“Let Us Go to the House of the LORD!” (Psalm 122:1)
You may notice that we still have the white paraments up from last week, when we observed All Saints’ Day. That’s because today we’re doing a kind of “All Saints’ Day, Part Two.” Last week we remembered those from our midst who entered the Church Triumphant over the past twelve months: Homer and Dorothy Rouggly, Bob and Dottie Worsham. This week, today, we’re remembering other departed saints from our midst, whom we commemorated at the start of the service with a plaque at the entrance to our church. The plaque is in memory of Elaine Hadler, Ralph Duncan, Lee Hoffman, Jan Burr, and Doris Benear. Why those names? Because their memorial funds were used to build the entryway to our church, and so it’s appropriate that there be a memorial to that effect.
And how fitting it is that the verse inscribed on the plaque is something all of these dear saints would heartily agree on: Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” For Elaine and Ralph and Lee and Jan and Doris–they were very glad to come to this house of the Lord, St. Matthew’s. They loved coming here over the years. And now they, by means of this entryway and this plaque—now they are saying to us and to future generations: “Let Us Go to the House of the LORD!”
“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” Today I want to talk about why we can be glad to go to God’s house. And to get to that, I first want to talk about how the ancient Israelites were glad to go the house of the Lord. For our text today, from Psalm 122, expresses the love that ancient Israel had for God’s house.
Our text is just one of a number of psalms that express this same sentiment. And there are many of them in the Psalter. We call them as a group “the psalms of Zion.” Zion was the name of the mount in Jerusalem where the house of the Lord, the temple, was located. The psalmists are always praising Mount Zion as the place of the Lord’s abode, and thus the place to which they longed to go. For example, here are just a few of these psalms:
Psalm 26: “LORD, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.”
Psalm 27: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”
Psalm 48: “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever.”
You know, that’s what our memorial plaque will do, as people walk up and into this Zion. It will tell the next generation that this is where our God is present in our midst, that this is the place where his glory dwells.
And then there is Psalm 84. We sang it earlier. Psalm 84 is one of my favorite psalms. It expresses so well how I feel about being here in the house of the Lord. I hope you can identify with these verses too: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” “Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
I just love it! There is no place on earth I would rather be than here in God’s house. For my whole adult life, long before I became a pastor, if it’s Sunday, I’m in church. Every Sunday, wherever I am on earth, no matter what. Because once I realized what the Lord is doing in his house, every time his people gather–well, wild horses couldn’t keep me from being here. And that’s how the psalmists felt too. Which brings us to the verse on our plaque, Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”
Why were the Israelites so glad to go to the house of the Lord? Because this was where the Lord God made his dwelling in the midst of his people. First at the tabernacle and then at the temple, the Lord located his presence in a place where he could be found and called upon. In the temple, in the Holy of Holies–this was God’s throne on earth. The Lord–the one true God, who made heaven and earth. The Lord had made a covenant with Abraham, a relationship of promise and blessing. The Lord remembered that covenant when Israel fell into slavery in Egypt. He made his name known to Moses and acted in history to set his people free. The Lord brought them to himself at Sinai and then up into the Promised Land, in spite of their rebellion and grumbling. The Lord showed himself to be a gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
So this was the God who made his dwelling at the temple, on Mount Zion. And that was where the Israelites could go to meet him, at the temple. At the temple, God provided Israel with sacrifices to atone for their sins. They themselves would not die, but God provided a substitute. At the temple, the Lord would hear their prayers and the prayers of the priests on their behalf. At the temple, songs of praise would be sung, music would be made, lifting the spirits of the people. At the temple, the word of the Lord would be heard, recounting his mighty acts and his steadfast love. No wonder the psalmist would declare, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”
Now how about us? How does all of this apply to you and me? This is not the temple on Mount Zion, so why do we say we’re glad to come here? Because this too, this now–this is God’s house, where he dwells in the midst of his people. This is our Zion.
How so? Because this is where Jesus Christ has promised to be present. And he is the temple, the fulfillment of all that the tabernacle and the temple of Israel were pointing ahead to.
In John chapter 1 we read: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God is dwelling among us–“tabernacling” among us, literally–in the person of Christ. Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.” He makes God known to us. In Christ we know a gracious God.
John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus is the fulfillment of those Old Testament sacrifices. Instead of countless blood sacrifices being made day after day, week after week, year after year, Jesus offered up the one, all-availing, all-atoning, perfect sacrifice. He, Jesus, the very Son of God, shed his holy blood on the cross and declared, “It is finished!” No more sacrifices need be made. And the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom at that moment, bringing that temple’s time to an end.
“Destroy this temple,” said Jesus, referring to his own body, “and in three days I will raise it up.” And so Jesus rose from the dead, showing that now the victory remains with life.–Jesus’ resurrection life, which he bestows on all who trust in him.
Now all that Jesus did, winning forgiveness, life, and salvation for us–all of that is delivered to us, here at our doorstep, here at this temple. This is the house of the Lord, where Christ is present, giving out his gifts. Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” And so here is Jesus among us! Jesus is here, here where disciples are being made, by baptizing and teaching. The Lord is present, speaking to us in his word. Jesus says to his preachers, “He who hears you, hears me.” So you are hearing the living voice of your Savior, here today. This preaching and God’s word–we gladly hear and learn it.
Yes, hear Jesus as he says to you today, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Hear him as he says, “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” This is where Christ himself gives you the bread of life and the cup of salvation, right here at this altar. This is where we join together as the body of Christ, the church, confessing our faith, singing our hymns to God, bringing our prayers to God’s throne of grace, and encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the Day drawing near. This is where we come together to be refreshed and strengthened in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. This is where we come together to then carry out our calling to be a city set on a hill, shining the light of Christ into a sin-darkened world.
No wonder our dear departed saints could say–and we can say with them–“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”
And in closing, one more thing. One more thing that Elaine and Ralph and Lee and Jan and Doris would say to us today, and it is this: There is an even greater house of the Lord to which we are headed. For there is one more psalm to remember today. It’s the 23rd Psalm, where it says: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” This, this is the heavenly Zion, the New Jerusalem, still to come. And how glad we will be to go there!