A song of ascents. Of David.
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up –
the tribes of the Lord –
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:(Ps. 122:1-9 NIV)
‘May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.’
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
It is most likely that the 15 Psalms from Ps 120-134 known as the “Songs of Ascents” were compiled to serve as a liturgy for the OT church and that they were sung three times a year as the people of God made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the three great annual festivals. Three times per year all male Israelites were required to appear before the Lord. (Ex 23:17,34:23, Deut. 16:16). Each of these appearances coincided with a feast and each feast was related to one of the harvests in the agricultural cycle.
The first feast was Passover, or the feast of unleavened bread. This speaks to us today of Jesus Christ our Passover, reminding us of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second feast was the Feast of Pentecost. This feast looked forward to the time when the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all believers.
Later in the Autumn came the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, or Ingathering. This feast anticipated the time when God would once again dwell in the midst of his people.
Going to worship then in OT days was enjoyed at two levels. There was the experience of festival, of meeting with the people of God and joining in the pilgrimage as they went marching to Zion. Singing together the Songs of ascents as they made their way to Jerusalem, and then the excitement as they entered the gates of Jerusalem to go to the Temple, to meet in the presence of God. What will they do when they get there? They are going to sing the praises of God.
That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, to praise the name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel.Psal 122:4 (NIV)
As they go to praise God, they are not given over to what some evangelicals call today freedom in worship. They worship according to how God prescribed. In Deut 16 God had given the pattern for their worship. It wasn’t a free for all. Following God’s pattern wasn’t restrictive, it was liberating because it brought them to God. At these times of the agriculture harvest they learned to look to God for daily provision and to thank God for harvest. They learned that the day to day things of life were a matter of God’s provision and that was a part of their worship and thanksgiving.
As they went in to praise so also it was a time of coming under the judgement of God.
There the thrones for judgement stand, the thrones of the house of David.Psal 122:5 (NIV)
What was to feature in these worshippers’ lives was a thankful heart, and it must also be accompanied with a humble and teachable spirit.
The people submitted to God’s rule and God’s word, and allowed that to speak to their lives.
That they could gather with God’s people, that they could praise God, and that they could hear God speak to them, was an experience in itself that they enjoyed.
That is an experience that we can identify with – the fellowship of the community of God’s people, enjoying being with the people of God, learning to love the people of God, caring for one another. Loving the Lord’s people is one of the signs of a work of grace within our lives. We should enjoy the experience of coming to praise the Lord and the privilege of putting ourselves in submission to the word of God and allowing it to speak to us.
But there was another level at which the people of God enjoyed coming to worship. Their worship had a forward looking aspect to it. It was a foretaste of what was to come. The OT believers looked forward to the fulfilment of the Passover. Jesus Christ would come and, as the lamb without spot and without blemish, would accomplish redemption. The blood of Jesus Christ would be shed, He would give His life for His people, and the basis of the worship is Christ centred. Then there was the looking forward to Joel’s prophecy being fulfilled, when the Holy Spirit would come in great power and would empower the people of God to accomplish great things for God. As they enjoyed the presence of God, the people of God would look forward to that time when the dwelling of God would be with men, when they would go into the Lord’s presence to leave it no more. The final call to worship, that everlasting day of eternal joy when the people will with great joy go up to the house of God never to be dismissed
I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”Psal 122:1 (NIV)
For the Christians today a great part of our enjoyment is the future aspect. Meeting with the people of God in the presence of God, submitting to the word of God, partaking of Christ in the sacrament – these are all a sweet foretaste of the salvation that is to come.
As we view coming to the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day, even the fact that we come on the first day of the week is important. We come on resurrection day, and stand on resurrection ground. We possess new life in Christ and raise our voices in new songs of worship, and we participate in a form of worship which is a pattern of that which takes place in the Heavenlies.
The Psalms are replete with a tension that causes the worshipper to ask the question, has God come to us or has he brought us to be with him? Perhaps this tension of the Psalms is a commentary to what John spoke about when he was said to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. To be caught up in the Spirit in a state of exaltation to mystically know the oneness with God in Christ. How our coldness and bitterness and complaining spirits rob us of knowing this joy. We will never be good enough Christians to deserve the blessing of God’s presence. This is where the grace of God plays the major part, God comes and blesses our humble and weak attempts at worship. The grace of God is no excuse for any body of elders allowing the worship of God to follow the man centred pattern of the times. But even as we humbly attempt to be biblical in our approach to God, how our cold hearts are far from God, yet in the name of Christ, God comes to bless us way beyond what we deserve.
As we come to worship, as the Post Pentecost Church there is the straining forward to anticipate the new heavens and the new earth, when all the church of Christ, from Adam to the last of God’s elect to be called will gather. We talk today of the church in heaven as the church triumphant and the church on earth as the church militant, but then when the salvation of the elect has been completed, when we are made complete in Christ then the church militant will join with the church triumphant and the body glorious will sing the praises of the lamb who was slain.
This vision of the future ought to be breaking in upon our worship. We worship because of what God has done for us spiritually and temporally, we worship because of what God is doing in Christ both spiritually and temporally, but in our worship there should be that tension that pulls us away from the here and now and has us looking forward to the consummation of all things.
This sense of joy, this sense of praise in this psalm produces a resolve in the people of God to pray. That prayer is seen in verses 6-9. This prayer is for the Jerusalem. In NT language it is for the peace and prosperity and security of the Church. That prayer is very much like what Jesus taught the disciples to pray when he told them to pray ‘Thy kingdom come’. That shouldn’t really surprise us because in many ways the Lord’s prayer is a summary of prayer as it is found in the Psalms.
The Church of Christ is a glorious building, in its final salvation it will be gloriously arrayed in the splendour of the righteousness of Christ. This is what we have to look forward to. As we bring our circumstances, whether they be tearful or joyful, into the presence of the Lord. The perspective that we will gain from the presence of God is one of future triumph.
Lord we thank You that we can come into Your presence. We thank You that time in Your presence is a foretaste of what will be in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Help us to look forward with hope in our hearts so that that focus on what lies in store for us will strengthen us today because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.