How do we feel about worshipping God together? Do we come to church merely out of a sense of duty? Are we eager to arrive early or do we arrive as late as possible? Is our local church a place of joy for us, are we in unity and do we have peace with one another?
How does it feel to come home? How does it feel to go to church? Where is home for us? Our spiritual home? Where is the House of the LORD? What does the Bible tell us about coming together in the House of the LORD?
We will find the answers in the Psalms, and especially in the Psalms of Ascent (numbers in 120-134). The Psalms of Ascent were sung by pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem. These psalms follow a well ordered structure. Psalms 120 and 123 talk about believers facing persecution and loneliness. Next, Psalms 121 and 124 talk about seeking help from the Lord, then Psalms 122 and 125 talk about worshipping God in the company of other believers.
One of the oldest Psalms, psalm number 122, was written even before the temple was built, yet it talks about the House of the LORD. Now, if David wasn’t talking about the physical temple building then he must have meant something else.
Let’s read through verses 1 and 2
A song of ascents. Of David.
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
Let us go up to the House of the LORD
Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem
Verse 1 tells us that this is one of the Psalms of Ascent sung by pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem. It was written by King David at a time when the Ark of the Covenant had been installed in Jerusalem but placed in a tent, because the temple had not yet been built.
Where is the house of the Lord? God’s Word tells us it is “Where 2 or 3 believers are gathered together in the name of Jesus”. This Psalm was not about the temple. It was written by King David, before the first temple was built. The place of worship was a set of tents, called the tabernacle that contained the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the original Ten Commandments. Thus, the Ark contained the treaty between God and His people. At that time, Jerusalem was a much smaller city. David brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city and Jerusalem became the centre for worship
Today, When we speak about the House of the LORD, we tend to mean the local church. The House of the LORD being the local family of believers. (Just as one might refer to the ‘House of Windsor’ being the family of Windsors, meaning the Royal family in the UK.). At the time when Jesus was born, the temple in Jerusalem was considered the House of the LORD. However, David composed this Psalm at a time before the temple was built, so he speaks instead about Jerusalem as the place of worship of God.
When David speaks about the House of the LORD, and about Jerusalem, he is speaking about the gathering together of God’s people for worship. This is an occasion of great Joy for King David.
We experience Joy when we first come to faith and are saved. We experience Joy when we remember our salvation, and our Joy will be complete when we will be with Jesus in the New Jerusalem.
We experience Joy because of what Jesus has done for us. Therefore, we naturally want to share our Joy with other believers. This is what draws us to meet together for worship.
Christians can still experience deep depression, as did many Old Testament saints, such as Elijah, Job and Jonah. Some of the other psalms deal with depression, for example, when the psalmist says “Why are you downcast, Oh my soul?”, but that is a topic for another time. Today we are talking about the joy of meeting together to worship God, as well as the fellowship and encouragement of one another. As it says in the New Testament, “do not forsake the assembly of believers”.
Regardless of our troubles in this life, the knowledge that Jesus has taken away our sins, that He died so that we can be forgiven, the assurance of our salvation will give us a deep and lasting Joy. We meet together for worship so that we can share this Joy with each other. Joy is one of the signs of a genuine Christian fellowship – a fruit of the Spirit.
Let’s read verses 3-4 and then from John 17: 20 – 23
Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together
That is where the tribes go, the tribes of the LORD to praise the name of the LORD
According to the statute given to Israel
There the thrones for judgement stand
the thrones of the house of David
In verse 3, the psalmist, King David, is using Jerusalem as a metaphor for the unity of God’s people meeting in the House of the LORD. The parts of the city of Jerusalem were built closely together and not spread out. Each building shared a wall with the next. There were no detached houses within the city walls. There was a well organised design and structure to the city.
Verse 4 talks about the tribes of the LORD, not just the tribes of Israel. There is the sense that all of God’s people are gathered close together.
There is the sense that the tribes were closely compacted together in fellowship. Is it the same for us now?
Are we glad to meet with other believers for worship and prayer ?
Verse 5 shows that the tribes were under a single authority, of the line of David. This still applies to us today, because King Jesus is the ultimate successor to King David, in other words the Son of David.
This Psalm applies as much to us in the local church, today, as it did to God’s people in the time of King David. One difference is that there are so many Christians that we can longer all travel to the same city to worship together.
However, we can all expect to worship together in the New Jerusalem when King Jesus returns. The future New Jerusalem, described in the last chapters of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, is much bigger than any earthly city and there will be room for everyone who is saved, for all those who trust in Jesus as their LORD and saviour.
Jesus prayed for unity amongst those who believe in Him. It is one of the signs that will convince people that we are genuine.
Let’s read from the gospel according to John chapter 17 verses 20 – 23.
I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.
May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that you gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.
This great prayer of Jesus is one of most profound passages in the Bible. Jesus places great value on deep, lasting, spiritual unity between all believers. We are united with Christ when He takes away our sins and sends his Holy Spirit to sanctify us. Therefore, we are united with each other through Christ.
Can we say that this prayer been answered yet? Joy and Peace are fruits of the Holy Spirit. Both Joy and Peace are signs of unity.
Another sign of unity is membership of a local church. This allows us to be accountable to each other, to worship together and to support each other in ministry, especially to support one another in proclaiming God’s Word through evangelism.
Unity is also shown by our support both for neighbouring churches and for missions. What about different denominations? The issues behind doctrinal and denominational differences are important, but are not within the scope of the sermon, except to say the Bible is our common standard by which we recognise God’s will and discern truth from falsehood. We cannot be in unity with false teachers, with those who deny Christ or contradict scripture. Unity is not to be at the expense of Biblical truth and sound doctrine.
Apart from failure to agree on doctrine, the other main cause of division is a lack of peace.
We have seen that there is Joy and Unity, in the House of the LORD, but what about peace. Let’s read to from verse 6 to the end of Psalm 122.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem
May those who love you be secure
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels
For the sake of my brothers and friends
I will say Peace be within you
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God
I will seek your prosperity
These verses ask us to pray for peace and to seek peace in the House of the LORD. The name Jerusalem means City of Peace.
Is there peace in the Middle East, today? Are we really being asked to pray for peace in Jerusalem?
There will be no peace in the world until Jesus returns; neither the United Nations nor the European Union can bring about world peace. Only Jesus can bring peace in the world, but until he returns, Christians will not be at peace in the world.
There is no peace for the wicked, but will there be peace in the church? Will there be peace amongst God’s people?
There would not have been peace between God and man if Jesus had not died to pay the penalty for our sins.
Many churches have the tradition of sharing peace with one another, during a service of worship, but do we really mean it?
What happens when we have an unresolved grievance against one of our brothers or sisters in Christ? We need to remember that Christ Jesus died for their sins, as well as for yours and mine. If they are genuine believers, then their sins are covered by the death of Christ. Even if they are not believers, we are not empowered to judge others.
On an individual level, as God said to the prophet Jonah, after Nineveh was spared: “Do you have a right to be angry?”
Jesus warned us against becoming angry with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Consider the case of Mary and Martha; Mary was focused on worship and Martha on service, but Martha felt no Joy in the presence of Jesus. She even felt a grievance against her sister Mary.
What is the difference between worship and service?
We need to Trust in God’s grace and His ability to work through us in His own time and in His own way, rather than on our own performance .
Faith is trusting in Christ’s substitution for our sins and God’s faithfulness rather than in our own strength.
We need to look to God’s grace rather than at our sins or even the sins of others around us.
Then we will have joy and peace, if we have both repented of our own sins and also forgiven those who sin against us.
Note that joy is not the same as happiness which depends on our circumstances . We can be very unhappy and suffering intensely and yet still feel Joy and Peace in the LORD.
We need God’s grace to remember how much, by God’s grace, we have all been forgiven for our own sins, then we will be filled with Joy because of salvation, we should be in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we should be at peace with one another. Then the world will know that Jesus is real, because our lives will match what we believe. This is not automatic. Joy and Peace are fruits of the Spirit, but they grow and develop. If unity was instant and easy to achieve, then Jesus would simply have given thanks for it instead of praying for it.
In summary, the Psalm is about Joy, Unity and Peace in the House of the LORD. Many believers risk persecution for the Joy of meeting together to worship God. We are united under our LORD and Saviour – King Jesus. We are at peace with one another because God has forgiven our sins and our differences have been settled when Jesus died on the cross. However, we are called to separate ourselves from false teachers who deny Christ or contradict God’s word.
Let’s close in prayer.
Father God, we thank You for gathering us together in the name of Jesus, in the House of LORD. We pray that through Your Holy Sprit , You would fill our hearts with Joy, that we would be united in you and you would grant us peace with one another, so that the world may know You are real and your Word is true.
As you said we should do, We pray this in Jesus name, Amen