Summary: This sermon is part of series on the Psalms of Assent. The focus is on how the Jews would joyously go up to Jerusalem for worship, and how we can experience the same joy in going to the local church.
In case you haven’t been here the last few weeks, we talked about the idea that the Psalms of Ascents were actually believed to be sung by the Jewish pilgrims as they made their way up to Jerusalem for the various Jewish festivals. Although they were considered to be somewhat of a travel psalm, over time, they began to be seen as kind of a metaphor for the spiritual life of a person. A person that is slowly ascending up to God. As people who are trying to learn to live everyday life like Jesus, these psalms become an aid to us in our discipleship and our desire to begin to look like Jesus Christ. We have looked at a psalm of complaint. We looked at a psalm of trust. Today, we are going to look at a psalm of worship, Psalm 122. As we read through it, you are going to see why we consider it a psalm of worship. If somebody would read from Psalm 122 and stand up and read. (Scripture read here.)
As you can see, this is kind of a psalm that talks about celebrating the fact of going up to Jerusalem for worship. As a side note, Jerusalem was the worship center, but it was also the city center of the nation of Israel. It was known first and foremost, at least by Jewish people, to be a place of worship because it was believed to contain the very house of God. When the passage refers to the house of God, as a side note, we are not sure exactly how old the psalm is, so we don’t know exactly if he is referring to the tabernacle that would have been known in the time of David or if it actually would be the temple when it was King Solomon. We really don’t know. It really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they knew that Jerusalem was the center of worship. Although we struggle with the idea of thinking of a place like Jerusalem as the center of worship, I think it is pretty easy for us to consider Bellevue Christian as the center for your worship. Consequently, this passage can give us a nice frame of mind when we think about what it means to come to church.
The passage opens up by saying “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” This is the idea of somebody out in the countryside far away from Jerusalem and a group of friends and family ask him to go on a road trip to Jerusalem. When I get asked to go on a road trip, I get pretty excited. Especially if it means vacation or if it means a long weekend like many people are celebrating this weekend. But the person was very happy. He was more than happy. It says he rejoiced. Rejoice has the idea of extreme happiness. We would say ecstatic. The person was very excited to go up to Jerusalem. You have to keep in mind that this person probably didn’t just live a few blocks or a few miles from Jerusalem. It is more likely that this person would be traveling a great distance over very rugged terrain. But you also get the sense that it didn’t seem to matter to the person because the person had a heart towards worshipping God. His heart was bent towards worship, so he was excited about it. I began to think about it. If I go out in Bellevue and I begin to say something like, “Let’s all go to a Steelers game.” Or if I say, “Let’s go down to Carson Street and have a few beers.” I might get somebody to say, “I’ll go. That sounds good to me.” But if I say, “Let’s all go to church on Sunday morning,” I don’t know if I would get many takers. This has little to do with distance. Whether it is a few blocks or a few miles, it has to do with the distance of the heart between the person and God. The bottom line is a lot of people’s hearts are not bent towards worshipping God, the creator of the universe.
Other than that, as we continue on, we don’t know how much time passed between verse 1 and verse 2. We do know it sounds like suddenly this person finds himself standing at the gates of Jerusalem. The passage goes on to read “Our feet are standing in your gates, oh Jerusalem.” Reading this passage, you get the sense that the person didn’t just walk right through the gates. The person was very excited to be there and kind of stood in awe. How many of you have been to the Grand Canyon in Arizona? What about the Eifel Tower in Paris? What about Kennywood? You know the feeling you first get when you go into Kennywood. I finally come and the gates are there and I just get so excited. I think it is the excitement some people feel when they go to a tourist destination like the Grand Canyon or the Eifel Tower. When they finally arrive and see it, they are just kind of awestruck. I remember when I was in the Navy, I decided I was going to take a train up to Rome, not only to meet a girl, but also to see the Roman Coliseum. I went from Naples to Rome. I got off the train and thought I would have to walk a few blocks or a mile or so. When I got off the train, the Coliseum was right there probably 30 feet in front of me. It almost took my breath away. What I had read about all through history was now staring me in the face. I remember sitting in the park across the street just looking at it. I was just in awe. I get the sense that this is how the psalmist is feeling when he comes upon the gates of Jerusalem after this long journey. But I don’t think the person is in awe because of the huge gates that face him. I think he is in awe because of what is behind the gates. Behind the gates is the house of the Lord where the Lord’s presence would be. It was God who told David and Moses that he would dwell in Jerusalem. When the temple was done, Solomon wrote a prayer of dedication. Among other things, this is what Solomon said. He said “I have indeed built a magnificent temple for You (You being God). A place for you to dwell forever.” This is the place that God dwells. I know we have a lot of people come through our doors in any given week around here, but I doubt if anybody, including myself, just stop at the steps and stare at the front door and say “Wow, Bellevue Christian Church.” People who come late can barely get a bulletin let alone stand there in awe of God or what might be in there. We just aren’t used to it. We take these things for granted that this might be the house of God. As I say house, I am not talking about a building. I am talking about people who all through the centuries have traveled into a church, not just this church but any church, for the sole purpose of meeting God. Meeting God by way of his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that individually and collectively resides in the hearts of believers who collectively are referred to in scripture as the body of Christ. We see that in Ephesians 1:22 where it says “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him (him being Jesus) to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” That is what the church is. It is the body of Christ. At a minimum, if you begin to reflect on this, you think maybe I should make church more of a priority. And that is when, at some point, you can reflect on it and say God is really in this place.