Christmas 1 / New Year’s

Preached: December 28, 2014

Praise the Works of the Lord
Psalm 111:1-10

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is Luke 2.

Hallelujah! I will praise the Lord with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the congregation. The works of the Lord are great, sought out by all who delight in them. His deed is splendid and majestic; his righteousness stands forever. He makes a memorial for his wonders. The Lord is gracious and compassionate. He gives food to those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. He recounts to his people his strong works to give them the nations as an inheritance. The works of his hands are truth and justice. All his precepts are trustworthy, established forever and ever, accomplished in truth and uprightness. He sends ransom for his people. He commands his covenant forever. His name is holy and to be feared. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, good understanding for all who do his precepts. His praise stands forever. (Psalm 111:1-10)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

The top ten news stories of 2014. The five worst movies. The seven funniest slip ups. The twelve greatest innovations. Lists of the best and the worst from the past twelve months are told and retold as the year ends. We remember the past even as we enter the new. And that brings us to another set of lists: lists of new year's resolutions and goals for the year ahead.

But for our life as a Christian, we don't need a long list. In fact one word can summarize our goal and purpose for the year ahead as well as our greatest accomplishment for the year passing. It's a word we hear often around Christmas. In fact, one of the songs choirs sing at this time repeats this word. It's the first word in the Psalm today, although Hebrew writes it as two words. And that word is “Hallelujah,” which means, “Praise the Lord.”

Now you don't need to be able to sing Handel's “Hallelujah Chorus” to live a hallelujah life. Such a life doesn't simply call on others to praise the Lord, but each of us personally steps forward to praise him with an undivided heart, just as the Psalm writer doesn't simply tell us to praise the Lord, but to paraphrase his words, “I too will do it. I will extol and praise the Lord.” With all our heart, dear Christians, we confess the Lord's great works whether that's telling a close group or a large assembly. We say with the Psalmist, “Praise the Lord. I will extol the Lord with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly” (Psalm 111:1 NIV84).

Praise the work of the Lord. Hallelujah! That's the theme today. How do we praise the work of the Lord? By remembering what he's done and by following his precepts. That's what the Psalm teaches us.

A. By remembering what he's done

Praise the work of the Lord by remembering what he's done. Remembering the highlights of the past year can be a pleasant distraction ... and yet also a temptation. So much of what makes up these end-of-year lists is mindless trivia that tempts us to forget what is truly important. And remembering my own personal accomplishments tempts me with sinful pride. Look at what I've done! Or look at what my kids or grandkids have done! We know that particular kind of self-satisfaction that pushes God to the side. We choose to forget for the moment who gave us the time, ability, and opportunity to accomplish what we did.

But let's be honest here. Maybe the greater danger in remembering the past isn't the highlights but the troubles and failures. How they can haunt us! Guilt from past sins smothers our souls. Anger and grudges against others who have wronged us pollute our relationships. Yes, even anger against God can smolder as we question why we suffered this pain, lose, or hardship. All of this stifles our praise and silences our hallelujahs

So, dear Christian, first and foremost remember what the Lord has done.

“Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2 NIV84). The works of the Lord are great any way you look at them. They're so great no one can count them. They're so great no once can measure them. They're so great no one can rate their beauty or worth. Great are the works of the Lord whether you are talking about his work of creation--the universe in its immense expanse down to the intricacy of the DNA in our cells--or whether you are talking about his work within our souls to take us lost and condemned creatures and transform us to be his children, reborn in his image. How great are the works of the Lord!

His works are our delight. We search them out to ponder them. We desire to learn better the Lord's hand working in us and through us and around us. Here is how we counter the temptation to sinful pride and self-satisfaction. As we remember our accomplishments, we delight in what the Lord has done through us. He is the one who prepared in advance the good that we do. He is the one who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose. The Scriptures reveal to us how the Lord has worked in the past through his people. Search those Scriptures and ponder them as you search to see the Lord's continuing work in you, through you, and around you. What delight this brings, delight that overflows in praise!

“Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever” (Psalm 111:3 NIV84). When the guilt of sins past weighs heavy on your soul, dear friend, remember how the Lord brought his righteousness to you. The Son of God himself became human flesh and blood. He hid his glory and majesty. He clothed himself with our rags of sin and shame. And in exchange he gave you the glorious gown of his righteousness that endures forever. Through faith in him you are arrayed in the majesty of his righteousness. That's the promise he made to you at your Baptism. Remember what he has done for you. Remember that he has taken away your sin and given you his right record. Remember and believe. Your guilt is covered with his righteousness.

“He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate” (Psalm 111:4 NIV84). He has caused the wonders of his love to be remembered not only through the words of Scripture but also through his holy Supper. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he said. “Do this, remembering my body sacrificed for you and my blood poured out to redeem you. Remember that I have done this for you, for your forgiveness. For you, dear sinner, are the one who is eating my body and drinking my blood.” What gracious and compassionate words from the Lord, our Savior!

How his forgiveness in the Lord's Supper moves us to forgive others! No matter what wrongs you have suffered, no matter what grudges want to sour your relationships, remember the wonder of God's forgiveness in Christ. He has forgiven you the uncountable debt of your sins against him. When we believe how much he has forgiven us, how can we not forgive those who sin against us? So even though we may still recollect the wrong, we give up the hatefulness in our hearts. For we remember how gracious and compassionate our Lord is.

“He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. He has shown his people the power of his works, giving them the lands of other nations” (Psalm 111:5, 6 NIV84). Think of the Israelites whom the Lord rescued from Egypt. He gave them food, the manna in the desert, and sustained them until he gave them the land of the Canaanites, the land he had promised to them. He remembers his covenant forever.

Remember that the Lord is at work leading us, his people, through the wilderness of this earthly existence to the promise land of heaven. But maybe you want to say, “How can I remember that. It hasn't happened yet. I'm still here” But the Lord has promised that those who remain faithful to him will live in heaven forever with him. His covenant, his promise, stands forever. So it is as good as finished and accomplished, even though it hasn't happened to us yet.

How this changes the way we view the troubles, loses, and hardships of life! Rather than questioning God or becoming angry with him, we trust that he knows the path that he is leading us on. We trust that as long as we keep following him, he will lead us to the promise land no matter how dark or dangerous the journey is. We trust his promise. For his covenant endures forever.

Remembering what our Lord has done moves us to praise him, to praise him for his wonderful works. Hallelujah. Remembering what our Lord has done moves us to follow his precepts. For that is how our life praises him. That's how our actions shout out, “Hallelujah!”

B. By following his precepts

Yes, dear Christian, praise the Lord with your whole heart by following his precepts with an undivided heart.

Follow his precepts, for “the works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and righteousness” (Psalm 111:7, 8 NIV84). You never have to wonder whether the Lord's way is the right way. You never have to wonder whether the Lord's way will work. He is faithful and just. His ways are always right. His precepts are always trustworthy. They will not fail you. Our sinful desires will try to convince us that the Lord's precepts are curtailing our fun or limiting our ability to succeed. Our experiences may call into question whether God's way is working all that well. And others will certainly suggest other ways for us to follow. But don't trust those desires, experiences, or suggestions. The Lord's precepts will not fail you. They are steadfast for ever and ever. Follow them faithfully.

Follow his precepts, for “he provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever--holy and awesome is his name” (Psalm 111:9 NIV84). He ransomed you to be his own. The Father sent his one and only Son, sent as tiny baby, born of the virgin and laid in a lowly manger. The Son redeemed you with his holy, precious blood. So great is his love! Do you really imagine that our God, who went to the cross for us, will give us precepts that are bad for us? Certainly not, for he is holy and awesome. He cannot do wrong. His covenant, his promises in Christ, stand forever. So follow his precepts, for he has redeemed you to be his very own.

Follow his precepts, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise” (Psalm 111:10 NIV84). This fear is not the slavish fear that cowers in terror, ready to run and hide. This is the fear that honors the Lord, that reveres him as awesome, that holds his command and precepts in highest regard. Why would we disobey such an awesome God? This fear that trusts the Lord is the fundamental principle of true wisdom. All the knowledge and learning in the world cannot make one wise. But holding the Lord's commands in highest regard, following his precepts with all our heart--that is true wisdom and good understanding. That brings praise to our Lord now and forever. Hallelujah!

So dear friends, have fun with the end of year lists, but leave this past year remembering what your Lord has done for you. Enter the new year resolved to follow his precepts. Praise the works of your Lord as your life shouts: Hallelujah! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313