As Jesus prepared to ascend back to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father he encouraged his disciples to read the Psalms. Here are his specific words recorded in Luke 24 verse 44:
He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
These words of Jesus launched the Psalms into the singing, teaching, and preaching of the disciples and the first Christians. They did read the Psalms and found there much that had been written about the coming of Jesus and the ministry of Jesus while he was on earth. The Psalms became an important part of early Christian worship which continues even today.
Psalm 98 is filled with references to music and singing, but more important are the many references to "the LORD" that are fulfilled in Jesus. Here is verse one:
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
These words simply remind us to sing the LORD. The words of our new songs proclaim that Jesus has done marvelous things and that his most important work is salvation.
Verse two increases our understanding of the salvation that Jesus brings:
The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
The salvation work of Jesus that was worked out on the cross is not a secret. His salvation has been made known. In fact, the righteousness that Jesus provided has been revealed to all the nations of the world. This is good news! This is the Gospel! Joy to the world, the LORD is come!
Here is verse three:
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to the house of Israel
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
The Psalms are the writings of the God's chosen people "the house of Israel." God's love and faithfulness to Israel are fulfilled in Jesus. Through Jesus God provided salvation for all Israel and all peoples of the world. Again, this is good news! This is the Gospel! Joy to the world, the LORD is come!
Verses 4 thru 6 are filled with musical terms and instructions for our worship to be loud and exuberant. In these verses we are encouraged to:
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
Shout for joy before the LORD, the King.
Notice that we are to shout "to" and "before" the LORD. Shouting for joy "before" the LORD has references to being in the presence of the LORD. That is a good place to be! Joy to the world, the LORD is come! All the earth, all peoples of the earth are shouting for joy. Israel finally has their perfect and eternal King!
Because the LORD is come verses 7 and 8 state that all of creation is singing for joy:
Let the sea resound,
Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy;
The Psalms are filled with references to God's creation singing and praising their Creator.
The final verse of Psalm 98 reminds us that the LORD is also coming as a judge:
Let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the people with equity.
Jesus will come as a judge at the end of time when he comes to earth for the second and final time. Because of sin his judgment of the world and all peoples will be based upon his righteousness and his equity that was displayed on the cross. Jesus rules the world with his truth and his grace. This is good news! This is the Gospel! Joy to the world, the LORD is come!
Hopefully you have noticed some familiar phrases from the Christmas carol Joy to the world, the Lord is come in my thoughts above concerning Psalm 98. Joy to the world, the Lord is come is Isaac Watts' hymn paraphrase of Psalm 98. Watts believed that if Christians are to sing the Psalms that the Psalms must be "Christianized." Thus Isaac Watts penned many references to the incarnation of Jesus in his paraphrase of Psalm 98 and gave us a wonderful carol to sing every December. I encourage you to read and study the verses of Psalm 98 and the four stanzas of Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Then shout for joy with these words:
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
This is good news! This is the Gospel! Joy to the world, the LORD is come!