Praise Sunday

Pastor Craig Carter

Palm Sunday and marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final days in Jesus’ life and ministry leading to His crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter.

Palm Sunday commemorates an event that is recorded in all four gospel accounts. It is commonly referred to as the triumphal entry when Christ was welcomed into Jerusalem as a coming king.

As you read the account from Luke’s gospel, look for what is noticeably absent:

Jesus went on toward Jerusalem…[The disciples] brought a colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on. As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!” (Luke 19:28, 35-40 NLT)

Did you catch it? There is no mention of palm branches – either being waved like ancient “pom-poms” or laid on the ground giving Jesus the “red carpet” treatment. Instead, Luke’s emphasis is on the fact that Christ’s “followers began to shout and sing…praising God” and declaring, “Blessings on the King who comes…”

Apparently, this response on the part of the people pleased Jesus for when the Pharisees asked the Lord to put an end to what they considered to be nonsense, He replied, “If they keep quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

So maybe we should call it Praise Sunday rather than Palm Sunday. Ultimately, that’s what makes this day so significant and shows us what the Lord really wants from His people is their praise.

Before we can give God our praise, we have to know what it is. We oftentimes use the word in connection with two other terms: worship and thanksgiving.

We talk about praise and worship, especially as it relates to music. In our minds, praise involves fast songs that tell about God, while worship refers to slow songs that are addressed directly to God.

Or we talk about praise and thanksgiving. Praise acknowledges who God is (Lord of lords, King of kings). Thanksgiving recognizes what God has done (as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer).

The biblical concept of praise incorporates each of these meanings: adoration, devotion, reverence, gratitude – all of which are responses to God’s character and His deeds.

Our English word, praise, comes from the Latin term meaning “price or value.” So to praise God is to place a great price or value on Him. It is to recognize both God’s majesty and His mighty acts.

The Bible suggests there are many ways to praise the Lord. They include inner feelings of joy and gladness (Ps 71:23), songs and shouts of joy (Ps 81:1), testimonies (Ps 34:1-3), musical instruments and even dancing (Ps 150).

It is worth noting that most of the emphasis is on outward, rather than inward, acts of praise.

Given this is what praise is and how it is done, why should we want to praise God?

Quite simply, because He wants us to. But why?

It’s not because the Lord needs it, but because we need it.

God is sovereign and all-sufficient so He really doesn’t “need” anything from us. But we need to give Him certain things in order to be rightly related to Him and enjoy life as He intended it to be lived. That list includes faith, obedience, praise …

Praise is something you and I can’t live without (or at least, we shouldn’t want to). Listen to what is said about this subject in the ancient hymnbook of God’s people:

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 92:1 NIV)

“How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!” (Psalm 147:1 NIV)

In an effort to encourage you to give God your praise, not just on Palm Sunday but every day, let me share several benefits of this activity mentioned in Scripture.

1) Praise lifts us above life’s circumstances.

Then you shall praise the Lord, and I (God) will make you ride upon the heights of the earth… (Isaiah 58:14 NRSV)

It is very easy for us to get bogged down in the muck and mire of life. Through praise, we are taken to “higher ground” and begin to “ride high.” In particular, God’s people have found praise to be a wonderful antidote to depression.

King Saul certainly found this to be true. The Bible records him being tormented by an “evil spirit,” probably depression.

Whenever the tormenting spirit troubled Saul, David would play his harp. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him. (1 Samuel 16:23 NLT, NIV)

What do you think David was playing – given that he is credited with writing 73 of the 150 psalms? Probably songs of praise, worship, or thanksgiving. David enabled Saul to put on a “garment of praise” in exchange for his “spirit of despair and heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3).

Do you know when depression hits its peak among survivors of a traumatic event? 18 months later. We’re at the 18th month mark of Hurricane Michael as a I share this message (April 2020).

Add to that the heaviness and despair of the current pandemic, depression probably already is and most certainly will be more prevalent than the Coronavirus.

If you and I are infected, now or in the future, we need to remember that praise provides us with “wings” with which we can soar to new heights.

2) Praise takes us into the presence of God.

I am increasingly worried about the effect of social distancing and the associated isolation many of us are feeling, but according to the psalmist we’re never alone:

You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. (Psalm 22:3 NLT)

Something supernatural occurs when we begin to praise the Lord. When Solomon brought the ark into the new temple, the trumpeters and singers performed together in unison to praise and give thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices and praised the Lord with these words:

“He is good! His faithful love endures forever!” At that moment a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of God. (2 Chronicles 5:13-14 NLT)

Preaching on this text, D.L. Moody once said, “Solomon prevailed much with God in prayer at the dedication of the temple, but it was the voice of praise which brought down the glory that filled the house.”

Feeling alone or isolated? Praise will bring you the Company you desperately crave and need.

Try it! “He is good! God’s faithful love endures forever!”

3) Praise expresses our love for God.

We have a two-fold stated purpose as a church: Love God. Love Others. It’s from the Great Commandment.

Most of us would say that we love God. But does He know that? How do we prove it?

Jesus said we love God by obeying Him; the psalmist suggests there’s another way:

I love you, Lord; you are my strength…I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise. (Psalm 18:1, 3 NLT)

What if we said we loved our spouse/children but never told them or affirmed them?

Praise is a way in which we let others, including God, know that we love them, appreciate them, and are devoted to them.

4) Praise is a powerful spiritual weapon.

Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me, and I will be saved; for you are the one I praise. (Jeremiah 17:14 NIV)

Praise oftentimes opens the doors to healing, salvation, and deliverance. When Paul and Silas were in a Philippian prison, they prayed and sang praises. As they were doing this, an earthquake shook the building, causing the doors to fly open and the chains of all the prisoners to fall off (Acts 16:25-26).

William Temple (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942) commenting on that passage, states: “The world will be saved by only one thing and that is [praise and] worship.”

What if we, as believers, hold the key to ending the current pandemic? Instead of wringing our hands in despair, what if we lifted our hands in praise?

Let me share just briefly why I believe praise is such a powerful spiritual weapon.

Sin, sickness, brokenness, depression/despair, addictive behaviors, anything and everything that keeps us from wholeness – all are the result of living in a fallen world.

And who is the prince of this earth and current ruler of this world? Satan.

He does anything in his power to keep us in bondage and keep us feeling down and defeated.

Now let me let you in on a little secret: the Devil does not like being anywhere near people who praise the Lord.

Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, says this: “I believe truly that Satan cannot stand it and so slips out of the room – when there is a true song [of praise].”

May Slosser, long-time missionary to China, has experienced the same: “I sing the doxology and dismiss the devil!”

Satan does not like being reminded of who is really in control and who will ultimately prevail.

Need help, healing or deliverance? Rather than fixating on the problem, focus on the Solution and give God praise.

5) Praise enables us to fulfill our destiny.

I was talking with some pastors recently and we all agreed that one of the good things that’s come out of the current crisis is it has forced people to think about death.

Every day the statistics flash on the screen and we hear stories of those who have perished. Normally we try to avoid the subject of death at all costs, but the truth of the matter is: nobody gets out of this world alive. We will all spend eternity in one of two places.

I’m sure you’re well aware that the choice we make when we’re still alive determines where we go when we die. When we accept Christ, our destination is heaven. But when we reject Christ, we are subjected to an eternity spent in hell.

In case you need help in determining which place you’d prefer, let me remind of how those locations are described in Scripture:

Hell is a place of constant torment and torture. Folks spend every moment, weeping, wailing, and gnashing their teeth.

Heaven is a place of incomparable beauty and peace. One activity dominates the lives of its inhabitants: praise and worship.

Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!” (Revelation 19:5 NIV)

Once in heaven, we’ll get to do forever what we were created to do. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” (Westminster Catechism)

We are all looking for meaning and significance. It is not found in anything, anyplace, or anybody. It is found in praise of the living Lord.

Sooner or later we’ll going to realize it, so why wait?

In fact, all of creation finds its purpose in this activity. This truth is what caused Jesus to tell the Pharisees that if human beings didn’t do their part, the stones certainly would do theirs (Luke 19:40).

According to Jesus, even the rocks recognize Him as Lord and will praise Him accordingly, if necessary.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want rocks to do what I should be doing. So, as long as I have breath, I’m going to give God the gift of praise.

What better time to begin then on Palm, or Praise, Sunday?

If we don’t do it, maybe the rocks will cheer or the dogs will howl. So let’s lift our voices in praise to the One who entered Jerusalem seated humbly on a donkey but will one day return, riding on the clouds, as exalted Savior and King!