Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sermon: Psalm 24 The King of Glory

I wonder if you’ve ever played ‘Guess Who’. When we were growing up, it was one of my favourite games. You start with a group of very interesting and different people with all sorts of hair colours and styles (or none!), some with glasses, some with hats, some men, some women, but you’re trying to narrow it down to find who is the right answer - the person your wee brother has on his card. At the start, any of them could be the one, but all of them gradually fall away, leaving the last man (or woman!) standing.

In Guess Who, you have a field of 24 to start with. Think of Britain’s Got Talent which has thousands of entries, some of whom quickly get those three X’s, and others who eventually get eliminated by the public votes. In a few weeks time the winner will be crowned, and they’ll be practicing to perform in front of the Queen. Many hopefuls, lots of potential, but just one who will be the victor.

In the Psalm we’re looking at this morning, Psalm 24, we find a similar kind of knock out happening. As it was being read, you might have noticed that several times there was a question being asked. Both those questions (one of which is repeated) begins with the same word: Who. Look at verse 3: ‘Who’; and then verse 8: ‘Who’. In our time this morning we’re going to think about these two who’s, as we see who is truly worthy to be worshipped and praised.

So let’s look at the first question, as we find it in verse 3. ‘Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?’ Who is it who can come close to God? Who can survive if they come to God in his holiness?

Just as we saw with Guess Who and with Britain’s Got Talent, we’re given a glimpse of the hopefuls standing in the queue hoping to prove their worth. There aren’t any overhead cameras swooping over the crowd, but there is that declaration in verses 1 and 2: ‘The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.’ The LORD made everything, every single person who is alive now, or who ever lived, or will ever live.

There are almost 7 billion of us alive now, many of us trying to be religious, searching for God, trying to work ourselves good enough for him - if I just come to church enough, if I light that candle, if I reverence my ancestors, if I submit to Allah or die on jihad, if I meditate so I lose myself - whatever it might be, trying to prove ourselves to God.

Look around the world today. There are many who would point to good people, supposedly holy people, and think that they must be good enough for God, good enough to stand in God’s holy place. Maybe the Pope (or Ian Paisley). Perhaps the Dalai Lama. Or Buddhist monks. We might not make it, but surely they would be good enough?

Let’s see what God says is his standard for coming into his presence: ‘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.’

I don’t know if you’ve been in hospital recently, but they’re getting particularly strict on having clean hands. Before you go on the ward, there’s the alcohol hand gel to make sure you don’t bring any germs in; if you’re going from one patient to another you have to wash your hands in between; and when you’re leaving, another squirt to make sure you don’t take any germs home. It’s essential to stop the spread of infections, to make sure sick people don’t get sicker or have more things wrong. So when we hear of clean hands you might think that you’re doing ok. You wash your hands after visiting the toilet, before you prepare food. But it’s more than that. Are your hands really clean? Are your actions always good, or have you done wrong things?

It can be easy for us to look good to others. Having clean hands is easy on a Sunday when we gather together in our Sunday best, looking respectable and presentable. We might fool others, we might even fool ourselves some times, but don’t congratulate yourself too quickly.

Clean hands, yes, but also a pure heart is required to approach God. He sees us to our core, to the deepest, darkest places of our lives, and demands purity of heart - are my motives pure (or do I volunteer to be seen and commended by others?)? Just like those Guess Who characters, we fall because we’re not right. Like those TV talent show would be’s, we don’t make it.

The standard is just too high. It’s not just purity on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings at Fellowship Group - it’s purity all the time. I know I’m out. I’m fairly sure about you too, and the pope, the Dalai Lama and every other person living on the planet today. None of us can approach God in our own power.

It almost doesn’t seem worth it to know what comes next, does it? Do you remember the TV show Bullseye? If the contestants didn’t win the mystery star prize, Jim Bowen would say ‘have a look at what you would have won.’ It’s almost a bit like that in verse 5-6 - there is blessing and righteousness for the one who can approach the LORD.

So is it all over? We’ve been brought low and left outside? No prospect, no hope? Sorry, you have not been successful in your application? Well, there’s still another question. Another guess who, if you like. It’s as if the trumpets are sounding, the call goes out to ‘lift up your heads, o gates! And be lifted up, o ancient doors’ because someone special is coming.

In recent days we’ve seen some important visitors coming to Dublin, first the Queen, and then President Barak Obama - but unlike the President’s car getting stuck, the procession is coming, the king of glory is on his way. There is one who is worthy, one who meets the standard, one who has clean hands and a pure heart.

And that question: ‘Who is this King of glory?’ The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! ... The LORD of hosts (of armies), he is the King of glory!’

If you notice the very top of the Psalm, in the small capital letters, it tells us it is ‘A PSALM OF DAVID’ . David the king sings of a great triumphal entry by the King of glory, but he isn’t talking about himself, he’s pointing to the King of glory, to God himself who arrives in victory. He may have been singing about the bringing of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem - the ark containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, which symbolised God’s presence with his people as they came from Sinai to the promised land. But we see how this psalm enlarges our vision and points beyond itself to the great victory of the King of glory.

Having been crucified, and buried, Jesus was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Our Psalm points us to someone greater than the right character in Guess Who, much more important than the winner of Britain’s Got Talent, points us to the King of glory, the Lord Jesus Christ who enters heaven in triumph to receive honour and blessing and righteousness from the Father. The Jesus who offers us a share in his Kingdom, who offers us his blessings. The conquering king has triumphed (in the words of Revelation): ‘for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ (Rev 5:9-10)

Jesus died, gave his perfect life in perfect obedience, in order to ‘forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9) - to clean our dirty hands and purify our impure hearts, so that our sins are gone. Through Jesus, we can enter the holy place with confidence, we can be sure of heaven - not through our achievements, but through his work on the cross for us.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the final of X Factor (to change the TV programme). At some point during the evening a group of the biggest no-hopers and dreadful singers will come on stage and murder a classic song to give everyone a laugh. Then the real business of choosing the winner carries on. Imagine, though, if the winner was to announce that everyone was going to share in their winnings - not just the second placed contestant, but also the desperately out of tune no-hoper. Now we’re getting closer to what the Lord Jesus has done for us.

He has won, he has conquered, he has satisfied the entrance requirement. And most amazingly and wonderfully, he allows us to share in his kingdom, by taking away our sins, and inviting us in with him.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? Perhaps you need to be reminded of your sin, perhaps open, like dirty hands, or maybe hidden, an impure heart - you can’t win or work for your own salvation.

Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, strong and mighty, the one who has conquered. Jesus, our Lord has fulfilled the law, has removed the curse, and offers us cleansing from our sins. Will you come to him today?

‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Phil 2:9-11) Just as Trevor said last week: open the door, swing wide the gates, and welcome the King of glory in.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 29th May 2011.

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