A Sermon Series through the Psalms

I have heard of several pastors planning or considering a series of sermons in the Psalms through the summer. That is what we are doing at my church. If you decide to plan such a series, one of the first questions you have to address is which Psalms to preach. Here are a few thoughts for those wrestling with that choice.

First, relax. You can’t go wrong here. It is good to make thoughtful choices, but it is also possible to overthink things. You are choosing between different portions of God’s inspired word. In my first pastorate there was little time for advanced sermon planning, and some of you are probably in similar settings. As long as you are working hard to understand God’s Word properly and to apply it to your people faithfully, you are doing well. Whichever Psalms you pick will be fine.

Then, as you have time to plan ahead, there are various ways you could approach your choice of Psalms depending on what you hope to accomplish. You could focus on repentance, lament, or praise, though 8 to 10 weeks on just one of those themes might not work as well. You could also preach through some of the specific units in the Psalms, such as the Psalms of Ascent (120-134) or the Hallel Psalms (113-118). Then, of course, your choices will be affected to some degree by what Psalms may have recently been preached at your church.

If you want to give a good overview of the Psalter as a whole, I’d recommend some of the following psalms. Psalm 1 and 2 introduce the whole book, so they would be a good place to start. Some people think of Psalm 1 as the introduction since it comes first, but it takes Psalm 1 and 2 to give a proper introduction. Psalm one points us to God’s word as our source of life and blessing. Psalm 2 then points us to God’s anointed king, the Messiah, as the one whom we must obey. We eventually discover that these two come together in the person of Jesus Christ. And properly understood, He is the focus of the Psalter.

Then, I would suggest another pair of Psalms, 22 and 23, the crucified Messiah and the God the Shepherd. Psalm 22 is one of the most clearly messianic Psalms. The NT confirms that this Psalm points to the cross (Jesus quotes verse 1 on the cross). Then Psalm 23 presents to us the care of God for his people with the image of a shepherd, and this image becomes a central theme throughout the rest of Scripture, not just for God but for those whom God calls to lead and care for His people. The crucified one is our Shepherd.

Then, it would be very healthy to preach on a psalm of lament. These are characterized in various ways, but any of the psalms which show the psalmist crying out to God, often complaining to God about the wrongs he is suffering will be helpful to our people. Our society tends either to ignore suffering, thinking it impolite to talk about or to be indicative of a lack of faith, or to wallow in self-pity. None of these are healthy or helpful. The psalms of lament are there to give us words and models for laying our complaints before God in faith. Two possibilities are Psalm 37 and 73 (they stick in my mind because their numbers are the inverse of one another). These psalms wrestle with the age old problem of the prospering of the wicked- “If God really exists, why am I suffering while I try to obey him and those people who have no concern for God have everything going their way?” It is helpful to learn that we can bring this complaint to God and to see some of the answer to such concerns.

Then, I would want to include Psalm 100 because it is a classic psalm of praise. Note the implicit missionary theme since the call to praise God is addressed to the whole earth. Note as well that we are commanded to praise God. Singing is not optional, despite the fact that some men say they just don’t’ sing. It is important for us to reckon with the greatness of God which is worthy of our praise and to recognize that in response to such a God we must either sin or sing. And, if you’re preaching Psalm 100, it would be great to sing the old metered version of this Psalm, “All People that in Earth Do Dwell.”

I mentioned the Psalms of Ascent earlier, and if I was seeking to be representative of the Psalter I’d pick a couple of them. Psalm 127 or 128 are great family psalms and can fit Fathers’ Day well. Lastly, I’d want to conclude a summary series with Psalm 150, which serves as a climax and conclusion of the book. The psalms stand as prayers and praises to teach the people of God how to talk to God. Thus, along the way they deal with sin, suffering and trouble. Lament psalms are the most common. But as the Psalter draws to a close the focus is more and more praise, until Psalm 150 is unmixed and unbridled praise. This does not ignore the suffering and sin in this life but helps us to see that history is moving toward the time when all care dissolves into praise when Jesus returns and wipes away every tear.

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