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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Who can come and live in the presence of a holy God?
Text:Psalms 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:All of scripture points to Jesus Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 147:1,2

Hymn 82:3 (after the law of God)

Psalm 24:1-3

Psalm 15

Hymn 66

Scripture 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.  Well, if you go, you know there’s only one way to get in the door.  You need to have a ticket.  That happens more often in life.  It happens in the church too. 

For example, in order to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper in our church, you have to make profession of the Reformed faith and lead a godly life.  Profession of faith is like your ticket to the Lord’s Supper.  You can’t go to the Lord’s Supper without it.  There are conditions attached to gaining entry to all kinds of things in life, 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 sojourn in your tent?  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 holy 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

The question being asked speaks of God’s tent or 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.  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 calls Mount Zion “God’s holy hill.”  So, we’re left with some ambiguity about what’s 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’d 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 close to God, live with him in his presence?  Verse 1 says, “Yahweh, who shall sojourn in your tent?”  Sojourning is a bit different than dwelling – sojourning means staying around temporarily.  Then in the next line of verse 1, “Who shall live on your holy hill?” -- that has in view a more permanent kind of staying around. 

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 Most Holy Place, 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 couldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 couldn’t stay around even for a short time.  Why not?  Psalm 5:4 tells us that evil cannot sojourn, cannot dwell even temporarily, with a holy God.  

That teaches us that the questions in verse 1 are rhetorical questions.  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’d somehow be a way out of this.  And there is.  We’ll see that as we look at the answer offered in this Psalm.

At first glance, the answer in the Psalm seems to reinforce the rhetorical question in verse 1.  It does that 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 look at what they are.

Verse 2 begins with two general things and one specific thing.  But these things are 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 right.  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 being laid out here?     

Those super-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 he will honour, the ones whom he will find worthy of respect, the ones 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 charging interest.  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 how this man doesn’t 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 run against the cultural grain.  The evidence says Israelites made all kinds of rationalizations to charge one another interest.  And don’t forget what Jesus said 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 back 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 can’t be within us.  Instead, we have to look outward 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 right?   Who has been loyal like him?  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’s 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 tells us 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 our 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’re 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 – our union with Christ allows us to have communion with God.  When we read this Psalm with Old Testament eyes we see an impossible 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 have received the righteousness we need to enter into the presence of our heavenly Father.  Through Christ we have a new identity, a perfect look before God.  This is true for all Christians.  Christ is our only righteousness.  He is the only way to God’s holy presence for us.  We then 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’s no more distance between God and us.  We’re in the closest, most intimate relationship imaginable.  We have communion with God. 

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 obedience.  Our Lord Jesus is the perfect priest who has entered into the Holy of Holies.  We’re 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 to the people around us?  Or what about that point of despising vile men?  For us, we could ask:  “Are we comfortable with people who show contempt and disrespect for the holy God?”  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’ll be aspiring to live according to those standards too.  In this way, through Christ and his work in us, we’ll be living in God’s presence now and eternally.  There’s more about that in the promise at the end of this psalm. 

The last lines of verse 5 contain the simple promise, “He who does these things shall never be moved.”  To be moved means you’re shaken, 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 shall never be moved,” he’s really saying that such a man won’t 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 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 get the promise here?  The promise is for acceptance.  Ephesians 1:6 tells us that we are accepted in the Beloved, that is in Christ.  And for this reason we’re dwelling with God.  For this reason, we’ve been adopted into his family.  For this reason, we’ll never be moved.  We’ll never be moved, we’ll 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.   It’s in Revelation 21:3 :  “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

We have this rich promise.  Now what are we supposed to do with it?    When God promises you acceptance in Christ, 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 Jesus, the Righteous One, you will not be moved.  That’s not to say 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 moved.  He promises.

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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