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Psalm 97
Andy Nagahara   
(Translated by Raffael Eboku)

Hey Smile! When told to do that in a group photo, there will be some people with slightly distorted smiles. Even people who have reservations on whether someone can really smile under such circumstances, still (force) a smile anyway.  However, it is not possible to rejoice when told to do so. Joy is from the heart and cannot be made up by (mere) facial expressions.

So, when the Bible says, “Rejoice,” it is not a command, it means you have the material to rejoice. It is not the kind of “joy” that the world can give. There are many things in the world that seem to give us joy, but none of them give us true joy. They are all empty pleasures that disappear in a flash. In addition, people fight over them and take them away from each other, and we may end up carrying sorrow when we think we have obtained joy.

So where is the basis for the joy that the Bible teaches us? That’s what today’s text tells us. Let’s read through verse 6 again.

A. As someone who knows the Lord (1-6)

1 The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. 
2 Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 
3 Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side. 
4 His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. 
5 The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. 
6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. 

In this time, the Israelites were very regretful that their ancestors had asked God for a king. In the end, the king who was a human being ended up loving his power more than the people, and he was losing the battles against the powerful nations around him, so the people could no longer enjoy peace and the joy of living. They were reminded that the only king they could really trust was God. This is the ideal picture of what the Lord would have been like if He were the King.

We who live in the New Covenant era know more about the reign of the Lord that the people of the Old Covenant era only dreamed of. God revealed Himself to us as the Lord Jesus, and we know that we can trust Him.

Jesus is the only King who despite having great authority, is willing to suffer for those who follow him. His authority and power are proven in the Gospels.

There are many people who are Christians but cannot rejoice. Let’s go over the original meaning of the word “Christian” again.

Today, many people think it means a person who believes in Christianity. However, this word was a bad word for the “dangerous” people who were obsessed with claiming that He had died on the cross and was resurrected. If you are a “Christian” in this original sense, there is no reason not to rejoice. It is the origin of unchanging joy to know that the Lord, who is the King described here, not only sacrificed Himself to forgive us, but also overcame the power of death that no man can control. Let’s read verses 7-9 again.

2. As someone who rejects idols (7-9)

7 All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols– worship him, all you gods
8 Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, O LORD. 
9 For you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.

The phrase “idol worship” is often used in the Bible. It is a phrase that has been misunderstood in Japanese Christian churches. It is not literally bowing to an idol made of stone or wood, or to an ancestor in a photograph. This does not mean that you should not attend a Buddhist funeral and burn incense. It’s not idol worship, it’s a courtesy to the different religious cultures. I’m sure you will have opportunities to attend ceremonies held by other religions in the future, but don’t worry, it is not ” idol worship ” to do the same thing.

Worship is not about doing something that is physically visible. It is not about the physical appearance, but about the heart. Modern idols are not made of wood or stone. We all know that such things are not God. Real idols are more subtle in their lures. An idol is something that preoccupies you more than God.

It could be a person, material things, money, or honor. In other words, it’s the things that we talked about earlier today that might give you a lot of joy. If you forget the joy of following Jesus and start chasing after idols, you will never be satisfied in your heart. Even if you temporarily acquire them, the cost can be great. The soul’s hunger and thirst will only grow worse if it is separated from the never-ending fountain of joy.

If you really want to be a joyful person, there are things you should be doing instead of chasing after idols. Let’s talk about that in the last section. We continue to verses 10 – 12

3. The Lord gives us the joy of living (10-12)

10 Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 
11 Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. 
12 Rejoice in the LORD, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name. 

It’s easy to say, “Do the right thing”. Knowing what the right thing to do is, is very difficult. Doing the right thing is even more difficult. And it is equally difficult to hate evil.

The standards of right and wrong are not universal in human society; they vary from time to time, culture to culture, and situation to situation, which is another reason for the difficulties.

Living righteously does not mean living by the common sense of the time, nor does it mean reproducing the righteousness of the time when the Bible was written in this day and age. The Lord, Jesus Christ was the one who questioned and challenged the common sense of the times in which He lived.

 In the end, we only need to learn this from the Lord. The Gospels will be central to understanding the meaning of His words and deeds. But that does not mean that other texts in the Bible are unnecessary. How did people walk in obedience to God in the society, culture, and times in which Jesus lived? By observing them, we can see that there are some things that we should learn from and things that we should avoid. By learning them from other texts, we will be able to better understand the words and deeds of Jesus.

To walk as a doer of the Lord’s justice means to walk with Him as a disciple of Jesus. To follow Him, free from our own assumed righteousness, free from common sense righteousness, is what sets our souls free and gives us joy

(Prayer) Lord Jesus, thank you for your calling and guidance. We are grateful that the source of our joy is not in ourselves or anything else but you. We affirm that this joy is unchanging, unending, and everlasting. 

But even with this fountain of joy, we know well that our sinful nature acts as a force that pulls us away from you. Please protect us from this evil and let us know you better, so that we will not be deceived by idols, but will know and do your righteousness. Let us walk as those who fill the earth with your joy. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ.


We can’t rejoice unless we have reason to rejoice. There are many things in this world that give us joy, but they are not lasting, and in many cases, people fight over the things that bring joy and it becomes a mirage. Lasting joy comes from knowing God, rejecting idols, and pursuing righteousness.

For Discussion

1) What does it mean to be righteous?
2) What does it mean to worship idols?