The Gospel & Glory
Nick Esch, 10/29/2017 Cornerstone Baptist Church Terrell, TX
There once was a young Catholic monk named Martin Luther. He was a man zealous in religion; but even in his zeal he desperately struggled. You see he understood that God is holy, that God is infinitely righteous, and it terrified him. He once said, “I regarded [God] only as a severe and terrible Judge…” And because of that he hated the righteousness of God, for he knew that it was the standard by which he would be judged…
But one day, after much study and meditation, by God’s grace he came to realize that in and through Jesus, in and through the gospel—by faith—God gives His righteousness to sinners like him. Luther came to realize that salvation is a gift for the guilty, not a reward for the righteous. His eyes finally opened to the truth of the gospel, and he said, “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” The gospel gripped Luther in such a way that it transformed his life, and put joy in the place of fear. In fact, he grew so passionate about the gospel that eventually he felt he had to challenge many of the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church because in many ways they were anti-gospel.
Rome had all but lost the gospel, replacing it with tradition and sinful attempts at works-based righteousness. So Luther wrote out his 95 Theses, which addressed some of the issues he saw in the Church, and on October 31, 1517 he posted it where all could see… This was the start of the Protestant Reformation. From there Luther continued to push Rome more and more towards gospel-faithfulness, but it only led to Luther and those who lined up with him on the gospel being pushed out of the Catholic Church. But Luther would not compromise on the gospel.
And that’s really what the Reformation was all about: the gospel; it was a recovery of the gospel. So though Luther was pushed out of the Catholic Church, and was threatened with imprisonment and even death, he kept preaching the gospel, and writing about the gospel, and seeking to help the church grow in faithfulness to the gospel. He once wrote, “Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know [the gospel] well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually…” One time a church member asked him, “Why do you preach the gospel to us week after week?” To which he replied, “Because week after week you forget it.”
Luther had many faults, but he was a gospel-centered man. Yet his passion for gospel advance was really motivated by the glory of God; in fact this was the overarching goal of the whole Reformation. But Luther understood these to be linked. He said, “the doctrine of the gospel takes all glory, wisdom, righteousness, etc… from men and ascribes them to the Creator alone, who makes everything out of nothing.” And that truly is what the gospel does; it humbles man and gives all glory to God… But it also saves man… sinful men and women like you and me. It takes us out of our sin and enables us to live for the glory of God; which is the very reason we exist.
The glory of God among the nations is why God created us and why He saved us. As one pastor has put it, “this cause is the consummation of [our] significance in life. Many other things are important in life. But this is the largest cause of all. Every follower of [Jesus] embraces this purpose and finds the consummation of [their] reason for living in being a part of this great purpose of God to be glorified among all the nations” (John Piper). So, in keeping in step with the Reformation on its 500th anniversary, that’s what I want to draw your attention to this morning. So look with me at Psalm 96.
The Psalmist starts off by telling us to, “sing to the LORD a new song.” Throughout Scripture when a new song is sung, it’s a song inspired by a fresh experience of God’s grace; and that’s exactly what the Psalmist is speaking of here. He says, “sing to the LORD, all the earth!” And this idea of all the earth praising God carries on throughout the Psalm. In verses one and nine it’s all the earth, in verses three and five it’s all the peoples, in verse seven it’s the families of the peoples, in verse ten it’s the nations and the peoples, and in the last few verses it’s the earth and the world. The nations praising God and giving Him glory is a theme that’s likewise woven throughout the whole Bible from beginning to end. Like in Revelation 5:9-10 where it says that heavenly creatures and elders, “sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you (speaking of Jesus) to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (from all the peoples, all the nations, from all the earth, from the whole world), and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”
Now, this Psalm certainly had meaning for the time and day in which it was written, but it’s clearly looking to a day when salvation would go far beyond Israel to the ends of the earth; it’s pointing forward to the grace of God in Jesus Christ; it’s pointing forward to God saving people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The only way for all the earth to sing a new song to the LORD is for them to experience God’s grace. And we see that this is indeed what is happening in verse 2. The Psalmist says, “Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.” But in order for all the earth to tell of His salvation, they first have to experience His salvation. Before all the earth can bless the LORD, they first must be blessed by the grace of the LORD. Only those who have been saved can sing and bless His name.
So, what’s happening in this Psalm, is that all people, including us, are being called to bless or worship or make much of Jesus here, to live for the fame of His name. Yes, it says the name of the LORD; but Jesus is the Lord of lords… Jesus is the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:10-12). If we are going to tell of the salvation of the LORD, then we must speak of Jesus; He is the name that we are to glorify because it is by His name that we are saved. We glorify God with a new song, by singing the praises of God in Christ. After all, this is the same new song that is being sung in heaven according to Revelation: “for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The new song is a gospel song, a cross-centered song, a song that tells of His salvation from day to day.
From here we’re told to, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” Think about that word marvelous: it means superb, excellent, wonderful… Well beloved, is there anything more marvelous, more superb, more excellent, more wonderful, more wonder inspiring than the gospel? The gospel is God’s most wonderful work; it’s the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Here we are told to declare God’s glory to the nations, to all the earth, to the world; and, as I said earlier, this is the very reason we exist: to glorify God, to magnify His glory, to display and declare His glory to the world… God’s glory is His beauty and worth; it’s the radiance of all that He is in all of His attributes. And we were created to live in such a way that we display and declare all of that—His great glory; our lives are supposed to be all about Jesus… But, if we’re honest, we typically live our lives in such a way that we are trying to display and declare how great we are, not how great God is. And this is true of everyone; that’s why God’s Word tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We all sin every time we fall short of what we were created for, namely the glory of God. And our sin has separated us from God and condemned us. In fact, because we have turn from God’s glory, outside of Christ we are so caught up in our sin that the Bible says we are actually dead in our trespasses and sins; we are stuck in our sin, we are helpless and hopeless in and of ourselves, and complete and total wretches in the eyes of God.
But, remember His marvelous works, remember His great work of wonder, remember the gospel… The gospel is God’s most wonderful work; it’s the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ—that even though we are sinful wretches, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners by living the life that we should be living, by dying the death that we deserve to die and having the wrath due our sin poured out upon Himself, and then rising from the grave in victory, conquering sin and death and satisfying God’s wrath for all who will turn from their sin and trust in Him, so that all who repent and believe will be saved from sin and death, and will live forever with Jesus. This is the experience of grace that leads us to sing a new song to the Lord. This is the gospel, and it is marvelous, it is truly wondrous. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “The Gospel is a mass of wonders, its history is full of wonders, and it is in itself far more marvelous than miracles themselves. In his Son the Lord has displayed wonders of love, wisdom, grace, and power.” And it is this gospel that is God’s marvelous works that we are to proclaim and declare among the nations.
But understand that declaring God’s glory and His marvelous works among the nations is not just sharing the gospel with them, it’s not just telling them about God. In verses 1-6 the focus is on singing of and singing to God, in verses 7-9 the focus is on ascribing to the LORD glory and strength, in verse 10 we are to speak of the LORD and His sovereign rule among the nations, and then it all comes together in verses 11-13 where we are called to be glad and rejoice in all that God is and has done. So we’re not just to worship God, and we’re not just to share truth with the nations; it’s more than that. As Tim Keller puts it, “God directs his people not simply to worship but to sing his praises ‘before the nations.’ We are called not simply to communicate the gospel to nonbelievers; we must also intentionally celebrate the gospel before them.” We are to rejoice and be glad, and when our hearts delight in the gospel, when our hearts are glad in God our joy overflows to praise, and that praise is how we declare God’s glory among the nations. We are to be so gripped by the gospel that it flows from us. So, it’s not just a sharing, it’s an exulting in—it’s an exulting in Jesus among the nations, it’s pouring ourselves out for the fame of Christ among all peoples. And this makes sense when we think about God’s marvelous works, when we think about His glory.
Remember, God’s glory is His beauty and worth; it’s the radiance of all that He is in all of His attributes; and that’s why the Psalmist says what he says next. Starting in verse 4 he says, “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary” (4-6). The Psalmist is unpacking the glory of God for us; he’s helping us behold God’s glory; he’s helping us understand who God is in all of His attributes.
He says the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised. Have you ever been told by someone that a book or a movie or maybe a restaurant was so good that you just had to try it out? They say things like, “Oh, you’ve just got to see it, you’ve just got to read it, you’ve just got to eat there; you’d love it, it’s just the greatest thing ever…” Well, what generally happens when we take people up on that offer? Typically, whatever they were pitching to us doesn’t live up to the hype; it’s not that it’s bad, it just isn’t as good as they made it out to be… Well beloved, this is never the case when it comes to our great God. The LORD is great, and greatly to be praised… He always lives up to the hype! I mean think about it: nothing in all of creation, no matter how great, compares to God, because He is the One, who in His greatness created all those things that we go on and on about. Any greatness we find in the creation only points to the greatness of the Creator. In all His ways, in all that He is, God is great; He is infinitely great because He Himself is infinite—He is the beginning and the end, He always was and always will be—and therefore He is greatly to be praised because praise should be proportionate to it’s object. We might praise things on this earth that never live up to the hype, but God is infinitely praise worthy, He is greatly to be praised… Friends, we can’t over do it when it comes to God…
Our God is to be feared, to be reverenced, to be respected above all gods… Now when the text says that it doesn’t mean that there are other gods; in fact it means just the opposite. That’s why the Psalmist says in verse 5 that all the gods of the people are worthless idols… In the Hebrew there’s a good turn of phrase here. The word for gods is elohim and the word for worthless is elilim; so it’s kind of like the Psalmist is saying that these mighty beings (so called) are mighty worthless… They aren’t real; they are worthless idols that sit on a shelf; they are things we’ve made up, or they are demonic… They are not God. The work of our God is all around us: He made the heavens; He made the universe and everything in it… That’s why He is to be feared above all these fake worthless gods, because His handiwork, His greatness is all around us… The Psalmist uses kingly language to describe Him in verse 6: splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary… Why? Because that’s where He is. The sanctuary is where the presence of God is. And where He is His majesty, His splendor, His strength and beauty are also… Again, that’s what His glory is… the radiance of all that He is…
After getting our eyes on the glory of the Lord, the Psalmist says, in verses 7 and 8a, “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name…” Now, that word ascribe is an interesting word choice: it means to attribute or think of as belonging… So it’s as if we’re being told not just to think about God in theory, or to see His greatness is some general way that doesn’t really affect us, but instead it’s to truly attribute all these things to God, to fully place our faith in this great God. You see, faith is not just believing in God, it’s believing God… Even the demons believe and shudder… That’s not what we are called to do… We are to believe God; to believe His Word; to believe that He truly is glorious, that He is great and greatly to be praised… If God is truly great, infinitely great, that means He is infinitely better than anything and anyone else… Nothing can compare to Him… That’s why when we really believe this, we are so gripped that His praise just flows from us… There is more goodness, mercy, grace, love, joy, peace, satisfaction in God than in anything else in all of creation. That’s why He is to be praised, that’s why we are to live for and to declare His glory… When we fall short of His glory, either by living for our own glory or for the glory of other created things, we are not just falling short, but we are cutting ourselves short… God is infinitely better! He is infinitely glorious! He is great and greatly to be praised; so ascribe to the LORD glory and strength… Recognize Him to be who He says He is…
We are to ascribe to Him the glory due His name; the name of the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. We are to believe Him, to believe His Word, to believe He is who He says He is and has done and will do all that He says. And in the last part of verse 8 and into verse 9 we’re told what this looks like. It says, “bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!” We no longer offer sacrifices for sin on an altar in a temple because Jesus put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself; He was the sin sacrifice to end all sacrifices (Hebrews 9-10). But we are called to bring an offering; the offering that we are to bring is ourselves: all that we are, all that we say and do, and all that we have. This is an offering of thankfulness. This is what we do when we see the gospel rightly.
You see, he says to come into God’s courts, and this is startling language because it’s not just Jews that are being summoned here, but it’s the nations, it’s Gentiles, and Gentiles weren’t allowed into the Jewish courts of the Temple because they were unclean. But Jesus makes people clean, and He has made Jew and Gentile both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility; the cross brings people from every ethnicity and all walks of life into fellowship with one another, and with God. So this appeal to come into His courts is being made to all who have ears to hear in every tribe, tongue, and nation. And when the Psalmist says His courts, he’s intentionally using Temple language because he’s talking about where God is in His holiness. This is what he’s getting at when he says to worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; he means the splendid presence of the all holy One. And we need to understand how weighty of a summons this is…
When sinners see the holiness of God everything changes. Think about Isaiah 6. There Isaiah sees the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and he sees seraphim and hears them saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And you know what he does? He does exactly what verse 9 says to do; he trembles before Him. He says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” As he beholds the glory and the holiness of God he knows he is a sinner and that he is in trouble. But then, instead of annihilating him for his sin, the Lord atones for his sin. Instead of unleashing wrath He gives grace. And then Isaiah, in utter amazement, responds the only way he knows how, “Here I am! Send me.” Here I am Lord! Take me, use me, send me, pour out my life however you see fit. Lord I see the folly of my wicked ways, I see that I have been falling short and cutting myself short, and Lord now I want you…
And get this… What is so astonishing about all of this is not that God so opens our eyes that we now want Him—though He does that—, but what is utterly astonishing is that God wants us… He love us… He’s after us… He’s made a way for us to be right with Him! Often in our sin we think we can somehow work our way to God, or we think we can earn God’s love, or make ourselves pleasing to God. But, if we truly get a glimpse of the holiness of God we know that could never be. We are men and women who are unclean and we dwell in the midst of unclean people; we have no hope of making ourselves pleasing to God. But listen to this quote from Luther that gets at the heart of the gospel. He said, “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.” The love of God will never find anything pleasing to it in us, because we are all sinners who are unrighteous and utterly distasteful to the Holy God. And so, God makes us righteous. He recreates us. The love of God loves fools and weaklings; His love seeks us out and then atones for our sin, and makes us pleasing in His sight. His great love for us is not because of us, but because of how great His love is—because of how great He is; the LORD is great and greatly to be praised!
Oh, and friends, don’t you understand, that when we see this rightly, when we begin to understand the gospel, we will respond just as Isaiah did: Here I am Lord! Take me, use me, send me, pour out my life however you see fit. Lord I see the folly of my wicked ways, I see that I have been falling short and cutting myself short, and Lord now I want you… When we are utterly amazed by the gospel then we will truly worship the LORD. We will align ourselves with the rest of this Psalm. Starting in verse 10, we will say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! (He is our King!) Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved (because He is King; His rule cannot be shaken); he will judge the peoples with equity (as the earth is stable, so to is the justice of God. He is righteous and faithful, and thus He rules justly).” Unlike worthless idols, the LORD reigns, and this is good news for those who will ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name.
When we submit ourselves to the true King of the universe, when we entrust ourselves to His rule and reign, it leads to great joy—joy now and great joy to come when our King returns and fixes all that is broken. The Psalmist says in the remaining verses, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness” (11-13). Here we’re told that the heavens and the earth will rejoice at the coming of our King… Why? Because the curse will be removed; what is broken will be fixed; every wrong will be made right. The Lord is coming back to fix all that’s broken and to judge the earth, and He will judge with equity, with righteousness, He will judge in His faithfulness; and He is faithful to His justice… No sin will go unpunished… Oh, but praise God, He is likewise faithful to His mercy. For all who turn from their sin and trust in Christ, there will only be joy in that day, because though no sin goes unpunished, Jesus took the punishment for our sin upon Himself. So for the Christian there is only mercy, grace, glory, and joy forever more. The nations will rejoice and be glad with all of creation because their merciful King will be with them, and He will be their God and they will be His people; and if we are truly followers of Christ we will be a part of all of that… But that joy starts here and now, because God, in His great love, has so sought us out in and through Christ, that He has brought us into right relationship with Himself. Now He brings us joy… because He is our joy…
And you see, this takes us back around full circle. When God is our joy, when we delight in Christ above all, our hearts will be stirred to sing to the LORD a new song; to sing to the LORD, to bless his name; to tell of his salvation from day to day; to declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! It’s not a chore for us to sing to Jesus, it’s not a chore for us to speak of Jesus, to spread His fame to the nations, because He is our joy, He’s our greatest treasure; our hearts and lives have been so impacted by His love and grace that the gospel just flows from our lips. And we don’t just glorify God with our lips, but we display His glory to the world by living in such a way that we show that He is our joy, that He is our greatest treasure. We joyfully count all things as loss for the sake of knowing Christ and making Him known.
As I said earlier, this cause—the glory of God—was the great cause of the Reformation. And this cause—the glory of God among the nations—is the great purpose of our lives. It’s the consummation of our significance in life. Many other things are important in life. But this is the largest cause of all. Our God is great and greatly to be praised; and one day the nations will be glad and sing with joy because the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. This Psalm is an invitation for us to embrace this great cause, the cause we were created for, the cause of displaying and declaring God’s glory to the world through gospel advance.
So may we marvel at the gospel again and again, and spread it throughout all the earth, because, as Luther said, “the doctrine of the gospel takes all glory, wisdom, righteousness, etc… from men and ascribes them to the Creator alone, who makes everything out of nothing.” In the gospel God loves the unlovable, He makes everything out of nothing. “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.” And that enables us to truly shine out God’s glory to the world; it makes us attractive. God doesn’t love us because we are attractive, but we become attractive because God loves us; and we glorify Him as we shine out that love to all the world. So let’s give ourselves to doing just that. Let’s pour out our lives for this great cause, for the glory of God in Christ among all peoples…