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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Who may ascend the hill of the LORD?
Text:Psalms 24:3 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:God The Son
 
Preached:2014-05-29
Added:2014-12-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

 

Hymn 40:1,2,3

Psalm 99:1,2,5,6

Psalm 24:2,3,5

Hymn 41:1,2,3

Hymn 40:4,5

 

Read:  Psalm 24; Acts 1:1-14

Text:  Psalm 24:3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we gather tonight to commemorate the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, we come not to mourn, but to rejoice.  In a sense, that is striking!  Our Lord Jesus Christ is gone, He is in heaven.  Until we go to Him or the time comes that He returns to us on earth we will never see Him in the flesh, we will never see Him face to face.  And yet we rejoice!  And not only us: His disciples also rejoiced when the Lord ascended into heaven.  After His ascension, Luke 24:52,53 says,

“And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.”

But there is a reason why both the disciples and we today rejoice, and that is this: Christ’s ascension is the culmination, the crowning of what He had come to this earth to do.  He completed His work of redemption and that is why He could ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of the Father.  And not only Him, but all of us who are in Christ Jesus may now – to use the words of Psalm 24 – ascend the hill of God and come into the presence of the Father!

I preach to you the good news concerning Christ’s ascension from Psalm 24 verse 3 under the following theme:

Who may ascend the Hill of the LORD?

  1. This is not possible for sinful man.
  2. This was accomplished by the King of Glory.
  3. This is now possible for the people of God.

1. This is not possible for sinful man.

Psalm 24 is a psalm that has often been associated with Ascension Day, not because it is a direct prophecy of the ascension of our Lord into heaven, but because He is the One who, ultimately, “ascended into the hill of the LORD”, verse 3, and He is the One is the King of kings, the Lord of lords and so the King of Glory.

Many Bible commentators suggest that Psalm 24 was written by David for the occasion when the Ark of the Covenant was brought up to Jerusalem.  The Ark of the Covenant was that gold-covered box, with the Mercy Seat on the top and two cherubim guarding the Mercy Seat.  It was the place where the Lord dwelled with His people.  Concerning the Ark of the Covenant the LORD said in Exodus 25:21,22

21 You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. 22 And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.

So the Ark of the Covenant was the place where God met with His people.  To approach the Ark was, in a very real sense, to approach the LORD God Himself.  That is why the Ark was to be kept in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, in the Most Holy Place, behind a thick curtain, separate from sinful man.  And that is why only the high priest could approach the ark, and He only once a year after making a sacrifice for sin. 

But many years before, in the time of Eli the priest, the ark had been taken into battle and lost to the Philistines.  The Ark came back to the people of Israel, but had been kept in the home of Abinadab in the small city of Kirjath Jaerim.  And now, years later, the Ark was coming “home”, it would once more be in the center of Israel, it would once more be at the center of Israel’s worship.  And so in a real way it was as though God Himself would once more be in the midst of His people.  The bringing of the ark up to the tabernacle in Jerusalem was an amazing event, therefore, and so it would make sense to think of Psalm 24 being composed with this in mind.

The psalm begins in verse 1 and 2 by describing the greatness of the LORD:

“The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.  For He founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.”

The world, the whole world, belongs to the LORD.  He is the One who made it and He is the One who maintains it.  And not only does the world itself belong to the LORD, but so does its fullness, so does every thing and every one that lives in it.  And so He dwells in all the earth also.  It is true that in the days of the Old Testament the city of Jerusalem was the city of God and, with the ark of the covenant being taken up to the tabernacle in Jerusalem, God was present in Jerusalem in a special way.  But Israel was never to think of God as a local deity, as the God of Jerusalem but not of the world, as the God for the Jews but not for others.  And so the psalms consistently praise God for His greatness.

Psalm 48:1,

“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised!”

Psalm 97:1,

“The LORD reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad!”

Psalm 117:1,

“Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!”

And Psalm 99:1,2 reflects both on the fact that God dwelled in a special way on the ark of the covenant, between the cherubim, and also that His presence is over all the earth.

 “The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble!  He dwells between the cherubim; let the earth be moved!  The LORD is great in Zion, and He is high above all the people.  Let them praise Your great and awesome name – He is Holy.”

And so when Psalm 24 begins by confessing that “The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” it calls us to have a right understanding of who our God is, what He is like.  Not only is He holy, as Psalm 24 will also make clear, but He is the great God of heaven and earth!  Yes, He is the King of glory.

We need to know this and we need to confess this not just so that we can have a better understanding of who God is, but also so that we might have a better understanding of who we are, and what it means for us to approach the holy throne of God.  Since our God is so great, when Psalm 24:3 asks, “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?” then we realize that coming into presence of such a great and holy God is no small thing!

But what does it mean to “ascend the hill of the LORD” and to “stand in His holy place”?  When Psalm 24 speaks about the hill of the LORD this means, in the first place, the place where the LORD lived among His people.  It was the place where first the tabernacle and later the temple could be found.  And so from the time of David onward, “the hill of the LORD” was in Jerusalem, was Mount Zion.

But more generally, to ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in God’s holy place is to come into the presence of the Lord to be with Him, to stand before His holiness, to enjoy full and uninterrupted communion with Him.  And so for us “the hill of the LORD” is no longer Mount Zion in Jerusalem but it is God’s throne in heaven itself.

But we serve a great and a holy God!  And so who is worthy to go up to Him, to stand in His holy place?  Not everyone but only, Psalm 24:4 says,

“He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully.”

To have clean hands and a pure heart is to be holy, without sin.  Even more, it is to have a heart that is holy so that what you do outwardly comes out of who you are inwardly.  So the person who is to approach the holy throne of God must himself be holy.

  Further, verse 4 says, the one who is able to ascend the hill of the LORD must be one “who has not lifted up his soul to an idol.”  He must have a right relationship with the God whom he serves.

  And he must also have a right relationship with others: he must not be one who has sworn falsely or deceitfully. 

Or, to put all of this in another way, the one who is able to come into the hill of the LORD, who may stand in His presence, is the one who truly loves the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his strength and with all his mind, and who also truly loves his neighbor as himself.

But who can really do that?  Who is really able to ascend the hill of the LORD and stand in His holy place?

There was a time when this was possible.  There was a time when mankind could do this, when man could walk with God and there was nothing to hinder or interrupt their fellowship with Him.  That time was when Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden.  But we know what happened:  we know that man sinned.  We know that Adam and Eve rejected the clear word of the Lord and instead followed the deceitful word of the Serpent, of Satan.  We know that by this act our communion with God was lost, our relationship with Him was broken and that the fall into sin meant that man had separated himself from the “hill of the Lord”, from His holy place.

And we also know that when we consider ourselves in the light of the greatness and the holiness of God, we do not have clean hands, we do not have a pure heart, we have not loved the LORD with all our heart, soul and mind nor have we truly loved our neighbor as ourselves.

And that means that for us, for as long as we remain in our sin-filled state, there is no way that we may ascend into the hill of the LORD.  It is simply not possible.

But there is One – and only One – who does have clean hands and a pure heart, and that One is the One of whom God the Father said,

“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

And it was this Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who ascended into the hill of the LORD, who went up not just to Jerusalem but who ascended into heaven and who now sits at the right hand of the Father.  We shall see this further in our second point.

 

2. This was accomplished by the King of Glory.

If Psalm 24 was written with the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem in mind, it makes sense why, in verse 7-10, the focus turns to “the king of glory”.  The Ark represented the presence of the LORD, and now the Ark was being taken in to Jerusalem to symbolize God Himself coming in to the city.  And this was right, for while Jerusalem was “the city of David” is was more the city of the Great King, the King of Glory.  And now with the Ark of the Covenant being taken into the city of Jerusalem, God’s people were proclaiming that the King of Glory was coming into His city.  And so the people sang,

“Lift up your heads, O you gates!  And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!  And the King of glory shall come in.”  (Psalm 24:7)

The gates of the city were called to lift up their heads, to stand to attention; these gates were to be flung open that the King of glory might come in to the city.  But who is this King of glory?

“The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.”  (Psalm 24:8)

Yes, the Conquering King, the One who had defeated His enemy, was coming in to His own city!  There He would live with His people.  And there all those who had clean hands and pure heart were able to ascend His holy hill and stand in the presence of Holy God, of the King of Glory.

But the Ark of the Covenant was not the LORD God Himself.  Rather, the Ark showed the way to God, the way to have access to Him.  For on the Ark was the Mercy Seat, the place where God would meet with His people.  But the God of Creation can not be approached by sinful and unholy people.  And indeed of the people of Israel too, there were none who truly had clean hands or a pure heart.  But there we see the beauty of the Ark of the Covenant!  For on the Mercy Seat, once every year, the priest could come to sprinkle blood as a covering for sin, so that having their sin covered, atoned for, God’s people could once more “ascend the hill of God”, could once more enter into His presence.

But the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat that was on the Ark could not save in themselves; rather they pointed to a Day that would come when the True King of Glory would enter through the gates of Jerusalem, when He would be crucified and His blood poured out for the full salvation of all His people.  And that King, of course, is our Lord Jesus Christ.

Indeed Christ is not just our Saviour: He is also our King!  For not only did He die, but He also rose again on the third day and in that way He conquered sin and Satan.   Yes, He showed Himself to be “the LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.”  And now in Acts 1, having risen from the dead and about to ascend into heaven, He told His disciples that since all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him, He would give to His disciples the power of His Holy Spirit to declare His Lordship, His Kingship, to the whole earth.  And this is then what the disciples were to do, Acts 1:8b,

“. . . And you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

The earth belongs to the LORD, and all its fullness, and so the world must hear this!

And then having instructed His disciples to declare to the whole earth that He, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the King of Glory, Acts 1:9 says this:

“Now when He has spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”

And so Christ ascended the hill of the LORD.  Jesus Christ, the One who alone has clean hands and a pure heart, the One who alone fully and completely did His Father’s will, was taken up from the earth into heaven, into the heavenly throne room of the Father.  And there He was received by the Father; then the everlasting doors were opened to receive the King.

And so ultimately the question of Psalm 24:3, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD, or who may stand in his holy place?” is answered in Jesus Christ.

But because our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven, in Him it is once more possible for us, the people of God, to also ascend that hill and come into His presence.  And so we come to our third point.

 

3. This is now possible for the people of God.

When our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, no one ascended into heaven with Him.  He alone had come to do His Father’s will, and He alone died and rose again for the salvation of His people.  And so He alone ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father.

  And yet He is not alone.  Just as the Ark of the Covenant was accompanied by throngs of joyous people – even David himself danced before the Ark – so we who are in Christ Jesus accompany Him, following Christ into heaven, ascending the hill of the Lord.  Today we may come to the LORD, seeking His blessing and seeking the righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ.  For just as the Ark was carried into Jerusalem the people of Israel could be reminded that they could come before the LORD on account of the blood of the covenant that was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat so we may come to our Father who is in heaven through the blood of Jesus Christ!  In Jesus Christ we too may ascend the hill of the LORD, we may enter into the presence of holy God!  The ascended Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven at the Father’s right hand for our benefit and we may come to the Father through Him. 

And so now we look to Jesus, the ascended Lord, the King of glory and looking to Him we may come and stand in the holy place, in the presence of our God.  For in Jesus Christ our hands are made clean and our hearts made pure.  And it is Jesus Christ, our ascended Lord that we may receive the blessed promise of Psalm 24:5,

“He shall receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

Yes, that is yours and that is mine in Christ Jesus:  the blessing from the Lord and the righteousness that comes not from within ourselves but from the God of our salvation!  

Brothers and sisters, how is it with you?  Did you come church tonight to rejoice in the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ?  Do you believe that though you and I are, by nature, unworthy to ascend the hill of the LORD, in Christ we have been made worthy and may come to the Father through Him?  Is it now your greatest desire to enter the presence of our holy God and to worship Him who is the King of glory?  Is your heart set on Christ and the new life that is yours in Him?  Oh what a joy it is to have a Saviour who is the King of glory!  What a blessing it is that in Him we may with boldness enter the Throne Room of our heavenly Father!  How beautiful it is to have the gates of heaven flung open not just for the Ascended Lord but for all of us who are in Christ Jesus!  Praise the LORD for Christ’s ascension into heaven!  Praise the LORD that His being received into the presence of the Father is our guarantee that we too may stand in His holy place!   Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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