"Sing to the Lord a New Song" #70-06
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 20, 2002
By Rev. Mike Walther, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Psalm 92:1-2
"Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the Good News of His salvation from day to day."
Prayer: O Lord, we give thanks to You this day for the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Remind us again that in Jesus our life is secure despite the many difficulties and frustrations of this life. Teach us to sing the new song of salvation from day to day. Amen.
One of the most rewarding parts of my work as a pastor is to guide people back to Jesus and into fellowship in the Christian church. These are people who have for various reasons left the church. Their stories often sound like Erv's -- "Pastor, I need to meet with you. I've been away from the church for more than 15 years. I was raised in the Lutheran church, but I began to drift away. I got busy. The pastor came by to see me several times. The last time he came I was trying to fix a flat tire. He offered to take it to a service station for me. That's when I got mad. I told him I didn't need his help or God's help for that matter." I've heard other stories of people who have drifted away from the church because someone said something discourteous or because the voter's assembly didn't agree to their proposals.
It doesn't take much for Satan to drive a wedge between people and Jesus, between people and the body of Christ -- the church. Satan is also capable of driving us away from one another and from the world. We just get disgusted with everything! One of the most effective tools Satan uses is cynicism. He has a talent to magnify in our eyes all the foibles and weaknesses of the Christian church, and at the same time he can minimize in our eyes the beauty and the blessings the Christian church has to offer. Is cynicism eating away your hope and joy? Are you concentrating too much on the church's failures? Is this having an effect on your life? Listen closely to the word today. It gives us a reason for singing -- even in a church and in a world that is outwardly full of imperfections. The reason for this joy is plain and simple: God is still in control, and there is nothing we can do wrong to destroy His promise of salvation.
Psalm 96 says, "Proclaim the Good News of His salvation from day to day." God's salvation always prevails. That is the promise found throughout the Bible. That salvation always comes despite the most unfavorable odds. In the Old Testament we read about a woman named Hannah. She could not have children and was miserable because of it. Her personal life also reflected the dismal situation for God's people as a whole. They were being torn apart. They lacked a leader who could guide them properly. They were all going their own way. Hannah, however, did not give up. She didn't walk away. She realized the solution to her personal problem or to the problems of her people would be found only in God. She prayed to God for help, and in her case He answered with the gift of a baby. She praised Him saying, "My heart rejoices in the Lord. For by strength no man shall prevail" (1 Samuel 2:1-9). You see, we become cynical when we look only to people to solve problems. Disappointment and frustration are bound to come when we look to people instead of God.
I remember reading about a church committee that was meeting in a Sunday school room to discuss the problems the church was having. One member, a bit frustrated, looked up at one of the walls in the room. There was a sign for a fire extinguisher that had been relocated in the hallway. There was also a poster on the wall that had been next to the fire extinguisher. Now the fire extinguisher sign that remained, and the poster, combined made a great statement: "In Case of Emergency"... "We Are the People of God." God's salvation always prevails, and that's what we need to keep us out of the quicksand of disgust and despair. No matter how bad things might be, we can always "Sing to the Lord a new song!"
As cynically-minded people, we are often tempted to trade God and His plan of salvation away for something better. But there is nothing better. In fact, anything we substitute for God would be an idol. In Psalm 96 we read, "For all the gods of the people are idols, but the Lord made the heavens" (Psalm 96:5). Sometimes people get frustrated with the way God does things. So they look for a better way themselves. They create another image of God more to their liking. The image may be physical -- like the new-age shrines some people set up for themselves in their homes. Other images may simply be thoughts about God that don't come from the Bible. In either case, the false image of God is a substitute for the real God who tells us about Himself and the way He does things in the Bible.
Many centuries ago, there was a man from Britain who visited Rome. He noticed many Christians were not living very holy lives. Pelagius became disgusted and frustrated by it. He began to preach sermons focusing heavily on morality. He also taught that people could learn to be good if they just tried harder. Have you ever caught yourself doing that? Many people leave Jesus behind because they think they can solve their problems on their own. This false idea of God only reinforces their actual separation from Him. Pelagius was wrong, and his approach to human problems has been proven wrong again and again. The Bible says, "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). We must repent of cynical attitudes and their close-cousin self-righteousness.
The problem with an idolatrous "do it yourself theology" is that we all become gods unto ourselves. We end up criticizing everyone else and singing only our own praises. This is the darkest and deepest aspect of cynicism gone to seed. But Psalm says, "Give to the Lord the glory due His name. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him all the earth" (Psalm 96:7-9).
How do we give God glory? Do we give God glory when we acknowledge that we know who He is, that we once read a few parts of the Bible, that we can sing the first stanza of "Amazing Grace"? Martin Luther, in his comments about this psalm, pointed out that we truly show the holiness of God and glorify Him when we fully acknowledge our own unholiness and our need for His mercy, His salvation. When we yearn for this salvation, we glorify God.
The Bible tells us about a very frustrated man named Naaman. He had leprosy and was desperately looking for help. Elisha, the prophet of the Lord, told him to wash seven times in the river Jordan. Naaman was furious. He could have done that anywhere. He wanted salvation on his own terms. He did not have an image of God who worked miracles simply through the power of His promises. The Bible says Naaman "turned and went away in a rage" (2 Kings 5:12). But his servants persuaded him to try it. He did, and he was healed -- not only of his leprosy, but also of his proud, cynical attitude. He said, "Indeed, now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel" (2 Kings 5:15).
When I was first beginning my work as a pastor, I became discouraged as I watched our congregation struggle through important decisions. It seemed to me there were some people who just wanted to argue. Others had no interest in looking to God's word for guidance. Sensing I was a little worried about this, a wise lady reminded me, "Pastor, the amazing thing about the church is that it can even survive voter's assemblies." We sing to the Lord a new song because our Christian faith, despite our personal missteps and faltering gait, like the church as a whole with all its past and present failures, is founded upon the perfect salvation of God in Jesus Christ. At no time in history have people had more of an opportunity to become discouraged and cynical than at the time Jesus of Nazareth was arrested and put on trial. Yet, just hours before this Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him" (John 13:31). God showed His glory by offering His only Son as the sacrifice for a world that had turned from Him in a rage. Jesus died on the cross to save us from selfish cynicism. He rose again on the third day to show us the truth and the joy of that salvation.
Remember the story of Erv? The man who came to me after being away from the church for years? He asked me with tears in his eyes if he could come back. He admitted that from the day he turned away in anger from the church, nothing had gone right in his life. I had the privilege of telling him, "You might have left God, but God has never left you. He's been working to bring you back all this time."
Someone might say, "Pastor, what you say about salvation in Jesus being the real heart and core of everything in the church is fine and good, but there are still a lot of problems in the church that just tick me off!" I agree completely. I get ticked off, too! But there is a big difference between being upset about some things that are wrong and being cynical. Cynicism drives us away from Christ. Having the joy of salvation in Jesus causes me to work on problems, pray to the Lord about these problems, and otherwise draw even closer to Christ. We need never let problems steal our joy, and we should certainly never allow them to turn us away from the Lord. Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Problems, troubles, tribulation will never go away in this life. Sometimes it seems injustice, unfairness, and wrongdoing controls everything. But they don't. The world and the church would have destroyed themselves long ago if that were the real case. Instead, God guides us toward His ultimate goal. His plans cannot be thwarted.
Psalm 96 ends by looking to the Last Day. "For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with truth" (Psalm 96:13). In fact, a few verses before this the psalm says God will judge the world -- to use the Hebrew word "meshar" -- "with smoothness." Though there certainly are wrinkles in the fabric of life now, there won't be any wrinkles in the future. Twice in the Book of Revelation, John refers to the "new song" that people who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus will sing in heaven (Revelation 5:9 and 14:3).
Another pastor reminded me once this life is a lot like the backside of a tapestry. You can make out the picture, but there are a lot of loose ends that clutter up the image. When Judgment Day comes, God will show us the other side of the tapestry. Then we will see clearly what we can only see now by faith. We sing the new song now along with the saints in heaven because we know how everything is going to end. God will judge all the sin and corruption of this world. God will justify all those who have now received through faith His gift of righteousness and holiness in Jesus Christ. When we know how the story is going to end, why should we ever think to give it up? Instead, we are emboldened to live in the grace of God and to take on those troubles that God would permit us to address one by one.
Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; proclaim the Good News of His salvation from day to day. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for October 20, 2002
ANNOUNCER: I'm Mark Eischer and my guest today is Dr. Louis Brighton, Professor Emeritus from Concordia Seminary and author of "The Concordia Commentary on the book of Revelation." Dr. Brighton, it's a privilege to have you with us today.
BRIGHTON: Oh, it's a joy to be with you. Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Dr. Brighton, a listener says she has a hard time asking God for help. Why might a person find it difficult to ask God for help?
BRIGHTON: Oh, it could be for more than one reason. I'm thinking of James right now, where he urges us (as in other parts of the New Testament). Anytime we ask God for something in the name of Jesus He always hears us. However, as James says in chapter 1, if we have some doubts that God will hear us, even though we pray in Jesus' name, she may have some doubts that God will hear her and God will not answer right off if she has doubts. What happens then is God will pretend like He's kind of backing off from her, to pull out from her all the more. Praying like, "God, you must hear me in Jesus' name." The firmer she becomes: "I know you're going to hear me now." Then He does so.
ANNOUNCER: Do you think our listener is telling us something about the way she views herself?
BRIGHTON: It could be. She may feel she's not worthy to come to God. I can assure her, as the wonderful Holy Spirit assures each one of us through the Bible, the most unworthy person is eligible to come to God as we hang onto Jesus because He died for us and rose again. And God loves us. In fact, the greatest way we can honor God is to say, "Oh, God forgive me my sins for Jesus' sake." The more unworthy we feel, the more He wants us to hang onto Him in Jesus. He will always assure us our sins are forgiven.
ANNOUNCER: What might the listener be telling us about her view of God, if she feels she has a hard time asking Him for help?
BRIGHTON: It could be she's looking upon God more as a judge than as One who loves her in Jesus. Now, God is a judge, of course, and He can sometimes really terrify us because of our sins. Sins such as not repenting of them like we should, or hurting other people, or not asking for forgiveness, etc. It could be she's emphasizing in her heart that He's such a terrifying judge that she's afraid to go to Him. She should then look at Jesus' death on the cross to see that God put all the terror and fear of His judgment upon Him because Christ suffered to take it all away from us.
ANNOUNCER: Our listener reminds me of someone else who found himself in that same situation at one point in his life. I'm thinking here of the great reformer, Dr. Martin Luther. As we approach Reformation Day we think of the great change brought about through Luther's understanding of who God really is. How might that speak to this situation?
BRIGHTON: Luther was trained even as a priest that unless you are good in your own right, unless you can match up to the goodness of God in Jesus by your own works, God won't accept you. He was terrified. In fact, he went to his superior in his order and said, "I've committed the unpardonable sin because now I hate God!" His superior said, "Oh, Luther, why do you hate God?" "Because He's asking something I can't fulfill. I can't live a perfect life to go to heaven! I can't live like Jesus did." It's only when he studied the Bible and the Holy Spirit moved him and he understood. You don't have to live a good life. You can't -- it's impossible! Christ lived it for you. And that's your righteousness. He died for your sins on the cross. Then a wonderful peace came to Luther and He clung for dear life only to Jesus' death on the cross. He knew through that death, God would always accept him, no matter how unworthy he was, no matter what sins he would still commit.
ANNOUNCER: Well, I hope our listener will find some comfort in the things we've said today; that God is there ready to hear our prayers and has already, in Jesus, begun to effect the answer to that prayer.
BRIGHTON: Yes. He loves for us to pray. The greatest way we can honor God is not to give gifts to Him. (Oh yes, He likes that, too.) But the greatest way we can honor God is to confess: "Oh, God forgive me my sins." That's what He wants more than anything else! And if this dear lady just says, "Forgive me my sins, in Jesus, because He died for me," God will assure her, "I hear you. Your sins are forgiven. I'll take care of all the other things in your life, too."
ANNOUNCER: We've been talking with Dr. Louis Brighton, Professor Emeritus of Concordia Seminary. Dr. Brighton, thank you for being with us.
BRIGHTON: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.