We are going to have a break from Acts for some time, for the sake of variety. Tomorrow, the 1st of the month, we will begin a new series on Amos. Today we have a special edition. This is a sermon (prepared for Australians to explain about our ministry in Thailand), so it is longer than the usual post. You may prefer to go back and catch up on a passage from Acts which you missed.
Click here to read the passage.
There are a whole lot of imperatives in this psalm: sing, bless, declare, ascribe, bring, worship, tremble, say. Why does the psalmist tell us to sing and praise and worship? Verse 4 tells us. Firstly, because the LORD is great, and worthy of praise. Verse 3 says he is glorious, verse 6 talks about his splendour and majesty, his strength and beauty, verse 10 says he reigns as King. The psalmist compares the LORD with the gods of other nations. LORD, in capital letters, is our God’s personal name, sometimes written as Yahweh or Jehovah. This is the God of Israel that the psalmist is singing about. Other gods, he says, are worthless idols.
In Thailand, where we live, we see idols everywhere. If people were truly following Buddha’s teaching, they would not bring offerings to spirit-idols, but they do. They honour them because they are afraid that if they do not, the spirits will hurt them or cause bad luck to them, their family, their household. Every building has a spirit house outside, where the people leave offerings so the spirit will stay outside and not bother them. Even educated people fear the spirits, but the psalmist here urges the readers to fear the LORD – Yahweh – above all else.
What is the difference between Yahweh and the other gods? He is the Creator. You can see that in verse 5, where it says that he made the heavens, but we also see his creation glorifying him in verses 11-12, where the sea roars, and all its creatures, and the fields and all the animals exult. Even the trees of the forest sing for joy before their Creator. Thai people generally do not believe that the world was made by Yahweh or any other god. Thailand is a beautiful place. Our LORD God created Thailand and Thai people. Yet they do not honour him as the Creator.
Thirdly, we see in the psalm that the LORD is the Judge of all the earth. Look in verse 10 and verse 13. Normally when we hear that the LORD is judge, we think of the guilty being punished, particularly in the end times. But the biblical concept of judgment is much broader than that. Notice how God judges with equity, righteousness, and faithfulness in these verses, not with fire and brimstone. When God judges, he sets things right. Because in the world of the Bible, and in the world today, things are not right. There is corruption and oppression.
We see this up close in Thailand. 67% of the wealth is owned by 1% of the people – the greatest wealth inequality in the world. Bribery and corruption are part of society’s fabric, factored into the construction of roads and other things. But the most heart-wrenching injustice we see is the exploitation of human beings. There are about 100,000 refugees in Thailand, mostly Burmese who have fled the fighting in their own country. But refugees have no rights in Thailand; they have no access to education or healthcare, and are vulnerable to arrest, abuse, and deportation. This situation came to world attention 2 years when the boys lost in the cave – born and raised in Thailand – were finally given the right to become citizens. Perhaps even worse, boys and girls, men and women, are bought and sold as slaves. Some work in the horrendous sex industry; others are forced to labour as fishermen. Many are refugees, but some are simply from poor families who sold one or two children off to people claiming they could give them jobs in the city. God wants to bring justice to these people. He wants to restore their dignity and bring equity. God will judge with righteousness and faithfulness.
And so we have learned about the ‘why’ as presented in Psalm 96:
- God is the great King
- God is the Creator
- God is the Judge
Let’s look now at what he wants the people to do as a result.
Firstly, he tells us to sing – three times! Isn’t it wonderful to gather together with the people of God and sing praises that bless his name? Humans love to sing together. Nonbelievers come for public Christmas carol-singing because they just love it, even though they don’t believe the words. Ours is one of the few religions where people come together and sing. They certainly don’t do it in Buddhism!
The next instruction also has to do with words: we are to ‘tell’ or ‘proclaim’ in verse 2, and to ‘declare’ in verse 3. The Hebrew word (bsr) used in verse 2 is the same word that Isaiah uses when he talks about proclaiming the good news in 40:9. It’s the message that the King is coming, who will restore order and bring comfort to those who suffer. It is translated in the New Testament as ‘evangelise’, an announcement of good news about the coming of a king who will bring victory for his people. It is the word that is used in Is 61:1 that Jesus quotes in Luke 4, when he is talking about his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … to bring good news to the poor … to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives”. It’s the same word in Is 52:7 which Paul quotes in Rom 10:15 where he says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim the gospel”. So it’s not just the simple word ‘tell’, but really about proclaiming the good news of God’s salvation.
When we know about God’s character, his saving works, the victory he has won, how can we help but share this good news with others? When we encounter the lost, the fearful, the oppressed, and we have this good news about this great God, we must share it with them. Not just at big evangelistic events with lots of people, or at church on Sundays; we share it ‘day by day’, with everyone we meet, believers and nonbelievers. We need to be reminded every day that God has won our battles, that he cares for the broken-hearted, and that he is in control of every situation that threatens to destabilise our lives. It is wonderful to come to church and testify what God has done for us during the week; let us do that with our friends and neighbours every day! This is part of our discipleship, as we follow Jesus in his mission.
In verse 3 the psalmist tells us to “declare his glory among the nations and his marvellous works among all the peoples”. That means not only among other believers, but with those who do not know him. To “declare his marvellous works” means to tell about everything he has done for you, including salvation won by Jesus. The phrase “declare his glory” needs unpacking. There are a lot of ways the word ‘glory’ is used in the Bible. Sometimes it is the manifestation of God’s presence, like in Isaiah’s vision or on Mount Sinai. God’s glory is also revealed when he works miracles by his strength and power. Another aspect of ‘glory’ is a sense of weight, honour, or importance. So when we are told to “Declare his glory”, it can mean to declare how important he is, or to give him the honour he deserves, or as in verse 8 “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name”.
In Thailand, as well as in Australia, people do not give God the glory or honour or importance he deserves. Mostly they simply ignore God. Even we do not give God his rightful place in our lives, despite knowing who he is. This is why we have to keep singing new songs to him, and telling of his salvation – to remind ourselves what he has done for us, and so give him the honour he deserves. Thais have no concept of God, but they have a deep culture of honouring those who deserve it. They honour their parents, spiritual leaders, teachers, and the royal family. To not give due respect is wrong. Who deserves honour more than our God and King? Observe again verse 8: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.”
What a challenge this is for both Aussies and Thais! Do we really give God his due importance? One way of expressing the importance of God in our lives is by bringing him offerings and coming into his courts to worship him. This is to give him our time and our money, the most tightly-held things we possess. Paul talks about offering up our whole lives as a sacrifice to God. Our ministry in Thailand is in response to who God is – his glory, his saving work in our lives, his ownership of our lives. It is not just the context in which we find ourselves, with all its needs, or using the gifts that God has given us. As disciples of Jesus, we follow him in proclaiming good news to the poor and liberty to the captives. Our motives might have been (1) to help sad people and fix injustice; or (2) to fulfil a sense of significance and need for purpose in our lives. But our motive, and yours, should be the glory of God. That we, and our Christian friends, and our nonbelieving family and neighbours, should honour God in accordance with what he deserves. Our work on his behalf should flow out of his greatness and be for his glory, never a desire for our own glory.