Let me ask you what might be an inappropriate question! How old are you? Of course I'm still young – the new 45! But whatever age you are: How many of those years have been really lived and not just existed?
You see this psalm is calling us to a wholehearted life, a life lived to the full, following the King of Kings. Not just a safe and comfortable Christian life, not just existing. Our soul, our life, our all is to be for our God. Jesus' radical call is to follow him wholeheartedly, to give ourselves fully to him and the psalms stir us to do the same. They tell us why he's worth living for and not just existing for. Psalm 45 says he's our life, all of our life, our great love. Psalm 46 says he's with us. And Psalm 47 because he's your King he's worth your soul, your life, your all. The challenge Psalm 47 lays before us is that the purpose of life, a life lived deliberately and not just existed, is a life lived bubbling over with joy for your God. The purpose of your life is to shout to your God with cries of joy, to praise him in word and deed, to glorify and enjoy him forever.
Yet those of us who are British can consider this exuberant joy over the top! Maybe sometimes we do express it but often we can think I'm far too sensible or dignified for that. But this psalm says we're not too old or weary for such joy – it's a joy you and I were made for – for us a fruit of the Spirit. We can so easily become grumpy old men and women! But according to this psalm you were made for exuberant joy which, of course, isn't just about a false smile but rather a deeper joy which should spill out, at least sometimes, even in tough times. Yet when was the last time you felt a sense of overwhelming joy and shouted for joy about your God? When last did an infectious joy creep across your face knowing he is your God and you are his? If you've not had that deep sense of joy for a long time, then something is wrong. Perhaps God seems a million miles away, yet it's you who've moved. There's no way to live wholeheartedly for God without being powered by that sort of deep joy about him. This psalm stirs us to joy in God again. It begins by commanding us to be that way, verse 1:
"Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy."
And this call to praise God is unique – look carefully at who's being called to shout for joy – "clap your hands, all peoples", all you nations. It's remarkable. God's people calling on other nations, all peoples who don't know God to join in the joy. It's another reason for having Christian school assemblies for all today. Come join in the party for he is so good. Yet they are the very nations he's just defeated in battle (v3). Come and praise him with joy. It's remarkable. So today clap your hands those from Europe, Japan, North Korea, Kenya, Iran, Syria, Egypt, USA, India, China, Venezuela – turn to him, the King and ruler of the nations.
Verse 6 reminds me of those who try to warm up the crowd, but this time not for some contrived TV talent show but for God. Why? Because he's worth all the shouts of joy we can muster. God is awesome. Yet so often we reduce him down. We study him like some school science project. Then not surprisingly our knowledge of him doesn't lead us to joy when it should. Why is it that we shout for our sports team but not for our God? I can be very excitable at a football match getting behind my team, but not always for my God. What's going on there? Well this Psalm is written to change our heart, to encourage us to shout to God with joy and gives us four reasons to join in. First:
1. He is the King (v2&7)
Why would Israel call on the nations, to worship the God of Israel? Well the names given us for God in verse 2 explain why. How awesome is "the Lord, the Most High". These two names for God - Lord and Most High together say that he is the Lord or Yahweh (their God) and he's also the Most High over the whole earth. So this psalm says to the other nations he's your God too. And your King. He's the Great King over the whole earth. There's only one God over Israel but there's also only one God over all the nations. There is no other. The one whom we depend on for life and breath. Paul says this in Athens, where there was a god for everything, Acts 17.22-27:
"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way towards him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…"
You see God the Lord Almighty claims planet earth completely for himself. Every inch is his. All the peoples. And we who know the gospel know just how decisively he's made that claim - through the death and mighty resurrection of his Son. The risen Jesus says, 'all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. I am King of the lot, the Creator and Lord – therefore go to the nations'. There's no other name to which we can cry out with joy. No other name before whom all knees will bow. No other name we can carry to the nations which will bring joy. No other name by which we can be saved. And the only right response is to sing a skilful psalm of praise to him, to receive him as your King, you who understand across the nations (v7). Shout for joy to your King. Secondly and here's where things get very remarkable indeed…
2. He has Won the Victory (v3&8)
And we can share in that victory through faith in Christ. God has made a way to rescue us from sin, death, Satan and from ourselves. But as part of that there's also a sense here that he's defeated us – that he's defeated our rebellion against him. But you say how could defeat ever bring joy? There's no real joy in seeing your team lose. It's a British concept that you can have a noble defeat. 'We lost but we lost well!' How can you do that? There's no such thing as a good defeat.
Well this psalm says that there is when God has won and not us! He has defeated or subdued the nations and this is good! He's defeated the peoples, or warriors as it can be translated. The peoples of this earth are fighters or rebels against God. All the nations line up against God. Psalm 2.1-2 puts this best:
"Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed"
It's the story of our world isn't it? Each one of us and every nation has declared independence from God, the King of heaven and earth. What a foolish move to declare autonomy from the one who gave you life. He's the King. How does the God who's King react? The one enthroned in heaven laughs (Psalm 2.4):
"He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision."
But that's not all he does. He won't let our rebellion stand. Psalm 2.5-6:
"Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
"As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.""
Under God, King David led the conquest and made Jerusalem God's city to cries of joy – but King David was just a hint of what or who was coming – King David's greater son, Jesus, God's own son and anointed King. The rulers of the world banded together to do the very worst and brutally killed him to be free of him. Even then the one enthroned in heaven laughed because at that very moment he'd won. 'I've set my King on Zion my holy hill.'
You see at just the right time while we were all lined up against him, he overcame us all. He wins – that's what the cross says. That's what we celebrate when we take Holy Communion. We celebrate his victory and the defeat of our rebellion. God wins but wonderfully gives us the victory through faith in Christ for the victory declared here is fulfilled in Jesus, who died for our sin, is risen, ascended and reigns at God's right hand putting all his enemies under his feet.
Now if you're not one of his subjects, if you've never bowed your knee before Jesus, if you're living ignoring the God who created you, this could be the worst news you've ever heard. If you're living a self-determined life and not a God-determined life then God stands utterly opposed to your life and he's set a day when he'll judge your life, the verdict will be instant and the sentence eternal.
But God's victory could be the best news you'll ever hear. Picture the battle scene: Huge and powerful angel armies (Psalm 46) leading the charge with Jesus at the head, but just as they're about to reach you, Jesus rides out ahead and offers you his terms of peace – not to call off the charge for God is just and it must happen - but his terms are this - his life for yours. So he stands in front of you as his army charges over the top and if you accept his terms you become hidden in him, untouched. Why? Because he loves you. And because he knows we're powerless – for all our rebellion against him – to make amends, powerless before our own enemies of sin, Satan and even our own death. So on the cross he destroys them all. His life for yours. He wins. No wonder we're called to shout for joy. Will you accept his terms if you haven't already? Thirdly…
3. He Claims Us as His Inheritance (v4&9)
So this King who's made everything has subdued everything. Everything is his. Every square inch of planet earth he claims as his prize. And as he promised in Genesis 12 he will share that prize with his people. In time he gave them the promised land. He's a God who keeps his promises. Under David and Solomon he gives more land – and they became a rich and wise nation. But there's something even more wonderful about the inheritance he promises. It's not just the promise of the land – but the promise of himself. You see by Genesis 15 the promise seems hopeless. No land and no people. But in Genesis 15.1 God says:
"Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."
He would give land and the rich heritage of nations to Israel but the heart of the gift he gave them was himself. Their God was with them. But why should we, the other nations, shout for joy? For us, as part of the other nations, it's like looking in on something you're not invited to with your face pressed up against the glass. At first it doesn't look that good but then the more you look the more you realise how good it is. So why should the other nations including us join in the celebration? Because he shares it with us too. Ephesians 2.12 says:
"remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world."
We were far off and without God. But come and see what your God has done. Listen to the difference Jesus makes from Ephesians 2.13:
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ."
When you come to him in faith those who are far off are brought near. How near? Look at verse 9 of Psalm 47. It is such an amazing verse. The nobles as representatives of the defeated nations assemble before him, not as vanquished enemies but as his people. They too become people of the God of Abraham. The people of this promise. And as his people we too share in this inheritance, this great reward, this land, this promised country that is yet to come, as Hebrews puts it. And while we wait we can delight in our inheritance that is already ours. We are gathered with our God. Do you want a reason to shout for joy this evening? Well tonight is your very great reward - to be gathered with his people and with him by his Spirit.
And isn't it wonderful to be part of a church with so many folks from around the world? You see this is what God is plotting: for the nations to gather together to shout praise to God. It's what he promised Abraham and it will be fulfilled on that great day, in the new creation, that forever country. Then we won't be staring at a party we're not invited to. No, through faith in Christ we are the people of the God of Abraham. We'll be with him and his people. What a moment that will be! The complete reversal of Babel in Genesis 11 where people gathered to make much of themselves. Whereas on that last day we'll gather as one to make much of him. Clap your hands all the nations. Shout to God with cries of joy. And one final reason to do that…
4. He is Exalted (v5&9)
Verse 9: "He is highly exalted". He has been, is being and will be exalted. That reality should lead us to shout for joy. The incident which inspired the psalm was probably David ascending up the hill to shouts of joy to God (v5) as the Ark was brought into Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 6 records King David and the people celebrating with all their might – it's a great picture isn't it? Everything was given over to praising God.
When Jesus, crucified and risen, took his rightful place as the ruler and Judge of the nations after pulling off the greatest victory the world has ever seen, as he entered into heaven with scars of battle and victory, just imagine the shouts of joyful victory in the heavenly court – and they're still going and will forever – such is the joy he brings. And while we wait for that last day we too get to join in that heavenly chorus. We're to exalt him now, but not just here in church but in all of life, throughout the world and throughout the week. He is King, he has won. And as God bids others to come and see the joy that's better than anything else. We're to call others to come join the party of their God and King. You see our joy should be infectious.
So let me close with a very appropriate question. What or who do you exalt in life? What or who do you make much of?
- Those of you who are in the youth group – whose name do you carry with you to school? Whose name is on your lips?
- Students and those of you about to be students – how long will it take for others to see that Jesus is your King? And that you're happy about that. That you gladly live and speak for him with your life, soul and all.
- Parents here – what or who do your children see you exalting? What in your home is made much of? What would your children say makes you most joyful?
- What about those of you who are in employment - knowing that your skills come from God do you work wholeheartedly for him? Do you hold loosely to success and honour in the workplace, standing up for the name of the Lord, for you know his inheritance is better than anything the world can give you?
- For the seniors here - are you going in the opposite direction to many in your generation who are often fearful and full of sadness about the future? Instead is he your shield and your very great reward? Is he enough? Are you growing ever sure of his promise and more joyful that he's with you and that you'll be with him?
Clap your hands everyone – which means more than clapping in a song. It means bind your heart to him who's won. Bind your heart, your life and soul to your King who's won and whose reward is being with him forever.