Today I would ask that you open your Bibles to Psalm 122. This psalm is a psalm of degrees, or, literally, a song of ascent. From Psalm 120 to Psalm 134 we have songs which were sung by the people of God as they would make their ascent to the mount Jerusalem, as they would go up to Jerusalem and to the temple to worship God. They would recite or sing these psalms as they made their way to the house of God.
Psalm 122 begins with the words, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” Do you experience the same spiritual joy in going to the house of the Lord on the Sabbath, twice on the Sabbath? Do you experience the same joy when you contemplate going to worship the Lord God, as you think about that during the week? Do you long for Sabbath worship? Do you long for moments of public worship?
This Word of God is telling us that wherever the grace of God has come into the heart, there will be the corresponding spiritual joy in God’s house. This Word of God is teaching us that when one is truly made a child of God, he will delight in public worship on the Lord’s day. He will delight to go to church and to gather with the people of God, in truth, to worship the name of God publicly.
Notice with me in the psalm, first of all, the pleasure that the psalmist has in being present for moments of public worship. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.” This man’s heart is in the worship of God. So, when another person summons him, invites him to go to worship God, then immediately he responds with great delight: “I was glad when they said this unto me!” He is filled with pleasure and gladness.
Perhaps the man who speaks was at that time a Jewish villager who lived far away from Jerusalem in some backwater town, not even on the map, far to the north in Zebulon or far south in the deserts of Judea. He lives his hum-drum life, nothing exciting. He tends his farm and his vines. Or, perhaps, this man was in exile. David was often in exile, being hunted and fleeing, and deprived from going up to the house of the Lord.
Then to him comes an invitation: “Let us go up into the house of the Lord.” Notice, the invitation is not: “Go. You go,” but “Let us go.” He meets another of kindred spirit, and what joy it is for him to hear another one expressing what is in his heart. He was glad to be invited for public worship. He did not say, “Mind your own business. My religion is my own thing.” He was glad to find a man or woman of God calling him to join their company. That calling to worship thrilled him, filled him with excitement and enthusiasm. He was excited that he might join a group of people who intended to go up for public worship.
The very mention of the Lord’s house really is the reason for his joy. For he says, “Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.” This man had a true understanding of what public worship was all about and what the gathered church was all about. In the Old Testament that was in the house of God: the tabernacle or the temple that Solomon built. God had said concerning the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon that He would meet with His people there. So their attachment to that tabernacle and temple was not simply the physical attachment to a building, to bricks. But it was an attachment to the spiritual realities that took place in that tabernacle or temple. They would come under the ministry of the Word. They would see the Old Testament sacrifices. They would have to them the revelation of God’s grace and promise in Jesus Christ. They would be able there to draw near to God through God’s appointed means of worship.
Today, that is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in public worship. That is God’s house. Hebrews 12:22 identifies the reality that mount Zion and Jerusalem in the Old Testament were only figures and were the expressions of the church of the firstborn Son of God. There in the body of the church, and the church now gathered together for public worship on the Lord’s day, there is where God delights to be. And there God draws near to us through the means that He has chosen, the means of the preaching of the Word and worship that is regulated by His Word.
Our feet then, when we are gathered in public worship under the truth of the Word of God, are standing within the gates of Jerusalem.
I was glad!
Is that so with you?
Your journey to go to a faithful church is not as long or difficult as the psalmist’s. You do not have to walk over dusty roads. It is not as arduous. Perhaps you have to contend with some traffic lights and expressway traffic, perhaps twenty-five miles, perhaps a half hour. That is not asking too much. A half hour, forty-five minutes, even an hour – that is not asking too much. To go up to the house of God, in truth, to worship God and draw near to Him with His people? I was glad to go up to the house of the Lord.
How much more glad ought we to be than was the psalmist! Now we have full revelation. The gospel which in the Old Testament was pictured is now accomplished in the day of salvation through Jesus Christ. What pleasure ought to be ours to worship the living God! This is the mark of the believer: joy in public worship.
Do you wake up on the Lord’s day with a joy in you, a spring in your step? Do you lift up your heels? You do not go about it as a matter of routine, habit, or duty, do you? Or is there a dull ache in you? No, no! It must be in us as children of God that, by the grace of God, we freely choose to undertake to go up to the house of God, that place of blessing, twice on the Lord’s day. What a wonder, what a joy that is!
Where would you rather be? At the time of public worship where would you rather be? On the beach? Wrigley Field? At home barbecuing with the neighbors at the time of worship? Those places are the tents of wickedness for you. That reveals that your heart is not living toward God. Where would you rather be?
There we can be with the people of God. What thrilling words: Let us go up to the house of the Lord! Every Sabbath morning we ought to sing these words. After a week of trial we ought to sing on the Sabbath morning with our families: My heart was glad to hear the welcome sound, the call to seek Jehovah’s house of prayer; our feet are standing here on holy ground, within thy gates, thou city grand and fair.
This must be impressed upon children, upon your children. They must learn from you, parents, what a great joy and what a wonderful privilege it is to go to church, to go to a sound church, to go to a church which stands upon the truth of God’s Word, which stands in the Reformed faith, which is simply the best expression that we know of, of the truth of God’s Word. That must be seen on your face. It must be communicated to your children. You say to them, “Today we go to God’s house!”
That must also be seen by your friends and by your neighbors, by your work acquaintances. Your work acquaintances must know that Sunday and public worship is the climax of your whole week, the most important moment to you.
Today, in Christianity, the emphasis is upon personal devotions. And that is good. But corporate worship is even more delightful to God. Psalm 87:2, “The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” The dwellings of Jacob were all those little villages and houses scattered throughout the land of Israel. The Lord loved those little villages and houses. But He loved the gates of Zion more. The gates of Zion are the moments of public gathering for worship of the people of God. The Lord loves that even more. There we receive the sweetest enjoyments of the grace of God. I was glad.
Why? Why was he so glad?
In verses 3-5 of Psalm 122 he gives three reasons for his joy. He sees there the privileges that come to him as one who worships God publicly in the church. And He praises God for those privileges.
First of all, he says, “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together.” He sees Jerusalem as a city that is permanent and solid. Imagine the impact that a city would have on a country dweller. This man’s village contained, perhaps, a few houses, a little hovel, a few huts, not many people. But now he comes to a substantial city with architecture, massive structures, a design and arrangement, and a wall to defend it. It is very overwhelming to him because he sees that it is compact together, that is, it is coupled together, welded together, as a city. There are palaces, a temple, and great houses. It leaves the impression on him of a united people and an impregnable fortress, of power and majesty, of that which is solid. He looks around him and sees the beautiful city of God.
That means that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to which we come on the Lord’s day for public worship is not something small and shabby and trivial. I am not referring now to its outward appearance. I am not referring now to its numbers. We may look upon ourselves when we gather together to worship and we see but a small group. We may see much weakness in those who are attending, because we get to know them and we see that they have great weaknesses which irritate us. We see that it is only a small number who truly want to hear the truths of God’s Word without compromise. And we begin to think that we are worshiping in a small thing.
Oh, no! The church of Christ is mighty. It is permanent. It is built upon the solid Rock, Christ, and upon the teaching of the twelve apostles. It is the pillar and the ground of the truth. The church is not a shanty town, not a collection of flimsy dwellings thrown on a river bank. It is compact and fair. We must cultivate an awareness of the majesty of the church of God and the privilege of being a member in her. Do not allow that to be pushed into the fringes of your mind. Do not think that the church of which you are a member, that faithful church, is just an odd little group. You say, “Well, how quaint.” Oh, no. It is the church of the living God.
The true church, the biblical, Reformed church goes back to the Reformation. And it goes back beyond the Reformation to the holy apostolic church, the one church. We are part of that Jerusalem, that one people of God of both Old and New Testaments. The true church is not a new church. Ours is no new church. It is that which is founded by the apostles. We need to sense that continuity of the church. The church does not begin anew with us. We do not form her for the first time. The church stands upon the Rock of ages. That is why we must not be cut off from history, the history of the church. That is why we may not be cut off from the creeds, the doctrinal statements and confessions of the truth. Why? Because the church did not begin with you and your congregation or with your pastor. The church began by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is founded upon the truth. And Christ said that He would give the Holy Spirit ( John 16) to guide that church into all the truth. The church, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has been studying the Scriptures and formulating the truth of the Scriptures into beautiful, Reformed confessions and creeds. Three of them, three biblical, Reformed creeds are the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, and the Belgic Confession. (If you would like to have a copy of those, write to us this week and we will send you a copy of them.) Why do we have them? Because Jerusalem is a city that is compact together and fair. Because Jerusalem is the permanent house of God. The church is not a new thing. When we are members of God’s church in truth, then we stand upon that church as it existed from the very beginning of the ages and will continue to exist even to the end.
But there was another reason that the psalmist was so happy to go up to the house of God. He says in verse 4: “Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.” He sees that those who gather are diverse, yet united. This man who came up to Jerusalem had probably known only his own tribe and village. He lived in a very restricted environment. But now he enters Jerusalem and encounters people whom he never knew before. He sees some coastal dwellers, some fishermen from Zebulon. Perhaps he sees some ranchers from Dan, some shepherds from Ephraim, some bedouins from Simeon. He hears different accents, sees different clothing and customs, cultural ways, foods.
Yet one. All going up unto the testimony of Israel. The church is diverse, gathered out of all nations, all types of people, personalities, races, languages. Yet one, one in the truth. One in the testimony of Israel. When he sees that glorious work of God, of taking that which is not a people, taking those who are diverse one from another, and united in the truth, then he rejoices to enter into the house of God.
But there was still another reason. He says, “For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David” (v. 5). There is another reason, then, why he was so glad to go for public worship.
He was so glad because he saw that in the church were set thrones of judgments, thrones of the house of David. That is, there in the church he would receive direction from the king. Perhaps this man could not receive justice in his own village. Maybe no one knew the law. Or they did not have the power to enforce it. His life was filled with injustices. But there, in Zion, as he came up to Jerusalem, was a place of authority, a place of the mighty Word of God. Thrones of judgment were set there. There the truth would be uttered and maintained. Moses had said that if there were hard cases they would be brought to the elders. There would be a king to judge, to guard, to enforce. The psalmist had lived amid injustice and, perhaps, half-truths. But now, as he came to Jerusalem, to Zion, he knew that things would be put right. God’s Word would be heard clearly, unambiguously, and authoritatively.
So it must be in worship. Central to the place of worship is the pulpit, the preaching of the Word. There the mighty Word of God, the authoritative Word of God, is declared. There is the throne of judgment. Every eye, then, in worship is directed to the Word of God, to the pulpit, to the preaching of the Word of God.
When you enter into a place of worship and you see where the pulpit stands, then that congregation has made a statement about what it believes. When you see that the pulpit is central to the place of worship and when you see that central to the place of worship is not a baptismal pool, not an altar, and not a communion table, but a pulpit from which the Word of God is preached so that every eye, when they enter into the auditorium, the sanctuary, is directed to that pulpit where the Word of God is proclaimed, then that congregation is making a statement or confession. It is saying that the Word of God is the authority. And that Word of God gives the direction that we are to have from our king.
When we come up, then, for public worship, we are not coming simply for fellowship. Yes, we enjoy the fellowship of the saints on Sunday. But if worship consisted principally in fellowship with each other, if that were the first thing, then instead of having a pulpit up front what ought to be done is to take all the chairs or pews and arrange them in a big circle so that we could share with each other. Perhaps there are times for that. There are times for such fellowship. But when we come to worship God, we come to hear the Word of the King. We come to hear His Word of mercy and correction and guidance. We come to place ourselves under the Word of God. For there are set thrones of judgment, thrones of the house of David.
Then we do not come to debate. We do not come to discuss or to share or to argue. But we come to hear and to obey and to believe. We come through the door and we hear the everlasting truths of the gospel preached to us.
That is why he was so glad. He was glad to come for public worship because he realized that that church to which he came was the church of all ages compacted together. He was glad to come because he saw in that church diversity which of itself would only bring division. But that diversity now was united in the blood of Jesus Christ and under the truth of God. And he was glad, in a world of chaos, to come to worship because he knew that there he would hear the Word of the King, the authoritative Word of truth.
Are you glad for public worship?
Then you will show that on the Lord’s day. It will be written on your face. It will be seen in your conduct and in your attendance at the house of God. And then you will look forward to the day when the new Jerusalem, the glorified church, will come down out of heaven.
And then we will hear the call, in that great day of days: “Let us go up into the house of the Lord.” O what gladness we will have then!
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We pray that Thou wilt write it upon our hearts and work it in our lives so that we may rejoice under the privilege of the public worship of the Lord on the Lord’s day. Amen.