Jesus, Priestly King
Preached by Jason Abbott, senior pastor
1 Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
8do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
1. Worship God because he is Creator-King and Shepherd (vv. 1-7b).
Here the psalmist, in two movements, invites us (even invitational-ly commands us) to worship God. First, he tells us to worship God as Creator-King (vv.3-5) then, second, he tells us to worship God as the Shepherd of his covenant people (v. 7). Let’s look at each in turn.
a. Worship the Creator-King.
You were made to worship. Did you know that? We are creatures who cannot exist without worshiping someone or something! It isn’t a question of whether or not we will worship; instead, it is simply a question of whom or what we will worship.
Think about the various ways people worship without even recognizing that they’re doing it:
- Political platforms and the politicians who represent them: Every four years (at least) you will find people waving the flags and singing the praises of a variety of issues and candidates. For many, every few years another political savior emerges and another gospel is written.
- Pop-stars and movie-stars: Have you ever been in a room with a pop-star or a movie-star? Did you act differently? Were you fixated on them and what they were doing? I sat in traffic on 322 for what seemed like an eternity a couple weeks back. Why? Because about a million middle school girls were going to worship at the altar of One Direction.
- Sports-teams and sports-stars: If you want to see how wired we are for worship then watch sports-fans celebrate their team’s big wins. I once literally bruised my best-friend’s ribs celebrating a Mizzou kickoff return for a touchdown against #1 ranked Oklahoma! It was an act of pure worship on my part.
David Foster Wallace was an essayist, novelist, and short-story writer who took his own life in 2008. He was not a Christian. However, Foster Wallace recognized that we are going to worship something, and he recognized that not all gods are equal. He explained this to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College:
Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough… Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you… Worship power, [and] you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is…they’re unconscious. They are default settings. 1
What a common grace insight! There is no escaping worship because worship is a default setting. We have been created to worship. What then is the solution? The psalmist tells us that the solution is to worship the only Creator-King, the only true God of all things. He invites us:
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; / let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! / …For the Lord is a great God, / and a great King above all gods. / In his hand are the depths of the earth; / the heights of the mountains are his also. / The sea is his, for he made it, / and his hands formed the dry land (vv. 1, 3-5).
The solution, says the psalmist, is to worship the One whom you were created to worship! If you don’t want to get eaten alive (to use Foster Wallace’s words), then you must worship the Creator of all things! In fact, that Creator demands it of you because it is the only righteous (or right) response to his holy and omniscient and omnipotent and overwhelmingly glorious person!
Thus, praise the Creator-King for it is what you were designed to do and it is what’s required of you!
Yet, before you get an incomplete picture of our Creator-King God, the psalmist wants us to praise him for another reason. He says:
b. Worship the Shepherd.
Look at the text with me:
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; / let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! / For he is our God, / and we are the people of his pasture, / and the sheep of his hand (vv. 6-7).
Just when you thought you could pigeonhole God as some kind of despotic deity who forces worship upon us—his helpless creatures—the psalmist shifts his focus to another reason for worshiping God! And this is a far gentler image and a far more intimate reason for our worship.
As a shepherd cares for his sheep—as he protects them and feeds them and leads them to water—so too does God take care of his people. The ideal shepherd was to “find grass and water in a dry and stony land (Ps. 23:2), protect…from weather and…fiercer creatures (cf. Am. 3:12), and retrieve any strayed animal (Ezk. 34:8; Mt. 18:12, etc.).”2 The ideal shepherd, in short, cares for his flock!
So praise God the Shepherd, says the psalmist, because he cares for his people as a shepherd cares for his flock!
This is one of the most moving things (for me) about Christianity! Like many other religions, Christianity proclaims a God who alone is worthy of praise and adoration and service. However, unlike any other religion in the world, Christianity simultaneously proclaims that God has served his creatures.
The God of the universe does not merely sit far above his creation and rule (though he does rule). He does not merely demand that we sacrifice to him (though he does demand sacrifice). In Christianity (in Christ Jesus), God first loved and served his creatures! God is our primary example; he is our Good Shepherd!
So worship God because, as the Creator-King, only he is worthy of our praise, and worship God because, as the Good Shepherd, only he loves and cares for us, the sheep of his flock!
Now, we move to the end of the psalm. And in these last few verses, the psalmist encourages us to recall how it goes for those who refuse to turn to God and worship God. The psalmist points us to Israel’s (and all humanity’s) history of rebellion. He says:
2. Don’t hesitate to worship God; learn from the past (vv. 7c-11).
When I was in seminary, my favorite instructor was a professor of Church History, and he always used to extol the great blessing of human memory. In one sense, this was to be expected of a history professor. After all, he was into past events. On the other hand, the blessing of memory was a profound thing to appreciate! Where would we be without memory—without learning from the past?! We would be doomed to wander in circles; we would be doomed to endlessly repeat our sinful mistakes!
This is precisely what the psalmist intends to avoid here by calling upon the great blessing of memory. God wants us to remember. He says:
Today, if you hear his voice, / do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, / as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, / when your fathers put me to the test / and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. / For forty years I loathed that generation / and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, / and they have not known my ways.” / Therefore I swore in my wrath, / “They shall not enter my rest” (vv. 7c-11).
The locations of Meribah and Massah reminded Israel that they “had acted wantonly against the Lord.”3 If you want to examine these historical accounts, they can be found in the Old Testament—specifically in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. However, the point being made in this passage is simply that, despite seeing God’s powerful rescue work which brought them out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were nonetheless apt to rebel against God! They were ready to question his Kingship and his Shepherding—his authority and his goodness!
And we are just as apt to do this today! We are just as quick to forget the ways God has rescued us! We are just as quick to question his authority and his goodness in our lives!
So remember God’s past works! Remember how he has disciplined you! Remember how he has blessed you! Remember his promised rest which is guaranteed in Christ Jesus! In fact, this is precisely why the author of Hebrews directs us to Psalm 95 in chapters 3 and 4 of his letter.
I encourage you to go to Hebrews 3 and 4 and examine for yourselves how the author over and over again quotes Psalm 95 in his argument concerning our need to enter into God’s rest!
The author of Hebrews sees those Israelites in Psalm 95 as an example of “how people should not respond to God and his revelation.”4 In short, when God reveals himself and his saving purposes to us, we should not (no, we must not!) turn away from him. Furthermore, from his standpoint in God’s redemptive history, the author of Hebrews recognizes that God’s most profound rest (God’s ultimate fulfillment of rest) has now been revealed in Jesus Christ.
Moses’ and Joshua’s goal was to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt and into the rest of the Promised Land. However, Moses (like the Israelites who sinned in the desert) would never set foot in the Land, and Joshua would not fully lead the people into the Land either since large sections of it remained unconquered until the time of David. So, neither Moses nor Joshua could give the people full rest.
In reference to Psalm 95, the author of Hebrews thus explains:
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God… (Hebrews 4:8-9).
This Sabbath rest can only be found in the person of Christ Jesus! Thus, the psalmist and the author of Hebrews urge us in unison:
Today, if you hear his voice, / do not harden your hearts (vv. 7c-8a)!