A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” And now here we are, standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem (122:1-2 NLT).
Psalms 120-132 are called Songs of Ascent. The law covenant required all males in the covenant nation to assemble in Jerusalem three times a year. All your males are to appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place he chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Shelters. No one is to appear before the Lord empty-handed (Deuteronomy 16:16 CSB; cf. Exodus 23:14-17). As is clear from the Old Testament in several texts, the place God chose was Jerusalem. King David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, and there Solomon built the temple of the Lord. We learn from the heading to this psalm that David was its human author.
After many years of spiritual chaos during the reign of Saul, the Holy Spirit equipped David the prophet and king to restore the worship of the Lord in Israel. (There was not much worship according to the law covenant going on in Saul’s time. The Ark had been separated from the tabernacle for generations. Saul had killed many of the Lord’s priests, and the priests who were faithful to the Lord had been on the run with David for many years.) The second half of First Chronicles records various acts of David to bring about this restoration and indeed renovation of old covenant worship. (For example, he assigned the Levites to new duties, since they would no longer have to carry the tabernacle from place to place.) His greatest contribution to worship was the many songs that he composed for worship. At least two of his psalms are part of the Songs of Ascent. David wrote this one for people to sing as they entered Jerusalem on the three required times of assembly. So picture yourselves among the throng of worshipers. You have made a long journey, probably on foot, from your home to the holy (set apart to God) city. You join in this song with the others and are very happy because your trip has reached its destination.
David puts himself among the crowds that enter Jerusalem. This is what godly leaders ought to do. It has always amazed me how many leaders in churches do many other things during the service besides worship. Why didn’t they do some of those things a half hour earlier? Not so David. He entered Jerusalem fully engaged in worship. He was joyful because of the great privilege of standing inside the gates of Jerusalem. As an old covenant believer, he was glad that he was at the place of worship.
Read those words again: I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Notice how he models the joy of being part of a God-worshiping community where all encourage their neighbors to worship with them. During the law covenant, the place to be was at the temple in Jerusalem. In the new covenant, we seek no physical place, but we assemble as a spiritual temple (2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; 1 Peter 2:2:4-5). One of the best things about the current Covid-19 crisis has been to get the church out of a physical building. Now I realize the many advantages of being able to meet together in person rather than digitally. However, people had so joined building with church that they lost what a church truly is. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it (1 Corinthians 11:18 NIV, my emphasis). A church comes together as people meet to share their new lives in Christ. In this century, we are able to do this the first time virtually; we can interact seeing faces and hearing voices without being in a physical building. May we learn this lesson! We can share new life in Christ apart from a building.
Can you sense the exhilaration all the pilgrims experienced as they sang together, “And now here we are, standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem”? They had reached the place that the living God had chosen for his old covenant people to meet. Observe how the first person singular at the start of the song has morphed into the first personal plural in these words. Here we are! The people have assembled to worship! We sing far too many songs in the singular instead of the plural. For example, we sing, “On Christ the solid rock I stand,” when we could just as easily sing, “On Christ the solid rock we stand!”
What is the new covenant reality compared to the old covenant shadow? It is easy to see in the letter to the Hebrews. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV). They gathered to worship in an earthly city. We gather in the Spirit to worship in the heavenly city. Many thousands of angels worship with us. We come as the church of the firstborn, the Lord Jesus Christ. We come directly to God and to the Mediator of the new covenant that is built on his sprinkled blood that always cries out, “Forgive them, forgive them, don’t let those ransomed sinners die!” That is a beautiful reality!
We spiritually stand in Christ inside the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. Look around with the eyes of faith. Enjoy our eternal city. We look forward when our faith will become our full experience.
Grace and peace,