A Hallelujah sermon

Posted on January 18, 2014

We must join in the praise of God.

When I read Psalm 148, that’s the main message I hear, and so that is what I talked about for my sermon at Grace Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas. My good friend, Aurelia Pratt, is one of the pastors at Grace, and she invited me to preach at her church the Sunday after Christmas. I felt honored to be given the opportunity.

Their church follows the lectionary, and Psalm 148 was one of the texts I could choose. It’s a “Hallelujah” psalm – because that word is the first line and last line of this Hebrew poem. Hallelujah means Praise the Lord. It’s a command. (And one I am happy to oblige!) 

When I say we must “join in” the praise of God, I’m referring to joining the rest of creation. Here … you can see it in the poem …

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
     praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
     praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon;
     praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
     and you wanters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
     for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
     he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
     you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
     stormy wind fulfilling his commands,
Mountains and all hills,
     fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
     creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
     princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
     old and young together!
 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
     for his name alone is exalted;
     his glory is above earth and heaven
He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his faithful,
     for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

I especially love that last part about the horn. It was a part of the psalm that I would have probably skipped over had I not studied the text for the purpose of preaching. But it turns out to have significance. If you would like to hear the sermon, here is a link to Grace Baptist Church’s website. You’ll see my date (December 29) and my name. If you would prefer to read, I will put the text below …



By Chansin Esparza

Text: Psalm 148

Sermon for Grace Baptist Church on December 29, 2013

            In 1741 George Frideric Handel composed an oratorio which has become a Christmas tradition. Did you hear it this season? Written for orchestra, choir, and soloists, Handel’s Messiah is performed each year. You surely recognize at least one of the songs from the Messiah. Does this help….?

            “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”

The Hallelujah Chorus – and all of the Messiah – has become one of the best-known and widely loved Christmas presentations of all time. You may not know that Handel never conducted it during Christmas. He intended it to be a piece for Lent. But through time the association was altered and now those echoes of “Hallelujah” are an integral part of the Christmas season.

It is fitting that a song of praise – an oratorio about Jesus – would be associated with Christmas, during this time we celebrate how our God took on flesh to become one with us.

Hallelujah. What an interesting word. It’s actually the transliteration of a Hebrew word, or, rather, a Hebrew phrase. It is used 24 times in the Old Testament, and only in the book of Psalms. The last five hymns in the book of Psalms all begin and end with that word. Today’s text – Psalm 148 – is a part of that collection. Our English Bibles translate it for us. Hallelujah means Praise the Lord. It’s an exhortation to many people… to Israel … to us. It’s a command to praise “Yah”, short for Yahweh, the Hebrew name of God.

Our text follows the typical structure of a song of praise because it has an invitation to praise followed by reasons for praise. But here, the invitation is greatly elaborated. Most of the lines begin with an imperative summons to praise. And “hallel” in Hebrew is more than just “Praise.” The writer does not intend for us to monotonously and lifelessly recite, “I praise you God.” No, “hallel” in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song, a boasting in God – almost to the extent of acting foolishly. Just look at all those exclamation marks in Psalm 148. Many English translations put them in there. I love that.

When I read this hymn – the words bring out several nuances, and we are going to talk about some of those – but the main message I hear is a simple one:

We must join in the praise of God.

            The psalm writer is genius, perhaps without even knowing it, because within the summoning of us to praise God there are reasons we should do it. And doesn’t it help to know why we should do something instead of just be told to do it?

We must praise God because God is Creator, God is Sovereign, and God is Protector. But let’s come back to that first one…

1. God is Creator           

We are reminded – verse by verse – that all of creation owes praise to God. Starting with the highest – and down to the lowest – all of us owe our origins – and thus our allegiance and adoration – to Him.

Psalm 148 recalls Genesis 1 wherein we are told the story of Creation. Let me show you the comparison…

  • Psalm 148 – Praise him from the heavens… Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens
  • Psalm 148  – Praise him, sun, moon, and stars…Genesis 1:14, God said, “let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night.”
  • Psalm 148  – Praise him you waters above the heavens…Genesis 1:6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters,” and God called the dome Sky..
  • Psalm 148  – Praise the Lord, you sea monsters and all deeps… Genesis 1:21 God created great sea creatures.
  • Psalm 148  – Praise him fruit trees and all cedars… Genesis 1:11 God said, “let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed and fruit trees of every kind.”
  • Psalm 148  – Praise him wild animals and cattle, creeping things, and flying birds… Genesis 1:20 God said,”…let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” Genesis 1:24, Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals.
  • Psalm 148  – Praise him all peoples – young and old, men and women…Genesis 1:26 God said, Let us make humankind in our image.

Whew. For he commanded and they were created. God spoke and it was so. Verses 1-6 call for praise from the heavens (and when heavens is mentioned in the Old Testament, the people in that culture were usually referring to the sky and anything outside our atmosphere, not necessarily the afterlife). Then verses 7-14 call for praise from the earth. The choir is summoned. Even sea monsters and the phenomena of heat, cold and storm – the things which neighboring societies around Israel considered divine – they are called to praise because they, too, were created by the one God.

There’s a saint called Francis of Assisi who lived in Medieval Italy. Having renounced all worldly possessions and endeavors, he was a man close to nature as he traveled from village to village and sleeping in caves and exposed to the elements. He felt a kinship with creation and wrote a poem that we still have today called Canticle of the Sun. It was inspired by Psalm 148. See if you can hear any connections. Part of it goes… 

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful. 

            The poem goes on to praise the lord through Brothers Wind and Air, Sister Water, Brother Fire, Mother Earth. God’s creations are like brothers and sisters to us. We are all to join the chorus of praise. In a little while we will sing a hymn together called All Creatures of our God and King. It may sound familiar because it is an early 1900 paraphrase of Saint Francis’s Canticle.

This Psalm, and the Canticle, and the paraphrased hymn – all made me wonder what it means for the moon, or the hills, or animals to praise God. What does that look like? How does a fruit tree worship?

When a fruit tree does what a fruit tree was created to do, it is worship. It must be. It is following its design, and living into the beauty of all God desired for it. When the stars shine, and the birds fly – that is worship. When the hills are all… hilly …. they are praising God. … “The hills are alive with the sound of music. With songs they have sung for a thousand years…”

Apparently some people understand that creation sings. And who would it be singing to – but to the Creator? And what does this mean for us people? We are the last on the list in Psalm 148, and we are the most fickle of all creation.

Just as the other creatures show praise of God by being what God designed them to be, so do we show forth God’s praise by being who we are created to be: a redeemed people in relationship with Him. A Church that loves and gives and shares good news. Individually, a father, a friend, a person who uses their talents for the good of others. Each time you live into your identity in Christ, you are praising God.

We must praise God because God is Creator. We also praise for a second reason:

2. God is Sovereign

Sovereign is big word. Let’s consider what it means. When we say God is sovereign, we are saying he is the ultimate source of all power and existence. No one outranks him. His will prevails. He graciously gives us freedom to choose, and he does not control everything in our lives, but God is supreme.

The writer of this Psalm understands that and proclaims it. Verse 11 calls for the Kings of earth, princes and all rulers to praise God. In fact, they were the first ones listed among humans that should praise God. Those whom we recognize as sovereign are to acknowledge the ultimate sovereignty of God. Men and women, young and old. The psalmist uses gender-inclusive and age-inclusive words. No one is exempt.

When I was growing up, I came to understand the concept of sovereignty. In my family, dad was ruler. In a lot of tv sitcoms these days the dad is a bumbling, kind of dufus-like figure who tries to have authority but always concedes to the wishes of the true family leader, the mother. Not so in my family. My mom had plenty of authority. But Dad was a force to be reckoned with. And my parents believed in spanking. But it usually did not get as far as physical discipline. His voice was enough to humble any child into submission. My father was a Delta pilot, and when he’d be away on a four-day trip and us kids got into something, all my mother had to say was, “Don’t make me tell your father about this!” and we’d beg, “Please, please don’t tell him!!” The dogs even cowered under the influence of my father’s sovereignty. Thankfully, my dad has an extremely gentle side and is abundantly loving so we never questioned his affection for us, but there also was never a question as to who was sovereign in that house.

And in the Universe, God is the sovereign one. None are exempt from paying homage to the Sovereign Creator… not even those who do not believe in God. Sure, for now they are free to do as they wish, wrecking their own lives and wasting their own time, paying homage to lesser things that cannot satisfy. But those people still owe God praise, and they will give it someday.

The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of the future, when Christ returns, and we learn that every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea will say, — “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

But why wait? We were created to praise the Sovereign God. And what joy it is to worship! During this past month – throughout this season of Advent – I have felt a bit disjointed because of all the transitions happening in my life right now. Even on Christmas Eve I was feeling stress and uneasiness. So I went to a Christmas Eve service at my old church, and we sang a carol that made me think of Psalm 148: “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold him, born the king of Angels. O come let us adore him. O come, let us adore him. O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”

An invitation to Praise. In the past few days since that Christmas Eve service, my life has not been figured out. There is still some disjointed-ness. But in that moment – when I was singing that song of praise, I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. It is good to praise the Sovereign lord.

Our final reason to praise God according to Psalm 148 is that…

3. God is Protector

Verse 14 continues the reasons for praise, but it moves in a different direction. This is the part where love comes in. The first two reasons to praise God – because he is Creator and Sovereign – those can happen without love. You can acknowledge someone’s authority without being emotionally attached to that person. But to be reminded that God is our protector and that we have been singled out for relationship? That induces love.

You may wonder where I am getting this Protection/Love part from. Verse 14 says he has raised up a horn for his people. A horn? This is one of those old metaphors that we don’t really get today. The horn was a symbol of strength. To raise up a horn for someone means to protect or strengthen them. There is a hint, here, of deliverance. God rescues the people who are close to him. This cosmic God has chosen to fulfill his purposes through a particular people, and he gives us the strength we need.

However one interprets the meaning of this “horn”, the truth is God has singled out Israel to be God’s chosen people. And ever since Jesus came to earth, the boundary lines of who is included in God’s people have changed. They have expanded. Galatians 3 says, “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. As many of you as were baptized into Christ and have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the same promise.”

Just like the Creation account in Genesis 1, the culminating focus in Psalm 148 is on humanity. We are one among many participants in the cosmic praising of God. But we are loved and protected and delivered.

The best illustration I can think of to show how God has “raised up a horn” for us – is Jesus. And Christmastime. Luke 2 is a text that parallels wonderfully with Psalm 148. An angel appeared to shepherds in the countryside near Bethlehem. And in the most peculiar and spectacular birth announcement ever, the Angel declared that a Savior, the Messiah, had been born. Scripture says, “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Glory to God! Praise the Lord. Peace among those whom he favors. Among the people close to his heart. It is because of God’s protective, loving nature that Jesus came. The horn has been raised. And that is why we worship.

Christmas day has come and gone, and for some people, that is a little depressing. There is so much build-up to that day. We are told it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But then it’s over. And we have to go back to normal life. And maybe Christmas day did not fulfill all expectations. Maybe you are feeling some post-holiday blues.

BUT … we have a protector. A Savior. And that is the reality that we should dwell on. All those presents that we got … all that tasty food … the parties and decorations and time off of work. It all pales in comparison to the glory of our God. And experiencing those things pale in comparison to experiencing the love of God the Father. So let us bask in it. I love that last verse of Hark the Herald, Angels Sing. It reminds me of all that I praise God for. It says,

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!” 

            I’m sorry for all the song lyrics in this sermon. But the point of the message is that We must join in the praise of God. And songs express praise so wonderfully. God is Creator, God is Sovereign, and God is Protector. Hallelujah.

The word Hallelujah appears in the New Testament in only one chapter: Revelation 19. John saw a vision of the last days and wrote, “I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.”

It’s from Revelation that Handel’s Hallelujah chorus is based upon. “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.” Praise the Lord. May that be the chorus of our lives.


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