There are some weeks when pastors struggle with their sermons. They study the text. They wrestle with the text. They ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance. But no matter how much they pray, no matter how many commentaries they consult, no matter how hard they try to make their creative juices flow, it can be a struggle to come up with a theme that is drawn from and leads to a deeper understanding of the text.
This is not one of those weeks. As soon as I sat down to read Psalm 150, the theme literally jumped off the page. The same word is repeated thirteen times in six verses, and the same phrase is repeated at the beginning and at the end of the psalm.
In Hebrew, it’s a word that you might recognize: Hallelujah. A simple translation of Halleluia is this command: PRAISE THE LORD!
“Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.”
Praise God in his sanctuary, which roughly translated means “holy place.”
For the Israelites the “holy place” was the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was where God’s people came to worship. The temple was the place where the priests offered daily sacrifices. God-fearing Jews considered the temple to be God’s dwelling place on earth.
For similar reasons we sometimes refer to this church building as God’s house. This is where we come to worship God. This is where God comes to us in his Word and sacraments. This is God’s sanctuary, or holy place.
But God cannot be contained in a box, even a really big box with beautiful stained glass windows. God fills the heavens. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), and God wants his people to do the same. Praise the Lord. The Lord wants his people to praise him wherever they are, in heaven and on earth and every place in between.
Why we should praise God: “Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness”.
You won’t have any problem finding examples of God’s power as you read the Bible. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. That word for create is to create out of nothing. Then in response to man’s wickedness God destroyed the world with a flood. In response to man’s refusal to fill the earth, God introduced different languages. God allowed a 100 year old man and 90 year old wife have a baby. God used the sale of a little brother, Joseph, to bring about good for a world in danger of starvation due to a famine. God moved Joseph to understand that he was in charge and so Joseph could forgive his brothers and be a blessing for his brothers. That’s just a handful of examples, and I we haven’t even exhausted the book of Genesis. God gives his people many reasons to Praise the Lord.
And the greatest thing about God is that the greatest thing he ever did didn’t appear to be all that great when he did it. Two thousand years ago God the Father sent his one and only Son down to earth. He didn’t come down in a blaze of glory. He didn’t come with an angelic entourage. He came in humility. He came to serve. He came to die.
When Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb, there were no signs of life. There were no signs of victory. On Good Friday anything that looked like power or life was buried, hidden behind a stone that was rolled in front of Jesus’ tomb. But power and life was revealed just a couple days later. On Easter Sunday Jesus demonstrated his power over death. On Easter Sunday Jesus showed his triumph over sin. On Easter Sunday, as he appeared to people, the Bible tells us that he had just went and proclaimed his victory to the spirits in prison, that is hell. This was no trick, or illusion. Jesus died, but he became alive.
Do you remember how Jesus’ disciples reacted when he appeared to them? They bowed down and worshiped him. They praised their living Lord. And because he still lives, because he lives triumphant from the grave, because he lives eternally to save, we want to praise the Lord too.
But how? How do we praise the LORD? That’s a good question and this is Psalm 150’s answer: “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals” (3-5).
The first musical instrument mentioned is the trumpet, the ram’s horn that was traditionally blown by the priests. Next on the list is the harp and lyre, instruments that were commonly associated with the Levites. The rest of the ensemble, tambourines and strings and flutes and cymbals were played by the people.
As we survey this grand orchestra we see a great diversity of musicians and musical instruments. There are professionals and amateurs. There are worshipers and worship leaders. There is a place for everyone. Everyone can praise the Lord. Every person was created to praise the Lord. In fact, the psalm concludes with that very thought: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD” (6).
A couple of years ago, there was a concert, during which time those present were invited to join in singing the Halleluia Chorus.
After the concert, one of my old pastor friends, a real jokester, said, “So, Martin, did you praise God by joining in the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus, or did you praise God by NOT joining in on the Hallelujah Chorus?”
What he said was obviously a joke. But that thought has been expressed by other people. They don’t know much about music. They don’t think that they can sing. They might be intimidated. They might be embarrassed. And so they don’t participate.
The devil enjoys that silence. He doesn’t want us to praise the Lord. He wants us to forget why we have so many reasons to praise the Lord. Satan doesn’t mind if we use God’s name, as long as we use God’s name in vain. He tempts us to use our voices to curse and swear and lie and deceive. And every time we do, he smiles.
But the devil dreads a singing Christian. Whenever we sing God’s praises, every time we gather in this sanctuary and celebrate the forgiveness we have in Jesus, he can’t stand the noise.
When you realize what God has done: rescued from the fires of hell; lost and now found; headed for eternal glory. How can we not praise God? Or how can a child of God turn up his nose at certain songs, or hymns? That praise can be expressed many different ways, but we are reminded today 13 times in this one psalm to Praise the Lord.
“Praise the LORD.” The one God from eternity, who always existed, who never didn’t exist makes himself known as our Father. That the Father created this spectacularly beautiful world, that the Father continues to sustain this beautiful world. That the Father continues to bless us with the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the very air we breath: Praise the Lord. Is that enough reason?
On top of that, because mankind didn’t appreciate the Father, but rebelled against a loving creator and provider, the Father determined to send his Son to be our Savior. And that the Savior, who is also eternal, along with the Father, equal in majesty, equal in glory and honor, set aside all that to be born of the virgin Mary, to suffer and die at the hands of sinners. How many of us would say, “Sorry Father, but they’re not worth it.” Jesus didn’t say, “They are worth it.” He came to make us worthy. That the Son reconciled a sinful world to the Father, that the Son took away every sin you’ve ever committed, that the Son ascended into heaven because his work of redemption has been completed, isn’t that enough reason to Praise the Lord?
Why stop there? How about praising the Lord for the gift of the Holy Spirit? To know Jesus as Savior, to know the Father as a loving God and not some harsh judge, to have your consciences cleansed from guilt: yes to be given the gift of the Holy Spirit: does this not deserve our praise? Praise the Lord.
There is one God. The Lord our God the Lord is one. The Lord is one, turn to me and be saved. And yet there are three persons. Three distinct persons, one God. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. The Father punished the Son. The Son died for humanity’s sin. The Holy Spirit produces faith to believe it. There is one God. Three persons, one God. And yet only the Son died. The Father did not die. The Son died. God died, but on the Son and not the Father and not the Holy Spirit. Does it matter that we cannot comprehend this? No, we are called to Praise the Lord.
All three persons were active in the creation of the world. The Father created through his Word, the Son. The Spirit was there in Genesis 1:2 as he hovered over the waters.
All three person of the Trinity activity sought your salvation. All three persons of the Trinity came together when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13-17). Jesus went down into the water. The Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. And the Father’s voice came down from heaven.
All three persons were present at your baptism. The Father who created you was there. The Son who redeemed you was there. The Holy Spirit who made you holy through the washing with water and the Word was there.
Because of who he is. And because of what he has done. Halleluia. Praise the Lord. Amen.