Sunday, August 03, 2014

Sermon: Psalm 48 Through the Keyhole: The God of Zion

You can normally tell a lot about someone based on their home. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to single anyone out; there’s no naming and shaming from this pulpit; I don’t even notice what your house might be like. But your home says something about what you’re like. If you were to see my study, you might reckon that I’m fairly chaotic, but it’s an orderly chaos - I normally know where everything is!.

Your home shows what kind of person you are. It was the idea behind ‘Through the Keyhole.’ Having seen round a celebrity’s home, the panel had to work out: Who lives in a house like this? This morning, our psalm is a bit like an episode of Through the Keyhole, except we’re told straight away whose house it is.

As we’ve seen in recent weeks, the Sons of Korah were the worship leaders in the temple in Jerusalem. In Psalm 48, they sing of the God of Zion. Look at verse 1: ‘Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!’ God is great, and greatly to be praised. As the sons of Korah look out at the city, they see what God is like - his chosen dwelling place reflects his character.

You’ve heard of the saying, ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle?’ Well here, the city of Zion is fortified. It’s like a castle. God’s castle. but look at what verse 3 points to: ‘Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.’ God’s home reflects what God is like - a fortress, a castle, a defensive secure place.

But rather than just saying that, the sons of Korah tell you a story. They look back to a time when God’s people were under attack. Verse 4 shows the threat. ‘For behold, the kings assembled; they came on together.’ It’s not just one country against them, it’s kings plural. Lots of kings. Lots of soldiers. The threat is real. The odds are against tiny Judah.

But remember, God has made himself known as a fortress. ‘As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight. Trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in labour. By the east wind you shattered the ships of Tarshish.’ God won the victory. God is a fortress (just like his dwelling place).

It’s one thing hearing of it. It’s lovely to hear of how God has worked in the life of someone else. It’s amazing to read of things like the 1859 revival or look back to a time when the churches were full. But it’s even better to see it for yourself. To know and experience God as a fortress in the midst of the challenges and problems and attacks in your own life. ‘As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God will establish for ever.’

We had heard about it, but now we have seen it with our own eyes. God is a fortress. He is rock solid, dependable, safe and secure. Are you sure of this truth today? Have you seen it in your own life? Can you praise God for his fortressness?

The sons of Korah continue their Through the Keyhole tour. From the battlements, they go further up and further in to the city. From the fortress to the temple, and it’s here they find the reason. ‘We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple. As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with righteousness.’ God is like a fortress because at his core is his steadfast love. In the words of the Jesus Storybook Bible, his ‘never ending, never giving up, unstopping, always and forever love.’

If God loves like this, then it is not surprising that he is a fortress for those he loves. his hand is filled with righteousness - he always does what is right, because he is righteous, good, true, pure, perfect. God’s steadfast love was seen in the temple, the place of sacrifice, where sinful people could come and meet with a holy God. Have you been through the keyhole? Have you known the God of Zion, whose place displays his praise?

From the temple, the sons of Korah take us on a walking tour. Perhaps you’ve visited Londonderry and walked around Derry’s walls, over the gates and the bastions. Here, the Zion tourist board shows you the city, count the towers, consider the ramparts, look at the citadels. They all point to God’s character and protection and guidance. Go on the walking tour to tell the next generation: ‘this this is our God, our God for ever and ever. He will guide us for ever.’

It’s a great psalm. As we go through the keyhole, we see God’s character displayed in God’s dwelling place. But as we go through the Bible, we might be left confused. Those towers and ramparts, those strong defences were torn down by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587BC. The city was left desolate. The walls toppled. The protection withdrawn. No wonder the mood is very different in Lamentations, as the lament rises from the ruins of the city.

If this is what happened to the city of the great King, the joy of all the earth, then what of the God of this city? Was God not powerful? Did God not care any more? Was his promise in vain? Is there a danger that if we trust in God we’ll be left desolate like ruined Jerusalem?

Thankfully not. You see, God does not change. Remember when the sons of Korah led us into the temple and they discovered God’s character? His steadfast love and his righteousness? God was still righteous as he punished Zion for their sins (Lam 1:5,8,9,14,18,22). Under the old covenant, the people of God were called to obey, but they didn’t (and couldn’t). God’s holiness punished their sins.

The people returned from exile in Babylon; Ezra and Nehemiah rebuilt the city and temple, but it was nothing compared to the old one. But even before Jerusalem fell, there was a promise of a new Jerusalem, to which the nations would come. A place where God would dwell with his people. So they waited, and waited.

In John 1, the reading we always get around Christmas time, we find the promise coming to fruition. ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.’ Lived among us - the word there is ‘tabernacled’ - he pitched his tent among us. Jesus is God’s presence living among us.

That’s why Jesus declares in the next chapter: ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews think he means the temple, a building site of 46 years. He means the temple of his body, the meeting place of God and people - destroyed on the cross, and on the third day raised up.

Jesus is the city of God, the dwelling place of God. In him, we perfectly see the perfect character of God. Beaten, bloodied, crucified, demonstrating that God is indeed righteous, his steadfast love is unchanging, that God is indeed a fortress for all who take refuge in him. As we eat the bread and drink the wine, we share in Christ’s sacrifice. In Christ, we meet with God, no longer at a distance, and look forward to eternity with him in the new Jerusalem, the city of God. So walk around, explore God’s goodness, and take refuge in him.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 3rd August 2014.

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