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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Persevering believers find joy in going to the house of the LORD
Text:CD 5 Article 14 & Psalm 122 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-12-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 82

Psalm 46:1,2,5

Psalm 122

Hymn 1

Psalm 43

Scripture reading: Psalm 122

Catechism lesson: Canons of Dort 5.14

* 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 our Lord Jesus,

Imagine you’ve been told you have a terminal illness.  You pray and pray and ask God to give you more time.  Then imagine God gives you his Word:  you will recover from your disease and I will give you fifteen more years.  This is exactly what happened to King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20.  He was sick and about to die.  Hezekiah prayed desperately for God to spare his life.  God sent Isaiah the prophet to Hezekiah with the message that his life would be lengthened by fifteen years.  And that’s exactly what happened.

Now imagine that Hezekiah heard God’s message to him and then said to himself, “Well, I have fifteen more years, guaranteed by God.  I guess I don’t have to eat food or drink water ever again!”  Imagine if Hezekiah had concluded that since God had promised to extend his life, he wouldn’t have to eat or drink anymore.  No, he realized and we realize too that God was going to preserve his life for those extra fifteen years by using means.  Means are things that God works through to accomplish his purposes.  In the example of Hezekiah, God would work through the means of daily food and drink to add those extra fifteen years for the king.

Exactly the same principle applies to our perseverance as believers.  To remind you, perseverance is about sticking it out until we get to glory.  In the fifth chapter of the Canons of Dort, we confess that God promises to preserve the elect so that they will persevere.  God promises to keep us secure in our salvation.  A true believer in Jesus Christ will never fall away from grace and ultimately be lost.  Once you’re truly saved, you’re always saved.  But just as with Hezekiah’s perseverance in life, God has ordained means that will maintain, continue, and perfect his work of grace in our lives.  Just like Hezekiah couldn’t conclude that he didn’t need food and drink anymore, so also we with God’s promise of eternal security, we can’t conclude that we don’t need the means of grace.  This is what we’re confessing in article 14. 

We confess that God works through what we call the means of grace to preserve us so that we persevere.  What are the means of grace?  We’re talking about the Word of God and the sacraments.  When it comes to the Word of God, we can make use of it in our homes.  We can read and study the Bible by ourselves or with our families.  We can also do that in our study clubs or at catechism classes.  However, the most important way in which God administers this means of grace is through the public reading and preaching of Scripture.  And that would be in our Sunday worship services.  On Sundays we hear the “exhortations, threats, and promises” of God’s Word officially proclaimed to us.  In Sunday worship we occasionally also have our faith strengthened by the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  These are also means of grace – they are ways that God “maintains, continues, and perfects” his work of grace in us.

This afternoon I want to tie this into what God’s Word says, and specifically in Psalm 122:1,2.  We’re going to focus our attention on this Psalm and we’ll see how it speaks to us today as Christians who have eternal security in God’s promises.  I preach to you God’ Word as we see how persevering believers find joy in going to the house of the LORD.  We’ll answer three questions:

  1. Where is the house of the LORD?
  2. Why is there joy for us there?
  3. How does this relate to our perseverance?

Psalm 122 is called a “Song of Ascents.”  That means this was a psalm that was associated with pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  Every year, all Jewish men were required to go to Jerusalem for three important feasts.  From virtually anywhere in Israel, that meant going up – that’s why it’s called “A Song of Ascents.”  This particular psalm was written by King David, living about 1000 years before Christ.  He wrote it to inspire the people under his rule to go up to Jerusalem with the proper attitude.

Going up to Jerusalem meant you were going up “to the house of the LORD,” or “the house of Yahweh.”  In later times, this was understood to refer to the temple.  However, the temple on Mount Zion was built by David’s son, Solomon.  This psalm was originally written before that.  Before the temple was built by Solomon, the ark was in Jerusalem.  Originally the ark was housed in the tabernacle.  The tabernacle was a special tent for worshipping God.  It was originally built in the days of Moses during the Exodus from Egypt.  At the center of the tabernacle was a special room known as the Most Holy Place.  In the Most Holy Place was a large rectangular box known as the ark of the covenant.  The ark of the covenant was like God’s throne in the tabernacle – it symbolized that he was present to bless his people.  In the days of David, when he first became king, the ark was in the town of Kiriath-Jearim, while the tabernacle was in Gibeon – for some reason, they were separated.  But in 2 Samuel 6, King David brought the ark to Jerusalem.  Some kind of structure was set up there to house it and now that’s where the people of Israel came at least three times per year for worship.  So when David wrote it, “the house of the LORD” meant that structure housing the ark of the covenant.  But later, after Solomon built the temple, it was understood to refer to that.  Just to keep things simpler, let’s just say that “the house of the LORD” means the temple. 

But what was so special about going up to “the house of the LORD”?  What was so special about going up to the temple in Jerusalem?  Well, it was the place where God made his Name dwell.  That means God promised to be present there at the temple to bless his people.  Now if you know your theology, you know that God is present everywhere.  We say that God is omnipresent.  And he is.  God is present everywhere all the time.  But he is not present everywhere in the same way.  In the Old Testament, there was only one place where he promised to be present to bless his people and that was at the temple.  That’s what made the “house of the LORD” special.  God promised to bless his people there.

And how would he bless his people?  Through the sacrifices.  At the temple, there was a giant altar.  On the altar was a permanently burning fire where sacrifices would be made to God.  Many of these Old Testament sacrifices were geared towards God’s work of grace in the lives of his people.  They were means of grace for that era before the coming of Jesus Christ. 

The Old Testament temple is no longer there.  So how can we as Christians still sing Psalm 122?  If “the house of the LORD” no longer exists, is this even relevant to us?  Absolutely.  I’ll explain how.  The New Testament also speaks about the temple and it does so in several ways.  In John 2, you may remember that Jesus speaks about the temple, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Holy Spirit explains to us that Jesus was speaking about himself, about his body.  Jesus is the temple because he is the one in whom the fullness of God in present.  First Corinthians 3 ties into that picture of Jesus as the temple.  If Jesus is the temple, and the church is his body, then the church can also be described as the temple of God.  After all, God also dwells in his church through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  That’s why it says in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”  The “you” there is plural.  You could also translate, “Don’t all of you know that all of you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you all?”  The Bible is saying that the church is God’s temple.  Of course, that’s not referring to the church building.  The church building is not the house of the LORD.  But the people are!  When God’s people are gathered together, we are the temple of God – we are the house of the LORD.

And, just as in the Old Testament, God promises to be present to bless us.  When we gather for worship, God is present here in a way that’s different to how he’s present out in the mountains somewhere.  He’s present here with the promise to bless us.  In the words of the Canons of Dort in 5.14, he promises to be present to “maintain, continue, and perfect” his work of grace in the lives of believers.  He promises to be present to also bring regeneration and faith to those who don’t yet believe.  And so, when we read or sing Psalm 122 today, we don’t go wrong when we apply it to our church attendance.  In the Old Testament, it applied to God’s people gathered at the temple to be blessed by him.  In the New Testament, it applies to God’s people gathering as his church to be blessed by him.  It applies to our public worship.

So why the joy?  First of all, why did David try to inspire joy in the hearts of God’s people when they were invited to worship at God’s house in Jerusalem?

Again in the original Old Testament context, we have to go back to the sacrifices that were central in the temple.  The temple meant nothing apart from the sacrifices offered there.  The focus was on the altar and what happened there.  Animals were slaughtered in the temple precincts and then the priests placed them on the fire of the altar.  They would be consumed by the flames and the smoke would go up to heaven.  What were these sacrifices all about?  They were ultimately about reconciliation with God.  They were about relationship with God.  Sin breaks fellowship with God.  So, sin has to be addressed.  In the Old Testament, that was done through the sacrifices.  Because he ordained them to point ahead to Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross, God accepted these Old Testament sacrifices.  There was reconciliation at God’s house.  There was restored fellowship with the Holy One. 

That’s why Psalm 122 teaches God’s people to have joy at the prospect of going to the house of the LORD.  They could anticipate the renewal of their fellowship with God.  They could look forward to growing in their relationship with him.  When they arrive, as verse 2 indicates, their joy is fulfilled.  “Our feet have been standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.”  Now that we’ve entered the holy city, we see Mount Zion and we see the place where God dwells.  We see the place where God promises to bless us.  We see the temple and we know that there is God’s promise of fellowship and reconciliation with sinners.  That’s why we’re joyful!

We sometimes say the Old Testament was a time of shadows.  That language comes from the Belgic Confession in article 25.  We confess that all the shadows of the Old Testament have been fulfilled in the New Testament.  That image of a shadow is a good one.  A shadow doesn’t show you everything about the one who casts the shadow.  You can get some general ideas about a person by looking at their shadow.  But until you actually look at the person himself, you don’t really get an idea of what they look like in a lot of detail.  That’s the way it is with Christ and the Old Testament.  The Old Testament has shadows of Christ.  The New Testament shows us Christ himself in all the glory of his person and work.  Now if the Old Testament saints could have joy in the shadows, how much more shouldn’t we have joy with the full picture of the one who cast those shadows? 

In the Old Testament, their worship at the house of the LORD was focussed on the sacrifices.  In the New Testament, our worship at the house of the LORD is focussed on Jesus Christ, the one to whom all those sacrifices pointed.  At the center of our worship are two means of grace.  There’s the Word of God.  We hear it read and we hear it preached.  We hear its exhortations, threats, and promises.  The Bible exhorts us to see our sin and misery and flee to Jesus Christ for salvation.  The Bible threatens us and warns us about what will surely happen to us if we do not trust in Jesus as our Saviour.  The Bible promises us that if we repent from our sins and fully rest in Christ alone, we will be delivered from the wrath to come.  Now I want you to notice that all of this is centered on Jesus Christ.  The reading and preaching of the Scriptures is meant to be a means of grace pointing us to him.  As we sit under this means of grace, as we sit under the Word, God is maintaining, continuing and perfecting his work of grace in our lives.  As we think about that, that should give us far more joy than what the Israelites experienced when they first sang Psalm 122 in the days of David.

Then there’s the other means of grace:  the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Both of these also point us to Christ, just like the sacrifices did at the house of the LORD in Psalm 122.  Baptism points us to the washing with Christ’s blood.  The bread of the Lord’s Supper points us to Christ’s body broken for us.  The wine points us to his blood shed for us.  Together they point us to the forgiveness of all our sins in Jesus Christ.  Whenever we administer a sacrament here, God is speaking to us and strengthening our faith.  He knows we’re weak, and so he comes to us not only with words, but also with visible, tangible signs and seals.  The contemplation of this should give us joy too.  Whenever we know that there’s going to be a sacrament administered in our worship, we ought to look forward to it just as the people of Israel in Psalm 122.  When I knew there would be baptism, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”  When I knew there would be the Lord’s Supper, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”  We have joy knowing that God has promised to be present to bless us and encourage us in our pilgrimage.

And how does this all then relate to our perseverance?  Let’s go back to Hezekiah.  Remember he still needed to eat and drink after God promised to extend his life.  If you’re a true Christian, God has promised to preserve you so that you will persevere to glory.  But you still need to make use of the means of grace – they’re like the food and drink for your spiritual life.  You still need to be in church twice every Sunday to sit under the Word and to participate in the sacraments.  God promises to be present here each and every Sunday to bless you and encourage you so you will make it to the end of the race.

When we think about these things, it shouldn’t be a matter of duty for us.  It shouldn’t be a matter of “Oh, I better do these things because I have to.”  Rather, Psalm 122 teaches us that it should be a matter of joy and gladness for us to have the opportunity to go to church.  It should be something we look forward to and have a positive attitude about.  After all, God is promising to take the means of grace and keep working in our lives through them.  That’s a good thing, a gracious thing, something awesome our God is going to do for us. 

But what if you struggle in having that positive attitude exemplified in Psalm 122?  What if you can’t get yourself to feel that joy about the means of grace and God’s presence in public worship?  I want to say three things about that. 

First of all, Psalm 122 is given to us as a model or vision of where believers ought to be when it comes to these things.  Remember, David wrote this under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to inspire his people in this direction. 

Second, remember that Christ fulfilled this perfectly in his 33 years on this earth.  Christ was the one who did this impeccably at every moment.  He always found his joy in God and his presence.  His obedience is yours when you believe in him.  Christ’s joyful obedience is credited to your account, so that when God looks at you, he sees a joyful worshipper.  So remember Christ and don’t despair. 

Third, God’s work in your life is meant to continue.  You can’t stay where you are.  Since you are united to Christ by faith and the Holy Spirit, you should desire that your life increasingly reflects his.  If you don’t have a lot of joy or even any joy about worshipping God on Sundays, do you make that a matter for prayer?  You should.  Psalm 122 teaches us that we ought to desire this joy of being in God’s presence, under the means of grace that will help us to persevere.  If we desire this joy, then let’s pray for it.  Let’s ask God to work that joy in our hearts with his Holy Spirit, so that when Sunday’s coming, we can sincerely say, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”

Loved ones, we are still blessed in this country that we can worship in freedom.  We can gather together every Sunday, not just once, but twice.  This is a huge blessing.  There are many Christians in the world who don’t share this blessing.  They don’t have the freedom to worship like we do.  The danger for us is that we take our blessings for granted.  We don’t see them as blessings, but as obligations, just another thing we’re supposed to do.  But brothers and sisters, God calls us in his Word to see that our public worship ought to be the highlight of our week.  It’s to be the highlight because it’s here as we gather in his presence that he shows us yet more grace.  It’s to be the highlight, but also our delight.  And as we delight ourselves in his presence, he will carry us through with his everlasting arms.  AMEN.

PRAYER

O Gracious God in heaven,

Thank you for your holy Word and its exhortations, threats, and promises.  Thank you for your Word which reveals the gospel to us, which shows us Jesus in all the glory of his person and work.  Thank you for the sacraments which also point us to Christ.  With your Spirit, help us always to find joy and delight in these means of grace.  Father, please help us always to be glad in coming to your house, to be in your presence, to be blessed by you with the gospel.  And through these means of grace, we humbly pray that you would be pleased to maintain, continue, and perfect your work of grace in us.  Father, please carry each one of us through to the glory that awaits us.




* 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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