The Lord Reigns

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Tonight we're restarting a series in the Psalms, from where we left off last year.  Last year we got to Psalm 8, which is why we're kicking off in Psalm 9 tonight.

Now, in case you're not that familiar with the Psalms, you need to know that they're basically a collection of God-inspired songs and poems.  And they were written in response to an enormous range of situations.  Because they're songs, they're full of emotion.  And that's great because (especially in Britain) we can often get so purely intellectual when we think or talk about God it's like we're doing a degree in him but never really knowing him.  So the psalms are a great antidote to that.  There is passion here, real earthy, human emotion. Whether it's a psalm of praise or despair it's difficult to not be stirred up as we read.

So that's my prayer for us as we study psalms 9-13 over the next few weeks - that God would use them to stir up a deeper passion for him in response to all he has done.

So if you haven't already, find psalm 9 so that we can look at it together - page X in the blue Bibles.

And as you do, I'm going to pray...

Now, because they're songs and poems, reading the psalms isn't like reading one of Paul's letters, or part of OT history.  Most of the time, we don't get a linear argument to follow with nice neat points we can pick up straight away.  But that doesn't mean they aren't structured.  In fact, they can often be even more structured.  And that's true of Psalm 9.

Scan it with me now and see if you see what I mean:

When you start reading psalm 9 it's immediately clear that it's a song of praise.  Verses 1 and 2, David says:

I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.

I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

Then, verses 3-10, he gets into what he's praising God for.

My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you.

You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked

The LORD reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgment

David praises God because he's won victory.

And then he repeats the same structure.  Verse 11,

Sing praises to the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.

And what has he done? It's there again, only this time with a slight difference:  He's won victory and David prays that he'll win victory again.

Do you see that?  Praise God.  He's won victory.  Praise God.  He's won victory and he will win victory again.

I hope that makes sense, but if it doesn't, bear with me, and hopefully it will become clearer, because those will be my headings as we look a this psalm:  Praise God.  Praise God for his victory.  Praise God for his victory to come...

so first:

Praise God... (V1-2 + 11)

Let's read those verses again so we're really taking them on board:

I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.  I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

and then verse 11

Sing praises to the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.

And there's 3 things I want to pick up on in David's words of praise:

First, can you hear the passion in David's voice? This is no 9.15 service, it's a bit early and we're all a bit sleepy.  I will praise you with all my heart.  I will express my passion for you with every part of me.  I will sing your praises because I really believe you are worth praising.

And that's important because it will unlock the rest of the psalm if we understand this.  David's passion for God is enormous.  He wants to give God everything he can.  He aches to declare how great God is because he really believes he is great.

David praises God with real passion.

Second notice that David praises God, for what he has done.

Have you ever been in a prayer meeting or something where the person leading has suggested you start by praising God 'for who he is'?  They might even say 'not for what he's done, just for who he is'  I know some of you have, because I know I've led prayer meetings and said something like that before.

But as I've studied this psalm, I've realised that actually, that's pretty much impossible because God is a God who acts.  We only know who he is because of what he's done.  Think about it.  What's God like?

He's a powerful God.  How do we know?  Because he created everything.  He's a God of grace.  How do we know?  Because he's acted in grace to save rebels like you and me.

So, David praises God passionately for what he's done.

And third, did you hear what happens to David's praise in verse 11?

Sing praises to the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.

His passionate praise spontaneously overflows into telling others.

And that makes sense doesn't it?  Have you ever noticed how when people really believe something's great they'll tell anyone who'll listen?  I noticed it when one of the nurses at work came back from holiday the other week.

I asked her how her holiday was, and was met with the most gushing response I could have imagined.  "It was amazing...we found this amazing restaurant - I've never tasted seafood like it.  You should go if you're ever there - in fact I'll tell you where it is..."  And she proceeded to tell give me directions from the hotel she stayed in to this restaurant in the middle of wonahockalulu or wherever it was she'd been.  Thing was, she knew it was likely I'd never actually go, but that didn't matter.  She just loved telling me about it.

Maybe you've had similar experiences with a friend who has a hobby they think is great, but you find actually a little dull, like war gaming or something.  Yet despite doing your best to seem maybe even slightly disinterested, they still persist in telling you all about the last great battle they won, or the latest tactic they used...

Why is it that people insist on telling others about things like that?  Because they're praising something they've enjoyed.  Something they think is truly great.  They don't just enjoy doing it, they actually enjoy talking about it.  The praise they sing out is part of their enjoyment of the restaurant, or their hobby, or whatever it is.

C.S Lewis put it this way:

"The world rings with praise - lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game...I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment..."

And that's what happens here with David.  He's passionate about God.  He aches to sing his praises. He will rejoice in him with all of his being, and spontaneously that flows out into telling others about him and the wondrous things he has done.

So that begs an important question:  How's your praise? Are you passionate about God (even if it is in a slightly British way...) Do you really think God is the greatest person any one could ever know?  Does your praise overflow into telling others about Him?

Is he really worth all that to you?

If you're anything like me then your answer to almost all those questions will be: maybe a small amount of the time, but most of the time to be honest, no, I'm not that passionate about God deep down.  HTG is a busy place and I've got a family and a job and, well, I'm just tired...

If that is you, then the best thing you can do is to listen to, read and meditate on what God has done more and more.  Keep coming to theses services and hearing from the Psalms, keep coming in the mornings as we look at kings, and to summer series as we hear from 1 Peter.  Keep seeking to saturate yourself in the Bible - hearing more and more what God has done, that we might praise him and rejoice in him with ever growing passion.

And as a taste of that, let's look at the rest of this Psalm and hear exactly what it is that David praises God for.

So that's my second heading:

Praise God for his victory

Verse 3:

My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you...

Now, often when we read a psalm our first reaction is to try and apply it to ourselves immediately.  Maybe even use it as a prayer straight off.  And that's a great thing to do with a lot of psalms.  For example psalm 103, we often even sing in church:

as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us...

But if we try and do that with every psalm we'll get stuck pretty quickly.  By psalm 2 actually, where God says:

"Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession."

That's not directly about me - I can't claim that promise for myself individually.  Rather, it's a psalm about the king of Israel.

And that's true of a lot of psalms - many of them aren't about individual believers directly, but are better understood to be about the king of Israel, who was like God's representative, ruling over God's people.

That's really important because it explains why the NT applies so many Psalms directly to Jesus.  He's the one the OT king pointed forward to - Jesus is God's ultimate king, so he's the one who will ultimately be given the nations as psalm 2 promised.

So one of the key questions we need to ask about psalm 9 is: who is it about?  Clearly it's a song of praise and a call to us to join in praising God.  But who is the rest of it about?  Who's enemies are being defeated here?  Who's victory are we praising God for?

Well, I think this is like psalm 2.  It's about the king of Israel.  You can see that when you look at David's language as he talk's about his enemies:

He says God has rebuked the nations and uprooted their cities.

I don't know about you but I've never come under attack by any nations or cities.  So whilst there are psalms, including some written by David, which are about God delivering individual believers from persecution and opposition, I'm not sure that's what's on view here, I'm not sure that's what we're being called to praise God for here.

Rather, here we see God's king being opposed, and God acting to vindicate him.

Did you see that in verse 3 and 4?

My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you.

For you have upheld my right and my cause; you have sat on your throne, judging righteously.

The king is opposed; they are his enemies, but David says, they stumble and perish before you.  God has acted to defeat the enemies of his king.

Now, we know that David wasn't anything special as far as his goodness goes.  It's not like he never did anything to make God angry, or invite judgement on himself.  He was a rapist and a murderer.  So how can he say God has acted righteously to protect him from his enemies?

Well, imagine that the queen announces that she's going to come and visit Gateshead.  And she decides she wants to take in a visit to HTG whilst she's here.  But at the last minute she can't make it, so she sends another member of the royal family in her place.  They're acting as a representative of the queen.  But because we're all so disappointed it's not actually the queen coming to visit, we ignore them, and don't turn up to meet them.  Is that just offensive to the visitor?  No, it's offensive to the queen too.  Because this person is the queen's representative.  To ignore them is basically to ignore the queen.

And that's what it's like with God's king.  He's God's representative on earth.  God rules through him.  So to oppose his king, is to oppose God.  So when David talks about his enemies, at the same time, he is talking about God's enemies.

If you want an example of that have a look in Isaiah chapter 37 where you'll read about Assyria rising up against Israel, and Hezekiah the king, who are also described as rising up against the Lord.

But, back to Psalm 9: do you hear the utter futility of opposing God?  In time, no one will even be able to remember the name of his enemies, verse 5:

You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

Endless ruin has overtaken the enemy, you have uprooted their cities; even the memory of them has perished.

That's why David praises God for his rule.  Because in defeating his enemies, God establishes that he's the undisputed king.  So, verse 7:

The LORD reigns for ever; he has established his throne for judgment.

He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.

God even works it so that his enemies' very act of opposition comes back to defeat them.  Have a look further down, at verse 15:

The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.

The LORD is known by his justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.

Opposing this God just isn't going to work is it...?

So how are we to understand this, 3000 years later, 2000 years after the cross?  Well, these words are finally fulfilled in Jesus.  He is God's ultimate king, as someone has said: great David's greater son.  Only, the opposition to Jesus wasn't and isn't just nations and peoples.  Sin, the world and the devil, opposed him with all their might.

But in the face of all that, God won the victory.

A few weeks ago we were looking at Colossians, and read this in chapter 2 verse 15:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, (Jesus) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross...

The cross is God's ultimate victory.  And don't those words of David in verses 15 and 16 describe it perfectly?  There, at the cross, it looked for all the world like evil had won the day.  Christ had died.  God, in shame, rejected by men and killed.  Yet there, the enemies of God fell into the pit they had dug, because there, in shame on the cross, Christ conquered, and he proved it by rising from the dead.

And I think that's something we would do well to meditate on.  We often talk about the cross in terms of salvation, which is right.  But we use the language of victory a lot less.  But the Bible is full of it.  On the cross, through king Jesus, God won victory over his enemies.  And psalm 9 calls us to praise God passionately for his victory.

But there is one pretty major problem isn't there.  Yes we can praise God for he victory he won on the cross, but when you look at the world.  When you see God's name derided and trampled on; when you see society squeezing any last remnant of the idea that there's a God to answer to, let alone that his name is Jesus; when you're struggling with sin or suffering in your own life; when you see millions of people suffering and dying in Pakistan, it's difficult to be passionate isn't it?  Sometimes it can even be difficult to believe God really did win the victory 2000 years ago.  Where's the evidence now?

And that brings me to my final heading:

Praise God for his victory to come.

As we heard psalm 9 read earlier did it strike you as strange, the way the tone changes suddenly in verse 13?  This is definitely still a psalm of praise, but a hint of desperation suddenly creeps into David's voice doesn't it:

O LORD, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death, that I may declare your praises in the gates of the Daughter of Zion and there rejoice in your salvation.

He's just spent more than half the psalm praising God for his victory, and still carries on in verses 15 and 16, but it's clear the victory isn't complete yet.  David's enemies are still after him.  The nation is still under threat.  God is still being opposed.

But David's cry isn't hollow hope is it?  It's not like he's saying "God you've come through for me before, I just really hope you do now..."  He knows God has won decisive victories in the past, and he's certain he will again.  David knows, verse 17:

The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God.  But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish.

And we can be even more sure.  Because we know that on the cross God won the decisive victory.  Satan was crushed there and then.  The power of sin was defeated there and then.  We know that one day King Jesus will return, and complete his final victory, as we heard in our NT reading (Rev 20:11-21:4)

And that confidence is what leads David to pray at the end of psalm 9:

Arise, O LORD, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence.

Strike them with terror, O LORD; let the nations know they are but men.

Isn't that a bit harsh - praying for judgement?

Tell a Newcastle football fan that their team's not all that good and you'll quickly get an idea of what's driving David to pray this.  They'll be outraged!  How dare you belittle the team they think is so great!

And we've already seen David's passionate praise.  He thinks God is great and praises him with everything he's got.  He doesn't want God to be belittled or forgotten - he's too great for that.  And so his passionate praise for God's victory and his confidence in it, translates into passionate prayer for that victory to come.

And before you think that doesn't sound like the kind of thing we should pray stop for a minute.  Isn't this part of what we pray when we say "your kingdom come" every week in the Lord's prayer?  Isn't it part of what we ask for when we pray "come Lord Jesus."  When he does return, when his kingdom does come in its fullness, there won't be any room for opposition.  Those who oppose him will be reminded that they are but men.  There is one king and no other.

So let me ask that question again:  How's your praise?

It might be that you know you've never actually praised God at all.  Far from recognising and praising his victory, you're more likely to be in opposition to Jesus.  If that's you then don't stay there!  Don't find yourself on the wrong side of God and his king.  Lay down your arms and acknowledge him.

Or it might be that you do praise God for his victory and you do acknowledge Jesus as king.  If that's you then psalm 9 calls you to keep praising God passionately for his victory, with praise that overflows to telling others, and translates to prayer for the victory we know will come.

Let's Pray...

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