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Would you pray with me? Father, would you send your Spirit to be upon us here this morning, to receive our offerings of worship and praise, to kindle in our hearts anew feelings of joy and thanksgiving that you are our God and that you are good? Amen.
I will be preaching this morning on Psalm 100. An interesting choice, you might think, with such heavy hitters as Habbakkuk 3 and James 3; but let me explain my reasoning. First, the most obvious–we know, all of us, that we are on the cusp of the beloved Thanksgiving break. What’s the title of Psalm 100 in our Bibles? A Psalm for giving thanks. Even I can do that math.
The second reason is slightly less obvious, maybe. We’re not just on the cusp of Thanksgiving break, we’re on the cusp of the end of this semester, which means that there’s a dawn to come at some point but right now we’re in the darkness. This is finals season: final papers, final classes. This isn’t just for the students either. I hear the professor’s grumbling. We’re in the darkness in this moment. This isn’t the season of “rejoice and be glad!” This is the season of grin and bear it.
Now there’s another reason as well that it’s important to preach this psalm today. I know this reason because I’ve experienced seminary alongside you. We’ve had conversations in the dining hall and in the coffee shop, and in the tap house. And I know some of the experiences that you’re feeling, and it’s similar to the experience that I’m feeling at times. Its a feeling that this moment of darkness, this moment of dryness, of grin and bear it–maybe it’s more than just a moment in your life. Maybe it’s grown, and exams aren’t just the thing, but they’re the next thing that seem to be causing that dryness and that lack of emotion that you know you should feel in your pursuit of the Lord and His calling on your life. Maybe that’s your experience of seminary; maybe that’s your experience of church; maybe that’s your walk with Christ. I don’t know. Either way, maybe you’re feeling that your heart is incapable of doing what you know it should do, or at the very least what you know that it used to do. So that’s why Psalm 100, a song for giving thanks. The psalmist lays out for us an answer to a very difficult question that we have to face, one that is difficult and relevant to us today.
The question is this: what do we do when scripture commands of us an emotional response that we are in no way capable of generating? What do we do with that?
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
The Reason For The Command For Joy
There are two emotions that this psalm commands. They are joy and thanksgiving. “Make a joyful noise,” “serve with gladness,” “come with singing”: all of these things imply or state explicitly a feeling of joy. Now I know there’s a literalist among us who’s going to say no, he just says sing. He doesn’t saying sing with joy. But let’s be honest, that’s the implication. Context is king. If we’ve learned anything in seminary it’s that context is king. So there’s a stated or implied sense of joy that we should be feeling.
Now, skip down to verse 4: “Enter with thanksgiving,” “enter with praise,” “give thanks,” “bless”. The psalmist is commanding of us that we should feel thanksgiving towards the Lord. It’s either implied or its stated explicitly. The question is, what are the reasons that the psalmist gives us for these feelings?
He doesn’t just leave us hanging with this command that we have no way of responding to. We see as we look at verse 3 and as we look at verse 5 that in between these commands for an emotional response, he gives us reasons. So looking at verse three: Why must we feel joy? He says, “know that the Lord is God.” That’s the first reason that he gives. Why are we to feel joy? Because the Lord is God.
Now he is speaking about knowledge, right? Head knowledge: know that the Lord is God. But he doesn’t leave it there. He goes further, and he explains more: know that “it is he who made us.” Know that “we are his people,” that we are “the sheep of his pasture.” The psalmist here isn’t just pointing to a sterile head knowledge, he’s pointing to our experience of God–not just that God is the Lord, but that he is our creator; that he is our sustainer, and we will receive his care, his protection, and his attention. He’s calling us back to remember our experience of who God is.
It’s a natural response, our emotions are. They are our natural response to our experiences, and what the psalmist is doing is asking us to return to what we know to be true of God because of who he has made himself known to be in our hearts. He’s inviting us to experience God afresh and anew by dwelling on him.
So that’s the first reason. Why joy? Because the Lord is God, and because he’s made Himself known to you. Because you have experienced him in a relationship.
The Reason For The Command For Thanksgiving
Now, here’s the second reason in verse 5. Why are we to feel thanksgiving? “For the Lord is good.” Again, this is knowledge, right? But he doesn’t leave it at knowledge. He keeps going. The Lord is good, because “his steadfast love endures forever.” The Lord is good, because “his faithfulness [endures] to all generations.” Now, here’s the kicker: those words are very purposefully chosen by the psalmist. Let me tell you what I mean.
Remember the Exodus passages when the Israelites were at the base of Mount Sinai and the Lord is renewing a covenant. He’s doing a new thing amongst the people. He’s revealing himself in a new way. By giving them the law, he’s forming them and shaping them into his people so that they might reveal His glory to the world. And so Moses goes up–we all know the story. Moses goes up on the mountain, and he’s up for 40 days, and he’s receiving the law from the Lord. But according to the Israelites, he takes a little too long, and so their hearts turned from this covenant that had just been initiated, this covenant that is currently being received by Moses on the mountain, and they began to worship a golden calf of their own creation. We know this story; but what’s amazing, what’s totally astounding is what the Lord does in response to the Israelites’ worship of the golden calf. Do you remember what he does?
He keeps his promise. He keeps his promise to his people. Exodus 34:6-7 says (tell me if this sounds familiar to you in light of our psalm), “the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.” The psalmist is drawing us back to remember not just that the Lord is God but that the Lord is our God, that the Lord has made Himself known to us in a unique way.
God Is The Faithful One
Exodus continues, though; it’s not just his steadfast love and faithfulness that the Lord reminds us of, but that he forgives “iniquity and transgression and sin.” God would go on to say in that same passage from Exodus at verse 10, “Behold, I am making a covenant before all your people. I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.”
Friends, the psalmist, by speaking of God’s steadfast love, his faithfulness to all generations; by reminding us of God’s character, that he will forgive every sin and transgression and iniquity–he’s reminding us not just of who God is but who God has made himself to be to us, who he has promised to always be: the faithful one. And what the psalmist sees partially we experience and know fully on this side of the cross, because he’s not just the God who forgives sin, but he is the God who takes on that sin for himself. He is the God who is so faithful to his promise that he is willing to enact a new covenant on the cross, a covenant made out of his own blood. Friends, that is the faithfulness of God that we know, and that we worship, and that we love.
Step 2: ignore bad advice. God did not fail you. You’ve not failed yourself. This is not your fault. The fact is, why you find yourself in this place actually doesn’t matter. If you find yourself caught up in this question of why dryness? Why no joy? Why no thanksgiving? Go back to step one. Stop wandering.
Step 3: hear what the psalmist has to say this morning in Psalm 100. Hear him call you to return to that which God has already made clear in your relationship with him. Hear his call to look to Jesus where we see that the Lord is God, that the Lord is your creator, and your sustainer. Look to Jesus and see that the Lord is good. Look to him and see the extent to which he will go to prove to you His faithfulness.
The Open Invitation In The Spiritual Desert
I want to leave you with this final idea. Maybe it’s been a long time that you’ve been in this season. Maybe you haven’t experienced joy and thanksgiving for ages and ages, maybe even you’ve never quite experienced it to the extent that you think you should have. Friends, recognize the Lord has a calling on you this day. He’s calling you to return to him. He’s calling you to dwell on him. There’s an invitation for you. And it’s an open invitation to return to him, and to experience him afresh and anew. Amen.