If you would, please turn with me to Psalm 117. The Psalmist says:
Praise the Lord, all nations!
Glorify Him, all peoples!
2 For His faithful love to us is great;
the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever.
This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.
Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.
We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.
Well, we are taking another short break from the gospel of John to trek through one of the Psalms. Our passage this morning is Psalm 117, which, as it happens, is the shortest chapter in the Bible.
Now, because Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible, our first temptation might to be to think of it as unimportant. We might think of Psalm 117 as a throwaway Psalm. A throwaway chapter. A throwaway passage that we really don’t have to look at or think about or deal with. But the truth is that there aren’t any of those.
You know what I’m talking about?
There is no such thing as a throwaway chapter. There is no such thing as a passage in the Bible that is not “inspired by God” and “profitable for teaching, and for rebuking, and for correcting, and for training in righteousness,” so that “we may be complete” and “equipped for every good work,” as Paul says in 2 Timothy chapter 3.
So because Psalm 117 is so short, and because it is so simple, we may have been inclined to write it off and ignore it in the past. But what we’ll find, as we walk through the shortest chapter in the Bible this morning, is that there is still a wealth of Godly wisdom to be drawn from it./
So let’s take a look at Psalm 117. The psalmist opens by saying “Praise the Lord, all nations. Glorify him, all peoples.” That sounds simple. And it is.
He says “Praise the Lord, all nations.”
Because that’s what they exist for.
He says, “Glorify God, all peoples.”
Because that’s what all people exist for.
Have you ever thought about that? You exist to glorify God. You exist for the glory of God.
Now, listen closely to what I just said, because it might not be what you heard. I did not just say that “You should glorify God.” I did not just say “You should think about praising the Lord.” I did not say, “I strongly recommend glorifying God today.” I said you exist to glorify God. You exist for the glory of God. That is what you exist for.
We see that explicitly in Isaiah 43:7, when God tells the Israelites, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.”
We exist for the glory of God. God created us for his glory. That’s why in Psalm 115, the Psalmist says, “Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”
That’s a running theme throughout scripture. Psalm 72:19 says, “Blessed be God’s glorious name forever, may the whole earth be filled with his glory.” In Philippians 2:11, Paul looks forward to a day when “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And that’s why in 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul says, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”/
In other words, your life has a purpose. Before you were born, your life had a purpose. You have a specific calling. You have a specific mission. Before you could speak, before you could crawl, before you were anything, you had a purpose. You existed for a reason. And that reason is to glorify God. You exist to glorify God.
Now, that’s a very different thing from much of what you typically hear nowadays. Here in America and most of the western world nowadays the rallying cry is “Be yourself.” “Do what makes you happy.” “Don’t let anybody tell you what to do.” “You create your own destiny.” “The world is what you make of it.”
You know what I’m talking about?
And it’s not just young cosmopolitan college students, either. It’s everybody.
Very weird story, but one time I was in line at a McDonald’s, which is how every good story starts, right? I was minding my own business, which is usually what I’m doing, and the man in line behind me just decided that he wanted to debate me and my friend Ian about US foreign policy – because, what else are you gonna do in line at McDonald’s.
Now, at this particular time, I’m, maybe, 19, so I don’t have a whole lot of really strong opinions on the subject. But the man says, “So, the Middle East.”
And I was like, “Yeah?”
And he said, “You know what I think we should do? Make an ocean out of it.”
And I said, “Oh. Which part of the Middle East?”
And he said, “All of it. Get rid of all those terrorists.”
And I said, “The whole thing, everybody who lives there?”
And he said, “All of it.”
And I said, “So, Israel?”
And he said, “Well no. They’re our friends. Not Israel.”
And I said, “Okay, so, not all of it. Any other Middle Eastern countries you do not want to make an ocean out of? Any others?”
And he said, “Okay. Evacuate Israel, get the good ones out, then just nuke the whole place.”
And I said, “I think that might break a lot of international laws.”
And he said, “There’s a higher law than international law,” and he pointed up with his finger, I guess, to heaven.
And I said, “That’s true. So you think that God wants us to make an ocean out of the Middle East?”
And he said, “Well, no.”
And I said, “So you don’t think wants us to nuke the entire Middle East?”
And he said, “No. I’m not saying it’s the Christian thing to do, but this is the real world, and you’ve gotta make real-world decisions.”
And I said, “The Bible isn’t the real world?”
And he paused for another few seconds, and he said, “Look. I’ve got a constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and what makes me happy is nuking the Middle East.”
And then my McDouble came up in the window, so our conversation was over.
And don’t read too much into that story, obviously, but the point here is that the “Do what makes you happy,” “Write your own destiny,” “You are your own man,” and so forth mentality is so unbelievably widespread throughout our culture that it it’s basically taken everybody captive whether they realize it or not.
You might be a hardcore secularist who doesn’t believe that any God or any gods exist and that even if they did exist they couldn’t tell you what to do, or you might be a devout lifelong Christian who sees yourself as a staunch defender of Christian values, but either way, I guarantee you that it is baked into your psyche that at the end of the day you own yourself.
That you are your own master.
That at the end of the day your life belongs to you.
That your body belongs to you.
That you write your own destiny and you are your own person and so on and so forth, but that’s not true.
Here is the truth, and you might hate this: You are not your own. You do not belong to yourself. You do not exist for yourself. Your body and your soul and your heart and your mind are not yours. You exist for the glory of God. You exist to glorify the name of God both by worshiping him and by living in accordance with his good design, his good commands, his good promises, his good design for the universe.
Your life purpose is not primarily to find yourself, it is not to make your own destiny, it is not to fulfill your dreams, it is none of those things. It’s to glorify God.
That doesn’t mean your dreams don’t matter. That doesn’t mean your goals don’t matter. That doesn’t mean that your needs and desires don’t matter. All of those things matter, and we see throughout scripture that the Lord cares deeply about all of those things.
But your fundamental purpose is to glorify God. Your purpose is to find your place in God’s will and then carry it out faithfully, to find your role in God’s mission and then carried out faithfully, to find your place in God’s will and then submit to it faithfully. And when you do that, you glorify God.
Maybe that sounds kind of dreary to you. Not long after I became a Christian, and I started seriously studying the Bible for myself, when I started reading these things in the scriptures, it struck me as a buzzkill. I did not want to exist for the glory of God, I wanted to exist for the glory of me.
I didn’t want my life to be about finding my role in God’s will, I want my life to be about doing what made me happy. About finding fulfillment. About being myself.
I didn’t want to make an ocean out of the Middle East like the McDonald’s guy, but I also didn’t want to be told by God that I couldn’t want that. You know what I’m talking about?
I wanted my faith to be part of my life. I wanted it to be something that helped fulfill me as I balanced it with everything else. I wanted to carry the Lord around as a passenger in my 2006 PT Cruiser while I kept driving in the same direction I was going to head anyway. But that’s not how this works.
This is a dumb analogy, but the Lord demands the driver’s seat.
And yet that’s not the way that we think about these things, culturally speaking. We think of God as a passenger we take along on our road trip. But the reality is that God is the driver. We turn over the keys and become passengers in our own lives as the Lord drives us on towards home.
And as weird and goofy as that sounds, it makes sense, right?
Because if God isn’t your driver, then what do you even mean when you say he’s your God?
To put that another way: If God isn’t allowed to fundamentally change what you think, what on Earth do you mean when you say that he is your God? If God isn’t allowed to fundamentally change what your life is about, what exactly do you mean when you say that he is your God?
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying you should become a religious fanatic. Most religious fanatics don’t actually have God in the driver’s seat. They’ve still got God gagged and bound in the passenger seat while they drive the car into a crowd of people. Religious fanatics aren’t submitting their lives to the glory of God, they’re using God as a prop to justify their own worldly lust for power. Or they’re using God as a prompt to justify their own worldly lust for control. Or in some cases they’re using God as a prop to carve out an identity that makes them feel important or significant when the world has made the feel insignificant and disposable. So I’m not talking about religious fanaticism.
Like, the radical Al Qaeda and Isis folks who blow up buildings and crash airplanes into landmarks are still in the driver’s seat. They’re slapping a God sticker on a power trip.
And in exactly the same way, the folks who take up arms every once in awhile and try to overthrow the US government and institute some kind of Christian theocracy, they’re still in the driver’s seat. They’re slapping a God sticker a power trip.
Religious fanaticism doesn’t glorify God any more than wishy-washy religious sentimentalism. It’s just a different coat of paint on that same exact thing. So, hear me. I’m not calling you to become a religious fanatic.
But I’m absolutely calling you to turn over the driver’s seat to the God of the universe.
Let Jesus be your actual God. Let the Bible be your actual guide. Let the way of Jesus be the actual compass that guides you. Let the call that Jesus places on you be the actual anchor for your life. Because you exist for the glory of God. You exist to praise the name of the Lord. That’s not just something about you. That is what you are.
Now, like I said a few moments ago, that probably sounds kind of dreary. But as we continue on in our Psalm, I want to make the case that everything I just said is the opposite of dreary.
If we’re honest with ourselves, this is the only thing that isn’t dreary.
To quote the Heidelberg Catechism – one of my favorite Cinfessions of Faith that isn’t Baptist. The first section of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your one comfort in life and death?” And then it answers, “My one comfort in life and death is: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
I don’t know about you, but that gives me chills.
I actually feel that way.
That is my one comfort in life and death: I am not my own.
As dreary as it sounds to our worldly imaginations, the reality is that this is the only thing that isn’t dreary.
So the Psalmist says, “Praise the Lord, all nations. Glorify him, all peoples, for his faithful love to us is great.”
It is very good news that we exist to glorify God. It is very good news that we exist to praise him. Because, as we see throughout scripture, the praise that we pour out on the feet of the Lord almost always comes in response to his faithful love.
I’m gonna say that again: You exist to glorify God, but the glory that you turn around and place at God’s feet isn’t just a de facto Glory. We’re not talking about “sucking up.” As a person who exists to praise the name of Yahweh, your call is not to be a “teacher’s pet,” the glory that you pour out on God’s name is a response to his faithful love to you.
In other words, God’s glory speaks for itself. When you see God as he is, glory is what your heart pours out on him. When you see the Lord with open eyes, your natural response is praise.
It’s like the story we read in Luke 19. It says:
When Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Jesus says, essentially, “If I shut these people up, the rocks will cry out.”
It’s the same thing throughout the rest of the Psalms, and the Book of Job, we could pick about a thousand examples, the creation itself worships the Lord. The creation around us worships the God of the universe. Every blade of grass, every tree, every particle in the universe praises the name of our God. And what that means is that humans are the odd ones out. So that’s, like, the ultimate peer pressure. That’s, like, cosmic peer pressure. Every single atom in the universe is pressuring you to glorify God.
Why is that?
Because glory is the only reasonable response to the beauty and power and graciousness and might and love and strength and majesty of this God.
Looking at the God of the universe with unblinded eyes, you will glorify him, because his glory speaks for itself. And it speaks for itself most clearly and most loudly through his faithful love to us. The Psalmist says, “The Lord’s faithful love to us is great.”
That’s actually a really interesting thing to say.
Because among other things, that means that God is very different from what comes naturally to us. The God that actually exists is very different than the God that we are inclined to make up on our own. Right?
Like, ask yourself, if you were absolutely powerful, absolutely glorious, if you “owned the cattle on a thousand hills, as God says in Psalm 50, would you be merciful?
If you were God, would it be good news for the folks you don’t like?
Would you be gracious?
Would you be patient?
Would anybody say that your “faithful love” was great?
I would guess not.
My guess is that if you were God, it would be bad news for everybody. I say I because if I were God, it would be extremely bad news for everybody. Because I am wildly unChrist-like.
Like, as a 19 year old I got real smug about the fact that at least I didn’t have a worldly and unbiblical desire to “make an ocean out of the Middle East,” but between 19 and 26 the Lord purged me of a little bit of that smugness by casting a blacklight over me and showing me that I’ve got issues of my own, and those issues are every bit as serious as the McDonald’s guy’s issues. If I were God, it would be bad news for everybody, and the same is probably true about you. And the result is that the God of the Bible is wildly different from the God that we envision in our minds when we are left to our own assumptions.
There’s about a million things that we could point out, but the thing I find the most endlessly fascinating is that the God of the Bible apparently doesn’t have an ego.
The God that actually exists doesn’t even kind of mess around with that insecure, fragile, chest-beating, egotistical nonsense that we’d what expect. It’s difficult to overstate just how offensive so much of God’s word is to our fallen, worldly imagination. Like, I don’t even like it when people make fun of my shoes, but have you seen the things that Psalmist gets away with saying to God?
When I say “get away with,” I mean, the Psalmist will say the nastiest, most disrespectful sounding stuff to God, in the middle of praying, and instead of sending a lightning bolt, the God of the Bible listens, patiently receives it, and then puts it in the Bible.
Here’s just a short list, just enough to make you cringe.
In Psalm 44, the Psalmist says, “You have rejected and humiliated us” (v. 9), “You sell Your people for nothing” (v. 12), “Why do You hide Yourself and forget our affliction and oppression?” (v. 24).
And Psalm 60. He says, “You have made Your people suffer hardship” (v. 3).
And Psalm 80. He says, “You fed us the bread of tears and gave us a full measure of tears to drink. You make us quarrel with our neighbors and our enemies make fun of us” (vv. 4-7).
And Psalm 88, he says, “You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit, in the darkest places, in the depths” (v. 6), “You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves” (v. 7), “You have distanced my friends from me; You have made me repulsive to them. I am shut in and cannot go out” (v. 8), “My eyes are worn out from crying” (v. 9), “LORD, why do You reject me? Why do You hide Your face from me?” (v. 14), “From my youth, I have been afflicted and near death. I suffer Your horrors; I am desperate” (v. 15), “Your terrors destroy me. They surround me like water all day long; they close in on me from every side. You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me; darkness is my only friend” (vv. 16-18).
And Psalm 13: “How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?”
And Psalm 22: “God, I cry out by day, and you answer not; by night, and there is no relief for me” (Psalm 22:3).
These are things you wouldn’t say to the floor manager at Food Lion you work at, let alone the God of the Universe. And yet at no point does God lash out. Because the God of the Bible is gloriously patient.
I harp a whole lot on our culture’s tendency to say that God is mean and crotchety and angry all the time but Jesus is nice and gentle and patient and friendly, and the reason that I harp so much on that is because that’s not even vaguely grounded in the scriptures.
Because the God that actually exists, the God that we read about in the Bible that we actually have, is this God. And he’s a God who is all powerful, and all-knowing, who could crush you, and who knows you well enough to know exactly why he should crush you, and yet comes to you not with a bottomless and insatiable desire for flattery and sucking up and petty ego boosts, but instead comes to you with faithful love. The Psalmist says, “The Lord’s faithful love to us is great.” And we see exactly how great that faithful love is in the cross.
I’m gonna say that again: The Psalmist says, “The Lord’s faithful love to us is great.” And we see exactly how great that faithful love is in the cross.
Because in the cross, “God shows his love for you in that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you,” Romans 5:8.
In the cross, Jesus became “the propitiation for your sins,” 1 John 2:2. He reconciled you to God.
In the cross, Jesus “cancelled the record of debt that stood against you” and “nailed it to the cross,” Colossians 2:14. Jesus erased your debt.
And the result is that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1. Because of the Lord’s faithful love, through Jesus, you are un-condemned. You are not condemned anymore. And you will never be condemned again because “God made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him you might become the righteousness of God,” 2 Corinthians 5:21. In God’s eyes, you are every bit as righteous as he called you to be when he created you. God treats you as though you are every bit as righteous as Jesus.
And therefore Paul rejoices in Ephesians 2:8-9, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
That’s what God’s faithful love looks like.
You are loved with a love that pays all your debts, erases all your faults, washes away all your uncleanness, forgives all your sins, and embraces you even at great cost to itself. God saw from the foundation of the world what it would cost him to love you. And he loved you anyway.
That’s why in Isaiah 55:1, he issues a call to everyone listening. He says, “Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost!” Jesus calls you, in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
That’s what the Lord’s faithful love looks like. The Psalmist says, “The Lord’s faithfulness endures forever.”
God glorifies himself through his faithful love to you. You exist to glorify God through his faithful love to you.
Cling to that truth. Cherish that truth. Build your life on that truth. Draw your strength from that truth.
The Lord’s vast, costly, and radical faithfulness to you will endure forever.