The Gospel is for the World

Dr. Victor Nakah, Speaker

Psalms 117 | March 3 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
March 3
The Gospel is for the World | Psalms 117
Dr. Victor Nakah, Speaker

Good evening and thank you once again to Pastor Kevin and Mike and the rest of the leadership for the opportunity to share from God’s Word again tonight.  Allow me to read from Psalm 117.  It’s a very short psalm, Psalm 117. 

The Lord’s faithfulness endures forever.  “Praise the Lord, all nations!  Extol Him, all peoples!  For great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.  Praise the Lord!”

This is the Word of God.

From what we understand so far from our study of Psalm 67, we can confidently say that as the people of God as we gather this evening as the Church of Jesus Christ, as the congregation called Christ Covenant, we indeed have a missionary calling. 

We saw in the morning that going back to the very beginning and right throughout the Scriptures as we read from Genesis to Revelation, God has called His people to be a blessing to the nations.  We exist not for ourselves, not for ourselves to know and enjoy God alone, but also that others may come to know this God so that the nations may know and enjoy God also.

In other words, God is not a tribal God.  Yes, we can sing “My Jesus and I,” but He’s also our Jesus together.  We’re here because of the church missionary calling and we have also inherited that calling.  We now get to join in on God’s global work and we do so at His invitation.

I think there are three things that we must do as part of a missionary calling.  But before we look at those three things, I want to look at the overall meaning of Psalm 117 as it relates to Psalm 67, the psalm we looked at this morning.

So Psalm 117 happens to be the central middle chapter.  In fact, if you hold your Bible and you manage to get to the middle, well, there is Psalm 117.  It’s the central middle chapter in the Bible.  It is also the shortest chapter and it’s the shortest psalm in Scripture.  One scholar said of Psalm 117 the shortest of all the psalms is theologically one of the grandest.  Another said this tiny psalm is great in faith and its reach is enormous, talking about the nations and the ends of the earth.

This shortest psalm proves, in fact, to be one of the most important and most seminal.  Psalm 117 is in fact a sermon. 

If you imagine the world is a grand amphitheater and there is one stage from which you can speak or perform, the psalmist stands on this platform and he summons not only Israel to worship the Lord but the whole world.  Every living creature, everything that has breath, rise up and praise the Lord.

Even under the old covenant administration as we read it in the Old Testament, Israel’s worship in life were never intended only for that chosen nation but for the entire world.  Like I said in the morning, once you see this, you begin to see nations and foreigners and pilgrims all over Scripture as you read from Genesis to Revelation.  God did not call Israel to have a narrow focus on itself and its own relationship to Him, but to be conscious of how this relationship with God, this relationship with Yahweh, would be a light to the nations.  In other words, Israel has always, as we read in the Old Testament, lived out a relationship with God in front of a watching world.

Look at Deuteronomy 4, verse 1 to 8.  Moses, his exhortation for obedience and its connection to blessing, the blessings to Israel, has in view the understanding that as Israel worshiped and served the Lord rightly, the Lord would be quick to answer the prayers of the nation of Israel.  Such supernatural action in turn would cause, and listen to this, the gentile nations to consider the source of this blessing.  What is the source of the blessings accrued to Israel?  The one true God.

Not only that, Israel’s faithfulness to the law of God would lead the world to think about the source of these righteous statutes.  What is the source of these righteous statutes?  Again, the one true God.

So here are the three things we see in Psalm 117 about this call to worship.

First of all, the call to worship God is a call to all people.  It’s to all nations.  It’s to all creation.

Secondly, the singular object of worship is the true living God, the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The God of the Scriptures.

Thirdly, the unfailing reason for worship is His steadfast love and faithfulness.

So in Psalm 117 it is clear that the praise of the Lord is the basic job specification of all people everywhere.  All created beings.  I think that’s why it is true to say everyone, everyone irregardless, is a worshiper.  We were created to worship.  The difference is who or what you worship.  That this also why this psalm opens with an exhortation, not just for Israel, but to the entire world.  The exhortation is not just to the people of God gathered in one particular place for worship, but to the entire world, to all nations, to all tribes, to all tongues, to all people.  Everyone who has breath praise the Lord.

Look at verse 1.  Praise the Lord.  That’s a command.  It’s an imperative.  It’s an obligation.  It’s not mere invitation.  Who is to fulfill that duty to praise the Lord?  Well, praise the Lord all nations, extol Him all peoples.  It is, in other words, a universal duty and obligation for all people.  The worship of the Lord is the task of all people in all places at all times.  The worship of God is not optional.  It’s not even a cultural distinctive of one nation or one people group.

When you hear some people, oh, we’re known for worshiping, well, it’s not a cultural distinctive for just one group of people.  It is rather the duty, the responsibility of all people and of all nations.  It is your duty and mine.  It is the duty and responsibility of everyone created in the image of God.  It is the obligation of your neighbors, it is the obligation of your colleagues, it is the obligation of your family members and children, the elderly.  It is our obligation to praise the Lord.  It is the fundamental calling and most basic duty of every human being.

Men’s chief end, after all, is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  This is all humanity.  This is all human beings.  Our chief end as those created by God is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  We know when we don’t glorify Him then we are miserable, we’re lost without Him.  There is no life is us.

We read for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things to whom belongs the glory forever, Paul says.  Praise the Lord, all nations.  Extol Him, all peoples.

Brothers and sisters, thus the universal duty of praise, all peoples.  Maybe that’s the reason why we need to resist the temptation to think of worship as just our thing.  It’s the thing for all created beings. 

Now for the nations to praise God for His love and for His faithfulness, three things have to happen.

First of all, they have to be told.  They have to be summoned to rise up and praise the Lord.

But second, they have to experience His love and faithfulness if they are going to praise Him for it.

Then God’s people have to understand that this is God’s plan so that we can go out to the nations to tell them.  Because you don’t worship someone who you do not know.

This psalm tells us that if we are going to be obedient to His exhortation to the nations, we have to rise up with courage to tell the nations, to summon them.

What does that require?  Well, it requires worldwide witness.  It requires a vision for the nations coming to worship the Lord.  For us to respond to this psalm requires us to have a passion for worldwide witness, a passion for cross-cultural missions.  It requires believers to bear witness to every tribe and tongue and people and nation, that God is the living God, that Jesus is the Christ, and that He alone is the name whereby anyone under heaven can be saved.

This psalm, if we understand it properly, requires global world mission.  Believers, local churches, denominations that understand this psalm have a passion for the nations to worship God.

This is what John Piper means when he says missions exist because worship doesn’t.  In other words, missions happen because we want all people everywhere to worship the Lord our creator.  Another way of saying it is that the goal of Revelation 7, when we see the multitudes bowing down before the Lord our creator, the goal of Revelation 7 when God is worshiped by all nations is accomplished through the mission of Matthew 28 when Jesus tells us to go make disciples, go the nations and make disciples of all nations.

Matthew 28, make disciples of all nations ends up in Revelation 7, all nations worship God.  So the church’s present disciple making labor is what leads to the end time worship of God from all nations.  Isn’t that wonderful?  That our labor is not in vain.  We know how it’s all going to end and as we go out to make disciples, we know that it’s going to end with nations after nations worshiping the Lord our creator.

In other words, missions exist for the sake of worship.  Missions exist right now because we are not yet there, but that’s where we’re headed.

Like I said in the morning, we know how it’s going to all end.  So when we hear the words “praise the Lord all nations, extol Him all peoples,” God is telling us that we must go and tell it to the nations.  We must go tell it from the rooftop.  Tell the nations that He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

So Psalm 117 calls us to explicit testimony and exhortation to all the peoples, that they must praise the one true God.  That’s why there is no such thing like private Christianity.  We’re called upon to explicit testimony and exhortation, explicit testimony is visible, it’s credible, and it makes the Gospel look beautiful.

Secondly, notice the singular object of praise.  Who is to worship?  Well, we’re told everyone is to worship, all nations, all peoples.  Who is to be worshipped?  Well, we’re told who should be worshiped – the Lord our God.  Notice the answer from the psalmist.  Praise the Lord, verse 1, for great is His steadfast love towards us and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.  Praise the Lord.

So three times in caps we’re told that the Lord is the only object of our worship and our praise.  For those who come from Africa where contextualization is a big deal, whatever ideas we end up doing with contextualization, we only worship the Lord our God, only He must be worshipped.

So three times in all the caps we are told the Lord Jesus is the only one.  He’s not Jesus the great, like Napoleon the great, He is the only one who must be worshiped.  We’re to worship the Lord our God only Him is worthy of worship, only Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  He’s the only one and there is no other.

So Psalm 117 summons us to worship only the Lord our God.

But we need to ask the question tonight why do so many people resent the idea of worshiping the only true and living God of the Bible.  Why do some people even kill those who dare worship this God?

I’m sure there are many reasons but I want to suggest that one of the main ones is that these people, they have never experienced this God.  They don’t know God and you don’t worship what you do not know.  You don’t worship God when you don’t know this God.  They resent the idea of worshiping the only true and living God because they have not tasted and they have not seen that the Lord is good.  They don’t know the Lord’s covenant love.  They don’t know His steadfast love.  They don’t know His loving kindness as we read in Psalm 117.  They have never known the loving kindness of the Lord and they have never known the faithfulness of God, that God’s promises are yes and amen in Christ.  That He keeps His promises to His people.  They don’t know what they don’t know.

What that means is that in order for what this psalm exhorts us to do, in order for it to happen, the nations have to experience the love and the faithfulness of God.  The nations must come to know this God and experience this God.

Look at what verse 2 says – for great is His steadfast love towards us.

In other words, God’s gracious merciful love prevails.  The faithfulness of the Lord, well, it endures forever.  His promises are always kept.  And until you have experienced God’s gracious and merciful love that prevails and embraces His promises, until you’re converted, you don’t have everything to worship.

So this psalm requires that the nations experience this if they’re going to praise Him.  The nations come face-to-face with the reality of Jesus the Messiah, the One who died and He rose again.  Otherwise they will not worship.

That means there has to be worldwide worship, worship that is rooted in a changed life, where we are no longer worshiping ourselves or something else, but we are worshiping God the creator because we have tasted and seen His goodness.

So this psalm requires not only worldwide witness, but worldwide worship for it to be fulfilled.  Men and women across the globe whose hearts have been touched by Jesus, worshiping the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

That brings us to the third thing that I want us to see in this psalm.  So praise is a universal duty.  Praise is to be offered to the triune God, the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ alone and exclusively in Jesus Christ.  But we have a problem.  We are blind.  I’m tempted to say we are often blind.  Well, we are always blind if we are left to ourselves.  We never will worship this God.  We worship almost anything but God, especially ourselves.  We need new eyes.  On our own we are left groping in the dark and we will always come to the wrong conclusions and that’s the reason why we always end up worshiping the created instead of the Creator.  Left on our own, we will always choose that which looks like us, tastes and feels like us, and we worship it.

The third thing I want us to see is that the reason for praise here is that God alone has to intervene.  This is not someone working out the mathematics and you add up the numbers and you rise up and you say, “I get it.”  Well, God has to intervene.  He doesn’t leave us to fumble around in the darkness of our sin and confusion.  He intervenes.  He makes us to see, He opens our blind eyes in His great love.

This was God’s plan right from the beginning.  It is the plan that He’s bringing to pass in Jesus Christ.  His purpose was not merely to bring Israel back from the idolatry to Him, but also to bring the peoples, to bring the nations of the world, back from their idolatry to Him.  Not just for Jewish believers but for the Gentiles, Gentile believers together rising up to worship the Lord our God.

That is God’s worldwide plan.  This evening, brothers and sisters, in order to fulfill this particular exhortation in Psalm 117, we must have a passion for God’s worldwide plan.  A passion for God’s worldwide worship and a passion for worldwide witness.

The question I want to conclude with this evening is the question what is our role in all of this?  What does God want us to do?  What does God expect of us?  How do we practically step into our missionary calling with a renewed passion and energy? 

I want to suggest three things.

The first one is that we must be a contrast people.  We must be a contrast people.  To be a contrast people means that our church, our community here, must be different from the world that surrounds us.  We must be different.

This is part of our missionary calling.  It goes back to the Old Testament to God’s missionary calling to Israel.  In Genesis, God made a radical promise to Abraham to bless all the families of the earth through him.  Then later as we read in the book of Exodus, when God rescued Israel and established them as a nation, God restated his promise to Abraham so that it’s accomplished through Israel.  He says to Israel as a nation, “You shall be My treasured possession among all peoples for all the earth is mine and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  Exodus 19, verses 5 and 6.

Israel has a priestly calling for the sake of the nations and that priestly calling went together with their holiness.  They were to be different, they were to be distinct, they were to be a contrast people.  They were set apart for God’s purpose.  When you saw Israel next to everybody else, when you put Israel here and another nation here, Israel was to be a contrast people.  They were to be different.

One theologian says that the contrast was seen in what they displayed.  They were to be a showcase to the world of how being in covenant with Yahweh changes you.  A showcase of how having a relationship with Jesus transforms you, transforms your thinking, transforms your seeing and your hearing and your feeling and your understanding.  Showcasing to the world of how being in covenant with Yahweh changes you.

God’s law, His instruction, His Word, was meant to be a guide for how Israel should live as a contrast people among other peoples of the earth.  We see this in two ways.

First, God’s law was meant to lead Israel to embody their values.  The nation of Israel, like God’s original plan for humanity, they existed to value God more than all else.  To value God more than all else.  God’s greatest commandment, Deuteronomy 6, was to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.    Then the second, we’re told the second greatest commandment, was to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  These two greatest commandments, love God, love neighbor, were to set Israel apart in how she related with the rest of the world.

Those are the two greatest commandments, the two highest values – love God and love people.  All of God’s other laws, they flow out of these two – love God and love neighbor.  Because what you value most will come through in the way you live, God’s law was meant to be a guide for how everyday life looks like.  How everyday life looks like when you love God more than anything else and when you love others, when you love people.

You will not grow in your love for the nations if you do not love God.  God’s law was meant to show us that every area of our lives is meant to be lived under the direct and radical supremacy of God.  Everything is from God and God controls all things.  So God, the Word of God, the Christian worldview, informs every aspect of your life.  Your life is lived under the law of God.  Everything is ultimately about God and God wants His people to show that in their lives.

Often you meet people today who say, “Oh, you’re too religious.  All you talk about is God.”  Well, it’s all about God.  It’s all about God.

Secondly, God’s law was meant to lead Israel to challenge the surrounding idolatry of the nations.  You can see how this is related to emboldening the highest value.  A people who is radically centered on God and who genuinely care for others, such people stand out.  They are a contrast people.  They are a counter-cultural people.

It doesn’t matter what you think about the politics in America.  At the end of the day, love God, love neighbor, transforms how you look at the United States of America and how you look at people.  That contrast stands against, it pushes back, it opposes the worship of lesser and rival gods.

I will say as we do that the analogy of salt and light.  If you take, if you want to enjoy your food, you’re supposed to apply salt moderately, isn’t it?  Carefully and moderately.  If you pour the salt shaker, or the bag of salt, on your piece of steak, you’re going to throw it away.  Often I think missionaries are thrown out of these countries because they dumped the bag of salt on the community and the community could not take it.  You apply salt moderately.  So moderately that you enjoy your food and you can hardly notice that they salt.  You only know there is no salt when it’s not there.

The same thing is true with light.  Just too much light can be dangerous.  Too much of salt is dangerous.

So the contrast stands against, it pushes back, it opposes the worship of lesser gods.  Yet it does so in moderation.  It penetrates very deeply almost to the point where people will not notice that you’re there and yet you’re working and God is at work.

If we take the Good News to the other nations of this earth, then we need to be a contrast people.  The quality of our community here.  You know, one of my complaints when we receive missionaries is often you feel like missionaries are coming to us so that we become the practicing ground of what I’m talking about.  Well, our community here should be a contrast people.  Our shared God-centeredness, our love for people, our love for one another, is what helps us send people who are salt and light to the nations.  That way we minimize making bad mistakes.

You see there are mistakes you can tolerate, but some they just, they cause missionaries to be thrown out of the country.

The second thing we must do if we are going to step into our missionary calling with renewed passion is we must join the advance of the Gospel.  Again, as I said this morning, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.  We are not trying to be on the cutting edge of anything.  We’re not trying to be clever.  We are only gladly participating in the work that was started a very long time ago and God invites us to join Him and He wants us to join in the advance of the Gospel.

We see this already fulfilled in the book of Acts.  Things are beginning to happen.  The ends of the earth, like I said in the morning, includes you and me.  The advance of the Gospel has been going on.  So if you’re one of those who is wondering do I do this or do I not, or it’s too late to even think about it, the river is already in flood and all you can do is run and join in, jump in the deep end and God will take care of you.

What does that mean?  Well, it means that global missions are about reaching the nations that are different from us, in a place that is different from ours.  You only need to listen to these missionaries to appreciate what that means.

Short-term missions.  Go to a place that is different from your own.  I often say when you go on these short-term missions and you experience the brokenness of other people, that helps you to see your own brokenness and often that’s the reason why you come back changed.

We’re called upon to participate in the advance of the Gospel.  Just to give you a rough idea, in the year 2000, 814 million Christians lived in Europe and North America while 660 million Christians lived in Africa and Asia.  As of last year, listen to the number – 838 million live in Europe and North America, and 1.1 billion Christians live in Africa and Asia. 

The Gospel is moving on and God is saying don’t be left behind.  Run.  Come join Me in what I’m doing.  We get to join in that Gospel advance, the Gospel is spreading and we can celebrate that God is on the move and what a privilege to be part of that which only God can do. 

Then here’s the third thing.  Love Jesus above all else.  Whatever gives you the passion and energy to step into global missions should also be what sustains you in there.  This is important for all of us because at times we get moved and shaken by numbers, testimonies of others, and the only thing that brings you to join what God is doing is your love for Jesus, but what is going to keep you in there is also your love for Jesus.  The only thing that will truly lead us and keep us in the work of global missions is knowing that Jesus is worthy.

That picture of Revelation 7, the nations bowing before Him, Jesus is worthy.  Jesus brings us in and our love for Jesus keeps us there.  Perhaps it’s not even our love for Him – it’s His love for us because our love for Him is inadequate.  Can you imagine if our relationship with Jesus depended on our love for Him?  That relationship would not last even a second.  But it is His love for me that keeps me going.

So Jesus is the one who does the saving.  Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory.  It is this Jesus who is reckoning you, who is inviting you to come join the advance of the Gospel.

If you are one of those wondering when am I going to do this?  Well, He wants you to do this like yesterday.  Come join Me in what I’m doing, come join Me.  You will never go wrong because the Gospel is advancing.           

Come.  Let’s pray together.  Lord, we ask again that You draw us to Yourself, that Lord, You draw us to Yourself and You send us out.  For Lord, You’re the One who does the saving, You’re the One who brings about transformation, and what a privilege to be invited by the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings to be part of the advance of the Gospel.  Help us, Lord, to do that with our families, with our friends, with our church.  Help us, Lord.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.