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Who is the LORD in the Holy Place?

 

Scripture Readings: Psalm 24:1-10 (text); Psalm 100:1-5; 1 Timothy 2:8; Ephesians 5:18-21
© May 18, 2014 Pasig and Trinity Covenant Reformed Church * Download this sermon (PDF)

Opening Prayer and Song

Introduction

Dear People of God: Thus far, in the first two Lord’s Day walking through our worship liturgy, we have studied God’s Call to Worship, the congregation’s response in the Invocation, and God’s greeting in the Salutation.

After these, as God’s people who prepare to enter into God’s Most Holy Place in worship, we praise God in prayer and in a song of adoration because he has blessed us with his Word, his salvation, and his comfort during the previous week and in the week that begins.

Our main text, Psalm 24:1-10, is a liturgical song, especially verses 7-10. These verses are antiphonal, i.e., they are sung responsively between the priest and the people. The psalm is easily divided into three parts: verses 1-2, 3-6, 7-10. While at first glance these three parts seem to be disconnected, we will later see that these are related parts.

"Mount Zion" by William Henry Bartlett

“Mount Zion” by William Henry Bartlett

In this psalm, King David extols the LORD’s divine attributes. In verses 1-2, he is the Creator and Owner of the earth which he has established. In verses 3-6, he is the Holy One who demands holiness from those who worship him. And in verses 7-10, he is the mighty King of Glory who comes into his Holy Place to be worshiped.

So today, out theme is, “Who is the LORD in the Holy Place?” We answer this question in three parts: first, he is The Creator and Owner of the Whole Earth; second, he is The Holy LORD Who Demands Holy Worshipers; and third, he is The Glorious King Who Comes to be Worshiped.

The Creator and Owner of the Whole Earth

The setting of Psalm 24 may be gleaned from verse 3 and verses 7-10. Those who worship him “ascend the hill of the LORD… the holy place.” Who are these people? They are worshipers who come as pilgrims from many different places in Israel in a procession towards the holy place. From verses 7-10, we see the responsive singing between the pilgrims accompanying the ark of the covenant, where the LORD dwells, and the gatekeepers of the city or the temple. Perhaps this was after Jerusalem was taken by David from the Jebusites (2 Sam 6; 1 Chr 11, 15).

"David Bearing the Ark of Testament into Jerusalem" by Domenico Gargiulo, 1640 (click image to enlarge)

“David Bearing the Ark of Testament into Jerusalem” by Domenico Gargiulo, 1640 (click image to enlarge)

As they ascend the hill of the LORD to worship him, they sing a song of praise to their Creator (verse 1-2). They learned from God’s Word that their covenant LORD, YHWH, is also the Almighty Creator who had founded the world out of nothing (Gen 1:1-2:3).

The earth that he created is unmovable, “He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved” (Ps 104:5). When he assigned the boundaries of the waters and the land, the waters will not overflow the land, except during the great flood in Noah’s days, “he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth” (Prv 8:29). And after that flood, God covenanted with Noah, promising he will never destroy the world again with water (Gn 9:14-16). Only according to his will that there are natural disasters of floods, earthquakes, typhoons and tornadoes, but his covenant with Noah remains till he brings about the end of this present world.

Not only is the covenant LORD the Creator, he is also the Owner of the whole world. Everything in the world, including all human beings, are God’s possession. He has the right to do what he pleases with them. This is what Moses told Pharaoh of Egypt, when Moses said the LORD is able to send and withdraw hail as he wills because “the earth is the Lord’s” (Exo 9:29). And after the Israelites came out of Egypt, God covenanted with them as his treasured possession out of all the peoples of the world, “for all the earth is mine” (Exo 19:5).

This is also why Paul uses verse 1 to point out that there is no unclean food, since the whole earth is the possession of the holy Creator (1 Cor 10:26). All creation has been created good by God, and we are to enjoy all that he has provided for his creation (Rm 14:14).

But why God’s Almighty power important to his people? It is not only because he has authority over us, but also because we are totally dependent on him. Paul explains that he is the reason for our existence,and he sustains his creation, “he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything… In him we live and move and have our being” (Ac 17:25, 28; Ps 104:27-30). If the LORD withdrew his Spirit from the world, the whole world will die and vanish.

Because of this, Paul says that we “should seek God, and perhaps feel [our] way toward him and find him” (Ac 17:27). To rebel against him like the kings of the earth do is futile and foolish (Ps 2:1-3).

Since all humankind are God’s own possession, and since he is the holy LORD, “now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Ac 17:30). This is because no one is able to worship him who is unclean and impure.

The Holy LORD Who Demands Holy Worshipers

Biblical archaeologists have discovered many ritual baths just outside Herod’s temple in Jerusalem. They have concluded that these baths were used by pilgrims who ceremonially cleansed themselves before entering the temple grounds. 1

The Israelites knew Psalm 24:3 very well, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?” No one who is unclean and impure is able to ascend the LORD’s holy temple hill in Jerusalem. Only the righteous ones, those who have repented of their sin and have been forgiven could stand in the LORD’s presence, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Ps 130:3-4).

So they acknowledge that they need cleansing from their sin, and the gracious and merciful God is the only one who is able to do this purification. In verses 3-6, David mentions a few qualities of the cleansed, faithful worshiper who enters into the presence of God in worship.

First, “clean hands.” This means that the true worshiper is “innocent,” a word often used in referring to innocent victims as “innocent blood.” Therefore, “clean hands” represent those who deal innocently, without malice or evil, towards others. Abimelech maintained his innocence when he reasoned why he thought it was lawful to take Abraham’s wife Sarah, “In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” (Gn 20:5). The psalmist also says that before he goes to worship the LORD, “I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD” (Ps 26:6).

Paul uses “holy hands” in exhorting us to pray, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (1 Tm 2:8). Lifting up hands in the Bible is a sign that the prayer is directed towards the God of heaven. But though lifting hands is a typical posture for prayer in the Scriptures (1 Kgs 8:22; Ps 28:2; 63:4; Is 1:15), Paul’s mention of “holy hands” in prayer is figurative. “Holy” in this verse is not the more common “set apart,” but the meaning here is “devout” and “pleasing to God.” 2 So those with “holy hands” are committed believers and therefore pleasing to God. This figurative meaning is also seen in Paul’s exhortation that we are to pray “without anger or quarreling” towards others, which is also innocence. So before we come to worship, we must be in a right relationship not only with God, but also with others (Mt 5:23-24).

So, “clean hands” in Psalm 24 and “holy hands” in Paul cannot be anything more than a metaphor for holiness and devotion pleasing to God. When this is taken literally by most evangelicals, there are a couple of unpleasant results. One is that those who are lifting up their hands as they sway to the music are considered “more spiritual” than those who don’t. And since this is not practiced by all in the assembly, there is disorder in the service.

Second, “a pure heart.” From an outward appearance of “clean hands,” the psalmist goes to the inward soul of the worshiper, “a pure heart.” Again, the worshiper enters into God’s presence cleansed of all evil motives and angry thoughts towards others. God told Samuel, when he anointed David the shepherd-boy as king, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). And in contrast to the Pharisees’ focus on external purity, Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8).

Third, “does not lift up his soul to what is false.” The soul is the whole being of a person, so to lift up one’s soul to a thing is to offer deep commitment towards it and being dependent on it. Here, it is to something that is “false.” Some translate this as “vanity” or even “an idol.” When we recite the so-called Sursum Corda during the Lord’s Supper, “Lift up your hearts” from Psalm 25:1, we are directing our pure hearts or souls towards heaven, not to vain idols. So we lift our hearts up to the true God, not to false and empty gods.

Fourth, “does not swear deceitfully.” The worshiper does not wrongfully swear or say something to deceive, defraud or cheat others for shameful gain. This reminds us of the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Those entering the LORD’s holy place for worship who have deceit in their hearts are under God’s judgment (1 Co 6:9-10).

Psalm 15:1-5 is a very similar passage. It first asks two similar questions, “O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” And then it lists qualities of those who come into worship, focusing on not being false and deceitful: “speaks truth in his heart”; “does not slander with his tongue”; “does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend”; “does not put out his money at interest”; “does not take a bribe against the innocent.”

Worshipers who enter into worship with clean hands, pure heart, and without falsehood and deceit “will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Not that their good works qualify them for righteousness and salvation, but their good works are the result of their pure heart (1 Tim 1:5; Mt 15:18).

Note that blessing, righteousness and salvation all come from the LORD God, not earned by the worshiper. It is God who saves and declares the true worshiper righteous. The resulting blessing is the permission to “ascend the hill of the LORD” and “stand in his holy place,” and enter into his presence. Then and only then are we able to sing, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” (Ps 100:4).

Such is the blessing that the LORD bestows upon those who seek him to worship him in spirit and in truth when he enters in to his holy place.

The Glorious King Who Comes to be Worshiped

The final part of Psalm 24 is the joyous occasion of the coming of the LORD into the holy place to be worshiped by true worshipers.

Picture this: David leads a procession of God’s people into the gates of his bastion in Jerusalem. The Levites are bearing the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders behind the king. As they come to the gates, here is the responsive singing between the people and the gatekeepers:

People, with the Ark of the Covenant: Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Gatekeepers, asking for identification: Who is this King of glory?

People: The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Gatekeepers: Who is this King of glory?

People: The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!

What a glorious picture! In reality, the gatekeepers of the city and the temple are not being too cautious for the sake of the security of the city. The three-fold repetition of the identification of the One who commands the gates to be opened is done to exalt the glory, majesty and power of the King. The procession exalts his glory in ever-increasing joy and loudness for all the city to hear.

After the worshipers fill the holy temple, they await the coming of their King into the sanctuary. Then the LORD who dwells in the ark comes as the Triumphant Warrior in his battle against his enemies, in this case, the Philistines. This is why he is called “strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle,” and “the LORD of hosts” of armies. This is also why he is called “the King of glory.” Although God does not dwell in temples made by hands, the ark of the covenant in the temple is where he dwells temporary with his people.

Although Israel has kings, they still acknowledged the LORD as their ultimate King above all kings. In Psalm 2, the LORD installed his Son as King in Zion, his holy hill. All the kings of the earth must kiss his Son in submission and service to him with fear, or else perish in his wrath.

The command to the gates and the “ancient doors” to lift up their heads is also one of encouragement and joy at his coming. When the King comes and enters in, they are to rejoice in their salvation and cleansing from sin. They are to rejoice in their security, because no enemy can resist them as their Rock of Salvation now dwells with them. And they are to feel secure in the abundance of his Providential care.

Dear friends: Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Creator and Possessor of the universe. We, his people, are his treasured, chosen possession.

When Pilate tried Jesus, he washed his hands since he knew that he was a sinner who was condemning Jesus who had clean hands, innocent of any wrongdoing. Christ has a pure heart, because he obeyed all his Father’s commandments perfectly. He had no falsehood and deceit in his heart, “he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Is 53:9).

And in offering up his body and blood for our sins, he cleansed our bloody hands and filthy hearts. After he accomplished all the Law, Christ our Suffering King gave us his own perfect righteousness, “the righteous one, my servant, [shall] make many to be accounted righteous” (Is 53:11).

How is this righteousness given to us? By being good and doing good works? No, because only by faith and trust in him alone are we declared righteous before God, even if we remain sinners in this age until he returns to transform us into perfectly righteous saints.

So, as we enter into worship every Lord’s Day, we are reminded that we stand before our Creator Lord who owns us. But Christ the Holy One demands holy lives from us before we enter into the presence of the Judge of the Universe. He commands us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and when we do, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

Christ demands cleans hands and a pure heart before taking the Lord’s Supper. Examine yourselves. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you be holy. Prepare yourselves for the coming of Christ, the King of Glory, today, and when he returns from heaven as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

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Notes:

  1. Megan Gannon, “2,000-Year-Old Ritual Bath Found in Jerusalem,” nbcnews.com, 9-23-2009, accessed 5-19-2014. Yonatan Adler, “Second Temple Period Ritual Baths Adjacent to,” mikve.net, accessed 5-19-2014.
  2. Walter Bauer, et. al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., (Chicago, Ill: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 728.

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