Psalm 98:7-9 - Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Although we've come quite a distance from Christmas, this psalm was the inspiration for the hymn "Joy to the World." The words of the psalm, "Make a joyful noise to the LORD ... for He comes to judge the earth" (Psalm 98:4a, 9b) inspired the familiar words, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" With the hymn we rightly celebrate Jesus' First Advent, His birth in Bethlehem. We aren't told if the hills actually sang for joy when Jesus was born, but perhaps on that first Christmas night the hills around Bethlehem echoed to the praise of angels as the Good News was announced to shepherds.
The psalm reminds us that the Lord Himself came to earth. Perhaps the hills sang for joy to feel the footsteps of their Creator. We know that the roaring sea (of Galilee) willingly obeyed His command, "Peace! Be still!" (Mark 4:39b). Would we have heard the Jordan River clap its hands when He entered its waters to be baptized? Yet even as this psalm recalls Jesus' birth, it rejoices in His Second Advent. The psalm speaks of the Lord who will come to judge the earth. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He did not come as our Judge: "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:17).
Jesus did not come to judge or condemn the world. He came to be judged, to be condemned, on behalf of the world. He bore our sins in His body on the cross, where He suffered the penalty of death that we deserved. We need not fear the coming judgment because by God's grace through faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven, washed away in Jesus' blood. But judgment is coming and God commands repentance "because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed" (Acts 17:31a). The Man appointed is Jesus, true God and true Man, the risen and reigning Son to whom all authority has been given.
Jesus is coming to "judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity." Creation itself "waits with eager longing" for the day when its Creator and Judge will return and set the whole creation free "from its bondage to corruption" (Romans 8:19a, 21b). According to the psalmist, the sea will roar (with delight!), the rivers will clap their hands and the hills will sing with joy before their Lord. We too will want to clap and sing—and roar—because the Lord who comes to judge the earth is the same Lord who was judged and condemned for the sake of our salvation. We will clap and sing because our Savior reigns and, in the words of the familiar Christmas hymn, the "fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains" will "repeat the sounding joy!"
THE PRAYER: Lord and Savior, with all of creation I long for the day of Your return! Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Carol Geisler.
1. Have you ever been to a place where nature seemed to sing, in some way?
2. Why might the hills "sing for joy" at the Lord's coming judgment?
3. Do you ever find yourself waiting "with eager longing" for the Lord's return? How come?
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