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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:Living in God's Presence
Text:Psalms 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:All of scripture points to Jesus Christ
 
Preached:2006
Added:2006-12-29
Updated:2008-11-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 147:1-2
Hymn 7:9 (after the Law)
Psalm 24:1-5
Psalm 15:1-3
Hymn 55:1-5

Reading: Hebrews 9:1-14
Text: Psalm 15
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

I’m sure that many of you have been to various sports events. During the winter, perhaps you go to see the Canucks [or some other NHL team]. Maybe at other times of year, it’s the BC Lions [or some other CFL team]. Well, if you go, you know that there is only one way to get in the door. You need to have a ticket. This happens more often in life. Various kinds of clubs have memberships – only members are normally allowed. It happens in the church too. Think of the last time you celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Of course, anyone can enter our building and sit in the pew – this is a public event. But if you’re going to take part in the Lord’s Supper, if you’re going to eat the bread and drink the wine, normally you have to be a member. We could add all kinds of other examples, but I think we all recognize that there are conditions attached to gaining entry to all kinds of things, to both the sacred and the mundane.

Considering that, we shouldn’t really be surprised by the question posed in our text. David asks the LORD the question: who can dwell in your sanctuary? Who can live on your holy hill? What he’s really asking is: who can come and live near to God? What kinds of conditions are attached to gaining access to God’s blessing presence? So, the theme for the sermon is that simple question:

Who can come and live in the presence of a holy God?

In the sermon we’ll look at:

  1. Dissecting the question.
  2. Discovering the answer.
  3. Depending on the promise

1. Dissecting the question

The Psalm has a title which tells us that David wrote it. We have no reason to question that. That brings us to the historical context. The question being asked speaks of God’s sanctuary, of God’s holy hill. Perhaps we right away think of the temple on Mount Zion. But remember that the temple wasn’t built until the time of Solomon. During David’s reign there was a strange situation where there were two centres of worship in Israel. On the one hand, there was Gibeon where the tabernacle was located. On the other hand, David eventually brought the ark to Jerusalem and it was on Mount Zion, where the temple would be built. On the one hand, the word “Gibeon” in Hebrew means ‘hill,’ but on the other hand Psalm 2:5 clearly calls Mount Zion “God’s holy hill.” So, we’re left with some ambiguity about what is actually being referred to in verse 1. Nevertheless, we can say with certainty that the first Jewish readers of this Psalm would have understood this as referring to the dwelling place of God in the place of worship, wherever that might be. They would have understood it as referring to the holy of holies or to the innermost place where the ark was located.

So, the question is who can dwell in God’s sanctuary, be close to him, live with him in his presence? If we literally translate the first part of verse 1, it says, “Yahweh, who can sojourn in your tent?” Sojourning is a bit different than dwelling – sojourning means staying around temporarily, enjoying the hospitality of a host. Then in the next line of verse 1, “Who may live on your holy hill?” -- that has in view a more permanent kind of staying around, more like enjoying the blessings of living with a generous Father in his house.

These questions have to be seen against the background of Old Testament worship, specifically what happened with the high priest. We read about that in Hebrews 9. Once per year the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies, into the innermost sanctuary of the tabernacle or temple. This was on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The High Priest could not do this casually. There was a lot of preparation involved – after all, he was coming into the presence of the Holy One of Israel. When he came in, he could not come unprepared. He had to come with blood. He had to come with prayers. And when he did come in to the Holy of Holies, he had to do his work quickly and then leave. He could not stay around for even a short time. Why not? Psalm 5:4 tells us that evil cannot sojourn, cannot dwell even temporarily with a holy God.

This shows us that the question in verse 1 is a rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is a question for which the answer is obvious. And here the answer, for anybody who knows their Bible, the answer is that no one can sojourn with God. No mere sinful human being can come into God’s presence to stay for even a short time. Much less can someone live with God in any kind of permanent way! When we look at the question of Psalm 15 with Old Testament eyes, we’re left with an emptiness, a realization that something more is needed if we’re to have a meaningful relationship with our God. We’re left with a desire that there would somehow be a way out of this. And there is. We’ll see that as we look at the answer offered in this Psalm.

2. Discovering the answer.

The answer in the Psalm seems to reinforce the rhetorical question in verse 1. It does this by means of a number of conditions or qualities of the person who can live in the presence of the Holy One. Depending on how you count them, there are either 10 or 12. Let’s briefly review what they are.

Verse 2 begins with two general things and one specific thing. But these things appear to be the most difficult. David tells us that this person’s walk is blameless. “Blameless” or “perfect” -- that word recalls our original state at creation. When Adam and Eve were created, they were whole. They were living up to the purpose for which they were created – in other words, they were living for God’s glory, consistently, 24/7. It’s the same with the person who can sojourn in the LORD’s sanctuary, who can live on God’s holy hill.

Such a person also does what is righteous. This means that this person is consistently loyal to his obligations. Whether his obligations are to God or his neighbour, this person can always be counted on to do the right thing.

Then verse 2 adds that he speaks truth from his heart. So, it’s not just a matter of the external actions, there’s also a certain inner attitude. He speaks truth in his heart, he speaks truth from his heart. The lie, which we associate with the Father of Lies (the devil), the lie has no place in his heart, no place in his life. Are you starting to sense the impossibly high standards that are laid out here?

Those high standards continue through the other verses. Verse 3 tells us that this person takes no gossip or slander upon his tongue. In other words, secretly speaking against other people just never happens in his life. He does no evil to his neighbour, never speaks against his neighbour. Verse 4 tells us that such a person despises those who are vile. Those who are vile show outright contempt and disrespect towards the LORD. This person finds it difficult to be around such people. Instead, he prefers to be around those who fear Yahweh, those who respect God and hold him in honour. Those are the ones that he will honour, the ones whom he will find worthy of respect, the ones that he loves to be near. Verse 4 adds that this person is honest and truthful with his oaths – he makes an oath and keeps it. He’s the one who can truly say, “Promises made, promises kept.” And then in verse 5, we read that this person lends his money without usury. That’s a reference to the Old Testament laws which forbid Israelites from charging interest to one another on loans. God’s people were not allowed to take interest from one another, though they were allowed to do so with foreigners. Finally, verse 5 tells us that this man does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He can’t be moved to hurt somebody else for the sake of financial gain.

Now some of those last items might seem like they’re fairly simple, at least for us. But in an Old Testament context, these things would have gone against the cultural grain. The evidence says that Israelites made all kinds of rationalizations to charge one another interest. And don’t forget the words of the Lord Jesus to the Jews about their habits of swearing oaths. If they swore an oath by the temple, they could get away with breaking it. But if they swore an oath by the gold of the temple, then they were obliged to do what they had sworn. Well, Psalm 15 sings a different tune. The man who would dwell with God, even temporarily, has to be a consistent oath-keeper. And in case we’ve forgotten, the second verse lays out an impossibly high ideal. Even if you’ve got those external things down pat, verse 2 is still standing there and pointing its finger at you.

All of this leads us to the obvious answer: no one can dwell with God. No one can live on God’s holy hill. To live with God in this way, we need wholeness. We need holiness. And no mere human being has this. We’re all broken. We’re all unholy. And in this way, this Psalm points us to look outside of ourselves. If we’re to find an answer to what seems to be at first glance a rhetorical question, the answer cannot be within us. Instead, we have to look to God and the answer he has given.

His answer is in the Second Adam. His answer is in Christ. This Psalm points us to Jesus Christ as the answer to the question of verse 1. Because who else other than Christ is the one whose walk is blameless? Who else besides Christ has consistently done what is righteous? Besides Christ, who else has spoken the truth in and from his heart? He is the truth! His life mirrored God’s law perfectly in every respect, from slander to oath keeping, to justice – in every way Christ is the one. And we saw from our reading of Hebrews 9 that it is Christ who has earned the right to enter the sanctuary, to enter into the holy of holies. Our Lord Jesus entered by his own blood and then he didn’t just stay for a while. No, the Bible makes it clear that he sat down! His work was finished. He could stay in the sanctuary forever! He could live on God’s holy hill permanently.

When we see Christ in this Psalm, then we no longer see a rhetorical question in verse 1. When we see the Lord Jesus and his life reflected in these lines, we’re no longer left with a sense of emptiness. There is one who fits this description perfectly!

Now if we just left it at that, it wouldn’t be of much help. But the good news is that by faith we are tied to this Saviour. Not merely tied, but unified in the deepest possible way. We have spiritual union with him, we are in Christ. That has two consequences for our lives as believers.

The first consequence is that because we have union with Christ, we too can live with God. When we read this Psalm with Old Testament eyes we see a barrier. When we read this Psalm with our eyes on Christ and our union with him, this Psalm shows us a gateway. Through Christ, we enter into the presence of our heavenly Father. We experience God’s presence in our lives, not just temporarily, but eternally. More wonderfully, he also makes his dwelling with us through the Holy Spirit. In principle, there is no more distance between God and us. We are in the closest, most intimate relationship imaginable.

The second consequence is that our union with Christ leads us to see verses 2 to 5 as a guide to who we should be. If this is what Christ is like, and we have union with him, then shouldn’t our lives be looking the same way? These verses show us the way of thankful and loving covenant obedience. The Lord Jesus is the perfect priest who has entered into the Holy of Holies. We are in him. Now think about that for a minute. We are in him. He is in the Holy of Holies. So, that means that we too have entered in. At least in principle. For us, that means that our lives have to reflect who we are in principle! The principle has to be put into practice here on the ground. We have to be who we are. Doing righteousness, for example. Are we the kind of people that others depend on and trust? Do we show ourselves loyal to God and our neighbour? Or what about the point of despising vile men? For us, we could ask: “Are we comfortable with people who show contempt and disrespect for the holy God?” And verses 2 to 5 lead us to ask more such questions, but I think you can grasp the general direction in which we need to be thinking. God has set high standards in his Word – Christ has met those high standards, we are in Christ, we will be striving to live according to those standards too! In this way, through Christ and his work in us, we will be living in God’s presence now and eternally. There’s more about that in the promise at the end of this psalm.

3. Depending on the promise.

The last lines of verse 5 contain the simple promise, “He who does these things will never be shaken.” To be shaken means that you’re wobbling under God’s judgment. Elsewhere in the Bible, it’s the wicked who are shaken and dispossessed – they experience God’s justice. Meanwhile, it’s the righteous who stand fast and are firmly established. They have the house built on the rock. So, when David says, “he who does these things will never be shaken,” he’s really saying that such a man will not face eternal judgment and condemnation.

Well, why not? Go back to verse 1. We’re talking about one who can live with a Holy God. We’re talking about the God whom Scripture describes as a consuming fire. The God whom Scripture tells us that no one can see and live. This is the God before whom Isaiah fell trembling in Isaiah 6: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” But now this man in Psalm 15 dwells with such a God. If we reflect on that, then the promise of verse 5 makes sense. For if God would allow such a person to dwell in his presence, who would there be to harm him? If the Almighty Judge and ruler of the universe accepts you, who would be left to condemn you?

Do you see the promise?! The promise is for acceptance. Ephesians 1:6 tells us that we are accepted in the Beloved, that is in Christ (I love that passage, so beautiful!). And for this reason we are dwelling with God. For this reason, we have been adopted into his family. For this reason, we will never be shaken. We will never be shaken, we will never face judgment, because of who we are in Christ. In fact, because of the promise, we can look forward to the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 15. The words of Revelation 21:3 are probably familiar to you. I’m sure the old cliché about familiarity and contempt won’t apply, however: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”

We have this rich promise. Now what are we supposed to do with it? Brothers and sisters, we have to hold on to it and depend on it. Things sometimes happen in our lives where we feel like we’re being blown over. We feel like we’re wobbling. Look to the promise. With faith in the Righteous One, you will not be shaken. That’s not to say that it won’t be difficult, that you won’t have doubts and questions. But when you go through that, the Rock of our salvation will be the one to help. Sometimes these truths are the only certain things you have. Depend on him and trust his promise for you in Jesus Christ. He will be your God and he will be near to you. You will not be shaken.

So, now we’re about to sing this Psalm. As we do so, remember who we’re singing about. This is Christ’s song. The words only have meaning for us as believers when we think about him while we’re singing. We sing in union with him, we sing recognizing his work in us, praying for his work in us. It’s all about Christ and who we are in him. AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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