************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 18, 2021
"Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem"
Every time I visited a certain family, the lady of the house said the words of our text to me: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Every time. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Why did she keep saying this? Without realizing it, she was looking at Jerusalem and the nation-state of Israel from a dispensational viewpoint. Ever since the formation of the nation-state of Israel in 1948, dispensationalists have mass produced bumper stickers and billboards calling evangelical Christians to pray for the welfare of Jerusalem and Israel; and, dispensationalists tell us the peace and safety of Christians everywhere is tied up with the peace and safety of Israel.
I want to answer three questions tonight. First, why does the psalmist rejoice? Second, why is he so concerned for Jerusalem? Third, what does this mean for us today?
I Why the Psalmist Rejoices
A The first question: Why does the psalmist rejoice? Or, to use the word of most other translations, why is the psalmist glad? The answer is so clear in this psalm. The psalm writer is glad because he loves to worship God. The heading to the psalm says, "A song of ascents. Of David." David is headed to Jerusalem. And, on the way he has received a call to worship God: "Let us go to the house of the LORD" (Ps 122:1). David loves to worship and now he has received a call to worship.
B "Let us go to the house of the LORD" (Ps 122:1). Do you know what David deserves to hear? Do you know what we deserve to hear? With David, we all deserve to hear God say, "Away. Get away from me. Go far away. You may not come into my presence." God said something like that through Amos:
(Am 5:21–23; NIV84) — 21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
"Away. Go away!" That's what God should say. That's what David should hear. That's what we should hear. Because we all are sinners. Because we love ourselves more than we love God. Because we are not worthy of being in God's presence. Our walk is not blameless and we don't do what is righteous; we don't speak the truth and slander is on our tongue; we do our neighbor wrong and cast slurs on our fellowman; we don't honor those who fear the Lord and fail to keep our promises (cf Psalm 15). No, we are not worthy of God. "Away. Go away."
C Instead, David receives a call to worship: "Let us go to the house of the LORD." How awesome is this?! In fact, the psalms are filled with calls to worship:
(Ps 95:1–2; NIV84) — 1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
(Ps 95:6; NIV84) — 6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
In light of what we deserve to hear, do you know what a call to worship is? It ends up being a call of grace. To unworthy, undeserving people.
D So we look at David and the other pilgrims. They have been traveling and their feet are finally standing in the gates of Jerusalem (Ps 122:2). They are there to do what? To worship God. They want to worship. They love to worship. That's how they respond to God's grace. In fact, all of those called by God's grace love to thank and worship Him. That's why we gather together. It is not about us; it is all about God.
Worship. Or, let me add two letters to this word: worthship. In worship we declare the worth of God. In worship we declare God is worthy. God is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise (cf Rev 5:12). God is worthy to be loved with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. God is worthy of everything we can possibly give Him. God is worthy. God is His worthship.
There are different reasons for worshiping God -- not all of them good. Some worship out of habit. Some worship out of duty. Some worship hoping to gain God's favor. I hope none of these are the reason you are here. Rather, I hope and pray you are like David in Psalm 122. I hope and pray you are glad, happy, rejoicing when you hear the call to worship our worthy God. I hope and pray there is no place you would rather be than in worship. And, of course, on this side of the cross and the grave we have more reason to praise and worship God than David did.
II Why Jerusalem is Important
A This brings us to our second question: Why is Jerusalem important? Notice the first thing David says about the city:
(Ps 122:3; NIV84) — 3 Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.Is David admiring the building style, the architecture? Is David admiring the vision of the city planners? Is David admiring the infrastructure that brings water into the city and takes sewage out? No.
Look at what King David goes on to say about Jerusalem in verse 4:
(Ps 122:4; NIV84) — 4 That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, to praise the name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel.Where do pagans worship? At high places. They go up to high places to worship their pagan gods. The people of Israel also "go up" for worship: to Jerusalem. They go up because Jerusalem was built on a hill, on Mount Zion. With this in mind, notice the heading to the psalm: "A song of ascents." In other words, a song sung as the people go up to Jerusalem for worship.
The people of Israel go up to Jerusalem to worship God because the Temple is there, the house of the LORD. Remember what you find in the Temple? The Holy Place with the table of showbread, the golden lampstand, and the altar of incense. At the back end was a veil, a curtain, that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies; there you found the ark of the covenant and its mercy seat with the two golden cherubim looking towards each other. Between the two cherubim God met with His people and spoke to His people (Ex 25:22). Do you hear what this means? In the Old Testament you go to Jerusalem, to Zion, to meet with the LORD.
If you are able to go to worship every Sunday you may take that blessing for granted. When that routine is threatened, or lost for a time as we had with COVID, you suddenly realize what you are missing. This was the experience of many of the Old Testament saints. Distance and trials kept them from the house of God. There were decades when worship was neglected and God's house lay demolished. Even in the best of times, believers could not simply jump in a car and attend worship. Many of them had to make long and risky pilgrimages. At best, some came to the Temple for only three feasts a year (Deut 16:16).
God has blessed us with a magnificent building for our worship. But, unlike Israel, in the New Testament our building is not important. We can meet with God in the parking lot; we can meet with God in a school gym or the YMCA; we can meet in a barn or in a park; as long as we do so in Spirit and in truth.
"Let us go to the house of the LORD." Us. Notice, the children of Israel go up to Jerusalem to meet with the LORD in the presence of His people. Worship is never meant to be a solo experience. It is not one man or one woman alone with their God. Rather, worship is two or three or more gathered together in His name (Mt 18:20). That's why the call to worship is plural: "Let us." Not, "Let me, myself, and I." "Let us go to the house of the LORD."
Jerusalem is a city. A community. A public place. A place of corporate worship. "Let us go to the house of the LORD." David delights not only in meeting with God but also in meeting with God's people. He loves corporate worship of God. He loves to be part of a crowd that proclaims the worthiness of God. This is true for today as well: Those who know God's grace, love to gather with God's people to give Him praise.
B The children of Israel go up to Jerusalem because there they find the Temple. Do you know what else they find in Jerusalem? Listen to what verse 5 says:
(Ps 122:5; NIV84) — 5 There the thrones for judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David.The royal court is found in Jerusalem. That's where David administered judgment and justice. That's where David ruled. That's where his throne was located.
Under David, Jerusalem became the capital of Israel. This is where the twelve tribes came together under one king. After years of civil wars, family feuds, tensions, and each tribe and family doing what was right in their own eyes, there finally was unity.
This is the second reason Jerusalem is important: it is the seat of government, the throne of David.
C Jerusalem is home to the Temple where God's people together meet with God. Jerusalem is the seat of government, the place of David's throne. Knowing this, the psalmist commands, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem."
Most of you know or have heard the Hebrew word for "peace." The word "shalom." It means completeness, safety, welfare, blessing. In mind is fullness of peace: peace with God, peace with man, peace with creation, peace within. This is the peace Paul speaks of in Philippians:
(Php 4:7; NIV84) — 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
How the land and people needed peace, shalom. Because of unfaithfulness and disobedience, they faced enemy invaders time and again during the Judges. Because King Saul was disobedient, David was anointed king in his place; what followed was years of conflict in which Saul hunted for and tried to kill David. After years of drought and famine, the people and the land needed shalom, rest, peace. No wonder the psalmist commanded, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem."
III What This Means Today
A This brings us to our third question: What does this mean for us today?
Here we come to the lady I mentioned at the start of this sermon. Is she right in telling me to pray for the peace of Jerusalem? Is she right in thinking this is a literal command for all times and all places?
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Doesn't this seem frightfully narrow-minded in today's world? Yes, the Jerusalem of today's world is a troubled place of hostility; there is endless conflict about its rule and its holy-sites. Yet, doesn't Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Cairo, the Gaza Strip, and Baghdad also need peace? What about Washington D.C., New York, Sacramento, Moscow, and London -- don't they need peace as well? These are the sorts of questions that arise when we take an Old Testament command and don't filter it through Christ and the Gospel.
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." How are we to look at this command today? And, to expand the question, how are we as Christians to view the nation-state of Israel?
B "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." The Old Testament believer was told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem because two buildings are found on Zion: the Temple and the palace. In the New Testament both buildings have been replaced by Christ. In the Old Testament it was in the Temple that God met with and spoke to His people. In the New Testament it is in Jesus that God meets and speaks with His people. In the Old Testament it was through the throne of David that God ruled His people. In the New Testament God rules His people through Christ. The Temple and the Palace are but types and shadows pointing to Christ. Our peace and safety depend on Him, not a nation, not a Temple, not a palace.
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Today, this means we pray for the work of Christ and the Gospel.
C "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." We need to go further than Christ to the body of Christ, the church. What Jerusalem was to the Israelites, the church is to the Christian. Our Zion is the church. It is within the church, where Christ is preached and the sacraments administered, that we meet with God and experience His blessed rule.
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." So what exactly does this mean? We Christians aren't being told to pray for the city of Jerusalem in the nation-state of Israel. Instead, we are being told to pray for the church. We are being told to pray for the church's unity and harmony. We are being told to pray for the ministry and mission of the church.
(Ps 122:6–9; NIV84) — 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. 7 May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” 8 For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” 9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity."Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." That is, my brothers and sisters, love the church, her fellowship, and her worthship of Jesus. Because on Christ and His church depend our peace and safety.
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