Gladness in the house of the Lord
Topic: English Passage: Psalm 122:1-9
I’d like to invite you this morning to turn to Psalm 122, which is what we are going to be looking at this morning. This, again, was a psalm requested by one of our members, and I’m glad to be able to look at it more closely. Psalm 122. Let’s read the word of God. Psalm 122, verses 1-9.
The psalms were written as songs, which means that a big part of them is the emotions and the feelings. So, look back for a second at verses 1 and 2. What is the emotion that is being expressed? What’s the feeling here?
That should be pretty straightforward. This is a joyful psalm. It’s a song of gladness and rejoicing. It’s also a Song of Ascents, which means it was part of a group of songs written to be used as pilgrims travelled to Jerusalem.
David wrote it so that pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem could sing it together as an expression of their joy. And verses 1 describes the joy of anticipation.
Ever since his companions said, “It’s time to go worship at the house of the Lord,” he has been anticipating the journey. “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
“The house of the Lord” in David’s time was the Tabernacle. After Solomon, it was the Temple. The Temple was much more ornate than the Tabernacle, but it’s not the external beauty that produces the joy; it’s the anticipation of gathering with God’s people to worship. Psalm 122 is a personal expression of the joy of corporate worship.
For those of you who like outlines, we could call verse 1 the anticipation, and then verse 2 is the arrival.
Verse 2 is the psalmist saying: “We made it! We’re here! Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” He is overjoyed to have arrived at his destination. And now that he’s there—now that he’s arrived—he looks around and he admires where he is. He’s amazed. He’s in awe.
Verses 1 and 2 describe his anticipation and his arrival, and then verses 3-5 describe his amazement. “I have made it to Jerusalem!”
Now, “What’s so important about Jerusalem?” That’s an important question.
For Israel, Jerusalem was God’s chosen place of worship and blessing. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, the Tabernacle was moving around. It had to be torn down every time the people moved and then set back up again when they stopped. The Tabernacle was a visible reminder that God dwelt with His people. But since it was a tent, it was also a reminder that the Israelites weren’t in their true home. They were making their way there.
Once they made it into the Promised Land, once they conquered that land by the blessing of God, God set apart His chosen place for worship. That was Jerusalem. It was a sacred place where God dwelt in a special way. That’s where all the men were supposed to go three times a year for the pilgrimage feasts. That was the capital city.
As the capital city, it was the visible expression of God’s purposes. And verses 3-5 highlight two of its attributes.
First of all, Jerusalem was an expression of their nation’s unity. Men from every tribe would gather there, and their diversity would enhance the beauty of their unity. They were united geographically because they were all in the same place, and they were united purposefully. They were there to worship, or as verse 4 says “to give thanks to the name of Yahweh.”
Now, there’s a key detail in that little phrase. When David summarizes what happens when Israel gathers, he says it is a giving of thanks. That is set in direct contrast with pagan worship, because the pagan temples gathered to appease their gods, to win their approval. Sacrifices were made in the hopes that their gods would act favorably toward them. But that’s not how the people of Yahweh worship.
God had already redeemed His people. He had already promised and committed Himself to rescuing them and blessing them. So, when the Israelites offered their sacrifices, those weren’t ultimately a way to win God’s favor. They were an act of obedience and trust, celebrating His redemption. Those sacrifices were a way of continuing their experience and enjoyment of His fellowship. The Old Testament sacrifices weren’t actually atoning for sin, they were an anticipation of a future once-for-all sacrifice that God would provide.
So, while there was a reverence with it, there was not some element of uncertainty as if God would reject a righteous offering. They made offerings with joy and with a heart of thanksgiving because He had already chosen them to be His people.
So, Jerusalem was a symbol of the nation’s unity, and secondly, it was a symbol of their authority. Jerusalem is where God met with His people. So, by extension, it represented where the Law came from. It was a symbol of authority. And that’s where the king had his palace.
Let me just read verses 3-5 again, and you’ll see the emphasis on unity in verses 3-4, and you see the authority in verse 5.
The psalmist exclaims, “Jerusalem! What an amazing place!” His wonder, however, doesn’t mean he gets to sit back and simply be passive. The closing verses of this psalm are a call to action. So, we had his anticipation and his arrival in verses 1-2. We had his amazement in verses 3-5, and now we have his action in verses 6-9.
Given how impressive and amazing it is to be in God’s chosen place, the main action we see is prayer. And there’s a call for everyone to pray. Verse 6.
The most common Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom, and that what is being used here. It’s a very important word in the Old Testament. Shalom doesn’t just mean peace in the sense of there not any kind of civil war or war with outsiders. Shalom is a very comprehensive term.
Sometimes it gets translated as welfare or prosperity, and the main idea is that something is wholesome, or sound, or complete. There’s a sense of satisfaction in the word because everything is as it should be. There’s safety, there’s tranquility, there’s wellness, there’s righteousness and blessing. That’s shalom. And that’s what this prayer is for Jerusalem.
Verses 7 and 8 continue that idea of desiring peace and praying for it.
The closing verse of the psalm doesn’t list a specific action, but it demonstrates the heart of a guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to see Jerusalem prosper in righteousness and peace. That’s his goal. Verse 9.
So, that’s Psalm 122. We see the psalmist’s anticipation of Jerusalem. We see his arrival in Jerusalem. We see his amazement over Jerusalem. And we see his action for Jerusalem. If we were really in a rush, we could just end here and go home, but Bible Study is about more than that, right?
We don’t just want to understand the Bible, we want to meditate on it and apply it to our lives. First Timothy 4 says to give our attention to the reading of the Scripture, to teaching, and to exhortation. And exhortation is about encouraging one another to walk in light of truth. It’s how we help one another apply the Bible.
So, how are we supposed to apply a psalm like this to our lives? What difference should this make in our lives? Since this psalm is focused on Jerusalem and the gathering of God’s people, then a good question to ask is how that concept might be applied to us today.
One immediate thought would be the actual city Jerusalem today. Are you and I mandated to visit Jerusalem every year? No, we’re not. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to visit if you can and want to.
Visiting Jerusalem helps you see actual sites where things in the Old and New Testaments took place. And if you want to talk to someone about those kinds of benefits, talk to Jim or Mike. They’ve both been there recently. And they’ve got stories they can share.
What about Jerusalem’s peace? How does that idea apply today? If we’re thinking about the literal city of Jerusalem, I think the best application here is evangelism. God’s desire for Jerusalem is that the nation of Israel come to the recognition of the truth of Jesus Christ. That’s how they achieve peace. That’s why the gospel went to them first, according to Romans 1:16.
But the nation of Israel, as a nation, had its heart hardened, and so the gospel went out to all the nations of the world. But the day will come, according to the promises of the New Covenant and according to passages like Romans 11, when Israel will be grafted in again and a blessing will come to the world. So, we can pray to that end, and we can be taking steps to support evangelism among the Jews.
Another way we can think about applying this psalm is to say, “Well, if this passage is aimed at Israel’s capital, maybe we can use it as a guide for how we think about our own capital and our own nation.”
What we want to be careful of, however, is equating the United States of America, or any other nation for that matter, with the role Israel played in the plan of God, particularly in the Old Testament. There is no distinct position our nation has in God’s plan. We are just like every other Gentile nation. That doesn’t mean, though, that we should be indifferent.
Working for the good of our nation can include how you vote. It can include the possibility some of you working in the government or even running for office, if that’s what you think would be profitable. More than anything else, though, our pursuit of the good of our nation is going to be connected to our personal prayers, our personal righteousness, and our personal evangelism.
We are not of this world. We are citizens of a kingdom that transcends all earthly kingdoms. And like we’ve seen in First Peter, God is going to use us to bring Him glory in this world.
So, like First Timothy 2 says, we need to be praying for our nation. We want our leaders to come to faith. We want their decisions to lead to peace and tranquility and righteousness.
Secondly, we need to be proclaiming, defending, and living out the righteousness of God with gentleness and respect and love.
And thirdly, we need to give ourselves to evangelism.
People don’t come into the kingdom of God by a change in the laws or a change in the government officials. They come into the kingdom of God by hearing and responding appropriately to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God is the holy and righteous Judge. And we are sinners before Him, deserving of eternal death, eternal separation from the joy and blessing that only He provides. But God sent Jesus Christ to pay the punishment our sin deserves and to be raised in glory and in victory over sin and death. This Jesus is coming again, and everyone who surrenders their life to Him in repentance and faith, will be forgiven and will have eternal joy in a new creation.
That’s the gospel message—God, Man, Christ, Response. God is holy. Man is sinful. Christ is the only solution. And we are all called to respond in repentance and faith.
That’s what we as Christians need to be known for the most. And that’s what we should be praying for, that God would use us to minister His truth to our friends and our families and our neighbors. That’s how we work for their good.
So, you can take Psalm 122 and think about it in terms of the literal Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or in terms of our own nation. Beyond that though, and I think this is how most of us might already be thinking about this psalm, we can take these principles and think about how they apply to the gathering of God’s people today.
How does God gather His people today? He does so through the gathering of local churches. That’s the way it’s been since the beginning of the church. The word “church” in Greek simply means an assembly. We are a people who gather. We don’t gather in Jerusalem anymore, but we do gather as a church.
What makes our church gathering significant is not some kind of sacred place. This is just a building. What makes our gathering significant is that we are gathering in the name of Jesus Christ as a people who have committed ourselves to Him and to one another.
That’s part of what Jesus was talking about when He said that where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is among them. That’s from Matthew 18, which is actually being used in the context of church discipline, which can include a church removing their affirmation on someone as a member. That’s a corporate act, and Jesus says, when the church gathers, I’m there with them.
Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4 that true worship was no longer going to depend on your physical location. It’s not about a place. It’s about a person, the person of Jesus Christ. So, whether a local church gathers in a home or in a middle school, or in a building they own, if they are gathering as a church in the name of Jesus Christ, that is a temple of the living God, to use the words of 1 Corinthians 3:16. This is the gathering of God’s people to hear His word, and to sing His praises, and to edify one another.
So, with the words of Psalm 122 in mind, how much do you anticipate Sunday morning? Do you look forward to it? Would you consider that the highlight of your week?
If someone invited you to some other fun event on Sunday morning, and you replied to them, “Sorry, I can’t make it. I’m going to church,” what kind of emoji would you put after that sentence? And how does that compare the anticipation of the psalmist in verse 1.
Do you have a heart to worship God with your brothers and sisters? That’s the main issue here. You might attend every week, but it’s not in your heart to be here. That doesn’t please God.
You might, for one reason or another, decide not to attend on a Sunday. Is that wrong? Is that sinful? Well, that depends.
I can’t look into the depths of your heart, but I would not be doing my job as your pastor and as your brother in Christ and as your friend, if I didn’t at least prod you to evaluate the standards you are using when you decide not to come to church. How highly do you value gathering with God’s people? How easily do you give that up?
The psalms tell us that God is ever present. He is always with you. We saw that in Psalm 139. But the psalms also include words like Psalm 42, “When shall I come and appear before God?”
In Psalm 27:4, David says, “I want to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”
In Psalm 84:4, the sons of Korah say, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house ever singing your praise.”
If you are able to come on Sunday, but you are deciding not to, why is that? And if you are coming, ask yourself what your attitude is.
The gathering of God’s people matters. God works in and through that gathering. He works in the teaching. He works in the worship music. And He works in all the little side conversations that go on before and after. He works as His people greet one another with a holy kiss. God didn’t intend the church to be cold and detached. This is a family gathering. It matters.
That’s why Hebrews 10 says, as you all know: Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
In addition to attending our church gathering, you also need to ask yourself and ask one another: What actions can I take for the good of my church? What can I do to help others?
Attendance is a good start. But the Bible describes more, and we reflect that in our membership covenant.
You need to be praying for our church. Pray for unity. Pray for doctrinal faithfulness. Pray for conversions. Pray for spiritual growth. Pray for leadership.
Another way you seek our good is by giving. Thankfully, through this whole mess connected to COVID-19 we have seen God continue to sustain us as a church, with regard to our budget, but also as families. A heart of giving is not just about giving regularly to church; it’s about giving to brothers and sisters when a need comes up.
And in this regard, I want to praise you as a church. I hear about the ways a lot of you give money to help other families who are in need at the moment. That’s a blessing. That’s an expression of the heart of Jesus Christ.
And if you are on the side that needs help right now, I encourage you to speak up. Tell someone that you are in a need because we are a church filled with members who are eager to help and to support one another. And that help is not just financial; it’s spiritual too.
Working for the good of the church means you act for the spiritual edification of one another. You invest in the lives of others for their spiritual good. And when there is a breakdown in the demonstration of our unity, you act as a peacemaker helping both sides to walk and to grow in grace.
So, Psalm 122 is a call for us and to evaluate and to grow in our love for the gathering and the people of our church. To use the words of verse 8, these are your brothers and your companions. And we are working to see Shalom in our households.
This is God’s ordained gathering of His people. We are His people, and we are His temple. We are spiritual stones joined to one another.
Before we wrap up, there is one final application of Psalm 122 that is so important.
Galatians 4:26 refers to “the Jerusalem above.” Hebrews 12:22 calls it “the heavenly Jerusalem.” And Revelation 3 and 21 calls it the new Jerusalem which comes down from heaven.
One day, the spiritual realities of God’s kingdom are going to become physical realities as well on the earth. The power and the authority of God will be on display for everyone, and every nation will recognize Jesus Christ as the King of Kings.
He will be worshiped by every tribe and tongue and people and nation. The Lamb of God will be worshiped forever because of the redemption He has accomplished through His sacrificial death and His glorious resurrection. Christ’s enemies will be cast away forever in eternal judgment, and those who belong to Christ will have eternal, unending, undiluted joy.
Our anticipation of Sunday worship is a reflection of our anticipation of the day when we enter the New Jerusalem. Our Sunday gatherings are a glimpse and a reminder and a sample of our eternal home. We are pilgrims in this world, but we will make it home one day. And we will be amazed. All God’s people across every generation of history will gather in joyful worship of the Lamb and of the Father. And I’m fairly confident no one’s gonna be doing it via Zoom.