Summary: The gates are open wide, never to close again.
THE SONG OF THE ASCENSION
David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel (2 Samuel 23:1) takes us on a journey from the Cross in Psalms 22, under the guidance of the Shepherd’s Crook in Psalms 23, to the Crown in Psalms 24. These three Psalms belong together, and all ultimately speak of Jesus, but are not unrelated to our own experience.
Psalms 24 itself also divides into three parts. First, there is a statement of the sovereignty of God (Psalms 24:1-2). Second, the question is asked (and answered): Who may approach to worship Him? (Psalms 24:3-6). Third, we see the triumphant entry of King Jesus into heaven itself (Psalms 24:7-10).
The declaration in Psalms 24:1 is emphatic - literally, “To Yahweh belongs the earth!” This excludes all other potential claimants to the Crown. It is His by right as Creator. Whether they acknowledge it or not, all people are answerable to Him.
It is He who “founded” the world (Psalms 24:2), separating the waters (Genesis 1:7), and causing dry land to appear (Genesis 1:9). It is He who sustains it, having “established” it upon the waters. Wise men become fools when they set out to deny God (Psalms 14:1; Psalms 53:1)!
Yet, having said all that, who may approach this God? ‘LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in your holy hill?’ (Psalms 15:1). “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place?” (Psalms 24:3).
“He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalms 24:4). Jesus says that to love God and neighbour is, in effect, the sum of the whole of the law (cf. Mark 12:30-31). Yet who has clean hands &c. outside of Jesus?
We dare not assert our own righteousness but stand in His. We receive it as a blessing, a gift from “the God of our salvation” (Psalms 24:5) purchased by the blood of Jesus (Romans 3:21-23). This being done however, our Christianity is displayed thereafter in the life we lead, and in our fair dealings in the things we do (James 2:18).
Outside of Jesus, we are doomed to separation from the God of Jacob (cf. Psalms 24:6). But if we ‘seek His face’ (Psalms 105:4) and come to God through Jesus (John 14:6), He will receive us (Romans 10:10-11). This is the only way we may claim citizenship of His kingdom.
The rest is doxology: but what a doxology! The Scottish Metrical version of Psalms 24:7-10 is strong here, and lends itself to an almost antiphonal liturgy, suitable for combined male and female voices.
“Ye gates, lift up your heads on high; ye doors that last for aye,
Be lifted up, that so the King of Glory enter may.
But who in glory is the King? The mighty Lord is this:
Ev’n that same Lord that great in might and strong in battle is.
“Ye gates, lift up your heads: ye doors, doors that do last for aye,
Be lifted up, that so the King of glory enter may.
But who is He that is the King of glory? (The King of glory) who is this?
The Lord of hosts and none but He, the King of glory is.”
(There may follow a chorus of Alleluias and Amens.)
We may refer to a historic circumstance in David’s own life, when he first brought the Ark of the Covenant, symbolic of the presence of God, into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:15). ‘The mountain of Your inheritance’ had been anticipated back in the song of Moses, after the people passed through the Red Sea (Exodus 15:17) - in context this was not a reference to Sinai, but to a mountain in the land. The Psalm echoes the celebration of God’s triumph (Psalms 24:10; cf. Exodus 15:1; Exodus 15:21).
“Glory” speaks of ‘weightiness’: majesty, honour; abundance (cf. Psalms 24:1), greatness, importance. When we ‘glorify’ God we add nothing to Him, but ‘ascribe’ the glory that is already His (Psalms 29:1). Even ‘the heavens’ declare ‘the glory of God’ (Psalms 19:1).
Now the Ark was home at last, where Melchisedec had passed through the same gates to meet Abraham with bread and wine, and to pronounce a priestly blessing (Genesis 14:18-20). Yet the Ark of the Covenant is symbolic of something else. The ultimate ‘presence of God with men’ (cf. Ezekiel 34:30) is Jesus, the Word become flesh who ‘tabernacled’ among us (John 1:14).
Jesus died for us, triumphed over death on our behalf, rose again, and ascended into heaven. As a Man He has entered glory that we may follow. The gates have opened wide for Him, and even now we are bold to enter in to the throne of grace (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16).