Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous! Praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the harp; make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy. (Psalm 33:1-3)
Last week, we experienced a resurgence of “March Madness.” No, it’s not another new strain of the coronavirus. March madness refers to the NCAA college basketball tournament that brings together 68 of the country’s best teams over three weekends with the single purpose of crowning a national champion.
The term “March Madness” was actually coined back in 1939 by a guy named Henry V. Porter. At that time, it was referring to a high school basketball tournament sponsored by the Illinois High School Association. The tournament had begun humbly back in 1908, but by 1939 it had grown to over 900 teams participating from all over the country. Porter, the IHSA Secretary and a former high school basketball coach, wrote, “A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” You see, there was much more than basketball vying for the world’s attention in March, 1939—Hitler’s Germany had just invaded Czechoslovakia, and soon the whole world would be thrust into the horrors of another world war. Even keel indeed! Basketball may be a convenient distraction, but it has little power, if any, to change the world.
For many of us, march madness continues to be a convenient distraction to the problems of the world—80 years after Henry Porter first expressed that hope. Whether pandemics or politics, or even the horrifying prospect of another world war brewing in Ukraine, we all know a basketball tournament won’t make our problems go away. But maybe it can “complement and contribute to sanity” for a few weeks. After all, March Madness is about more than basketball. It’s about coming together, cheering together, celebrating, grieving and sharing life together.
Psalm 33 is an invitation to join together—to cheer and share life together. But far more importantly, it is a profound song of praise to Almighty God for who He is and what He does. We are invited to join the praise, not simply as a convenient distraction from our problems, but as a fitting offering to the only One who has the power to change the world.
In the first three verses, the unnamed writer offers an outline for praise. He tells us what we’re invited to do (“rejoice”), who is invited to do it (the “righteous”), why we’re doing it (our praise is “beautiful”), and even how we’re supposed to do it (with instruments and voices, skillfully and enthusiastically). It might be tempting at this point to think that this whole worship thing is focused around us! Unlike our March madness, however, the main point isn’t how we respond or even that we respond…it’s all about Who we are responding to.
In the rest of the Psalm, the writer celebrates God’s character and His actions in the world: His word is trustworthy and true (vs. 4); He loves justice and righteousness and He has filled the world with His love (vs. 5); He is the creator and sustainer of the universe (vs. 6-9); He is the ruler of nations (vs. 10-11); and despite His greatness, He notices and watches over “all who live on earth” (vs. 12-15).
The writer finishes his song by acknowledging our need for this great God—he is the only Solution to the problems of this world. We can’t put our hope in government, military strength or technology…and we are foolish to place our trust in ourselves or anyone else. Instead, “We wait in hope for the Lord…we trust in His holy name.” The psalm writer invites us to become the kind of worshipers that know how to worship and also know why we worship. Our God is not simply a temporary distraction to the world’s problem…he is the permanent Answer.
When Jesus came to earth, lots of people welcomed him as a convenient distraction. Some even hoped that he might be able to help them find the answer to life’s hardest questions. They were willing to cheer when he seemed to be winning, and they were willing to cast him aside when it was inconvenient or confusing, difficult or disappointing. But Jesus isn’t a distraction from real life…he IS real life. Jesus doesn’t just help us find the answer…he IS the answer. We don’t need another distraction from our problems, we need a solution. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He is the reason we worship and the one we worship. He is the Living Water. Stay thirsty for him.