14 September 2020
I LIFT UP MY EYES TO THE HILLS – WHERE DOES MY HELP COME FROM? MY HELP COMES FROM THE LORD, THE MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH. (Psalm 121: 1-2)
PSALM 134 – A SONG OF ASCENTS.
PRAISE THE LORD, ALL YOU SERVANTS OF THE LORD WHO MINISTER BY NIGHT IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD. LIFT UP YOUR HANDS IN THE SANCTUARY AND PRAISE THE LORD. MAY THE LORD, THE MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, BLESS YOU FROM ZION.
Psalm 134 is the last song of ascents and is also the shortest. It brings us into the Temple at night when the priests and Levites were still offering up praise and worship to the Lord. Be it day or night, there was always worship going on at the Temple. Reaching Psalm 134 means arriving at the top of Mount Zion, taking the very highest step: the reason why the pilgrims came to Jerusalem for the feasts. And also, this is the goal of our journey as Christians: – BLESSING GOD AND BEING BLESSED BY GOD. This is what God calls us to do every day here on earth. What does it mean to bless the Lord? The word translated “praise” in verses one and two of the Psalm is the same word that is translated “bless” in verse three. The word “bless” literally means “to kneel” or “bow down” Obviously God would never kneel or bow down to us; and here is the difference. When we bless God, we kneel or bow down before Him in worship. When God blesses us, He reaches down to take care of us and our needs. We bless God by praising Him for who He is and what He has done, and God blesses us by loving us and providing for us. That is what Psalm 134 is all about – blessing God and being blessed by God. The whole Psalm can be broken down into two basic statements: MAY YOU BLESS THE LORD, and MAY THE LORD BLESS YOU!
A.MAY YOU BLESS THE LORD! (verses 1-2)
– Praise the Lord all you servants of the Lord (verse 1). The servants of the Lord here in the Psalm are the priests and the Levites who ministered in the Temple. Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night (1 Chronicles 9: 33). As believers today we are all servants of the Lord: – …a royal priesthood, … a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2: 9). Look, how far we have come in the Psalms of Ascents. Now instead of weeping, even the nights are full of praises. All God’s people should, indeed, praise Him.
– Lift up your hands in worship and prayer (verse 2). Lifting up hands is associated with prayer in the Bible. It adds a visual and a physical element to worship and prayer. As John Calvin said: – Why do men lift their hands when they pray? Is it not that their hearts may be raised at the same time to God? When my primary-teacher in the ’60-s was checking our hands on a daily basis, before the class began, what a relief it was to have my hands clean! We all need God’s forgiveness and cleansing before we can lift up our hands in the sanctuary, and that comes only through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. Remember Psalm 130: – If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who can stand? But with You there is forgiveness; therefore, You are feared (verses 3 and 4). Presumably, this is the reason why Psalm 130 comes before this Psalm in the Songs of Ascents. In the New Testament is stated: – Therefore, brothers (and sisters), since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10: 19-22). In the Old Testament only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place and that only once in a year, on the Day of Atonement. But now a way has been opened for us through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, and we can come before the Lord not in our sinfulness but in the perfect righteousness of Christ, our Saviour.
B.MAY THE LORD BLESS YOU! (verse 3).
The original psalm probably worked as a call and response. The pilgrims would call out verses 1-2 to the priests and Levites in the Temple, and then, the priests and Levites would respond with verse 3 as a benediction. How appropriate that this Psalm, and indeed the whole Psalms of Ascents, ends not with us blessing God but God blessing us. It is God’s blessing that makes our blessing (praise) possible. It is God’s grace that allows us to come near to His presence. And this final benediction draws our attention to two things about God.
– Remember who God is: the Maker of heaven and earth. He is our Creator, and the Creator of all things. We have already seen this description of God in Psalm 121: 2, and once more here in Psalm 134. So, this must be a very important way to describe who God is.
– Remember where God’s blessing is found: Zion. Zion represents Mount Zion which represents Jerusalem which represents the Temple which represents the place where God meets with His people, and ultimately Zion represents Heaven where we will be with God forever. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23). The same Epistle to the Hebrews completes the entire message of Salvation through Christ by saying: – Therefore He (Jesus Christ) is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7: 25-26). God’s blessing starts from Zion but then it goes wherever we go, because He is the Maker of heaven and earth, and the whole Creation belongs to Him. His blessing is not just for heaven, but for every day we live here on earth as well. And so ends the Psalms of Ascents: – May the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion (Psalm 134: 3).
. . .
As Christians we are called to live a life that brings praise and honour and blessing to God. And when we do, we will also know God’s blessings on our lives. Our whole lives are meant to be worship.
When we climb a mountain the first thing we do when we get to the top is to turn around and look at how far we have come. Climbing these “Steppingstones to God’s heart,” along the way we have learned important lessons of trust and dependence: perseverance and faith; forgiveness and humility; unity and blessing. We’ve been given guidance how to “handle” through prayers these anxiously hard, virus-infested times that change radically the way we’ve been living before, – both physically and spiritually. This Psalm gives the summary of all faithfulness: – A life that blesses God is a life that is blessed by God. Perhaps, the best way to end this series is to remember the words of a well–known Hymn: – Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen. (Church Hymnary III : Hymn 658 – Doxology)
LET US PRAY:
EVERLASTING GOD, MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, You are worthy of all honour and praise, for You are great and mighty, all good, all powerful, all loving, all merciful, the Creator of everything that is and has been and shall be for evermore. However hard we try, we can never honour and praise You as You deserve, but we need and want to offer You our heartfelt adoration as those pilgrims did, who long ago ascended Mount Zion, to offer You their worship and sacrifices. Through Christ we glimpse Your grace and glory, and we thank You for knowing us better than we know ourselves, for calling us by name and loving us more than we can imagine. Thank You, Lord, that, seen or unseen, known or unknown, accepted or rejected, You are there. Thank You that in good or bad, joy or sorrow, hope or fear, life or death You are there. Thank You that whoever we are, whatever we do, wherever we might be, once again, You are there. Help us, in turn, to be there for You. Living and loving God, we have met You through this Psalm – help us to see You all around us. Where lives are broken, truth is crushed or justice is denied, bring new beginnings. Where hopes are killed, faith is destroyed or life is ended, bring resurrection. Where suffering scars, sorrow weighs heavy or hurts through Covid-19 and is hard to bear, bring life back into all its fullness. Be with us in our world of need, and help us to walk there safely, with Christ Jesus, through the power of Your Spirit. Hear us, Lord, as we bring before You all those whom we love. Bless Your Christian Church Universal in all its branches, our Church of Scotland in all its Presbyteries and Congregations. May Your blessing be on every soul in our parish here in this place. We ask for Your healing and support for all those who suffer from any illness, comfort all who mourn, and hear us as we bring to You our personal prayers from the depths of our hearts … Lord our God, Maker of heaven and earth, we have offered You our worship; help us now to praise You in our daily lives and hope and wait for Your blessings, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
PRAISE TO THE LORD, the Almighty, the King of creation; O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation; all ye who hear, now to his temple draw near, joining in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth, shieldeth thee gently from harm or when fainting sustaineth: hast thou not seen how His heart’s wishes have been granted in what He ordaineth
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee; Surely His goodness and mercy shall daily attend thee. Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, who with His love doth befriend thee.
Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore Him! All that hath life and breath come now with praises before Him! Let the Amen sound from His people again: gladly for aye we adore Him.
PRAISE THE LORD. PRAISE, O SERVANTS OF THE LORD, PRAISE THE NAME OF THE LORD. LET THE NAME OF THE LORD BE PRAISED, BOTH NOW AND FOR EVERMORE. FROM THE RISING OF THE SUN TO THE PLACE WHERE IT SETS, THE NAME OF THE LORD IS TO BE PRAISED. (Psalm 113: 1-3)