Let Us Go to the House of the Lord

Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Psalms 122 | September 18 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
September 18
Let Us Go to the House of the Lord | Psalms 122
Tom Groelsema, Speaker

It’s always wonderful to be able to sing God’s Word together and those words of that song coming right out of Psalm 122, so turn to that psalm with me tonight as we continue to make our way through these Psalms of Ascent. Psalm 122. As you see in the title there, this is a Song of Ascent. This is the first Psalm of Ascent that is written by David. There will be a couple more coming along. David is that author of this psalm, but this is a psalm that not only David sang, but Israel adopted as its own. As we read through the psalm, you’ll see that it wasn’t just his words, but the psalm begins to echo the words of Israel corporately.

So Psalm 122.

Pay careful attention now as we read God’s Word.

“I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
“May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!”
For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.”

Let’s join together now in prayer.

Father, we pray that You’ll bless us as we study this psalm together, as we reflect together upon the beauty of God’s people gathered to worship the Lord. We pray, Father, that our own hearts will be encouraged and inspired, we’ll be drawn into deeper worship of You, that You’ll be magnified, Father, in our response to Your Word. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, dear people of God, last week as Sunday School began I started the new members’ class and one of the very first things that I did, that Kevin usually does this as well when he’s teaching the class, is to lead the group, these folks who are interested in our church, lead the group through our mission statement. Our mission statement captures what we are called to do as a church, it captures, we could say, why we exist. It’s a short statement, but a powerful statement, of what we are here for, what our ministry is about.

And that mission statement goes like this. It goes, “In humble reliance upon the Word of God and prayer, we are committed to worshiping God, making disciples, loving one another, and serving the body of Christ.”

So there are two foundational pillars that the mission statement says that we stand upon, God’s Word and prayer. These are the places where we find our direction. It’s in the Word of God and it’s prayer before God as He speaks to us that our marching orders for our ministry and our life come, and we want to continually lean and rely upon those two things, the Word of God and prayer.

But the mission statement also says there are four things that we are committed to doing. We are committed to worshiping God, making disciples both within the church and with those outside of the church. We are committed to loving one another and we are committed to serving the Body of Christ, the broader Body of Christ.

Now there’s something about that mission statement that I want you to think about with me. What was the first commitment that our mission statement states? What is the first of our commitments? Hopefully you heard it tonight. The commitment is to worship God. It’s the first in line and it’s first just as it ought to be. Think about this with me, people of God, that we were made for worship. Everyone is a worshiper. Every human being worships something, but we were made not to worship other things, we were made to worship God alone. So that first commitment, it’s first in line, it’s first in importance.

But it’s also first because it fuels there other parts of our mission statement. We disciple through worship. We can’t ever forget that. We disciple in many different ways here in the church, but we ought never to forget that one of the primary ways that we disciple our members is through the gathered worship of God’s people every Sunday, morning and evening. This is a discipleship time. We are learning to be conformed into the image of Christ.

And in worship we love one another. We enjoy the communion of the saints when we gather for worship. And in worship we serve the Body of Christ as we sing and proclaim God’s grace. Worship, you see, is at the heart of our life together and what a privilege then to not only be able to worship the Lord on a Sunday morning, but to gather as we’re doing tonight to worship God again on a Sunday evening.

Maybe some of you saw recently from one of our young adults, Luke Engstrom. Luke received an award from the Gospel Coalition for an essay that he wrote at the very beginning of September and the title of the essay was this, “Advice to a College Student.” So Luke is a sophomore in college at Wheaton College and he writes this article, “Advice to a College Student,” here’s the rest of the title, here’s the advice, he says, “go to church.”

Now he took this from a message that Kevin had brought to graduates a year ago her at CDS when he asked them the question, or prompted a question to them, “What is one of the very first choices or things that you’re going to have to decide to do when you move from home and go off to college?” And he said one of the very first choices, one of the largest choices you’re going to have to make, is whether you’re going to get up and go to church on that first Sunday.

Go to church. Not to the building, of course, that’s not what it’s about. But go to church to worship God. And Luke in his article gives many, many reasons why his fellow students, he’s saying to them, “Get up. Go to church. Go to worship God.”

Well, this psalm, I think it’s very clear to you, is a psalm about worship, about the corporate gathering of God’s people when they assemble together. So in this psalm the congregation has assembled, they’re together to magnify God, to sing, to pray, to confess, to give, to listen… All the things that we have been doing today and we do Sunday by Sunday. This is a psalm about what happens when God’s people assemble to worship the Lord.

Four things that this psalm highlights.

First of all, it highlights the gladness of God’s gathered people.

I mentioned already that this is another Psalm of Ascent, another psalm for the journey of pilgrims who are heading to Jerusalem, heading to worship God at the Temple. Psalm 120 started the journey in Meshech and Kedar, far away from the house of the Lord, a journey that was just beginning.

Psalm 121 we looked at last Sunday night, speaks about the journey itself and God’s protection on the journey. God’s people in that psalm are nearing the city, the hills of Jerusalem are in sight, they’re lifting up their eyes to the hills and seeing there the temple on top of the hills.

Well, then Psalm 122, God’s people have arrived. They are within the city. They are within the walls of Jerusalem. You can see this at the very beginning of the psalm. The psalmist says, “I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord. Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” The psalmist says we are there, we have made it, this journey that we have been on, we have reached our destination. Pilgrimage had been turned into arrival.

You can hear, as it were, the pilgrims who’ve been on this journey calling out to one another, right? All along this journey as they’re making their way from village to village and city to city in Israel, from one place to the next and picking up a few more people along the way, saying to each other, “Let’s go to the house of the Lord. Come with me. Come on. Let’s go worship God together.”

And in Psalm 122 they have made it now. They have made it to Jerusalem.

You’ll know, of course, that Jerusalem was a special city. It was the home of God. God’s city. The city that He loves. Psalm 87, we read it tonight: The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.

God’s affection was upon Jerusalem. What made Jerusalem so special, of course, is that this is where the Temple was. The Temple as God’s house, the place where God lived. The altar was there where animals were sacrificed for sin. Inside the Temple, the holy of holies with the ark and the mercy seat where blood was sprinkled to atone for sin once a year.

You see, it wasn’t just the city of Jerusalem, it was actually the house of the Lord, the Temple of God, that was the focal point of the pilgrims who were making their way to the city.

You can see this in the psalm in the very first verse, “the house of the Lord” is mentioned. At the very last verse of the psalm, “the house of the Lord” is mentioned again. It was the house of God that captured the attention of the worshipers. And not only captured their attention, but was the source of their gladness.

I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord. I was filled with joy when others said to me, “Come on, let’s go and worship God.” It was not a burden, not a duty, alone to worship the Lord. It was a joy because that’s where God was in His mercy and His grace to His people. That’s where the psalmist was reminded that God had graciously entered covenant with him.

Also this is where the people of God were. This is where they had assembled. This is where other believers had come and the psalmist wanted to be with them. You see the psalm moving then from “I was glad” to “our feet are standing within your gates.” He has joined the people of God in the corporate worship of God.

I love Psalm 92, the very first verses of that psalm, because they reflect the same kind of gladness for worship that Psalm 122 has. That psalm opens, Psalm 92, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Your name, O Most High, to declare Your steadfast love in the morning and you’re faithfulness by night.”

You might wonder sometimes why do we worship morning and evening? Why do we worship twice on the Lord’s Day? Well, this psalm captures it, doesn’t it? To declare Your love in the morning, Your steadfast love, Your faithfulness in the morning and Your steadfast love at night. By the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre, for You have made me glad by Your work and at the work of Your hands I sing for joy.

People of God, gladness and worship. How much more shouldn’t that be our response to worship as new covenant believers? All that the Temple in Jerusalem anticipated, it is ours in Christ. If God’s Old Testament people had reason to be glad when they gathered to worship God, how much more do we have reason to be glad as we gather to worship Christ?

Derek Kidner in his commentary says, “What Jerusalem was to Israelites, the Church is to the Christian.” We don’t go to Jerusalem anymore. We gather with the Church to worship God.

Martin Luther, the great reformer, expanded on those thoughts from Kidner. He says, “Our Jerusalem is the Church and our Temple is Christ. Whenever Christ is preached, the sacraments rightly administered, there we are sure God dwells and there is our temple, tabernacle, our cherubim, our mercy seat, for there God is present with us by His Word.”

We worship God right here. It doesn’t even have to be in this building. We could worship God outside. We could worship Him in some other building. But here God’s people are gathered and here God is to meet us in Christ. God came to tabernacle among us. Through Christ He has taken away our sin and given us His mercy. In Christ He has made us a dwelling place by His Spirit. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians, we are a holy temple in the Lord and God meets us wherever His people gather.
Friends, make no mistake about it – God is here tonight. God is here. God has come to meet us in His grace as we have come to praise His name and what could make us more glad?

You’ve probably seen it on the television, the long lines of people who have gathered in London to file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth. Sometimes that line being somewhere around 5 miles long. Some gladly waiting more than 16 hours I’ve heard, to pay homage to a deceased Queen.

How glad are we to worship the living King? To come and meet Him here tonight?

Secondly, the psalm tells us about the bond of God’s gathered people. The bond of His people.

Verse 3 gives us a description of Jerusalem, a description of the construction of the architecture of the city. It says Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together. Some translations say it is a city that is compact, it is solid, tightly built. No breaks in the walls, no gaps in the defenses. Another way of reading this verse goes like this – Jerusalem is a city that is at unity with itself. It is one. It is whole. It’s all clustered together.

Well, that picture of Jerusalem is really an image of what happened to God’s people when they gathered to worship. In worship in the presence of God, they, we, become tightly compacted, bound together. The word tightly compacted is the same word for companion that’s used in some other psalms. God’s people enjoy companionship when they gather to worship the Lord.

That’s an amazing thing because in the psalmist’s day, God’s people were scattered and spread all over the place. The very next verse reminds us of that in verse 4. The city is a city that is bound firmly together to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord. 12 different tribes. Been interesting to live in those days, wouldn’t it? To know what those tribes are like, but those tribes, no doubt, had different customs. They lived in different geography. Different accents, perhaps. Practiced different trades. Different jobs. Sometimes those tribes would feud with each other.

But the psalmist says when those 12 tribes come together in that one place in Jerusalem before the Temple of the Lord, they are bound together in oneness in their worship of God. They were not uniform, but they were united as they gathered to worship the Lord.

Friends, that’s another thing that happens when we gather for worship. We come every Sunday from a variety of experiences the week before. One my granddaughters, my older granddaughter, she’ll love to say Sheri and I when we’re having supper on a night, she’ll say, “Poppy,” she says, “what is a high today? What is a low today?” You know, what was good that happened today, what was not so good that happened today?

People of God, when we gather for worship, we come from a whole variety of highs and we come from a variety of lows, don’t we? We have different experiences. We come with varying economic levels. We gather as different races. And yet the worship of God is what binds us together.

Some years back when I had a sabbatical, Sheri and I and our family, we spent a month in Edinburgh, Scotland and the first Sunday morning that we were there, we got up, found a church to go to. We ended up at Charlotte Chapel. As we were gathering with those saints to worship the Lord, I said in my heart, I said, “These are our people.” Didn’t know them, had never met them before, came from a different country, but we’re gathering together to worship God and these are our people. We share the same Savior. We have the same Lord. Even though we don’t know each other, we are bound together around the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friends, it’s in gathered worship that the Church is bound together as we meet with the united purpose. Why did the tribes go up to the house of the Lord? The psalm tells us they gathered in the Temple to give thanks to the name of the Lord. Whatever we bring to worship, a burden, sickness, relationship problems, prosperity, ease, blessing, when we meet, we join together to exalt the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We sing as one, even when we’re learning new songs. We pray as one. We magnify God as one. We are bound together with a united purpose. When we gather together, the Church is bound together by the one Word of God.

Jerusalem was not only a religious center of Israel’s worship, of course, it was also the center of government. It is a place, as the psalm says, where the throne of David were. The king would rule, the king would gather often with the elders at the city gate and matters of dispute, he would apply justice. He would apply justice to those matters of dispute by applying the Word of God.

So in worship we are united together under God’s Word. We gather and we hear the same call to confession. We gather and we hear the same assurance of pardon, the call to trust and obedience, the same benediction. We sing the Word of God together. We pray the Word of God together. And all of that increases the bonds of fellowship that we enjoy.

You see, the worship of God has a unifying and strengthening effect. Of course, that’s why it’s so important to gather. That’s why it’s important to be here when we’re able to be here. Sometimes we can’t. We have some of our brothers and sisters who need to worship over livestream. But when we are able to be here, we need to be here. To enjoy the bonds that God grants to us as with gather for worship.

Third thing this psalm points out about worship and that is the prayer for God’s gathered people. We need to pray for Jerusalem or pray for the Church. You see the petition. It’s found in verses 6 to 8, repeated many different times, and the petition is for peace. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for its shalom.

Shalom is one of those rich words that we find in the Scriptures, meaning completion, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony when scattered pieces are brought together as a whole and they fit together. It’s more than just the absence of conflict. Biblical peace is about setting disordered things right.

Paul reminds us that when we pray that the peace of God will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. That’s shalom. Guardedness of heart and mind in Christ. Or as one of our hymns says it, “Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed, finding as He promised, perfect peace and rest.”

This psalm reminds us that love for the Church ought to always lead into prayer for the Church. Need to pray for the Church. Need to pray for its peace. This is a repeated prayer, you see it in the psalm. The psalm mentions it over and over again, kind of an echo in this psalm, pray for the peace of Jerusalem, peace be within your walls, peace be within you… Repeated over and over and over again and, people of God, this is the kind of prayer that we need to pray for the Church repeatedly, regularly. Praying that God’s peace would rest upon the Church.

It is a prayer for a particular kind of peace. Praying for peace from our enemies. We have enemies, you know. The world, the flesh, the devil, all of them warring against the Church, against God’s people, sworn to our destruction. Praise God for His promise that that the gates of Hell will not prevail.

We need to pray for peace from our enemies outside of the Church, but this psalm has a particular focus to it. This psalm says we also need to pray for peace within the walls of the Church. Three times peace within your walls, may there be peace within your towers, may there be peace within you. This is one of the greatest threats to peace in the Church and our wholeness in Christ. It’s not from what happens outside of the Church but what occurs within the Church, among the people of God. Think about the dangers of compromise and how that destroys the peace within the walls of the Church or God’s people. Doctrinal drift, false teaching, unnecessary and unwarranted division and disagreement, relational tension, disputes over minor matters at times. Leadership failures that end up trickling down to affecting the health of the Church.

Friends, these are all dangers in the house, not dangers outside of the house only, but these are dangers in the house. And these are real and regular threats to the people of God.

No doubt tonight many of us, maybe all of us, could probably name a church where these kinds of things happen and the peace of the church was destroyed. Tension and division and lots of heartache. Our prayers are to be for peace within the walls of Jerusalem or peace within the walls of the Church.

This was a prayer also then for the sake of the Church and for the sake of God’s glory. The psalm points it out, “for my brothers’ and companions’ sake, I will say peace be within you,” verse 8. For the sake of my brothers and companions, for the sake of the Church and those who worship with me. And then verse 9, at the very end, “For the sake of house of the Lord, our God, I will seek your good.” Peace for the glory of God.

There’s not only a prayer here, but maybe you’ll notice and see it with me that at the very end of the psalm, in fact the very last line, that the psalmist not only prays for peace but there’s a resolution, he pursues peace. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. He’s not only praying for it, but he’s working toward it.

It’s a great reminder to us, right, that our prayers always ought to be accompanied by what we can do. We pray for things and then we labor for those very same things. What we pray for we need to pursue. It’s one of the vows that we make when we join a church like Christ Covenant Church. The last vow that we make as we join the church, I guess it’s not the last one, it’s number five out of six. Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the church and promise to study its purity and its peace?

That’s what we commit to when we join the church. We pray for it, we pursue it.

Friends, how often do you make this your prayer? That your prayer list includes prayer for peace within the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ?

I’m so humbled and thankful that we have been spared, at least in my time here, and I believe even before that as I’ve looked at the history of the church, we have been spared scandal and division, and we ought never to take that for granted. We need to be thanking God for that constantly, and praying for it, praying that it would continue, praying that God would continue to bless us that way.

Friends, pray for peace within the staff of Christ Covenant Church. Another huge blessing that we have all these pastors, with have all these staff members, and there’s not a sense of over-competiveness at all and people guarding their own turf. There’s great peace.

Continue to pray for that here at Christ Covenant. Pray for peace within our larger congregation for relationships among us, that they would be marked by peace.

Pray for the peace of our presbytery, that there would not be doctrinal division or agendas that agitate and destroy the peace that we enjoy.

Pray for the PCA, pray for the peace of our denomination, and then of course for the larger Church around the world.

Charles Spurgeon said, “There is no joy in going up to a church which is rent with internal dissensions. The gladness of holy men is aroused by the adhesiveness of love. Some bodies of Christians appear to be periodically blown to fragments and thither the tribes do not go up, for strife and contention are not attractive.”

Who comes or who wants to go to a church that is torn apart? We need to pray for peace.

And then finally this psalm helps us to look ahead to the foretaste of God’s gathered people. What I mean by that, friends, is that our worship today as a gathered people of God is a sampler of the worship that we’re going to enjoy one day forever. When we gather to worship, as God’s people gathered on the Lord’s Day, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, we are getting a taste of what we are going to enjoy eternally in the presence of God.

There’s a New Jerusalem coming. We read that from Revelation 21 tonight. The church militant is fully going to become one day the church triumphant. If seeing Jerusalem, having it in its sights and finally being there moved David to great gladness, how do you think your heart will respond when you see the New Jerusalem.

God’s people all throughout the ages, when you see the New Jerusalem for the very first time, what will you do, do you think, when you behold the bride for the very first time in all of her beauty, there is the lamb, there is the bride, what do you think you will do? Don’t you think that you’ll down and worship? Fall down and worship the Savior who bought and washed this bride with His blood.

People of God, every Sunday is an appetizer of what is to come, of what we’re going to experience one day with days that never end. We get a taste of the worship that will go on forever in glory. Some days, some Sundays, every once in a while, I’ll think about this. I’ll think about the worship of God here at Christ Covenant Church, usually preparing to come to worship, and I’ll think about the worship that we’re going to experience here, and then I also at the same time think about the worship of God that’s happening in heaven. I usually think about my parents and think about my sister. I think about Abraham and the Apostle Paul. I think about the saints below and the saints above, in joint worship to the Lamb, one day being united altogether to praise Him forever.

Friends, when we gather here on Sundays, we’re tasting that. We’re getting a sampling of what will be so full, so glorious, as we gather to worship Christ.

The book of Hebrews gives a glimpse of that in Hebrews 12:22-24. We’re reminded, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

If worship is what we will be consumed with then, then how can we be anything but glad to have it now? And maybe vice versa. You know, the reality is if it’s a bore to us now, how do we think we’re going to be glad to do it forever and ever? The gathered worship of God, may it be our gladness, our joy. May it increase our bonds, may the gathered Church be the focus of our prayers, and may it increase our longing for glory.

Let’s pray together. So Father in heaven, we do praise You for the privilege of being here tonight as Your gathered people, and the privilege that we get every Sunday, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, to gather morning and evening, as Your assembled people to give glory to Your name, to praise the name of the Lord. So Father may we never take it for granted. Increase our joy and our gladness in it, give us a longing for heaven to come, when we’ll worship You forever. Father, we pray for our brothers and sisters who are not able to be here, who would love to come to join us. Father, we pray that by Your Spirit that You will bless them in Your own way so they worship at home or the nursing home, retirement facility, wherever it may be. Father, we thank You for the privilege of worship. We bless Your name. What a great God you are and a great Savior Jesus Christ is. We pray these things in His name. Amen.