Summary: Jesus gives us the clean hands and pure heart needed to stand atop God’s hill.
“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.” Did you ever wonder what kind of hill it was that Jack and Jill had to climb if they couldn’t make it up without cracking their skulls? You wouldn’t think it should be such a hard hill to climb if there was a well on top of it. Obviously others had made it to the top. Why not Jack and Jill? I don’t suppose there is an answer to that question, and who cares? It is just a nursery rhyme after all.
Our text this morning, however, does speak of a hill that we should care about. It’s a hill that we’ll want to climb even though it’s a steep and tall one. The hill is God’s hill – a picture of heaven. Let’s find out who can climb this hill.
King David gets straight to the point when he writes: “3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Psalm 24:3, 4). Jack and Jill may have had a hard time climbing because they weren’t wearing the right shoes. Trying to negotiate a boulder-strewn hill in flip-flops, for example, is a sure recipe for a busted ankle. If you want to ascend the hill of the Lord, however, it’s not about having the right shoes; it’s about having the right hands and heart - clean hands and a pure heart to be exact.
I’ll bet your hands look clean right now since you probably showered shortly before coming to church. But are they clean? Would parents be pleased if their baby sucked on your fingers during the service? I don’t think so! Microscopic germs cling to your hands - germs that cause colds and other sicknesses. But God isn’t so much concerned about the germs that cling to our hands; he’s more disturbed by the sins that dirty them. Using your hands to pop that prescription medication you’re hooked on, or for thumbing through pornographic pictures, or for hitting a sibling certainly makes them dirty. But dirty also are the hands that hang limp when help is needed around the house. Filthy are the fingers that point and blame others for sins we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves. And naughty are the knuckles that clench in anger even though they may not actually strike anyone.
Even when our hands seem clean, our hearts are not. For example hands that send cards to shut-ins, and hands that diligently complete an assignment are often motivated by hearts that hope someone will thank and praise us for our efforts. We can’t do anything good without it being tainted with the sin of self-righteousness and pride. So who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Based on what the Bible tells us, not us. We don’t have clean hands and a pure heart and so we’re a lot like Jack and Jill when it comes to climbing: we risk busted skulls.
But there is one person who successfully climbed God’s hill. You saw him in action through our Gospel Lesson. Jesus had clean hands - hands that never took anything that didn’t belong to him; hands that promptly acted when his stepfather said it was time to clean up the woodshop. But those hands that had healed the deaf, those hands that never shook in sinful anger or frustration over that hardheartedness of sinners around him were the hands that clutched the mane of a donkey as it clopped it’s way up the hill into Jerusalem to deliver Jesus to death. There, those clean hands were bloodied by a soldier’s piercing hammer blow. The blood that poured out of there flowed from a heart of pure love for sinners like you and me. It’s this blood that has now cleansed our hands and hearts. It does so every time we receive the Sacrament of the Altar. In fact you could say that when we come to receive Communion, we’re being fitted with the right equipment for our climb up God’s hill. Here Jesus slips his righteousness over our sin-stained hands like a white glove hiding ugly scars. With our sins covered and forgiven, God beckons us to his side on top of his hill. So who can climb God’s hill? Everyone. For everyone has received clean hands and a pure heart through the life and death of Jesus.
What is the proper response to the one who has done this for us? David tells us. “Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty— he is the King of glory” (Psalm 24:7-10).