Longman III, Psalms, 346.