“Let Us Go to the House of the Lord”

Readings:Psalm 122:1-9 (text); Galatians 4:22-26
June 28, 2015

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Dear Congregation of Christ: For many people today, and especially the youth, going to church on the Lord’s Day is a burden, a task to do before a game to watch, or a get-together with family and friends, or a picnic in the park. It wasn’t so in my younger days. Then, it was the best day of the week, not only because our best friends were also at church, but also because the worship service and Sunday school were a big part of our life.

pasig covrc worship serviceFor Israel, the Sabbath was the most important day of the week. The annual festivals were observed with joy and solemnity, with a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as the highlight of the year. God commanded them to go to the holy city during three of these festivals: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths (Deu 16:16). On these three feasts, the people celebrated their harvest with thanksgiving sacrifices to the Lord. They also remembered God’s protection and provisions to them as they escaped their slavery in Egypt.

For those who lived in far-flung places outside Jerusalem, these pilgrimages were a big undertaking, requiring time off from their fields, families, and also much resources. And as they traveled to and from the city, the people sang some of the psalms that we read and sing today. These psalms, Psalms 120-134, are called “Psalms of Ascent,” because the pilgrims ascended to Jerusalem which is situated up on a hill. These are for a variety of occasions and emotions, such as lament, wisdom, confidence, thanksgiving and festivals.

Psalm 122 is one of these pilgrim songs. The two psalms before it give it context. Psalm 120 is a lament by a pilgrim living outside of Israel, who prays to the Lord for deliverance from his enemies, maybe even as he makes his way to Jerusalem. Then in Psalm 121, the pilgrim expresses his confidence in the Lord that he will make it safely to the city through all dangers, hardship, and evildoers. Together with Psalm 124:8, we use verses 1 and 2 at the beginning of our service to invoke the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth as our help.

Unlike other psalms celebrating the Lord’s might and majesty, this psalm focuses on Jerusalem as the holy city, much like Psalms 46 and 48. Though it doesn’t mention Zion, Jerusalem is almost identical to it, since it is where the temple, “the house of the Lord” is built. The pilgrim is joyful as he makes his ascent. As he enters the city, he is awed by how its people are closely bound together as the people of God. Therefore, being a citizen of God’s chosen nation, he prays for its peace and protection.

As Christians, we are also pilgrims in this world, in awe of the glory of Christ’s church. We too are bound with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We too pray for its peace and protection as we worship God, and preach the gospel to our family, friends and neighbors. So our theme today, then, is “Let Us Go to the House of the Lord”: first, The Joy of Going to the House of the Lord; second, The Beauty of the House of the Lord ; and third, The Prayer for the House of the Lord.

The Joy of Going to the House of the Lord

David opens the psalm with the pilgrim remembering that he was invited by others to go to the house of the Lord. Joy and gladness seized his heart at the invitation, and upon arrival at the city. In “A Song for the Sabbath” in Psalm 92, the worshiper sings with joy, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High. For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psa 92:1, 4).

In the original Hebrew, the invitation reads, “To the house of the Lord, let us go.” So the focus is on the house of the Lord. Since David wrote this psalm, the house of the Lord is definitely the tabernacle built by Moses. During the Passover Feast, God commanded the people to bring “the best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God” (Exo 34:26). But when the temple was later built, pilgrims would have been singing about the Jerusalem temple.

After they entered the city gates, the pilgrims marvel that they have arrived at last because the Lord had been with them throughout their perilous journey. Their joy at the beginning of their pilgrimage is now fulfilled!

On this Lord’s Day, and every Lord’s Day, do you come with joy in your heart, because you will meet with the Lord who dwells in this house, this church? Are you glad to hear his Word read and preached and meditate upon it? Do you come ready to sing with thanksgiving for God’s salvation, comfort, provision and protection? Do you come with your petitions, and to marvel that God has answered your prayers? Do you look forward to a joyful fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Children, do you come to church with your parents grudgingly, or with anticipation because you will be meeting with Jesus?

Every Lord’s Day assembly in this house of the Lord, let us remember that we are a part of a great multitude of true Christians who have come because Christ has invited us through them. Many of you are part of this house of the Lord because our parents worshiped here. But there are some of you who came and heard the gospel of Christ preached because a friend invited you, as Isaiah 2:3 prophesied, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” This is one way in which God builds up his church, as Psalm 147:2 says, “The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.” And this is also one way of growing Big Springs Community Church—by inviting your friends and family every Lord’s Day, “Come, let us go to the house of the Lord, and he will teach you his ways.”

In this way, you also are being built up as a beautiful “spiritual house” (1 Pet 2:5), “a holy temple in the Lord… a dwelling place for God” (Eph 2:21-22).

The Unity of the House of the Lord

As the pilgrim enters the gates of Jerusalem, he marvels at what he sees. Although the beauty of the city and its temple is not here described, other psalms do. Psalm 46 describes a peaceful, well-provided Jerusalem in the midst of surrounding cities that are in turmoil. In Psalm 48, the psalmist is in awe of the Lord’s “holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, the joy of all the earth!” It is also a mighty fortress with its strong ramparts and citadels protecting its people. In both psalms, God who dwells in the city and its temple is their refuge and strength.

Here in verses 3-5, Jerusalem is not only beautiful, but it is also united, “a city that is bound firmly together.” The word bound is from a related word that means “companion.” The people have companionship or communion with one another. This is even more amazing when the pilgrim considers that people from the twelve tribes of Israel dwell there. They were not always in good terms with one another, and at various times, even fought and haggled over various disputes. But here they are in Jerusalem, “bound firmly together.”

In addition to the different tribes who lived in the city, there were also pilgrims from far and near, with their different cultures and idiosyncrasies. Why were they in the city? Because God had commanded them to go to the temple on the three different feasts, to offer their sacrifices, and “to give thanks to the name of the Lord.”

What else did the pilgrims bring with them? No doubt they also brought their quarrels and disputes with them, those that their community elders couldn’t resolve. Jerusalem is where the king and the high officials of Israel reside, including elders and judges. Just as during the time of Moses, they were appointed to judge among the people. These were “the thrones of the house of David,” since they were officials appointed by King David.

The unity that the pilgrim saw in Jerusalem is the ideal state of God’s people. Do we have this unity in doctrine, worship, purpose, mission and practice here at Big Springs Community Church? Our name says a lot about what our church should be: it is a community of God’s people, the household of God. Paul encourages us,

complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Php 2:2-4).

If there is a time when our church must be united, it is now. For there is darkness in our land, even in the highest court of justice. Unlike the judges sitting on the thrones in Jerusalem, who judge according to God’s Word, many judges in our courts judge according to public opinion, according to man’s wicked thoughts.

So David tells you that, like the pilgrim to Jerusalem, you too are to pray for the house of the Lord.

The Prayer for the House of the Lord

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they be secure who love you!” (v 6) A pastor uses this prayer to urge Christians to support present-day Israel, right or wrong, saying, “the scriptural principle of prosperity is tied to blessing Israel and the city of Jerusalem.” [ref]John Hagee Ministeries, http://www.jhm.org/Home/About/WhySupportIsrael, accessed 06-27-2015.[/ref] Those who bless Israel will be blessed, and those who curse her will be cursed. He teaches that David himself commands Christians, “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem” (Psa 51:18). But is David asking Christians today to pray for present-day Israel?

Paul exhorts all of us to pray for all people, including Jews, but not only Jews, but for all nations, because he “desires all people to be saved” (1 Tim 2:2-4). The Lord himself “speaks peace to his people, to his saints” (Psa 85:8). And as Jerusalem is for Jews, so the church is for Christians. Since Christ came, there is no chosen nation other than his church. The church is “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9). Paul says that “it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” and are blessed heirs of the promise (Gal 3:7, 9, 29). In fact, Paul calls the church in Galatia, made up mostly of non-Jews, “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). And it is the church to which we belong that is called, “Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22).

So when you read this command to pray for Jerusalem, pray for the church! Pray for its peace and security. Peace, not in the sense of not being at war, but in its wholeness and well-being. If there is ever a time to pray for the church worldwide, it is now. Our Christian brothers and sisters are hated, persecuted and martyred in many parts of the world. Martyrdom is not common in our nation, but there is much hatred and persecution. When we preach the Bible against sexual immorality, homosexuality, abortion, godlessness, even gimmicks and entertainment in the church, we are hated, called bigots, and even idiots.

Pray for Big Springs Community Church. Pray that our response to the recent decision will be one of both firmness and love. We are to be firm in our Statement of Faith, and in our Confessions regarding marriage, based on Scripture. We are to be firm about what we require for church membership, that all repentant sinners like us are welcome to join us in full communion. We are to be firm in our policy about the use of our church facilities. Pray hard and pray without ceasing, for the hatred against us will only increase. Jesus himself says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Beloved brothers and sisters, Christ is our pre-eminent pilgrim when he was in this world. His parents went to an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem with their community to celebrate the Passover Feast. At the young age of twelve, he delighted to be in God’s temple so much that he stayed behind for three days without his parents. When they found him at the temple, he said to his paretns, “Did you know that I must be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49). His desire is to keep the temple pleasing and pure before his Father, fulfilling Psalm 69:9, “For zeal for you house has consumed me” (John 2:17). Outside of Jerusalem, he preached in the synagogues. But when he was in Jerusalem, he preached in the temple.

Near the end of his life, he prayed to his Father to guard his people, so “that they may be one” (John 10:11). So that the church, “though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:5). The church, Paul says, is called to unity into one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father (Eph 4:3-6).

When he arrived for the last time in Jerusalem, he lamented over the city that he loved, because of the judgment that was coming to it in due time (Matt 23:37-38). But he knew that the Father would give him an inheritance that would not only be Jerusalem, but all the nations of the world (Matt 24:14).

And in our gathered congregation today here and in all the world, Christ calls you his “companions” (Heb 1:9) and “brothers” (Heb 2:12). The pilgrim in Psalm 122 travels with his brothers and companions to the holy city. You also are traveling in this barren land, walking in the shadow of the valley of death, with Christ as your companion and brother to give you peace, comfort, security and joy.