Sermon on Psalm 98:1-3
Vacation Bible School 2021
Text: Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.
2 The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
“Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” (verse 1) The psalmist sings because the Lord has done marvels. The Lord has done wonders. The deeds of which the psalmist prays are marvelous and wonderful precisely because the Lord has done them. The marvels and wonders of mankind show themselves to be quite insignificant when compared to what the Lord has done. The ancient world was said to have had seven wonders, and surely those wonders were something to behold. However, no gardens planted by a man in Babylon could compare with the forests planted by the Lord around the globe. No lighthouse built by human hands in Alexandria can shine brighter than the sun the Lord placed in the heavens. And, of course, only the marvels made by the Lord endure forever. Six of the seven ancient wonders have been destroyed, and even those pyramids in Egypt, as marvelous as they are, cannot compare to the wonders the Lord has made. “Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!”
However, it isn’t enough for the Lord to do a marvelous thing that makes you stop in your tracks and say “Whoa!” It isn’t enough for the Lord to do something so wonderful that it takes your breath away. After all, terribly destructive earthquakes will stop you in your tracks and leave you saying, “Whoa!” Devastating wildfires will take your breath away. The marvelous things thar the Lord has done certainly must be more than cheap magic tricks, but they must also be even more than impressive feats of strength.
Take, for example, the account of the Lord’s appearance on Mount Sinai from the Book of Exodus, “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast . . . Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.” (Exodus 19:16, 18) There’s a marvel that the Lord had done. Yet, how did Israel respond to the wonder? “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’” (Exodus 20:18-19) Clearly, the marvelous things the Lord has done must be more than displays of raw power.
If raw power is all that the Lord has done for us in his marvelous deeds, then we are all in trouble, for sure. Think of the prophet Isaiah. In a vision he saw the Lord sitting upon his throne, high and lifted up. The train of the Lord’s robe filled the temple as mighty seraphim sang his praises, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The doorposts and thresholds of the temple shook. The temple was filled with smoke. What was the prophet’s reaction upon seeing God himself in his holy temple? “‘Woe to me!’” I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’” (Isaiah 6:1-5)
Isaiah’s reaction to the Lord is not wrong. In fact, this is the response that any sinner must have to the Lord’s marvelous deeds. When we recognize the wonder of God has done in his creation, we must mourn over the ways our sin has corrupted it. When we marvel at the Lord’s goodness in giving his law on Mount Sinai, we must bow our heads in confession over the ways we have broken it. We have been greedy for the things that we do not need. We have let anger fester in our hearts toward others. We have neglected God’s Word. We have been lazy in our prayer life. We have feared, loved, and trusted in things and people more than the true God. We are sinners, and all sinners deserve the terrifying appearance of the Lord in wrath and fury. That is how the marvels and the wonders of the Lord ought to show themselves against sinners.
That’s what makes the praises of Psalm 98 so, well, marvelous. So far, we’ve only looked at the first part of the first verse. The psalmist goes on to sing about the marvelous things the Lord has done: “His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” (Psalm 98:1-3) The Lord’s wonders, the Lord’s marvelous deeds, certainly aren’t cheap magic tricks and they are more than just raw acts of power. The Lord’s marvelous deeds are his acts of salvation for sinners.
That truth was at the heart of each of the accounts from God’s Word that were part of our Vacation Bible School last week. Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana wasn’t simply a cool thing that you might wish he would do at your next party. Jesus’ marvelous deed at Cana shows that Jesus is true God who cares about our everyday, ordinary needs. When Jesus walked on the water, he wasn’t simply displaying his incredible divine power. Jesus’ marvelous deed on the Sea of Galilee shows that Jesus is near his people at all times. When Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, he wasn’t simply showing off. Jesus’ marvelous deeds on the road and in Jairus house shows that Jesus heals every one of his daughters and sons. When Jesus appeared in the room with his disciples after his resurrection, he wasn’t trying to impress them with his ability to walk through walls. Jesus’ marvelous deed after his resurrection shows that he is our only Savior from sin, the only one who can give us life. When Jesus converted Paul, he wasn’t trying to get back at one of his greatest enemies. Jesus’ marvelous deed on the road to Damascus shows that Jesus came to save the worst of sinners and send his people to tell others about him. We didn’t learn these miraculous deeds to see Jesus’ raw displays of power; that’s not why he did them. Jesus accomplishes his marvelous deeds to save sinners – to save me, to save you.
That is the truly impossible thing that God has done. Far more difficult than changing water into wine or walking on water was the matter of saving sinners. Jesus’ disciples asked him at one point, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answered, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26) Jesus has done this impossible task through his death on the cross. Perhaps it seems strange to think of Jesus’ death as a marvelous deed. What’s so marvelous and wonderful about Jesus’ death, particularly given how bloody and violent his death on the cross was? Jesus’ death is marvelous because he suffered for our sins and died in our place. Jesus’ death is wonderful because he did willingly and gladly to save us poor sinners.
Jesus’ death is marvelous because through it, God did the impossible. He saved us sinners. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:22-23) Look and see the greatest marvel of all! Death could not hold Jesus. On the third day, the Father raised Jesus to life. Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!
God has done the impossible. He has saved us sinners. He continues to work his marvelous deeds for us here and now. When you hear the forgiveness of sins pronounced by the pastor by the command of Christ, the Lord is doing a marvelous thing for you. When you daily remember the promise made to you in the water and Word of Holy Baptism, the Lord is doing a marvelous thing for you. When you receive into your mouth the very body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion, the Lord is doing a marvelous thing for you. These are not displays of raw power. In fact, they don’t look that powerful or that marvelous at all. Yet, because the Lord has promised, truly these are his marvelous deeds to deliver the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to you right here and right now.
Now we join the psalmist’s song. We sing to the Lord for his marvelous deeds. His works lead us to marvel far more than any works of humanity. His deeds lead us to wonder far more than anything human hands have done. His works are far more important and far more impressive than anything we have seen or witnessed. This is not about raw power and might. This is the Lord who has accomplished the impossible. He has saved us sinners. Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! Amen
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