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Let Us Go To the House of the Lord! (Ps 122)

May 30, 2021

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Series: A Heart for God
Scripture: Psalm 122

Introduction

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.[1]

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.

  • You look around and might see churches as the melting pot of the normal, the earthly, the human.
  • But I hope Psalm 122 helps you see there’s more going on here than you might have expected.
  • There’s more to see here than you can see with your eyes or hear with your ears.
  • There’s something heavenly and spiritual about this gathering.

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).

I. Gathering in God’s Presence (122:1–2)

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!”[2]

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.

  • Wherever the ark was that was “the house of the LORD.”
  • The place of the very presence of God.
  • This was the center and high point of life.

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.

II. Gathering in God’s City (122:3–5)

David’s joy in “the house of the LORD” then inspires this praise of Jerusalem itself.

  • It’s strength and security: “built as a city that is bound firmly together” (Ps 122:3)
  • It’s divine status: This is where God chose to set his name. Where “the tribes go up…as was decreed” (Ps 122:4).
  • It’s place of praise: “to give thanks/praise to the name of the LORD” (Ps 122:4).
  • It’s place of justice and order: “thrones for judgment were set…thrones of the house of David” (Ps 122:5).

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.”

  • The security David spoke about.
  • The praise David spoke about.
  • Even the justice David spoke about.

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. 

III. Gathering with God’s People (122:6–9)

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.

  • Three times he speaks of “peace”—Says we should pray for it (v. 6), then he prays for it twice (vv. 7, 8).
  • Shalolm is “more than the absence of war…a condition in which everyone and everything can live undisturbed and flourish….Has the ideas of well-being, health, peace, and prosperity in its usage” (Ross, III:632).

This is what he wants for “my brothers and companions.”

  • Brothers—connected to by blood
  • Companions—connected to by friendship

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?

  • Not two peoples of God…..It’s one people.
  • All who believe—whether Jew or Gentile—are sons of Abraham and part of the “Israel of God,” God’s chosen people!—1 Peter 2:9–10.

 Together we are “brothers and companions.”

  • “Brothers”—because we’re connected by blood, the blood of Jesus.
  • “Companions”—because we’re connected by fellowship. We are committed to bearing one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2) and co-laboring in Christ’s mission together (Matt 28:19–20).

For these brothers and these companions we “PRAY FOR PEACE” and “SEEK YOUR GOOD.”

  • If we need to PRAY and SEEK, that tells us there will be OBSTACLES (thank you to Maria Yarley for this insight).
  • In our own hearts.
  • In the church.
  • In the culture.
  • We have a part to play. Work for it, pray for it.

Conclusion

Psalm 122 is telling us a church gathering is like nothing else on earth:

  • It is gathering in the very presence of God—even on Sundays when we don’t FEEL God’s presence.
  • It is the gathering of citizens of the new Jerusalem—even when we’re distracted by our citizenship on earth.
  • It’s the gathering of the people of God—even when we’re tempted to see them in the words of Switchfoot: “Painfully uncool, The church of the dropouts, The losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools.”
  • At times we only see them as a “letdown,” but not what Switchfoot called it.
  • “The Beautiful Letdown”—marked by the Beauty of God himself.

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?

  • Know that the King himself, the Lord Jesus Christ is inviting you.
  • His invitation goes out to you:
  • “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)
  • God himself says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isa 55:1)
  • King Jesus at one the pilgrim feasts sent out his invitation again: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink!” (John 7:37).
  • Friend, come to the gathering.
  • Not as a stranger but as a guest—personally welcomed by Jesus.
  • Turn away from your sins and believe in Jesus and join the gathering.

Prayer and Closing Song

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chp 16.

[2] Allen Ross, Psalms, III:627.

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