Sunday, March 23, 2014
"The Holiness of God and Worship" Sermon: Psalm 48
“The Holiness of God and Worship”
March 23, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Is there a place that you have been or seen – either natural or man-made – that just takes your breath away and makes you worship God? Is there any place so striking to you – so awe-inspiring – that you are compelled to lift up your hearts and worship?
Many of you know that such a place for me is the beach: when I am on vacation, I love to go down to the beach early in the morning when hardly anyone is there and stand in the surf of the ocean. And as I stand there and feel the ocean and its pull and see and hear the critters around me and look out into the vastness of the ocean, as the sun rises and gold dances across the sea and the foam crashes down around me, I know God is there and I am compelled to pray and praise and worship God.
Do you have a place like that?
This morning, we are looking at another psalm written by “the sons of Korah.” And they would direct our attention to the city of Jerusalem, when David’s palace and the Temple of Solomon were standing in the city.
In the four verses of the psalm, we see:
First, God is to be worshipped as our security in His city.
Second, the nations fear God and His city.
Third, God is worthy of worship in His city.
And fourth, God is our eternal hope in His city.
Let us consider the holiness of God and reasons to worship Him:
First, God is to be worshipped as our security in His city.
“Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.”
Jerusalem is situated on top of a mountain in what was the northern end of the Kingdom of Judah. It was surrounded by walls about forty feet tall and eight feet think, with battle towers all around and guarded gates on three sides. The fourth side of Jerusalem is a cliff that is inaccessible.
So picture coming upon Jerusalem, a city set high atop a mountain, surrounded by high walls, backed up against a cliff, and surrounded by guard towers – it was an impressive sight – and virtually impenetrable. The only way the Babylonians managed to conquer Jerusalem was to starve the people out over a two year period – they could not conquer it by military force.
Inside Jerusalem, you would have found well-built homes, and the massive palace of David, and the even larger and more impressive, Temple of Solomon – with its stone and ivory work, wood and gold, carvings, ornaments, cloth-work – largness and gold flickering and colors abounding.
And if there was any doubt after seeing the city and the Temple dedicated to the God of the Jews, the author of this psalm tells his readers and singers that the greatness of the city, the beauty of the city, the holiness of the city – its being dedicated and set apart to God, indicate how great and beautiful and holy the God is Who is worshipped there, and it gives us reason for why we ought to worship this God.
God, as the architect of the city is to be praised for the wonder of the design of the city – it being built in such a secure location – on top of a mountain where all could see it from afar – known as a wonder of the ancient world, it inspired all who saw it and gave them joy to behold it.
That is not to say there were no enemies of Jerusalem – we will see that there were – but it is an indication that the worship of God – believing in Him and His Word – His salvation – would be seen and rejoiced in by every nation and people. Salvation proceeds from God and His city and He is worshipped and praised and glorified for it.
Yet, Jerusalem prospered as the city of God because God protected and maintained His people. Yes, there were guard towers all around and they were situated in a beautiful and militarily secure spot, but, ultimately God was their safety, God was their fortress, God was their protection in His city.
Similarly, God is to be praised and worshipped as the architect of the New Jerusalem in which God brings a holy people that He has made to be His glory. We are already part of that holy city, despite it not being here yet in all its fullness – we are in the Kingdom of God – and we are the Temple of God. When New Jerusalem comes in all its fullness, there will no longer be a physical temple, but God Himself with His people is the Temple in the city.
And God is to be praised and worshipped for building up His Church and for being her protection. God will not allow the Church to fail to complete her mission and God will not allow one of His people to be lost, but is gathering us in to be received into the New Jerusalem, where we will worship God in His Holiness and have security and joy like never before.
As John described it, “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
“And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:9-27, ESV).
The glorious city of Jerusalem is fulfilled in the New Jerusalem. And the same One God is the architect and protector of the city – His chosen people. Thus, He is worthy of worship.
Second, the nations fear God and His city.
“For behold, the kings assembled; they came on together. As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight. Trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in labor. By the east wind you shattered the ships of Tarshish. As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God will establish forever.”
As we said and here is explained in greater detail, the city of Jerusalem was protected by God, personally, as the Holy God, and physically in the architectural genius of its construction. Armies came against Jerusalem, and the same awe that drove some to receive salvation from the Holy God of Jerusalem would cause others to fear and despair and panic and retreat from Jerusalem, as though they suddenly went into labor, pain came upon them in heart and mind, because they knew it was a lost cause.
Jerusalem suffered attack at times, but only fell under the discipline of God. No nation ever defeated Jerusalem or the God Who protected Jerusalem, except God let them fall into captivity for their sin as discipline that they might repent and return to God.
In the same way, God has established the Church, and when she stands on the Word of God Alone, the world trembles and flees. The world is terrified of the Church because our God is the One, True, Holy God, Who Alone grants salvation to whomever He will. We suffer attack by the world to prove the Power of God on our behalf and to discipline us for our sin.
And this promise of the flight of the enemies of God’s Holy city is not just in the future, but now. The psalmist reminds those who read and sing this psalm in verse eight, “as we have heard, so we have seen.” We have the biblical record of how God has scattered His enemies and the promise of the ultimate putting down of God’s enemies. The psalmist’s immediate readers knew of God’s destruction of a fleet of ships from Tarshish – and we have the present witness among all Christians of God scattering His enemies – nothing less that our being freed from slavery to the devil – and some have seen the enemies of God scatter in other ways.
The Power of God and His protection of the Church are seen as we wield “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17b, ESV). At the end of the book of Ephesians, Paul explains the armor of God that God has provided for us to use. All of the pieces of armor are defensive weapons – things to keep us safe, except for the sword – which we are to use to wage war against the world. And, as we just saw – the sword is not tricks, methodologies, and programs, but the Word of God. We show the Power of God and we fight back the intrusions and attacks of the world by preaching the Word of God, the Word of God, the Word of God, and the Word of God Alone.
Get it? The Holy God has condescended to give us His Word in human language so we could know Him and His salvation and proclaim that Gospel to the whole Creation that all those who repent and believe would be received into the Holy City, New Jerusalem, forever, with our Holy God.
How does God protect and preserve the Church? How does God protect and preserve this church? By our submitting to His Word Alone and by proclaiming His Word and the Gospel salvation contained therein alone.
Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock [that is, Peter’s confession that Jesus is God the Savior] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV).
Notice, gates are a defensive weapon. No-one has ever been attacked by gates – the gates of a city will not run after an army. What Jesus is telling us – both in Paul’s description of the Sword of the Word and here – is that we are to take the Word of God and offensively attack the gates of hell, and they will fall. We are not to allow lies to stand, but to strike them down by proclaiming God’s Word.
As though to give us all time to think about this, the psalmist notes, “Selah,” which is believed to be a notation indicating an instrumental break.
Third, God is worthy of worship in His city.
“We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple. As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with righteousness. Let Mount Zion be glad! Let the daughters of Judah rejoice because of your judgments!”
God is worthy of worship. As the people in the days of the sons of Korah, and as we consider how God has loved us – how God has loved us and loved us and never stopped loving any of His people – in the city of God, in His temple, in the sanctuary of our God, we join together in praise-filled worship.
In utter awe, John says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3, ESV).
The kind of love that God has for us is the love that chose someone who hated Him and made him a son. It is the kind of love that adopts an orphan out of the world and makes him the son of the King. It is the kind of love that disciplines His son out of love and draws him back again and again as he strays away from his Father. That is the kind of love that God has for all those who believe in Him. We are His children now – we will always be His children – and He will always love us. And on that final day, we will be like Him in holiness and purity.
As people receive salvation and become the children of God and proclaim His Word to the world, all the nations of the earth and all the peoples of the earth come to know the Name of God – they come to know Who God is – what His attributes are – His Holiness and all His other attributes, and how salvation is only to be found through Him. And so, His praise reaches to the ends of the earth. God is known and praised for the fame of His Name.
When the psalmist says that God’s “right hand is full of righteousness” in verse ten, he is telling us that God is faithful in preserving and defending His people.
Indeed, let us rejoice and worship God for preserving His Church and all we who are part of it. Worship is the correct response to God keeping His promise to preserve and defend His Church until the end.
Fourth, God is our eternal hope in His city.
“Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.”
The psalmist tells his readers to observe the city carefully – to absorb it all and take it in so they will be able to tell the generations after them who will not see the Temple about Who God is, what He accomplished in the ancient city of Jerusalem, God’s promises, salvation, provision, defense, holiness, and how, because of all of this, God is worthy of worship.
They were to tell the generations that came after them about God and His glorious, holy city. And the time came when the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple – and the temples after it were never as grand, and now there is no physical temple at all. So that physical element of God’s Holiness in the material world is no longer around.
As we consider ourselves as the Church, we are still called to remember and tell those after us. Although we do not have the physical Temple in our remembrance, we have the promises of the New Jerusalem and the Temple Who is Jesus to be with His people forever in the restored Creation.
We are able – of our own memory – to tell those here and in the succeeding generations that God is the Holy God, He is King of Creation, the One God Who grants salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, Alone.
We can point to the promises of God fulfilled throughout history and show how we trust and see His preservation of the Church. We can explain the loving discipline of our Father, God, Who is making us into the Image of His Son, that we would be holy like Him. We can explain how the enemies of God are defeated by the Word of God and how they will ultimately all be under His feet, so we have hope for a glorious future with Him and, thus, can endure whatever we suffer here for His sake in that eternal hope.
So, let us tell of the greatness of our God and Savior Who welcomes us as adopted children into His holy city, the New Jerusalem.
Let us tell of the beauty of our Savior, how He is the great King, Who is our fortress.
Let us proclaim the Word of God and His salvation and watch the enemies of God flee in terror. Let us proclaim the Word of God again, bringing it to the gates of hell until they fall to the Glory of God.
Let us tell of the Sovereign Providence of God, Whose Hand guides everything that comes to pass, and trust that He is working all things to the good of those who love Him (cf. Romans 8:28).
Let us tell of His steadfast love – how He reached down into a world that hated Him and chose some, for Who He came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a holy life under God’s Law, died for the sins of all those who would ever believe, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to His Throne where He Sovereignly reigns and is bringing the New Jerusalem to come.
Let us tell the world everything we have come to know about God and His salvation through his Word by proclaiming His Word alone. And let it be proclaimed from generation to generation that this Jesus is our Holy God and Savior, worthy of worship, our God forever and ever. Our guide forever and ever. Amen.
Let us pray:
Holy God, we thank You for making Yourself known through the Creation and even through the creations of humans. We thank You for choosing us to be Your children and for making us Your sons and daughters – sons and daughter who You love and protect and guide now and through the end of the age. Empower us by the Holy Spirit that we would not fear, but take up the Sword of the Spirit and proclaim Your Word to the ends of the earth, until everyone knows You and sings glory to Your Name. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.