Read Psalm 122. Introduce as a psalm of joy in the church, the gathering of the people of God.
Before I became a Christian I had been to church services somewhere around 800 times, give or take. My senior year in high school I didn’t go to church for some of that time because I worked the lunch time shift at The Mad Italian—great restaurant in Atlanta, famous for its cheese-steaks and pasta.
For those hundreds of times going to church—and this was a series of Episcopal Churches—my attitude wasn’t exactly resentment. It was something like how I felt having to get up and go to school every day. Just one of the duties of life you endured and got through.
After a while I could tell in the service where we had turned the corner and were in the home stretch. Soon we’d be in the last song where they’d carry the cross back out of the sanctuary—it was called a “sanctuary” in that church—and then we’d be dismissed and greet the pastor on the way out.
Church was standing and sitting at the appropriate times, singing songs I didn’t know well and didn’t really understand. (This was definitely not U2 or REM.) It was being with people who were nice but not the key voices in my life. For several of those years I was an usher with my dad, which was great, because it was important to be outside the sanctuary to open the door for people going in. Such an important duty required that I not be inside where the service was happening.
And then…I got saved. Halfway through my freshman year at Kenyon College I got saved. Going to church was never the same again.
Suddenly I understood what was being said and sung and what it really meant to take the Lord’s Supper.
But that feeling of attending church as one of the duties of life you have to trudge through can still be there. Even as a pastor it can be there.
In CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters he talks about the church as it really is, “spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.” But that he says is “quite invisible” to us most of the time.
Lewis says we so often see instead a poorly designed building with slightly awkward people singing a little out of tune with squeaky shoes and greasy hair. We get distracted by the visible and lose sight of what’s true.
And if you’re not a Christian this might be true for you as well.
Psalm 122 is a way of calling us back to see the church for what it really is. And it calls us to rejoice in what it really is.
A heart for God means a heart for the people of God gathered as God intends.
The Gathering: (1) Gathering in God’s Presence (vv. 1–2); (2) Gathering in God’s City (vv. 3–5); (3) Gathering with God’s People (vv. 6–9).
We’ll look first at the opening two verses. We learn it’s “A Song of Ascents.” A pilgrim song. A song for those three times a year when the Israelites were to leave their work and homes behind and gather in the place God designated. The place where the ark of the covenant was. For worship. For sacrifice. For fellowship.
You have to imagine the people spread throughout the nation. Hard at work on their farms. Working to survive. Scattered in small villages and towns. Life would be filled with all the normal dreariness and labor.
And then suddenly it’s time to go. It’s time to go to the house of the LORD. It’s time to leave behind the normal hardships and gather with the people of God. To feast. To sing. To sacrifice. To remember once again what it meant to belong to God’s people. Unique in all the earth.
It was either gathering with God’s people for the Passover and remembering God’s salvation of them from Egypt. Or the Pentecost and celebrating the harvest. Or it was the Feast of Booths and the Day of Atonement, that one special day in the year when the high priest could go into the very presence of God. Any of these days would be a high point in the year.
Our translation says, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the LORD.” “I was glad” can sound a little flat to our ears. But it isn’t! David is saying, “I rejoiced! I was filled with joy!”
This psalm is written by David, so the gathering point at this time would be Jerusalem. That’s where he had set up a tabernacle, a tent, for “the ark of God” (2 Sam 7:2).
But because God’s name was on that place in a special way, this was where the gathering would be.
This tent where the “ark of God” was, this smallish gold-plated wood chest. About the size of this pulpit.
The joy was in this combination of God’s people, God’s place, God’s king, and God’s presence. All these brought together. This was the culmination of what it meant to be a Jew at that time.
But for us to read this song correctly we need to think about It’s as Christians.
THE TEMPLE: OLD TO NEW:
THE TEMPLE: OLD TO NEW
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Exod 25:8)
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. (Matt 27:51)
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19–20)
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor 3:16–17)
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. (Rev 21:22)
Where is God’s presence now? It’s in God’s temple! Where is God’s temple? “You are God’s temple and…God’s Spirit dwells in you!” (1 Cor 3:16).
It almost sounds impossible. How could a simple church building with a congregation that meets dozens of times every single year rival the glory of the Jewish temple? Christ has done it. He brought a permanent change to the worship of the people of God.
God’s presence is no longer the rare experience for the high priests of Israel. Being in God’s presence continually is what it means to be a Christian.
And when we gather in his name, that presence gets magnified.
David’s joy in “the house of the LORD” then inspires this praise of Jerusalem itself.
Strength, praise, justice, the city of the king—all these converged in Jerusalem in a unique way in the OT.
It was David that captured Jerusalem after he became king. He established that city as his capital. It would remain the geographical center of God’s purposes for the next thousand years.
No clear explanation for why David chose this place. It was about 4 miles south of where King Saul had established his place of rule in Gibeah (1 Sam 10:26).
Jerusalem is a good choice in terms of its strategic military location, natural resources like water, and being central for trade routes.
King David had been on the run throughout all of Israel so he knew the landscape. His would have known this location was the best one.
And in the astounding providence of God, Jerusalem remains the capital city of Israel in the Middle East.
But once again let’s do a quick overview of Jerusalem in spiritual terms.
What does it mean to Christians now in spiritual terms?
Clearly from King David to King Jesus pouring out the Spirit at Pentecost Jerusalem is the geographic center. But after Jesus dies there, rises there, and then pours out the Spirit there? What then?
JERUSALEM: OLD TO NEW:
JERUSALEM: OLD TO NEW:
“Jerusalem, the city that the LORD had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put his name there.” (2 Chronicles 12:13)
But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:26)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering. (Hebrews 12:22)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:1–2)
As Christians we are citizens of “the heavenly Jerusalem.” That’s the important one. The earthly city has historical importance. But it’s “the Jerusalem above,” “the heavenly Jerusalem,” that’s the important one.
And we long for “new Jerusalem,” when it comes down from heaven and there’s a “new heaven and a new earth.” Then we will dwell forever with the Lord in the new creation. That’s our longing!
It is in the church where we find citizens of “the Jerusalem above.”
Where do pilgrims go to find protection in a hostile world? The church.
Where do pilgrims go to find the true praises of God in a world that worships a whole pantheon of false gods? The church.
Where do pilgrims go to find a true understanding of justice and fairness and escape from the oppressions of the world? The church.
In these last verses David steps back a bit and reflects on this city and this place of worship and God’s people.
And what he longs for is that these people would know God’s “peace,” shalom.
This is what he wants for “my brothers and companions.”
He will “seek your good.” “Good” (tov) “a broad term…includes everything that promotes, preserves or enhances life” (Ross, III:633).
In our last quick “OLD TO NEW” we want to think about these “brothers and companions.” These are the people of God. They are the ones David calls “my brothers and companions.”
GOD’S PEOPLE: OLD TO NEW.
GOD’S PEOPLE: OLD TO NEW
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deut 7:6)
“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:29)
And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:16)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10)
Do you hear that?
Together we are “brothers and companions.”
For these brothers and these companions we “PRAY FOR PEACE” and “SEEK YOUR GOOD.”
Psalm 122 is telling us a church gathering is like nothing else on earth:
So, yes! “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”
As fellow pilgrims on this journey together, let us go to the house of the LORD!
Join us on June 6th – Reunion Sunday!
Discipline yourself to see what’s really happening here and now what our sinful hearts can make us think is happening.
The Lord’s Day gathering is God’s people together in God’s place to be in God’s presence—Repeat. Repeat.
But you might not be a Christian. What about you?
Prayer and Closing Song
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chp 16.
 Allen Ross, Psalms, III:627.
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