The Pilgrim’s Playlist

Come, Bless the LORD | Psalm 134

Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the LORD!

May the LORD bless you from Zion
he who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 134 ESV

 

The fact that this final psalm of the ascents is an invitation should cause us to pause for reflection. Come? Hasn’t the point of these songs been that we are already traveling?

Since the psalm seems to be addressed to the Levitical priests who watched over the temple by day and night, it would appear that this psalm is a form of benediction following a worship ceremony. This interpretation fits with the final trilogy of psalms as being a meditation on the pilgrim’s end of journey. Psalm 132 fixed our eyes upon the glories of worshipping God in Jerusalem, where He dwells with His people. Psalm 133 then meditated upon the beauties of that gathered group of worshippers being united as brothers. Now we receive the closing benediction and prepare to return to our homes, to Meshech and Kedar.

BLESS THE LORD // VERSES 1-2

Verses 1-2 are calling the Levitical order to continue their worship before God on behalf of His people. To show why this is important, we would do well to remember that the Old Testament had three main offices of leadership over Israel: kings, prophets, and priests. Kings exercised governing and ruling authority on God’s behalf. Prophets delivered the messages of God to His people. Priests brought the prayers of the people before God. Kings were God’s stewards, while prophets spoke for God to the people and priests spoke to God for the people.

The Levites were priests. God set their tribe apart, as holy, for the express purpose of being mediators between Himself and the people of Israel. This was a tremendously generous grace of God upon Israel. As the Creator almighty who dwells in unapproachable light, He owes no one the privilege of hearing their prayers, let alone forgiving their sins! Yet that is exactly what He did! He established a system by which the Israelites had assured access to their God. May we never forget the graciousness of God in establishing the Mosaic Law with Israel!

According to this system, the psalmist is calling the priests to continue offering the people’s worship before the LORD through the night. His is calling them to keep their hand lifted toward the holy place, a sign of devotion to the Holy One of Israel.

What then do we do with these verses?

In Christ, the Levitical priesthood has been dissolved. Although it was truly a grace of God, it was an imperfect system. One flaw was that the priests were themselves sinful men who were tasked with offering sacrifices for both themselves and other sinners. Another crucial flaw was the insufficiency of animal blood to cleanse human sin. Since animals were created to be under the dominion of humanity, they are of lesser value than human life. As such, they simply could never cover the eternal debt that our sins accumulate. The system relieved symptoms but was powerless against the actual disease.

Jesus, however, has abolished the Levitical priesthood, replacing it with a superior order. Hebrews spends a lengthy amount of time explaining how Jesus is now our great high priest, after the order of Melchizedek, and why exactly that is so important. The flaws of the Levitical system have been overthrown by Jesus’ perfect fulfillment. He is both a better priest and a better sacrifice.

As our high priest, Christ sits at the Father’s right hand, ready to intercede for us at all times. As a man, He sympathizes with our weaknesses, and as God, He is able to look upon God’s face and live since the Son is coequal with the Father. He is the only one truly qualified to be the mediator between God and man. Jesus is our great high priest.

But He is also the better sacrifice for our sins. Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” While the blood of animals was not sufficient to purchase the forgiveness of sins, Jesus’ blood is. Under the Mosaic Law, animals were continuously slaughtered only for the guilt of sin to still remain. Yet Jesus offered His blood as a sacrifice once of all. His is the perfect sacrifice, who is also our high priest.

Yet under Jesus’ New Covenant, the priesthood has not been entirely dissolved. Indeed, God’s plan for Israel as a nation is now being fulfilled by the church among all the nations of the earth: that God’s people would be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Peter makes this explicit: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9).

So who are the priests, the servants of God standing by night in the house of the LORD?

We are.

We are the priests to God, and His house is now in us, as we discussed from Psalm 132. As living temples of God, our very lives are now temple worship. This is why Paul urges us to do everything for God’s glory and to use both our words and our deeds for the honor of His name. Worship must become the very fabric of our lives. By day and by night, with other believers and in solitude, we worship.

But how then are we to understand the commands of these verses toward us today?

First, remember that we experience a form of, or a taste of, our heavenly Jerusalem, whenever we gather together each week. So the first application I will give is to keep worshipping tonight… and tomorrow… and the next day. Don’t let worship be only when we gather together. Instead, use this gathering of other disciples of Jesus to strengthen your worship for the week ahead of you. Keep the spirit of worship with you and seek to do all things for God’s glory. In other words, keep your eyes upon and hands lifted toward the holy place. Keep God’s kingdom and throne as first importance in your life. Seek His kingdom above all things in all that you do.

Second, remember your priesthood. As disciples of Christ with the indwelling Spirit, we are Jesus’ physical presence on earth. We are God’s instruments for His work of the kingdom. We are, therefore, called to stand as messengers of heaven on earth. As lesser priests of God, we are tasked with pointing those around us to the great high priest. We are called to show Jesus to the world around us or, as Jesus said it, to make disciples of all nations.

By both worshipping God and calling upon others to worship Him, we bless God. This isn’t to say that we add anything to His holiness or greatness; instead, we bless God by giving Him the honor He rightly deserves. It is much like praying for God’s name to be made holy. God’s name is already holy; we are simply praying for that reality to be seen by throughout all creation.

MAY THE LORD BLESS YOU FROM ZION // VERSE 3

Verse 3 closes the psalm by reversing the imagery. The psalmist is no longer calling God’s people to bless the LORD; instead, he is praying for the LORD’s blessing upon His people. This is a powerfully fitting verse for the Songs of Ascents to conclude with. It is a prayer for the Creator of heaven and earth to bless individuals, to show favor toward His creatures. How flippantly we often invoke the blessings of God upon others, rarely pausing to consider the weight of that action. Too often we assume or even demand God’s blessing, when He sits in the heavens and does whatever He pleases. The blessing of God is no light matter. It is the very manna of heaven for our souls.

Yet also notice the place of the blessing: from Zion. May God bless you from the place of His gathered people, the place of His presence. Dear brothers and sisters, come to church expecting and anticipating God’s blessing and look for it among God’s people. More than that, come ready to bless, to be that very blessing for others. This gathering is a taste of the Zion to come, while also empowering and encouraging us to be miniature Zions to the world around us. As we return to Meshech and Kedar, to our exile in Babylon, we take Jerusalem with us. We carry God’s blessing as His priests, the living breathing kingdom of God, coming to earth. And we remember and long for the day when all other kingdoms fade away, when the glory of the LORD becomes our light, and when we form the glorified New Jerusalem upon the new earth as the collective people of God.

May God bless us, His people, from Zion.

May these Songs of Ascents keep our hearts tuned toward our heavenly home, even as we wander as pilgrims throughout this life.

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4 Benefits of Christ’s Ascension

Having just concluded the Easter season, the resurrection of Christ is firmly established within our minds. After all, we cannot truly consider the work of Jesus without declaring the glory of His resurrection. The miraculous incarnation set the foundations for the redemptive work of Christ. It provided the platform by which God was able to become a man and live a sinless life. The crucifixion was the means through which redemption would come. Because Jesus lived a sinless life without blemish, He is the only human in history not deserving of death. Yet because of His great love for us, Christ died in our place, making atonement and propitiation for our sins. However, this atoning sacrifice would not have been proven effective if the resurrection did not happen. Paul is correct in saying that without the resurrection we should be most pitied of all men.[1] If Jesus was not able to overcome the death, then how would we have been able to trust Him to overcome death on our behalf, especially when we are completely deserving of death!

Indeed, the resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. However, I believe that we often leave out one more step in the redemptive work of Christ: His ascension. I have yet to hear a sermon explicitly expounding upon the significance of the ascension of Christ. Too often we view the ascension as simply a historical fact for why Jesus is not on the earth right now, and we fail to see the significant theological implications and effects of Christ’s ascension into glory. Therefore, my aim will be to do just that: to give account of the effects and the implications of the ascension of Christ upon the lives of His followers.

The Account of the Ascension

Our primary text from which we will springboard into other sections of Scripture will be Acts 1, verses one through eleven. This section of Scripture provides us with the clearest description of the actual act of Christ’s ascension; therefore, we will first look at some important aspects from this text before launching into the effects and implications of the ascension. First, verse 3 tells us that there was a forty-day period of time between the resurrection and ascension, and during that time period, Christ spoke to them about the kingdom of God. It is important to note the patient love of Christ being reflected in this statement. We know from other Scriptures, which we will discuss later, that Christ was not fully glorified until He ascended. If we couple that fact with the severity of the humiliation received by Christ on the cross, one would imagine Him wanting to receive His full glory as quickly as possible. However, Jesus does not operate as we do; He was continuously selfless even after His resurrection. He stayed upon the earth another forty days, teaching and instructing His friends and disciples about the kingdom of God. Accounts such as the road to Emmaus give us an idea of what Christ’s post-resurrection/pre-ascension ministry must have looked like, that is revealing to them the great plan of salvation as fulfilled through Him.

Second, in verse 6 we see that the disciples, even after forty extra days of learning from Jesus, still did not understand fully the work that Jesus had done and was still going to do. Though Jesus taught them for forty days about the kingdom of God, they still could not stop focusing upon the kingdom of Israel. They longed to see the day that God would fully establish Israel as the chief nation upon the earth, now with Christ as their king. However, this was not the intent of Jesus, at least for that time. Christ’s focus was, instead, upon the kingdom of God that would not only impact Israel but Samaria and the ends of the earth as well. We know from elsewhere in Scripture that Christ will one day return as a ruling king to bring all of the earth under His submission, but such was not the plan during the days of the disciples.

Third, verse 9 describes the literal ascension of Christ into the heavens. Though some people today may find difficulty with this account of Jesus ascending into the clouds and vanishing, we cannot ignore that the gospel writers portray this event as concrete fact. Granted, there is a level of mystery to this verse. For instance, what exactly does it mean that a cloud took Him out of their sight? Since we know now that beyond our atmosphere is a massive cosmos, we assume that He did not physically ascend beyond the atmosphere but rather was taken supernaturally into the heavenly realm, which is beyond human sight. Nevertheless, since the ascension clearly involved the supernatural working of God, it is mysterious but true. We must take the ascension as clear, historical fact, just as Luke does here.

1. I Go to Prepare a Place for You

There is no doubt that Christ’s ascension would have naturally caused worry and sorrow among the disciples. We see some evidence of that fact in verse 10, where it appears that the disciples are awestruck because of having just witnessed the ascension of their Lord into heaven. Though of course, we read at the end of Luke that the disciples left the ascension rejoicing and worshipping Jesus. How are we to explain the reason for their joy, when obviously it was difficult for them to lose the physical presence of Jesus? We receive part the answer in the first verses of John 14. At the end of chapter 13, Jesus spoke to His disciples about His departure from them.  Apparently, this disheartened them because Jesus begins chapter 14 by telling them not to let their hearts be troubled. He then proceeds to tell them that He will be going to His Father to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. Throughout history, the Father’s house has been most commonly seen to be a reference to heaven, and I see no reason why it would not be so. Thus, Jesus is indicating that He would be leaving them prepare a place for them in heaven. Now, we must be careful with this text because some might take it to mean that the reason for Jesus’ 2000-year delay is because He hasn’t finished preparing all of the rooms in heaven. That seems to be a ridiculous interpretation of this text. Instead, Jesus is using imagery of Jewish matrimony to describe His relationship with the disciples. At that time, it was common for the bridegroom to return to his father’s house following the couple’s engagement, where he would prepare an addition onto the house where he and his bride will live. Thus, Jesus is using this imagery to describe something of the result of His ascension into heaven: Jesus’ ascension into heaven prepared the way for us also to enter into heaven.

Too often, we read this text and are too focused upon what Jesus might be describing heaven to be like. In fact, I have heard many people, on multiple occasions, declare that they cannot wait for their mansion in heaven. The problem is that they placed their focus upon the wrong part of the text. Jesus’ point here is that because He is going before the disciples, He will also return for the disciples. The emphasis is not about what heaven is like but rather that Jesus’ ascension to heaven is a guarantee of His bringing us into heaven. Just as Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection, so His ascension guarantees our eternal home with Him. But how did the ascension accomplish this? Hebrews 1 verse 3 seems to give us some indication. It claims that the act of ascension was Jesus “sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” This means that the very act of Jesus ascending to heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father was symbolizing the completion of His atoning work on our behalf. Praise God for the ascension, confirming the accomplishment of the cross and resurrection!

2. The Priestly Intercession of Christ

Having seen that Christ’s ascension serves as our guarantee of heaven with Him, we now turn to the second reason for the importance of the ascension: the priestly intercession of Christ. The task of explaining this role of Christ is far too great for this short sermon, but I will try to cover the overarching purpose for it. The priesthood of Christ is one of the great themes of the book of Hebrews, so I strongly suggest rereading the entire book for a better understanding of this matter. However, there are two great texts within Hebrews for viewing this matter. First, Hebrew 9:11-12 tells us that Christ, our high priest, entered into the very presence of God (not simply the man-made Holy of Holies, found within the temple), bringing before God the sacrifice of His very blood to make propitiation for our sins. The weight of this sacrifice was so great that He only needed to make one ascension into the holy place and only needed to offer that one sacrifice in order to secure “an eternal redemption.” This is the significance of speaking of only one act of Jesus ascending, He did not need to do so repeatedly. There was no need for Christ to repeatedly enter into the holy place. His sacrifice was sufficient, once for all.

Still the high priestly work of Christ does not end there. Though obviously there is major and primary significance in the mediatorial work of Christ through the presenting of His blood on our behalf, such does not completely encapsulate the intercession of Christ for us. The final two verses of Hebrews 2 give us insight into the continuous high priestly work of Christ. There, the writer of Hebrews portrays Christ as being a high priest that relates to us and is merciful upon us. Since Jesus is fully man as well as fully God, He is able to be a sympathetic high priest. This means that Jesus’ work is also to continuously aid in our sanctification by petitioning the Father on our behalf.

3. The Glorification of Christ

The third effect of the ascension that we will consider is the glorification of Christ. We know, especially from texts such as the Christ hymn of Philippians 2, that the end result of Christ’s humility unto death was the exaltation and the glorification of Christ; however, we rarely view the ascension as having such an integral role in the glorification of Jesus. Verses 20-22 of the first chapter of Ephesians provided a clear link to these two concepts. Paul states here that following the resurrection Christ was seated at the “right hand in heavenly places” (the ascension) and that from this seat He is far above all powers and authority. The act of Christ ascending to the right hand of the Father is the very act of placing all other things under His feet. The ascension proclaims that Christ is Lord and that all things are in subjection to Him.

However, with this discussion also comes the question of why do things appear to be outside of the control of Christ. After all, if Jesus is truly as exalted as the New Testament describes, why does everyone not yet proclaim Him Lord over everything? The answer is simply within the word “yet”. Things do not always appear to be under Christ sovereign rule for now, but there will come a day when we will finally see every knee bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father! Thus, the ascension of Christ is both the proclamation of His present glorification at the right hand of the Father and also of His future glorification as every creature in existence declares Him to be Lord.

4. The Sending of the Holy Spirit

For the final effect of the ascension, we turn our attention once more to the main text of our study: Acts 1. The ESV divides these first eleven verses of chapter one into three paragraphs. Found within each of those paragraphs is a concept that is key not only to understanding the significance of Christ’s ascension but also for understanding the nature of the Christian life as a whole: the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity is the mentioned often in this text because He is of absolute importance. The first paragraph tells us that the power through which Jesus accomplished His entire earthly ministry was through the Holy Spirit, and since that is the case, the next two paragraphs are utterly astonishing. In verses 5 and 8, Jesus confirms to His disciples His previous promise of the Holy Spirit being given to them. This means that the disciples were ordered to wait for the very same power that empowered Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke goes so far as to imply that, through the Holy Spirit, the work of the apostles in Acts would be the continuation of the ministry of Jesus Christ! This should give us an entirely new depth of meaning when we call the church the body of Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are meant to be the physical presence of Jesus in the world, even today.

Jesus gives emphasis to the importance of the Holy Spirit whenever He tells the disciples that it was better for them that He was departing from them because then He would send the Holy Spirit to them.[2] This is an incredible statement. Surely, there are times when each of us would love to be able to speak to Jesus face to face, to be able personally to be His disciple, yet Jesus Himself tells us that having the Holy Spirit is better. Why is this so? It is because the Holy Spirit dwells within us. The Holy Spirit is God Himself inhabiting our bodies just as the presence of God once occupied the temple in Jerusalem. This should be an incredible thought for any believer that God would choose to dwell within us! This Spirit within us is the “guarantee of our inheritance.”[3] He is the One by whom we are able to call God our Father. We also learn from Romans 8 that He makes prayers on our behalf to the Father, since we often do not know how to pray as we ought. In short, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential for the life of the believer. We simply cannot live the Christian walk without Him.

Final Implications of the Ascension

Finally, brothers, after we have seen the astounding effects of the ascension of Christ, upon both Jesus Himself and every believer in His name, we must give question to how they shape and mold our everyday lives. First, if we claim that Christ is the glorious treasure of our lives, do our hearts show to be with Him? Are our hearts within Him in His heavenly realm, where He has prepared the way for us to go?

Second, if He has truly ascended into heaven in order that we might forever dwell with Him, do we long for such? Do we long to be eternally with the infinitely glorious Christ in never ending worship of His supremacy and majesty?

Third, or perhaps do we look too longingly for the His return? Are we like the disciples who stood looking at the sky, seemingly in wait for His immediate return? Or will we in true obedience serve the Lord and make Him known since His return can come at any time?

Fourth, since we are given the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Christ, how seriously are we taking that work? Are we faithfully going to the ends of the earth to carry the name of the Jesus, the ascended and glorified Christ?

Finally, if we have seen that the ascension is evidence of Christ’s completed work, do we trust in that completed work? Do we have full reliance in Jesus for our salvation, knowing that our greatest works are worth nothing at all?

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:19

[2] John 16:7

[3] Ephesians 1:14

The Man of Faith

Abraham and Melchizedek (Genesis 14)

Abraham Study Guide (Week 4)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) (Genesis 14:18)

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19-20)

OPENING THOUGHT

While studying the life of Abram, the man of faith, we have witnessed both his successes and failures. When God told Abram to go to an unknown place, Abram trusted the faithfulness of God and went. Yet when his life was in danger in Egypt, he sold away his wife to save himself. Last week, a conflict arose between Abram and Lot, and Abram responded by faith, while Lot trusted his sight. The account then ended with God renewing his promise to Abram, showing that God remained faithful to Abram through every high and low of life.

In this chapter, Lot’s decision to live in Sodom results in him being captured by a hostile army. Though Abram was only connected to this war of kings through Lot, he steps into the conflict for the sake of his nephew. By the grace of God, Abram is given a tremendous victory and afterward encounters two very different kings. One of the kings, Melchizedek, is a priest of God, to whom Abram gladly gives a tithe in thankfulness to God’s provision. The second is the king of Sodom, who attempts to give Abram spoils of war so that he can claim to have made Abram rich.

Abram navigates the war and the two kings with wisdom that only God can give, but like the rest of the Bible, this chapter ultimately points to Jesus. Abram was able to avoid a sinful love of money because he possessed a greater treasure than material wealth. Furthermore, Hebrews 7 explains how Melchizedek points to Jesus being our great high priest, who intercedes on our behalf to the Father. Through this chapter in Abram’s life, we see Jesus as both our treasure and our high priest.

Read verses 1-12 and discuss the following.

  1. After living in the evil city of Sodom, Lot is taken captive whenever the city is defeated. Can you recall a time when you suffered because you placed yourself in a bad situation? Can you think of times when you placed yourself in position where you would likely sin, whether intentional or unintentional?

Read verses 13-16 and discuss the following.

  1. Ultimately, God gave Abram victory over his enemies. Are you able to recall moments when God gave you success? Are we ever able to succeed without God’s aid?

Read verses 17-20 and discuss the following.

  1. Melchizedek points to Christ being our perfect and eternal high priest. What is the significance of Jesus being our high priest? How does Jesus’ priestly role impact our prayers?
  2. Abram gave a tithe (ten percent of his income) to Melchizedek out of thankfulness to God. Is your giving out of gratitude or compulsion? Why should we want to give to God?

Read verses 21-24 and discuss the following.

  1. Abram’s refusal of the king of Sodom’s offer reveals that wealth was not Abram’s ultimate aim in life. He passed by one treasure because he trusted in a greater treasure. If placed in a similar situation, would you have also declined the king’s offer? What was Abram’s great treasure, the source of his hope and trust?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Recall times when the LORD granted you success in life and thank Him for that grace.
  • Consider how recognizing Jesus as our high priest should impact your prayers.
  • In light of 2 Corinthians 9:7, prayerfully decided how to thankfully give to the LORD (with both time and finances).