Last week, Erik Thoennes exhorted us to a deep sense of godly sorrow over our sin. He showed us in Psalm 51 a model of agreeing with God about the depth, extent and awfulness of our sin. This godly sorrow should break our hearts, a condition God can use to lead us to true repentance. With our hearts made new through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, we are ready for a life of growth, of change, of obedience. We are ready for discipleship, we are ready for pilgrimage.
Among the rich fare we are sampling this summer in the Psalms there is a group of fifteen psalms that constitute a special song book, the Songs of Ascent. Eugene Peterson titled his book on these songs A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, subtitled: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Our current culture offers everything, every kind of knowledge, entertainment and experience at our beck and call. No waiting. No real effort or investment. Have it and move on. Don’t worry about what is true and what isn’t. We don’t have time for the long-term, the arduous, the demanding, the life-changing.
The Songs of Ascent trace a pilgrimage leaving a culture (much like ours) of lying lips and violence (Psalm 120) heading through the uneven, dangerous path (Psalm 121) upward to Jerusalem, upward toward God. You might wish to read these two psalms to set the scene for this week’s sermon. Israelites sang these songs while walking to the three annual feasts. The first two songs helped them remember they were leaving the world behind, the daily cares, the foreign influences, the ungodly behavior of some of their brethren. They would be protected on the road not by the spirits inhabiting the hilltop shrines of the pagans, but by the great God of heaven. No matter what transpired, their relationship with Him could not be broken. They were on a pilgrimage of obedience.
For some, the journey might take several days. What joy, then, when the great city came in sight! This week, Randall Gruendyke will lead us through Psalm 122. Eugene Peterson calls this psalm the song of Worship. How fitting that our study should move from Psalm 51, the psalm of repentance, to the song of worship!
For the Israelites, it was a journey of remembering the deeds of deliverance God had performed for them throughout their history. There stood the great city, Jerusalem, City of David, the place where God put His Name and His glory at the Mercy Seat, where He commanded all Israelites to come together to remember and rejoice. They celebrated Passover, where God called them out of the world to be a people for His possession, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost,) which marked the giving of the Law, and the Feast of Tabernacles in which they recalled the wilderness wanderings by living in booths and hearing a reading of the Law as the people did at the end of 40 years’ wanderings.
For us, their pilgrimage models the journey of faith in which we are all called to walk. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Hebrews 11:8-10. We are moving toward the same city: And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. Revelation 21:10-11. Along the road, as we move away from the world, we sing songs of encouragement, as the Israelites did, songs like Psalm 122.
Read the psalm. Consider how you feel about going into the house of the Lord. Is it a joyful thing? Is it only a duty? Is it OK as long as there isn’t a game on TV? Be honest, then ask the Holy Spirit to change your heart. Are you still carrying too much guilt to be comfortable worshiping? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see what Christ has done for you, how you can be clean in Him. Then, as in Psalm 51, the restored sinner will sing aloud in joyful worship!
Psalm 122 is about the people of Israel obeying God, grateful to belong to Him. It also is a song about people like us who look forward to the end of the pilgrimage. Verse 4 speaks of all the tribes being together, giving thanks as one people despite their differences. We seek the time when all believers will serve the true and living God with one accord: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. Peace! We pray for peace. We pray for the Prince of Peace to rule in righteous judgment on David’s throne. We pray for the coming of the Holy City where nothing unclean will enter and the glory of God is our light. That is the goal of our discipleship, that we be made ready for citizenship in that Kingdom. Our pilgrimage will come to a glorious end when we, too, are standing within her gates. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! Revelation 22:20
Resources: Spurgeon, Treasury of David, http://www.spurgeon.org/treasury/treasury.php
Bible Gateway, dozens of Bible translations, www.biblegateway.com
Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Jason Silver, Psalm 122 song, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRuJxRL-M_o