09 Jul 2012 Canada Day Sermon – Blessed is the Nation whose God is the Lord
On Canada Day, Rev. G. Nederveen preached a sermon on Psalm 33:12a which is very applicable for all Canadian Christians, especially as it relates to our engagement with our government and society. Here follows the text, reproduced with permission from the pastor:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord – Psalm 33:12a
Today is Canada Day. Our country is celebrating its 145th birthday as a nation. And that calls for celebration. When we celebrate an event we usually reflect upon what we have received and achieved. For Christians it is always a time in which we focus upon the blessings of the Lord.
Now in terms of age, Canada’s 145 years is but a drop in the bucket compared to other nations. The Chinese culture is at least 30 times older. And when we go back to biblical times then we hear about nations and cultures that are older still.
What is prominent about all nations and cultures is not only that they have their own separate histories, but also that on a religious scale they differ so widely. And that brings me to the claim of Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
For quite some time this truth applied to many nations, including Canada. It is even enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states that Canada is founded upon principles that recognize God and the rule of law. A statement like this tells us something about the time in which the document was written. However, the reality is that for many Canadians, God is no longer in the picture. God-centred principles have been replaced by man-centred values that undermine biblical principles. It’s often referred to as separation between church and state.
Time and again we hear that people serving the public good need to keep their Christian convictions private. But is that possible? Is it possible to believe one thing and do something contrary to what you believe? We can agree with separation between church and state. The state should not dictate to the church what to believe and the church should not tell the government how to run the day to day affairs in the land. But does that imply a separation of convictions and public life? Is God the God of private lives only?
Increasingly we see how intolerant our society is becoming to religious views in general and Christian views in particular. Let me give you two recent examples:
This week in Germany a court made a ruling in a case regarding circumcision that personal freedoms trump religious requirements. In Ontario the same line of argument was recently used to vote the anti-bullying Bill 13 into law.
The message that is driven home is that we may say anything as long as it is not based on Christian principles. That does not fit in a multi-cultural society. In a very real sense our cultural mosaic overshadows God’s supremacy that is so laudably entrenched in the Charter of Rights. In real day to day affairs the supremacy of the God of the Bible has been surpassed by the god of our own making because in our mosaic madness not one religion is considered the true religion. Move over, Judeo-Christian principles, ethics and morals! In spite of the Charter, God’s law is no longer recognized as the supreme yardstick for conduct of life or rule for thankfulness.
Enough has been said by way of introduction to present as urgent the need for return to the ways of God as revealed in the Bible. The words of Psalm 33:12 must become our focus in order to stir us into action and help rekindle renewed hope and confidence that says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” These words form the hub and heartbeat of the psalm. They should be our theme, not just for this sermon in connection with Canada’s 145 years as a nation, but as a directive for each new day.
I proclaim to you:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord
1. This blessing has a long history
2. This blessing needs to shape our nation
1. What exactly makes a nation blessed? Is it freedom of religion and freedom of speech? Is it the favourable climatic conditions or its many natural resources? Is it zero inflation and low unemployment? Sometimes we hear people say how blessed Canada is with its abundance of natural gas and oil — not to forget another much coveted treasure: fresh water. Also, Canadians were blessed to weather a serious economic downturn that impacted and negatively affected so many countries. Yes, we know that in Canada we live in one of the best country in the world.
And indeed, when you look at countries that do not allow freedom of expression and where people suffer oppression for their religious beliefs; if you look at places in the world where there is strife or where famine threatens the lives of millions, then we have every reason to say: Canada is blessed. The question is, however, does this make Canada a blessed nation in the sense that the psalmist has in mind or—perhaps more to the point—that the Lord has in mind?
In the biblical sense a nation is blessed when it recognizes God’s supremacy and submits to him in its day to day affairs. A nation is blessed when it lives and functions under the supremacy of their sovereign God and in humble submission looks to him for protection.
That is how the Bible describes the make-up of a blessed nation. We have a trustworthy historical record for such a claim in Scripture. When God chose Israel as his own nation he promised her his special protection and care. That is exactly what happened when God’s people entered the promised land. The Lord defended them time and again against more powerful nations during the time of the judges. By God’s grace David was allowed to defeat all his enemies. Solomon could govern a prosperous nation at rest from war.
Therefore the poet of Psalm 33 knew very well what he was talking about when he observed: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. This was no empty boast or wishful thinking. These are words of confidence based on a long history of promise and fulfilment by the Lord who does all his work in faithfulness to his promises.
Psalm 33, together with numerous others, is a song of praise to God based on his proven track-record of care and faithfulness which goes back all the way to the beginning. It is important that we have an eye for the fact that when the psalmists describe God’s dealings with his people they usually go back all the way to the time of creation. They trace it back to the beginning because that is the best way of teaching us about our origins and our place in this world so that we keep our focus on God.
Reaching back to creation serves as a constant reminder that in all things we live under the watchful eye of almighty God who has the whole world in his hand and rules over all. That is why we find the recurring theme in the psalms that the whole earth should fear and serve the Lord. Every inhabitant of this world should stand in awe of this God who spoke and it came to be; who commanded and it happened. When we, along with the Israelites of long ago, reflect on God’s creating power it serves as a constant reminder of our smallness in comparison to our Maker. It also reminds us that God is the Creator of all the nations. Even though all nations are under his control, God’s blessing comes to those nations that acknowledge him as supreme ruler.
So then, before the poet tells us that a nation with God as Lord is blessed, he sets the stage by reaching back to the very beginning of it all. He describes God’s history with mankind beginning at creation. That is significant because we tend to start at the fall into sin. The psalms, on the other hand, go back further to the days in which God created heaven and earth. If only we would do so as well. Then we would be more in awe for God’s divine majesty.
The reality is that we are bombarded by denials that God is the Creator. It is considered as scientifically absurd with the result that as more people deny God as their Creator, they also deny that Adam and Eve are the first people to live on this earth and that the fall into sin is the reason for all our sin and misery. When people deny these things they will also refuse to acknowledge God and the need for salvation in Christ. However, it is precisely the recognition of God in Christ that brings God’s blessing to us as individuals, as families, as church and as a nation.
Another word for ‘blessed’ is happy. ‘Blessed’ points to a condition or a state of happiness that is desirable and beneficial for all. The particular kind of happiness the psalmist refers to is to serve Yahweh, the covenant Lord who loves righteousness and justice. O how happy is the nation whose God is the Lord who watches over his people. Such a nation does not have some whimsical deity as its head. Their Head of State is God who has been from the beginning and who seeks the good for his people. God is the Lord who bends over backwards, so to speak, to help, guide and protect his people.
A nation whose God is the Lord is blessed because God’s values in life promote morality, decency, honour and truth for the well-being of all its citizens. A nation under God has stability and such a nation praises God for his care.
And notice: that is how the psalmist begins his song of praise.
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
It is fitting for the upright to praise him.
The message is: Christians, be happy in God who is in control. Be happy in God who is Lord of lords and King of kings. Thanks to him you may live with the assurance that whatever happens in this world, the world is not out of control but under his direction.
Now, basic to the psalmist’s claim that a nation under God is blessed is the Lord’s expectation that we put our trust in him rather than in the things most people will celebrate as the strengths of Canada. Ask anyone what is so wonderful about Canada and you will probably hear comments about our universal health care system, or our economic strength relative to other countries, or our multicultural values.
What these comments have in common is that God is not in the picture. Any direction in our land away from God will catch up with us. Nations that go their own way will find out that God does not allow that to go on indefinitely or that he lets it go on unchecked. Military powers or economic powers usually weaken over time. In the course of history many mighty rulers and powers have toppled.
The psalmist reminds us of that. He knows his history and says in vv. 10-11:
The Lord foils the plans of the nations,
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations.
When the poet recalls that truth, he exclaims: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. No wonder! For all people and all governments change as time goes on but the plans of the Lord do not. They stand firm through all generations.
That is why the clarion call of Psalm 33 is still relevant for us in 2012. It serves as a powerful call to live as people under God. We know, of course, that God no longer has one particular favoured nation as he had in OT times. He freed Israel more than once from powers that assailed it. He gave it his just laws and decrees for its own good. But the principle is still the same. For this ancient and yet ever present God is our Lord who displayed his greatest blessing and rescue in Christ Jesus, our great Redeemer.
2. Let us therefore consider next how the blessing to have the Lord as God needs to shape our nation.
Life needs to be lived with a view to the accomplished work of Christ Jesus. A nation that acknowledges God in and through his Son is blessed because it knows that Christ is king who has received all authority in heaven and on earth. In him Christians find renewed hope for the future. In him we receive the renewal of our lives; in him we experience the renewal of our minds and he calls on us to use our renewal in God’s service and to his glory.
That is why it is such a sad thing when Canada’s values are straying further and further from the norms laid down in God’s word. Freedom of religion is rapidly becoming freedom from religion. God no longer counts. And what is taking over? Man-centred values that give no or little thought to God are taking over. At times we hear a warning voice, a cry in the wilderness which quickly fades away or goes unheeded most of the time.
Most people are blind to the terrible reality of our time. Sure, economically we are doing fine. There is plenty of cash for the government to dish out to keep people relatively happy. But the moral fabric of the nation is ripping and the tear is getting bigger. The norm of God’s law has been replaced by a different yardstick. The new standard is the tolerance level of the majority. Whatever public opinion finds acceptable—and whatever public morals it will tolerate—becomes the standard by which most anything is examined, promoted and enforced. This standard is used at all levels of society: in our parliaments; in our courts of law; in business practices and in secular education.
And what is the result? We are no longer a nation where God is Lord and where morality, decency, honour and truth are promoted for the well-being of its citizens. Oh, I am not suggesting that all morality, decency and truth has been thrown out of the window, but laws which were designed to do justice to God’s saving grace in Christ are being scrapped as not in tune with the wishes of the day. Any effort to restore some measure of Christian morality is noisily opposed because it curtails freedom of expression which is usually the freedom of expression of depraved minds.
Time and again we read it in the paper or hear on the news how Christian principles and convictions are out of touch with reality. That is not the values Canadians want, we are told. And what is offered in its place is more of the same man-centeredness that has no room for God-centred principles.
Many of these activities are done under the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is praised for making Canada such a great nation. But contrary to popular belief, it is not the Constitution that makes us strong as a nation. Only a return to God’s norms will accomplish that.
How realistic is such a return? Only God can bring it about. But you and I need to pray for it and work toward it. We cannot in good conscience blame all decline on our politicians and law-makers. They do as good a job as the people they represent. The moral backsliding happens because people, by and large, do not care about ethical issues such as the protection of the unborn or the sanctity of life. Voices are raised when it hurts the pocket book, not when it hurts someone else’s life.
An affluent society can quickly become an apathetic society that does not want to get involved and speak out. Do we perhaps fall in that category? Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. This implies, my brothers and sisters, that if we want this blessing to shape our nation, we must make the cause of the Lord God our cause and promote him as Lord of this land through regular input and witness. (Support work of ARPA and EFC). We need to pray for our leaders that they may have the wisdom, conviction, the political courage to abide by the norms of God. And we need to support and encourage those who do promote God’s norms for life.
Perhaps this is the most “political” sermon you will ever hear from me; and that on Canada Day, no less. But we are at the cross-roads. The line is clearly drawn in the sand. The question we face is clearly this one: Whose values do we support and promote— man-centred values or God’s?
In our celebration of Canada Day the honour of Christ is at stake. As Christians we celebrate more than 145 years as a nation. In our celebration we need to recognize God as Lord before whom every knee will bow one day. He is king of Creation. Do we as Christians recognize him as king? We need to if we want to be a blessing to our nation. Blessed is the nation where we, its Christian citizens, recognize Christ as king and await the return of our great Redeemer while praying:
Ruler Supreme, who hearest humble prayer, Hold our Dominion in Thy loving care.
Celebrations so easily become displays of human pride. Pride stands in the way of a country functioning or becoming a nation under God. But you and I must promote God as Lord also in our nation. We need to keep on promoting God’s laws and morals for our land. Should we promote separation between church and state? The answer is yes if we mean that the state should not interfere in church matters or the church in government matters. But there should be no separation between Christian conviction and political, or business, or personal aspirations.
Let us pray that God will set in motion a large scale return to him and to the truth of his Word. David’s words in Psalm 119:126 come to mind: “It is time for you to act, O Lord; your law is being broken.” May he turn the hearts of people to him in humility. But should this not be the case—remember, we are living in the days in which lawlessness is gaining the upper hand—should such a return not materialize, let it not be because of your or my inactivity or non-involvement.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Such a nation will find no better or more stable ruler.
In the words of our National Anthem:
Help us to find, o God in Thee
A lasting, rich reward.
As waiting for a better day,
We ever stand on guard
Happy are all those who acknowledge God as their Creator.
Blessed is the nation that wishes to honour Christ as King.
And blessed is the nation who honours Christ and awaits him as the great Redeemer.
In the meantime:
God keep our land, glorious and free:
as we O, Canada stand on guard for thee.
Delivered in Burlington on 1 July 2012 by Rev. G. Nederveen of the Ebenezer Canadian Reformed Church
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