Joy’s Ignition

This Sunday at his church (Sovereign Grace Fellowship; Bloomington, MN), my friend Rick Gamache kicked off a new summer sermon series in the Psalms. The series begins with Psalm 33.

On the opening three verses (Psalm 33:1-3) Rick made the following comments in his sermon:

This is not a casual suggestion to worship God. This is not a suggestion at all. It’s a command. There are five imperatives in this three-verse invocation to worship. Here they are: “shout,” “give thanks,” make melody,” “sing,” “play.” We are to do all those things joyfully and so we are to do all those things very loudly. It is a call to passionate, exuberant exultation. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Joy is the soul of praise to God.”

This is a hymn to be sung when the people of God gather together. The Psalmist, by commanding that we worship joyfully, is saying that joy should mark the people of God. Joyful praise, the Psalmist says in verse 1, befits the people of God. In other words, joy is the appropriate response to God. It’s not the only response. There are other hymns that call for other types of response: stunned silence, or awe and wonder, or holy fear, or brokenness and contrition, or deep longings. But in all those other responses to God, there should be an undercurrent of joy because joy is the soul of praise. So when the people gather–like we are gathered this morning–the accent should be on joyful celebration.

Note that the joyful shouts and the joyful expressions of gratitude and the joyful singing and all the joyful playing are not tied to our circumstances.

Were not told:

  • Shout for joy in the Lord … if everything is going well with you.
  • Give thanks to the Lord … if everything went as you planned it this week.
  • Sing a new song to God … if you got a raise.

The imperatives are not tied to our situations or our circumstances. …

So what is all this joy about? Why give exuberant thanks? Why sing new songs? The Psalmist does not encourage us to put on a show. He’s not saying, “Gather with the people of God and when you do, do all that you can to appear joyful.” This is not a command to be disingenuous. The Psalmist and God expect us to experience joy–real joy–as we shout and give thanks and sing. And so the rest of the Psalm tells us why we should be joyful.

Three verses tell us what to do (1–3), and those are followed by 17 verses that specifically tell us why (4–22). And that’s evidence of the fact that we need all the help we can get to be stirred to joyful praise.

If you are anything like me, then you are fickle, you are distracted, your joy wanes, and sometimes it seems to disappear completely. And yet here is a call to joyful worship. Why? What or who ignites this joy? God. God is the one who ignites the joy. The 17 following verses answer why we worship with joy—because of God, who he is, and what he’s done for his people. God is the reason for our joy. And it is this joy that runs as an undercurrent and withstand all the attacks of life.

Who does God worship?

tsslogo.jpgSermon excerpt
Rick Gamache

“Since saying that God loves Himself is so provocative, let me say this instead: God loves Jesus.

Jesus is at the center of God’s affection. That rolls off the tongue easier somehow. God loves Jesus. Well, yeah — only-begotten Son — of course He does! And there is lots of Scripture to back up the fact that God loves Jesus. Here are just a few.

Remember what happened at Jesus’ baptism. Here is how Matthew records it: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (3:16-17). Now whose voice is that coming out of heaven? Obvious answer: It’s God the Father’s voice. And He is making it clear that He takes pleasure in His Son. Jesus is the source of pleasure for God and He loves Him. This is His beloved Son.

We can go on and on with texts like this. Here are a couple more.

John the Baptist says, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35). In other words, the Father loves the Son so much that He gives Him supremacy in all things. That’s how much He loves the Son. He gives Him supremacy. He doesn’t do that for anyone else, only for the Son.

Right after Jesus has been transfigured only Peter, James and John are there. Their eyes are opened and Christ’s glory shines fourth brilliantly before them and they see it! And then in response to that display of Christ’s glory there is a voice from heaven again: “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matt 17:5). In response to this manifestation of the glory of Christ, the Father says, “I love my Son. I take ultimate pleasure in My Son!”

Let’s turn and answer this question: In loving Jesus, was God the Father merely loving an amazingly holy and obedient man? Or is there anything extraordinary about the Son or the Father’s love for the Son? Is there anything extraordinary going on here?

Here is something extraordinary: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). This is more than merely a holy and obedient man, this is a man in whom dwells all the fullness of God. This is a God-man. And this God-man existed long before He was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago which is why Jesus can say to the Father in John 17:24, “you loved me before the foundation of the world.” God loved Jesus before there was anything else, or anyone else to love. Before there was you or me to love, God loved the Son!

That’s why Hebrews 1:3 is so significant: “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus is God! This is why the apostle Paul says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

The glory of Jesus Christ, the glory of who He is and what He has done for His people is the glory of the Father. The glory of Jesus is the glory of the Father. We know the glory of God the Father by looking into the face of Jesus Christ.

And when the Father looks into the face of His Son Jesus, He too sees His own glory and He loves what He sees there. He takes pleasure in what He sees there. He worships what He sees there! He loves, He enjoys, He worships, Himself! God loves Jesus with an infinite and omnipotent love. He loves Him more than He loves anything or anyone else. And Jesus is God. So God’s love for Christ — who is God Himself — is an expression of the love He has for Himself.”

– Rick Gamache, Who does God worship?, excerpt from sermon (Dec. 9, 2007; Sovereign Grace Fellowship, Minneapolis, MN).

And there are other goodies in this sermon. Listen here:

Or download (11.1 MB):

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Related: Current debate, Is God a narcissist?

The heart of Cross-centered living

tsslogo.jpgWhat does it mean to live a Cross-centered life? That’s a question I get a lot from TSS readers. I may try to maintain a Cross-centered blog, but I have no expert answer to this important question (I’m learning along with you!).

To my life situation and my own heart, the Cross could be applied a thousand ways:

  • Parenting by encouraging (grace), not in angry threats (legalism).
  • Leading my wife by sacrificing for her, not in pridefully asserting my authority over her (Eph. 5:25).
  • Giving others hope while caring enough to give correction.
  • Reassuring my own heart as I reassure others of God’s unending, unchanging love for His children as purchased in the Cross of Christ.

But ironically, as I begin to understand how the Cross unfolds and is applied to all of life, I find myself sometimes dangerously cold in my appreciation for the Cross! In pursuing Cross-centeredness I find myself sometimes looking away from the Cross itself!

How can this be?

I find it hard to look long into the Cross, because it’s hard to look at! To look at the Cross is to be reminded that I am a failure. The Cross stands me next to God’s Law so I can see myself as only a rebel, a sinner who has failed in the first commandment all the way down the list to the ‘smaller’ commandments. The Cross reminds me that, apart from Christ, I am only guilty and filthy in God’s holy presence.

But I think there is something even deeper here, because to truly understand the wrath of God being poured out on the perfect Son is a picture that causes something inside of me to revolt uncomfortably. For all my love of the Cross and my consideration of the Cross as a beautiful display of love and grace, it’s not easy to look at directly. If the Cross is beautiful and gracious, it’s also bloody and horrible.

Which is why I am thankful for my pastor and friend Rick Gamache (Senior Pastor of Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Minneapolis) who shepherds my heart back to the Cross. I’m most thankful for Rick’s Crucifixion Narrative, a Good Friday narrative that walks step-by-step through the events of the Crucifixion. It’s a powerful depiction of the Cross that you will find helpful if you struggle to return to the Cross frequently.

The section where Rick highlights the imputation of Christ as He becomes sin, is simply overwhelming!

You can listen to the audio recording of Rick Gamache reading the Crucifixion Narrative:

You may also download the mp3 audio file and the PDF text of the Crucifixion Narrative.

Nothing short of an awareness of the Cross — displayed in its full beauty and horror — will sustain a Cross-centered life.