TEXT: Psalm 113:1-6; 148:1-6; Revelation 19:4-6
Did you ever sing the song, “Hallelu,” when you were a kid? It’s the first song I teach the preschoolers every year. Partly it’s because the words are so simple. Will you sing it with me if you know it?
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah; praise ye the Lord.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah; praise ye the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord; Hallelujah! Praise ye the Lord; Hallelujah!
Praise ye the Lord; Hallelujah! Praise ye the Lord!
That is essentially Psalm 148. The word ‘hallelu’ is Hebrew for ‘praise ye’. It’s a command, and imperative: (you!) praise. ‘Hallelu-yah’ puts the short version of the Lord’s holy name (Yahweh) onto the end, so: (you) praise the Lord! And it goes on, ‘hallelu’ him all His angels, all His hosts; ‘hallelu’ him, sun and moon, stars of light.
Today we are going to look at Psalm 148, one of several at the end of the Book of Psalms focused on the theme of PRAISE. We’ll also look at a passage from Revelation, at the end of the Bible, also focused on that theme of PRAISE.
Today we will talk about what it means to praise God and see that it is one of the most important activities in which we can participate.
Praise: When, Where, and Why (Psalms 148, 150)
You heard the first part of Psalm 148, which surveys the wide swath of creatures and beings exhorted to praise and giving praise to God. These include angels, heavenly hosts, sun, moon, stars, heavens, waters, kings of the earth, princes and rulers, young men and women, old men and children, and more! All creation is to praise the Lord.
Other Psalms, like Psalm 150, describe the range of location and style. It calls for praise in the sanctuary, in the mighty expanse, and with a range of instruments: trumpet, harp, lyre, timbrel, stringed instruments, pipe, cymbals, and more cymbals! There is dancing, too! And finally, as the last word of Psalm 150 and of all the collection of Psalms, we hear this encompassing charge: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” (v. 6)
There’s not much room for confusion there – praise is the activity of all things in all places, for God is worthy. But what exactly IS praise?
What is Praise?
We know what it is to praise another person: “Hey, great game!” or “You look good today!” It’s a kind of compliment or acknowledgment of a positive action or attribute.
When we think about God it is easy to merge together things like thanks, love, and praise. Right? If we say, “I love you, Lord,” that is praise, right?
Psalm 150 provides a great definition of praise in verse 2 when it says, “Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness.” I summarize that (in reverse order) as for Who God is and for what He has done. Revelation 19 depicts the multitude gathered in the presence of God in Heaven and there the praise is thunderous, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.” (v.6) God is almighty and the Lord reigns in power and glory. It’s who God is and what God has done and is doing!
There is another component of praise that is important to note. Generally, praise is PUBLIC. Just look back at the Psalms. Praise is commanded and practiced in all places, by all things, by all people, with every means possible. While private praise may be possible, it seems evident that one point of praise is that it be heard and witnessed and public.
Praise is where worship and mission meet, for if we are loving and serving God, we will share God’s heart for the world and desire for the world to hear and know that the Lord is God. Our words and actions become a public raising of who God is and what God has done: PRAISE.
Can Stones Really Praise? (Luke 19)
I did not include Luke 19 in our readings today, but as I looked back over previous sermons on praise I found that I had drawn on a scene from that chapter. It is set on Palm Sunday when the crowds and the disciples are welcoming Jesus as the Messiah. Luke tells us that “the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice.” (v. 37) Those who shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” were publicly raising up who God was and what God had done for all to hear.
The Pharisees tried to hush the disciples, but Jesus responded to them, “I tell you, if these [disciples] become silent, the stones will cry out!” I’ve always loved that imagery, but never quite known what to do with it, other than kind of shame humanity into praise, like “you don’t want to make the rocks have to do your job, do you?”
But here’s what scripture says, in Psalm 148 (and elsewhere): God’s very creation engages in praise! That’s why the sun, moon, stars, and seas can praise Him. It’s because praise publicly raises up the character or work of God and what does that more publicly than God’s glorious creation?!
When I preached on this topic several years ago we had just had an eclipse that was viewable in Charlotte. Do you remember that? What an amazing event, with the small moon at just the right distance from the earth to block out the ginormous sun! More than a few believing friends marveled at God’s power and design when they saw the eclipse. More than a few folks who don’t identify with a particular faith were moved deeply and spiritually by seeing it. Even a few agnostic or questioning folks marveled at the precision and specificity required for such an event to occur as it does. And that’s just one thing. Whether you explore the immensity of the universe or the tiny, tiny intricacies of cells, DNA, or sub-atomic particles; it is simply amazing! And sure, some people simply cannot or will not see God behind those wonders. But that’s not Jesus’ point: he claims, with Psalm 148, that the stones and very creation itself are publicly raising up God’s character and work.
An Essential Activity
So here’s why praise is so vital for us. It’s not because God needs the affirmation. That’s warping the definition of praise because that’s what WE so often get out of being praised! But in scripture praise is where we engage with who God is and what God is doing. Praise then is more than singing ‘hallelu’ to God (privately or publicly); praise is living out our faith PUBLICLY – that is, in the community and in the world.
Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others in such a way that they may see your good works… and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) I can’t think of a better definition (and reason for!) praise. That living, doing, and glorifying Jesus describes is praise, publicly raising up who God is and what God has done. The public nature of raising God up is not for the sake of you or I being seen, but in bringing glory to God. Praise asks what God is doing in the world He loves and joins in. It is as much or more what we do out there as what we do in here.
Our invitation is to join in, not turn away. It is the same invitation God gives every human and praise is our response to that gracious invitation.
So how will you praise today. We’ve sung the songs and they were beautiful. But the real work starts when we walk out the door. How will your words and actions publicly raise up who God is and what God is doing? Set your mind and heart on praise this day, this week. And if you can’t figure out how to do that, pray and ask God to open your eyes and give you opportunity. I believe He will. Amen.
Some Music Used
- Revelation 19 (choir)
- That’s Why We Praise Him (Tommy Walker)
- Creation Sings the Father’s Song (Gettys)
- O Happy Day – Rick Bean, piano
- Agnus Dei (Michael W. Smith)
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty/Hallelujah (arr. Nockels)
- God of Wonders (Caedmon’s Call)
- All Creatures of Our God and King
- POSTLUDE: Hallelujah Chorus – piano, organ