Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sermon on Psalm 24, for Advent Midweek 3, "The King of Glory"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. As we recited Psalm 24, we heard three questions asked, and the last one gets repeated. The first two questions appear together in vs. 3, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?” It’s asking who can approach God and come into His Temple. Not just anyone. Sin bars just anyone from approaching God’s holiness. Even the high priest of Israel was only able to enter the Most Holy Place once a year on the Day of Atonement, after sacrifices had first been made for his own sin. The answer to the Psalm’s question of whom may enter is given in the next verse, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” So shall we ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy place? Do we meet the test of clean hands, pure heart; not having any falseness in our soul or lies on our lips? And if we start asking, “How pure is pure?” Then we’ve already lost. There’s no amount of impurity or falsity that can survive before God. Sin is like gasoline before the fire of God’s holiness. Pure is pure. By definition pure means no impurities.
But if we don’t dare ascend the hill of the Lord on our own—if as the Bible says, our righteous deeds are like filthy rags, then how can we ever approach God? Fortunately the Psalm answers for us; look at verses 7-10 again. Someone does approach and enter in. Psalm 24:7–8 “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” To get the poetic imagery of the Psalm, you have to visualize the great and mighty gates of the city walls of Jerusalem, or massive gates to the Temple complex coming alive, like some computer generated imagery (CGI) from the Lord of the Rings movies or something. The gates and doors are personified like some great sleeping giants that need to be wakened and stretched out or enlarged. The Psalm joyfully calls the gates to come alive, to open up, to wake up, to lift up their heads. Never before have these ancient doors welcomed such a royal dignitary. The guest they welcome is no ordinary person. Now they must make room for the King of Glory to enter in.
A few months ago we talked about this word “glory”, and said that glory comes to someone who does what no one else could or would do. The more exclusive or difficult the task, the greater the glory to the person. The King of Glory is an exceptional title, and therefore must be due an exceptional honor. Interestingly, this exact title, “King of Glory” shows up only in this Psalm. But the New Testament variant, “Lord of Glory” shows up in 1 Corinthians 2:8, which says the rulers didn’t understand God’s Wisdom, or else they wouldn’t have crucified the “Lord of Glory”. James 2:1 talks about holding faith in “our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” It’s no surprise to you that Jesus is identified as this King or Lord of Glory. But do you know that the Old Testament is also very explicit about whom God shares His glory with?  Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord (YHWH); that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”, and 48:11, “My glory I will not give to another.”
God does not share His glory with anyone. He possesses it alone—which again tells you that if Jesus possesses God’s glory, then Jesus must of necessity be God. Who is this King of Glory, the Psalm asks twice? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. Israelite worshippers might here have remembered the mighty deeds by which God delivered them into the Promised Land. The Red Sea, the conquest of Jericho and the battles in the rest of the land; the defeat of the Philistines and other persistent enemies. God had fought for them in battle, and therefore was deserving of special glory—especially when the victory of His arm was clearly what made them win, and not their own military might.
But then the second time it asks, Who is this King of Glory? the answer changes ever so slightly: The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory.  “Lord of Hosts” is a much more common title for God—242 times in the Bible. In Hebrew “Hosts” is Sabaoth. Not to be confused with Sabbath—the day of rest—Sabaoth is the “heavenly hosts” or the whole company of heaven—the saints and angels who together worship and obey God. Their God—He is the King of Glory. The One leading the whole heavenly host. The Lord God of power and might.
So now that we’ve made all these connections—the King of Glory is our Lord Jesus Christ, and He’s the Lord of all the heavenly host—go back to where we began. Who can ascend the hill of the Lord, or stand in His holy place? Who has clean hands, a pure heart, never lifts His soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully? The Lord of Glory, Jesus Christ, does! He ascends God’s holy hill, He stands in God’s presence without stain of sin or any shame—but as God’s chosen servant, as His very Son who bears His same glory. The exceptional glory for what no one else could or would do—to die on the cross for the sins of the world, and to rise to life again. This King of Glory rode into Jerusalem with the gates open to Him, crowds praising His glory and all His works, and Jesus telling us that even the stones would cry out if His disciples were silenced. Jesus enters rightfully and with honor, to go and win the glory that is due only to Him—the glory that glorifies His Father in heaven.
Jesus ascends into Jerusalem to stand before God for us; but who else gets to enter? Who else follows in His train? Who becomes part of the heavenly hosts of His kingdom?  All who believe in Him, who are the redeemed. All who cry out with the Psalmist: “Create in me a clean heart Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10), and “purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). Our cleanliness, our purity of hands and heart, our washing, comes only by the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. That we join the heavenly hosts is by Christ’s redemption. That our souls are cleansed so that we are not combative and deceitful, is because of the life of the Spirit dwelling in us. Christ Jesus has not only entered the gates of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple for us, but He has also entered and enlarged the gates of our hearts, to dwell there also, and make our bodies a temple of the Living God. Christ makes our hearts a fitting dwelling place for Him, so that His clean hands, pure heart, and upright soul would take root in and transform ours to become like His. Redeemer, come and open wide, my heart to Thee; here, Lord, abide! O enter with thy grace divine, Thy face of mercy on me shine. In Advent and Christmas carols we sing this constant invitation for Jesus the King to enter and transform our hearts.
And what are those who are cleansed and forgiven by the Lord of Glory given? Our Psalm says they receive “blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of His salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him”. All who follow Jesus not only ascend God’s holy hill after Him, but they also receive all His blessings and salvation. Truly the King of Glory has earned exceptional honor and exceptional glory, for doing what no one else could do for us! To God alone be praise! For word and deed and grace! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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