Arrival

Scripture: Psalm 122

 

Title: Arrival

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Arriving
  • Gathering for worship
  • Asking for peace (within)
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Today we continue our series on the Songs of Ascents – which we know as Psalms 120 to 134

–         In ancient Israel people went on road trips each year to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the three main religious festivals

–         To help them prepare for the festivals pilgrims might sing these 15 songs on their journey

 

The word ‘Ascent’ has to do with moving upward

–         The temple in Jerusalem was on a hill – so the pilgrims were physically ascending (or moving upwards) as they made their way to the temple

–         And, at the same time, they were drawing closer to God

 

In April this year we will celebrate Easter

–         Easter is the main festival for Christians, alongside Christmas and Pentecost

–         The plan, over the next couple of months, is to explore these Songs of Ascents as we journey toward Easter

–         This morning we take a closer look at psalm 122

–         In this song the psalmist arrives in Jerusalem – his destination

–         Jerusalem is where he finds security

–         And, it is where the people of God gather for worship & justice

–         From the New Revised Standard Version we read…

 

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

 

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

 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:     “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls,     and security within your towers.” For the sake of my relatives and friends     I will say, “Peace be within you.”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,     I will seek your good.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this song for us

 

Arriving:

On the wall here we have a diagram of the water cycle process:

–         Precipitation, evaporation and condensation

–         Precipitation is rain or snow – basically water falling out of the sky because it has become too heavy to stay in the clouds

–         After precipitation the water collects on the ground for a while until it evaporates

–         Evaporation is when the liquid on the ground turns into water vapour which is transported up into the sky by the power (or heat) of the sun

–         And condensation is basically the formation of clouds, when the water vapour condenses before eventually turning into liquid precipitation (or rain) again

 

This water cycle process (precipitation, evaporation and condensation) has the effect of purifying the water

–         When the water gathered on the ground evaporates it leaves behind the impurities

 

Psalm 122 describes the Jewish pilgrim happily arriving at the gates of the holy city, Jerusalem

–         Arrival is both an end and a new beginning

–         It is a change from being on the move to being still

–         Verse 2 touches on this stillness with the psalmist saying…

–         “Our feet are standing within your gates O Jerusalem”

–         In other words, we have arrived, we are here, we are safe & secure

 

As I mentioned before there are 15 songs of Ascents and we’ve only got to the third song – yet already the psalmist has reached his destination

–         We might not have expected him to reach his journey’s end until perhaps the 14th or 15th psalm

–         Maybe we are not meant to think of these 15 songs in a linear way – travelling from point A to point B

–         After all, arrival is both an end and a new beginning

–         Perhaps our spiritual journey is more like the water cycle process, involving both movement and stillness, transformation and purification

 

Alec Motyer notes: “The 15 songs seem to form five sets of three. For the most part the keynotes of the psalms in each set are distress in the first, power in the second, and security in the third” [1]

 

So there is a repeating cycle or movement from distress to empowerment to security (not unlike precipitation, evaporation and condensation)

–         This seems to fit what we’ve come across so far in this series

–         Psalm 120 describes the distress the Jewish ex-pat felt as he was surrounded by liars, a long way from home

–         While Psalm 121 describes the power (or grace) of God to protect the pilgrim as he makes his journey through the wilderness

–         And Psalm 122 talks about the security or safety embodied by Jerusalem.

–         Looking ahead to psalm 123 we pick up notes of distress again

–         Followed by power (or deliverance) in psalm 124 & security in psalm 125

 

In a general sense we could apply this pattern to our own spiritual life

–         By his power (or grace) the Lord transports us from distress to security

 

For example…

–         The power of God’s judgment transports us from the distress of our anger (at injustice) to the security of peace

–         Likewise, the power of Jesus’ forgiveness transports us from the distress of our sin & guilt to the security of acceptance by God

–         So too, the power of Christ’s resurrection transports us from the distress of death to the security of eternal life

–         And, in the meantime, the power of the Holy Spirit transports us from the distress of fear and anxiety to the security of trust and assurance

 

It seems to me that God takes us through this cycle of distress, power & security many times in this life – and in the process we are purified, sanctified

 

Okay then, Jerusalem is a place of security

–         It is also a centre for worship and justice

 

Gathering for worship:

In physics the mass of an object is the amount of matter (or stuff) it contains

–         The more matter an object contains the greater its mass

–         So, an elephant has a greater mass than a mouse because an elephant contains more matter

 

Mass is what causes gravity

–         The greater the mass of something (the more stuff it contains) the stronger its gravitational pull

–         So the elephant here has more gravitational pull than the mouse

–         Just like the sun has more gravity than the earth and the earth has more gravity than the moon

 

Now just because something appears bigger (just because it takes up more area) it doesn’t automatically follow that it has more mass

–         Mass is measured in kilograms, not square metres

–         Take this balloon for example. If I blow it up like this [blow up balloon] it appears larger than this chocolate bar

–         But which of these two things do you think has the greatest mass – the balloon or the chocolate bar?  [Wait]

–         I reckon it is the chocolate bar because there is more matter (more stuff) compacted together in the chocolate bar than there is in the balloon

–         The chocolate bar has a mass of 25 grams – whereas the balloon would be less than a gram

–         The chocolate bar has more gravitational pull than the balloon, especially if you are hungry. The balloon is just full of air

 

In verse 3 the psalmist describes Jerusalem saying it is built like a city that is bound firmly together

–         Or as the NIV puts it: built like a city that is closely compacted together

–         The image here is one of strength, wholeness and substance

–         In other words, Jerusalem is not full of air

–         It may not look as large as other cities but it contains a lot – it has significant mass, real gravitational pull – enough gravitational pull in fact to draw the tribes of Israel together in worship

 

Verse 4 makes this explicit

–         Jerusalem is the place that the Lord chose (or decreed) for the Israelites to gather to give thanks and offer sacrifices

–         According to Deuteronomy 12, verses 13-14, the Israelites were not to offer their burnt offerings at any [old] place they happened to see. But only at the place that the Lord will choose…

–         Jerusalem was the place the Lord chose

 

What we notice here is the contrast between the Jewish idea of worship and the pagan idea of worship

–         Pagans made sacrifices to try and win the favour of the gods

–         They thought, if the gods are happy with my sacrifice they might make me rich and successful

–         These days we might call this ‘cargo cult’ or ‘prosperity doctrine’

 

But Israel had a different approach to worship

–         They didn’t make sacrifices to keep God happy or try to win his favour

–         God had already shown them his favour

–         They could no more control God than they could the weather

–         The Israelites made sacrifices to say ‘thank you’ for the blessings God had already provided

–         The name of the Lord refers to God’s goodness – his integrity

–         True worship involves thanking God for his goodness, his love, his forgiveness, his faithfulness and so on

 

Verse 5 then explains the other part of the gravitational pull of Jerusalem

–         It is the place where the thrones for judgement were set up

–         The thrones for judgment were the legal institutions, or seats of justice, that had been set up by king David. [2] (They were like our law courts)

–         So people came to Jerusalem to seek justice

 

It’s interesting that in the Jewish faith worship of God and justice for people go together – they are not separated – they are bound firmly together

–         This is how it is to be in Christian faith also – worship & justice go together

–         We cannot say we love God if we do not treat the people around us fairly

 

So far then we have heard that Jerusalem is a destination for security, for worship and for justice

 

Asking for peace within

With these things in view the psalmist says to pray for the peace of Jerusalem

–         Peace in Hebrew thought isn’t just the absence of conflict – it is more positive than that

–         Peace (or shalom) is the presence of health and prosperity and right relationship in community with others. It is wholeness & abundant life

–         As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, truth & justice is the pre-requisite to peace – without truth & justice there can be no peace

–         So to pray for peace is to ask God for fairness and justice for all – so that everyone prospers

–         This is a prayer the poor will readily pray – but it’s a lot more difficult to pray if you are rich & powerful and have something to lose

 

If we widen the lens of our perspective to include the verses that follow, what we notice is that half way through verse 6 (having just told us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem) the psalmist then directly addresses his beloved city saying:

–         May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls…” and so on

–         This shows us how much the psalmist cares about Jerusalem personally

–         Jerusalem is like a close friend to him – he cares for her like his own family. His very heart is wrapped up in her

–         If the city were cut he would bleed

 

Given Jerusalem’s importance both to the Jewish nation generally and to the psalmist personally it is essential that the city be kept in peace

–         However, the biggest threat to peace does not lie outside the walls

–         The biggest threat lies within

 

That word, ‘within’, is repeated three times in two verses

–         It seems the psalmist is particularly concerned for internal harmony

–         He doesn’t want any in-fighting or in-justice – no corruption here

 

It’s a general principle in life that the inner workings are often more important than what happens on the outside

–         About 10 days ago Robyn had her morning shower and noticed the water was cooler than usual

–         By the time it was my turn the water was practically cold – so it was a shorter shower for me

 

We got the electrician in and he discovered what I suspected

–         The problem was not with anything external like the shower or the water supply – The problem was within

–         The element inside the hot water cylinder was caput

–         It happens to hot water cylinders from time to time

–         No big deal, just have to drain the water out of the cylinder so you can replace the element inside and restore the warmth

 

Like the psalmist, Jesus was personally concerned for the peace of Jerusalem

–         Unlike the psalmist though, Jesus did not approach Jerusalem with joy

–         Luke 19 tells us Jesus wept over Jerusalem, addressing the city directly like it was his treasured child, saying…

 

“If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground…and will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognise the time of your visitation from God”

 

Jesus came to show people the way of peace – genuine peace – the kind of peace which comes from within the community – from doing justly and living in right relationship with those around us

–         But the people rejected Jesus

–         They didn’t realise God was visiting them in the person of Jesus

–         They didn’t recognise the things that make for peace

–         They thought peace was secured by external force – by armies and political pressure and that sort of thing

 

Less than 40 years after Jesus’ death & resurrection (around AD 70) the people of Jerusalem rebelled against Rome and, just as Jesus had predicted, they were crushed and the temple was destroyed – not one stone left upon another

 

The city of Jerusalem has suffered much

–         During its long history it has been destroyed at least twice

–         Besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times & captured & recaptured 44 times [3]

–         Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital

–         The city remains a source of bitter conflict till this day

–         It appears people’s prayers for the peace of Jerusalem have not been answered in 3,000 years

–         The earthly situation seems hopeless

–         I can only imagine that Jesus still weeps over Jerusalem

 

Looking at recent history we would have to say that over the past century peace has not come to Jerusalem from the outside

–         It hasn’t come from the League of Nations or the United Nations or Britain or America or anyone else in the west

–         If we take seriously what the psalmist is saying then peace must come from within – what’s more it can’t be achieved without divine help

 

Conclusion:

So where does that leave us? How are we to interpret and apply this psalm?

–         Indeed what might it mean for us to seek your good [Jerusalem] for the sake of the house of the Lord our God

 

I’m not sure what we can do in a practical sense for earthly Jerusalem, especially from this distance (being on the other side of the world)

–         Distance aside though, we in the West are deluded if we think we can restore peace in the East – our cultures are fundamentally different

–         Peace will not come from the outside

 

So does that mean this verse and indeed this psalm is redundant?

–         No – I’m not suggesting that we no longer need to care about Jerusalem

–         Jesus cared for the holy city and he is our model

–         I’m simply pointing out the limits of what we can do

–         And I’m suggesting we take a broader view of what Jerusalem represents

 

In the book of Revelation the apostle John saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And [John] heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live among them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  [4]

 

Taking a broader view then, Jerusalem represents the gathered people of God

–         Therefore, this psalm is still very relevant if we apply it to the church

–         In our own strength and understanding we may not be able to bring peace to the earthly Jerusalem but we can seek peace where we are

 

It’s interesting how the night before he died Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another – by this will all people know you are my disciples [5]

–         Jesus was concerned that there be peace within the community of his followers – peace and warmth

–         We need to ensure the element in the hot water cylinder of the church (that is, our love) is functioning properly

–         When we (the church) get that right – when we love one another and seek the good of those in the pews with us – then those outside the church come to know Jesus and they know we are genuine

–         Our love for one another gives the church real mass (real gravity) – drawing others to give thanks to God

–         Without love for one another we are just a balloon – full of air

 

Perhaps our greatest gift to the world is to model what it means to be a Christ-like community of peace from within (from the inside out)

–         If (by God’s grace) we can do that then we will be light in the darkness

 

 

Let us pray…

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/12-feb-2017-arrival

[1] Alec Motyer, ‘Psalms 73-150’, page 220.

[2] Refer James Mays’ commentary on the Psalms, page 393

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem

[4] Revelation 21:2-4

[5] John 13:34-35

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