Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Can you truly rejoice in the Lord and praise Him?"

Day #361:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 24th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 149 - 150 …

A lot of people will sing a lot of songs about Jesus as we celebrate His birth, but will they really experience true joy?  Will their music bring praise to the One whose birthday we celebrate?  Not everyone can celebrate Christ, so to expect them to use His name to describe their holiday is really not realistic and perhaps even unfair.  They don't know Him, and they don't want to know Him.  They don't see their need to know Him or to love Him.  Jesus Christ came for HIS people, for those who by the power of His Spirit would receive the testimony of His Word that He is the Christ, the eternal Son of God, and who would trust in His sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness and righteousness and life.  These the Bible calls "saints," "holy ones," because "by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Hebrews 10:14).

I have said before that the Bible is written to God's people.  Other people can read it, and it is by the Spirit opening a person's mind and heart to hear God's Word that we are saved (Romans 10:17), but those without the Spirit cannot and will not understand what God reveals in His Word.  Many who were part of the nation of Israel were not "saints," were not part of the remnant that God called to be His.  The Apostle Paul, himself a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a part of the people of Israel, a Jew, wrote, "It is not as though God's Word had failed (because not all had believed).  For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children" (Romans 9:6-7).  Those who are "saints" are those who are chosen by God and who are given the gift of faith to believe in God's grace through the promised Savior, whom we now know to be Jesus, the Christ.

So the Psalmist writes, "Praise the LORD.  Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the saints.  Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King!" (149:1-2).  Not everyone can or will rejoice in God, their Creator.  In fact, Paul writes in Romans 1 that "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20).

Rejoicing in God does not come naturally!  In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of people who want nothing to do with the celebration of Christ's birth, including those of all the other religions of the world.  And when it comes to the other religions of the world, there is precious little "rejoicing" being done.  "Religion" is a vain attempt to somehow appease a god that people do not know.  Why would people rejoice in a god who demanded that they live a certain way, and who threatened judgment if they stepped out of line, even a little bit?  That's the way many view Christianity.  It's a bunch of rules that you have to keep and that some hypocrites think they have done better than others so that they can judge the rest of us.  As some quickly proclaim, "They're no better than I am; and they sure aren't 'saints'!"

Of course, that's true.  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory (the majestic perfection) of God" (Romans 3:23).  So what is there to rejoice about?  Read on:  "For the LORD takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.  Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds" (149:4-5).  Those who are "saints" are not those who have declared themselves to be saints or who have been declared saints by someone else or by the church.  Those who are truly "saints," in God's sight, are those who have humbly confessed their sin and who come to God with empty hands, admitting that we have nothing to offer God that He should forgive us, but rather, that we believe in His promise that in the Savior, in the shedding of HIS blood on the cross, our debt has been paid and we owe our lives utterly and totally to Him.  The Bible calls that "GRACE!"

Grace is the only way to approach the holy God.  It is HE who "crowns the humble with salvation."  "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith (and that not from yourselves, it is the gift of God), not by works, so that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).  It is an honor, a privilege, to be one of God's children.  It is all HIS work, and life in Christ is received as a gift, not as something earned.  The Word of God is like a "double-edged sword," that brings healing to some and judgment to others (149:6-8).  To those who try to hide their sin from God and who reject His pronouncement of judgment to come, we read in Hebrews 4:12-13:

"For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account."

The "glory of all His saints" is found in hearing God's Word and being able to rejoice in His justice as we receive His grace.  How few people do that today?  Many want to continually tell God what to do and put Him on trial, as it were, if He doesn't do what they think He should.  They say that God must love everyone the same and that ultimately He must save everyone.  That would be "fair."  But GOD says, "The wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  We who are "justified," declared righteous by God through faith in Jesus Christ, know that we are holy in His sight only because our debt has been paid by His sacrifice on the cross and because His Spirit has opened our hearts and minds to hear and believe the Gospel.  Can you see now why it is only we who know the Savior who can rejoice in the Lord and praise our God?!!

So these 150 songs end with the call to PRAISE HIM!  The call goes out to everyone and everything: "Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!"  (150:6).  Sadly, most people will reject that call and God's offer of forgiveness through faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Savior, and God tells us that it will be so.  But once you have heard the Gospel, you can never go back and "un-hear" it.  "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels (the Law) was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall WE escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1-3).

We have seen that we live in "the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).  Very few people were saved from God's judgment in the centuries before the birth of Jesus.  The nations of the world lay in darkness and most of those who were called to be the people of God, who were part of the nation of Israel, were displeasing to God because of their disobedience and their idolatry.  We live in this time of grace, but that does not mean that God overlooks sin.  On the contrary, all of us are sinners and there is only one way to be saved from God's coming judgment and that is through faith in Jesus.  It is only when you have placed your trust in HIM alone, when with empty hands you come to God, confessing your sin and claiming the blood of Jesus as the only payment (atonement) for your sin, that you receive God's forgiveness and His gift of eternal life in His presence.

It is we, then, who are declared BY GOD to be "saints," "holy ones," who can "Praise the LORD" (150:1), not because we HAVE to, but because we WANT to!!  And it is only we who can and will rejoice in God our Savior and our Lord:

"Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens.  Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness.  Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with tambourine and dancing, praise Him with the strings and flute, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals.  Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.  PRAISE THE LORD!" (150:1-6).

"O LORD, my God, I praise YOU and I rejoice in YOU!!!  I am a sinner, saved by grace, and I humbly receive the salvation that is mine through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  Move my heart, O God, to rejoice in You, my Creator, for long before I have loved You, You have delighted in me, Your child.  When I think that You see me in Christ as holy and that You call me a "saint," my heart is overwhelmed with thanksgiving and praise!  Thank You, Father, for Your amazing, wonderful, marvelous grace.  Help me to live in a constant state of praise before Your throne as I come to You in Jesus' name, Amen"

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