“Who is the King of Glory?”


Readings: Psalm 24:1-10 (text); Matthew 5:8; 1 Timothy 2:8

July 19, 2015 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Dear Congregation of Christ: In Manila, there is an annual procession every January 9, when several million Filipinos commit blatant idolatry against the one true God of the Bible. They parade the wooden Black Nazarene idol around Manila for a whole day, touching, caressing, kissing and wiping it with their handkerchiefs and tears. The procession ends when the idol enters and is enshrined in one of the big Roman Catholic cathedrals in the city. The Black Nazarene was carved by a Mexican artist in the 17th century, and shipped from Acapulco to Manila. The statue depicts Jesus carrying a cross. Some people believe that the dark color was the result of a fire in the ship. But more reliable sources say that the statue was carved out of a dark Mexican hardwood called mesquite.

black_nazarene_2012Roman Catholics obviously deny that they worship idols; they only “venerate” or “adore” them. But John Calvin is so spot on when he says there is no such thing as veneration—bowing down to or falling down before idols; kissing, touching, wiping handkerchiefs to be healed or prosper—without worship. But these actions, together with kneeling and bowing down before idols, are undeniably acts of worship, as in Psalm 95:6, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”

Psalm 24 was written by King David, possibly for celebrating the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem after a long procession. This procession is very different from the Black Nazarene procession. The Ark of the Covenant represents God’s dwelling-place in heaven, and not an idol that Israel worshiped.

Although at first glance, the ten verses seem disconnected, they make liturgical sense when taken as a whole. The psalmist first praises God as the Creator in verses 1-2. In verses 3-6, the worshiper in the sanctuary has to be pure and holy to enter into the presence of the Lord. Finally, in verses 7-10, as the Ark of the Covenant approaches the gate of the city, two priests, one at the head of the procession, and another at the gate, exchange a repeated litur­gical challenge and response. The challenge is, “Who is this King of glory?” And the response is, “The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.”

So our theme today, then, is “Who is the King of Glory?”: first, The Creator and Possessor of All; second, He Who is Worshiped by the Blessed; and third, He Who Sits in the Temple.

The Creator and Possessor of All

To get a clearer picture of this great event in Israel’s history, let us first go back to the days of King Saul and Eli the priest. After a big defeat at the hands of the Philistines, the elders of Israel thought that bringing the Ark with them in battle would help them defeat their enemy. Tragically, the Ark was not magic. Israel suffered even a worse defeat, resulting in the capture of the Ark and the death of Eli’s two sons. Eli, in turn, fell dead after hearing of the tragic news.

“Transfer of the Ark of the Covenant by the singing and dancing King David” by Pieter van Lint (1650)
“Transfer of the Ark of the Covenant by the singing and dancing King David” by Pieter van Lint (1650) (click image to enlarge)

For seven months, wherever the Ark was taken, God causes plagues to fall upon the Philistines. Finally, the Philistines gave up and sent the Ark back to Israel in a place called Kiriath-jearim. It remained there through the reign of King Saul until King David brought it to Jerusalem, about 70 years total.

The procession from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem was a great occasion (2 Sam 6). David gathered 30,000 of his army to accompany the Ark (obviously, this is a far cry from the idolatrous Black Nazarene procession of millions of Filipinos). It was a time of joyful celebration, “And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals” (2 Sam 6:5). But the procession was also accompanied by tragedy. Instead of mounting the Ark on two poles carried by four priests, David’s men placed the Ark on a cart. When the oxen stumbled, the Ark was about to fall to the ground, and Uzzah, one of the men, restrained the Ark with his hand, and he fell dead. This incident was a reminder to Israel that the Lord is so holy that even a small violation of his commandments in worship is very costly.

But back to Psalm 24. The Lord is the Creator and Possessor of the whole earth. Genesis 1 tells us that when God first created the earth, it was without form, empty and dark. God ordered it, creating light and the waters at first, then separating the land from the waters. Then he started filling the earth with birds of the air, fish under the waters, and animals on land. Finally, God created man, the pinnacle of his creation, in his own image. Since he created the earth and everything in it, he owns it, including human beings themselves.

When rain, snow, wind, thunder and lightning come, we know that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Exo 9:29). In explaining why believers can eat whatever is offered to them, Paul quotes verse 1, “For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’” (1 Cor 10:26). The universe, “the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it, belong to the Lord” (Deu 10:14).

Even the whole of humanity is the Lord’s possession. But God chose Israel as a “treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine.” However, God had a requirement for them: “obey my voice and keep my covenant” (Exo 19:5). According to Peter, Christians today (not Israel) are God’s chosen nation, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” And the task of God’s people has not changed from the Old Testament, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).

This is why unbelievers are still in darkness, having no understanding of God’s Word. They reject God as Creator, so they can be accountable to no one. They choose to worship idols of money, power, and pleasure. So, what do they do? Not caring for human life, they murder their own unborn babies, God’s own fearfully and wonderfully-fashioned creation. They deny that these are human beings, but then they sell the babies’ organs for big profits! If they were not human beings, why then are people paying for their organs to replace their own? This is utter wickedness and disregard for God’s precious creation!

Furthermore, unbelievers also reject God’s creation design when he created the first human beings as man and woman, and marriage as between a man and a woman. To satisfy their own sinful passions, they believe this myth as science—that homosexuality is a genetic problem, not a sin. “I was born this way,” they say, making light of God’s creation design. Therefore, Paul says clearly, God’s judgment is upon them now, “God gave them up to dishon­orable passions” (Rom 1:26-27).

Let us, as Christians at Big Springs Community Church, affirm and stand firm in Psalm 24:1-2, that God created the earth and all that is in it. Therefore, all human beings are accountable to him, to believe in him as Creator, Savior and Lord. From conception to death, all humankind are created in God’s image as men and women, and that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

As the procession of the Ark of the Covenant, led by King David, nears the gates of the city, God’s people anticipate their entrance into the sanctuary to worship the Lord.

He Who is Worshiped by the Blessed

Not all people are able to enter the sanctuary to worship the Lord. The two questions in verse 3, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” are liturgical. They are questions to remind the people of the Lord’s requirements for entrance into the holy place. They also affirm and assent to these requirements, an admission that they are wholly dependent on God’s grace and mercy to come near to him.

When David led this procession, the Temple was not yet built, but he had a holy sanctuary built to house the Ark of the Covenant. The place that he chose is on a hill in Jerusalem that became known as Mount Zion, the “hill of the Lord.” And after they enter the holy place, they stand as sinners before a most holy God.

Since no sinner can stand before the Lord in his holy place, how can David and his men stand in the holy place? Various psalms affirm this: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psa 130:3); “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (Psa 1:5). The answer to this question is in verse 4 of Psalm 130, “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Sinners are able to stand before the Judge of the Universe because he has forgiven them of their sins! Picture a courtroom where a suspect is charged with a crime. Then a jury declares him, “Guilty,” but the lawyer who defended him asks the judge if he can be sentenced instead of the criminal. The judge then grants the lawyer’s request—the lawyer is sentenced to death, and the criminal is set free.

Obviously, this courtroom drama will never happen today. But in God’s heavenly court­room, this did happen, 2,000 years ago. Our Savior Jesus Christ pled for his people, guilty sinners all, offering himself to be a Substitute. God, who is holy and merciful, accepted his plea, and poured out his wrath against the sin of his people, on Christ as he hung on the cross. So now, whenever we come to worship God every Lord’s Day, we can stand in this holy assembly of God’s people, even if we are sinners.

This is because when God looks at us in this holy convocation, he sees each of us with “clean hands and a pure heart.” To have “clean hands” does not mean we wash our hands before enter­ing our worship place. It means to be innocent of offense against others, such as in Psalm 26:6, “I wash my hands in innocence” (cf Gen 20:5; Ps 73:13). This is also what Pontius Pilate meant when he washed his hands off the verdict to crucify Christ.

So also the “pure heart.” It means that our motives in our dealings with God and neighbor are “clean” and not out of enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, or envy (Gal 5:20-21). Jesus quotes this verse in one of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). Purity in heart therefore affects every inch of our lives in our pursuit of godliness.

In short, “clean hands and a pure heart” encompass all our outward behavior and inward motives. These two always go together, for out of the heart come all kinds of good and evil words and deeds. The psalmist therefore says, “I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” (Psa 73:13).

David then gives two examples of who has clean hands and a pure heart in verse 4. First, one “who does not lift up his soul to what is false.” What does “lifting up one’s soul” mean? The next chapter, Psalm 25, opens with, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.” So a person who lifts up his soul to God means that he trusts, sets his heart, and counts on God. He desires and longs for God, the true God, not a false god. His God is not an idol like the golden calf or the Black Nazarene, He does not “pay regard to worthless idols, but [trusts] in the Lord” (Psa 31:6). His God is not money, possessions, power, or pleasure. He prays to the Lord, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things” (Psa 119:37).

Second, a person who has clean hands and a pure heart is one who “does not swear deceitfully.” A person who gives false testimony about himself, or others, or God, violates the ninth commandment. His motive is selfish ambition, shameful gain, or vengeance.

A worshiper who enters God’s holy place with clean hands and a pure heart will then receive the two-fold benefits in verse 5, “He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Jesus has a list of those who are blessed in the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit, those who mourn of their sins, the meek, seek righteousness, are merciful, the pure in heart, those who seek peace with God, and the ones who suffer and are persecuted for Christ (Matt 5:2-10). Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places will be theirs, including salvation through the righteousness of Christ, that starts even in this life. God will declare them not guilty, blameless and holy, on Judgment Day.

Those who seek the face of the Lord, who go into the presence of the Lord in the assembly of the saints, will receive these blessings. The people who seek him, who seek God’s face, just as Abraham, Jacob and Moses did, will finally see the glorious, approving face of the Lord Jesus Christ on the last day.

He Who Sits in the Temple

After all the worshipers are seated in the holy place, it was time for the King and Lord to come in. The occasion is highlighted in the liturgy of verses 7-10, a responsive liturgy similar to the responsive Confession of Sin we read this morning. In the scenario of the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant to the holy place in Jerusalem, there are two voices heard: one of the priest leading the procession, one of another priest at the city gates.

At their arrival, the priest shouts, “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” Here, the gates are personified, as if they were people who can lift their heads up. Often in the Bible, to lift up one’s head means joy and celebra­tion, such as when Joseph was restored by Pharaoh as his cupbearer (Gen 40:13; Psa 110:7). Jesus encourages us, “straighten up and raise your heads,” when we see our “day of redemption drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

Then the welcoming voice answers, “Who is this King of glory?” as if he doesn’t who this king is. But the response is occasion for more praise for the King, “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” The Lord at the gates is the victorious, mighty King who had come from battle. He and his great army come with great news of victory! In Biblical history, from the Red Sea crossing, to Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land, all the way to Israel’s monarchy, God was the One who fought their battles against their enemies. Israel would carry the Ark to the frontline to let their enemies see that the Lord of Hosts himself is leading them in battle.

Then a second challenge and response is repeated, for one announcement of the arrival of the Warrior-King is not enough. So the King proceeds to enter into the holy place.

Beloved brothers and sisters, Centuries later, Jesus, riding on a lowly donkey entered the gates of Jerusalem, was acclaimed by the people as their King, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt 21:9). But after he entered the city in triumph, he was crucified, by his own countrymen, as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. Because his sacrifice was pleasing to God, Jesus was glorified by God at his resurrection from the dead and at his ascension into heaven. In the fullness of time, he will return, not as a humble king, but as a King of Glory. He will enter the holy city as a Warrior-King victorious over all his enemies who have persecuted his people for ages.

We gather together in this our holy place every Sunday to worship God our Creator, Redeemer and King. We come as sinners whom Christ has made clean and pure by his sacrifice on the cross. How do sinners like us stand before a holy God? At the beginning of our worship service, we confess our sins, and ask God to forgive us of our sins.

And in our battle against sin, we lift up our heads to Christ to help us overcome our sins. We are not at war against flesh and blood, but “against the spiritual forces of evil,” against Satan himself (Eph 6:12). Pray that we will always trust that Jesus Christ, our Mighty King of Glory, to lead our battle against temptation, sin, sufferings and persecution. For we will never win this battle if we trust ourselves or any other king. Amen.