Bless the Lord, O My SoulA Sermon on Psalm 103
Preached April 21, 2010 at a Mission in Downtown Birmingham, AL by Jake Hanson. Click here for audio of the sermon.
First Peter 2:9-10 tells us that believers in Jesus Christ are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you might declare the excellencies [or the praises] of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” In Isaiah 43:21, the Lord says, “The people whom I formed for myself will declare My praise.”
We were created for praise. We see this in more than just spiritual ways. C.S. Lewis reflected on praise, and made this observation: “The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, [foods], actors, [cars], horses, colleges, countries, historical [figures], children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.” He could even have added music, movies and TV shows. I hear a lot of people praise Alabama or Auburn football, Nick Saban, Bear Bryant, Tommy Tuberville, Mark Ingram, Tim Tebow. Stadiums are filled with almost 100,000 people roaring with praises of their team—people making fools of themselves with paint, silly clothes, outstretched arms, singing and of course yelling.
Praise expresses of our enjoyment of something. In fact, we enjoy when we praise the things that we admire. It’s as if our enjoyment of something is somehow incomplete unless we have praised it, and unless we share it with others.
We walk around in life praising people, things, events, movies, music. But when we begin to talk about God, so often we get silent. When music of praise begins, we sit on our hands. / That we can praise football teams that will inevitably lose, and coaches who will one day die—if they haven’t been dead for 25 years—with such vigor and foolishness, but still struggle to praise the Living God who is from everlasting to everlasting, this shows that our hearts are desperately out of tune. This Psalm, Psalm 103 can help us to tune our hearts to sing God’s grace as we should. This Psalm teaches us how to praise God.
I. The first cause of our worship is that the Lord is holy.
Read with me from the first verse.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name.”
This Psalm begins by praising the Lord’s “holy name.” We say the word ‘holy’ a lot, but what does it mean? We often think of it as being righteous, or moral or without sin. But that is only a part of it. To be ‘holy’ is to be different, to be unique, to be like no other. Our God is a God like no other. He has always existed, and He will have no end. He is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega, and there is no God besides Him (Is. 44:6). And while all others are changing, He is unchanging, stable, dependable. He is all-powerful, creating this world out of nothing with His Word; He is everywhere present, He is all-knowing, He is all-wise.
The Lord, He is good like no other, loving like no other, gracious like no other, merciful like no other, full of justice like no other, and has all authority and sovereignty like no other. Indeed, there is no God like our Lord. The beauty of His majesty, and splendor and perfection—in short, His holy Name—demands our praise.
II. The second cause of our worship is because of the Lord’s benefits for us. Our worship should recall what the Lord has done for us. Look with me at verses 2-5.
“2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; 3 Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases; 4 Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; 5 Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.”
The Psalmist here is calling upon himself not to forget the Lord’s benefits. The reason is that we are so quick to forget His benefits. Remember what the Lord has done for you. / And what has He done? The Psalmist lists five areas of the Lord’s benefits.
The Lord pardons or forgives all your iniquities. For all of you who have put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, your sin is absolutely, positively and forevermore forgiven. 1 John 1:9 tells us that “If you confess your sin, He is faithful and righteous to forgive you your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” No matter how awful the sin, no matter the lasting effects, your sin is forgiven. Gone forever, as we will see in a moment. This is that Amazing Grace that saved a wretch like me, and this should cause us to praise the Lord.
The Lord heals all your diseases. This does not mean that all your diseases will be healed, for we will all one day die. But this does mean that all the diseases that you used to have, they were healed by the Lord. Every common cold that lasted only a week, instead of remaining for your entire life. Every case of flu which has passed. Every infection that is no more. Every broken bone that mended together. Every pneumonia, every cancer, every chickenpox, every small pox, every headache, every skin disease—doctors may have helped, medication may have been an instrument of healing, but it is because of the Lord that you have been healed. And for those healings, both big and small the Lord God deserves our praise.
The Lord redeems your life from the pit. That is, He keeps you alive. Not all of you are healthy. Some of you have terrible diseases. But all of you—so far as I can tell—are still alive. Who gives you life? Who makes sure that your heart keeps right on beating? It’s not you. I don’t even know how to make my heart beat. It just does. It is the Lord who gives you life. It is He who sustains you from death until your appointed time. And until that time, He deserves our praise with all that is within us.
The Lord surrounds you with lovingkindness and compassion. We will be looking at this in the next few verses. But the Lord lavishes His love, mercy and compassion on us, and for that we must worship the Lord.
And finally, the Lord satisfies your years with good things. James 1:17 tells us that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Every good thing in your life—your shelter; your good, godly friends; your money; your possessions; your health; and the list could go on and on. These things should lead us to praise the Lord.
III. The third cause of our worship of the Lord is His character. We must recall His faithful, steadfast, loyal and merciful love that He has for us. As we reflect on the Lord’s love for us, we will praise and worship Him.
Read with me starting in verse 6 where we find an incredibly powerful description of our Lord, and so needful for sinners like you and me. Just reading it should lead us to worship.
“6 The LORD performs righteous deeds And judgments for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel. 8 [SLOWLY] The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”
We could meditate on these verses for hours and hours and not even come close to plumbing the depths of them, much less the depths of our great God.
We could consider so many times in each of our lives where the Lord has not dealt with us according to our sins, for if the Lord marked each of our sins, who could stand? None of us!
But why? Why would a holy, just and righteous God allow us mercy and relent from dealing with us according to our sin? Ephesians 2 tells us that the Lord is rich in mercy, because of His great love for us. He is merciful to you because of His great love for you. Our Psalm tells us that the Lord is “abounding in love” and His love is “great” toward those who fear Him.
This word, “love” is translated in different ways in different English versions. Mine has “lovingkindness.” Some have “steadfast love.” Others have “mercy” and some have simply “love.” It is translated in so many different ways because it is such a powerful word. It describes love that is faithful, loyal, merciful and eternal. As one children’s book says, it’s the “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love of God.”
It’s the love, according to verse 11, that is as great as the distance between the heavens and the earth. But how far are the heavens from the earth?
Have you ever looked up into the sky on a clear day, and as you looked into the blue sky, you got dizzy and started to feel like you were falling into it, it was so great? Or, on a clear night, have you ever gazed up into the countless stars, so great in number on a clear night away from the city, that the stars begin to look like clouds?
Just consider the heavens for a minute. The furthest that humans have ventured to go from earth is the moon. The moon is 240,000 miles from earth. The furthest that any of our space probes have ventured to go is Voyager 1, which has been travelling for 33 years. It has gone past Saturn and Jupiter and to the edges of our solar system. Right now, it is about 10.5 billion miles away from us, travelling at almost 40,000 miles per hour. At that rate, it would take Voyager 1 75,000 years to reach the nearest star which is 23 trillion, 514 billion, 520 million miles away. That’s 23 with 12 zeros after it—just to the nearest star. “As far as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”
Love cannot be measured in miles. If it can be measured at all, it is measured in action. Our God was not content to remain in the heavens where He established His throne, but He humbled Himself by becoming a human, so that He could prove His love for us sinners, by dying on the Cross for our sins. And this is why believers in Jesus Christ can say that their sin has been removed from us as far as the east is from the west—it is removed forever, and ever through the blood of Christ.
This great love that is as great as the distance between the heavens and the earth is why Paul can write that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And this great love should be the subject of our praise.
IV. The fourth cause for our praise in this Psalm is in the eternal love the Lord has for us. Read with me starting in verse 15.
“15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer. 17 But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children's children, 18 To those who keep His covenant And remember His precepts to do them.”
We live in an age where we worship men. Sports stars, movie stars, politicians, writers, scientists, philosophers, and even ourselves. We write poems that declare, “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” But how temporary we all are. We live at most just over 100 years. But the Lord, He is from everlasting to everlasting. And His love for those who fear Him is forever. It will not change with the seasons, nor the centuries, millenniums or eras. Our heroes will die. We will die, but the Lord will remain forever with His steadfast love. And for this He is worthy of our praise.
V. Finally, as we praise, we enter into a symphony with all of creation which declares the praises of our Great God. Read with me the rest of the Psalm. Starting in verse 19.
“19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all. 20 Bless the LORD, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word! 21 Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You who serve Him, doing His will. 22 Bless the LORD, all you works of His, In all places of His dominion; Bless the LORD, O my soul!”
Many times, when we see angels in the Bible, they are worshipping. In Isaiah 6, they are declaring, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, they are declaring, “Glory to God in the highest.” And in Revelation, they cry out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
But it isn’t just angels who are worshipping the Lord. Scripture tells us that the heavens, that is, the stars and the moon and everything in the sky, they all declare the Lord’s righteousness. The mountains and the valleys which the Lord created, rejoice. Revelation tells us what this Psalm does, that “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, [will be heard saying], "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
This Psalm shows us the heart of the believer and praise. It begins with praising God yourself. You consider His holiness. You reflect on the great things He has done for you. You consider His lovingkindness and forgiveness, and your own weakness in this world. And as you do, you cannot help but declare the praise of the Lord everywhere you go. But you will begin to find that you are not the only one lifting up praises to our Great God. You have merely tuned your heart to sing the praises of God, and to enter into a great symphony with all the angels, the heavens and all of creation as it praises our great God forever.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.
Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!