The Ascension of Jesus - Psalm 24:1-10
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Sometimes we will hear a claim which might be interesting but which has no implications for what we do next.
For example, if I claimed that the best action heroes all had the same initials then I might get your attention. I may also provoke you to inwardly process what you know about film and TV to see if you can work out the answer. When I tell you that I’m talking about James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer then you may be intrigued for a moment. But even if you agree with me that these characters are great action heroes, this truth will have no impact on what you do next. Unless of course you have the same initials and are inspired to try a different career - think about it James Belham and Joey Birnie on the big screen!
However, some claims do have implications for our future. For example, if you are travelling to London on a busy train without a reservation you might decide to risk sitting in a seat that has a reservation ticket on it. You survive a couple of stations but then the train pulls into Doncaster. Lots of people come on. One person is heading straight for you. They double check and triple check and then they say to you, “I’m sorry I think you’re in my seat.” If that’s true then this claim has implications for your future. Which on a busy train normally means, you need to get up and stand beside the door.
Tonight we’re going to be presented with two claims from Psalm 24. These claims are not like my observations about famous action heroes. No, these claims have radical implications for our future existence.
- God owns us (Vs 1-4)
- God can save us (Vs 5-10)
First of all, God owns us (Vs 1-4)
This is the unmistakable assertion made in verse 1. Read verse 1.
We should expect the Bible and the world to clash on many points. They won’t always clash. There is such a thing as common grace. But often there will often be a clash of view point. How to use money. How to view the future. How to raise children. How to form relationships. How to use our time. The list goes on and on.
What we have in verse 1 of Psalm 24 is a head on crash of view points. It’s a clash of ownership.
By far the most popular view in Western culture is that we own our lives. Because of this it is said that we have the right to decide what we will do, who we will do it with and when we will do. If an unborn child is too inconvenient for us then get rid of it. Prochoice sounds so affirming. Or if we’ve had enough of life when we get older then surely we should have the right to end it in a medical facility? Is it not my life? And, in between, who's the authority to stop me making the choices that I want as long as they don’t harm anyone else? This is the mantra in our schools and in universities. It’s the determining principle in our offices and in our factories. Sometimes it is articulated in a sophisticated manner and sometimes it is just stated in crude terms but regardless of the vocabulary chosen the same view point is communicated - it’s my life, so let me live as I choose.
And then we turn to Psalm 24 and hear the opening line, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
We are given the reason for this in verse 2. Notice the connecting word. Read verse 2.
The allusions in this verse are not taken from a modern scientific text book. Indeed, they are not even taken from an ancient scientific text book. No, they are taken from the beautiful creation poetry of Genesis chapter 1. They are taken from the place where we discover that it was a God of order and purpose and beauty and generosity that made the world and who made us.
I’m not very good at making things. I remember when I bought my first drill I wasn’t really sure how to use it. I nearly broke my wrist after attaching the plastic handle to the revolving chuck. Even though I don’t have these skills I ‘m still aware of the link between creation and ownership rights. If you make something it’s yours and you have the right to decide how it will be used.
Why do many people not want to believe in God? All sorts of reasons might be postulated but often beneath the surface lies not an intellectual reason but a moral reason.
The existence of a Creator God is a direct assault on our autonomy and we hate it.
If God exists and he is the Creator then he owns us and so he has the right to tell us what to do.
What we need to get clear is exactly who the Creator is.
If he turns out to be bad or boring then our heads should sink. But the God of the bible is presented as the God who wants his creatures to know and experience his love and to enjoy his created universe.
It reveals that his boundaries are not there to stop our fun but to enhance our joy. They enable us to enjoy both the Giver’s gifts in the right way and the great Giver himself.
If this kind of God is my Creator then two things follow.
First, there will be a day of accountability.
My flat in London. The landlady made a surprise inspection and then upped the rent. She was allowed to do this. We should have expected her to do it - we didn’t own the flat. We were her tenants.
Because we don’t own our lives but they are leased to us, some on short term and some on long term leases, we should expect a day of scrutiny from the God who owns us. That is what the bible promises.
Second, we should desire to be in his presence. Not a reluctant appearance but an enthusiastic passion to want to be able to know this God and spend eternity with him.
I think both those ideas are found in in verse 3.
Read verse 3.
These questions flow from the truths in verses 1 and 2.
There is both a desire to ascend and a desire to stand.
Perhaps this was initially a description of God’s special dwelling in the earthly tabernacle and then the earthly temple. But for us, it’s heaven!
We should want to get there and stay there, and we should want to stand there.
Standing is about surviving through judgement. The same truth is seen at the end of Revelation chapter 6. Jesus returns and the big question that everyone wants to know the answer to is, who can stand?
Who can do it?
Listen to the sobering words of verse 4.
- Clean hands. Our actions.
- Pure heart. Inward motivation. Not just the right thing but the right thing done in the right way for the right reasons. For the glory of God.
To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength. That’s who gets there. That’s who stays there. That’s who stands in the judgement.
What would be seen if we showed a DVD of your life on the big screen? The special features showed your inwards thought life.
Would it reveal you would be staying and standing?
The second big claim is that God can save us (Vs 5-10)
We’re told that the people described in verse 4 will receive blessings from the LORD and will be pronounced to be in the right with God. Look at verse 5. Read verse 5.
If the full stop ended after the word God then I would have no good news for you.
But praise God it doesn’t! It ends after we read about “God their Saviour.”
Somehow God will make people like this. By themselves no one meets these criteria.
We all fail the heavenly entrance exam. We may hope the pass mark will be lowered to let some people in. It won’t. It will remain at 100% perfection, reflecting the quality of the settlement. And yet heaven will be full.
How can this be? God will be their Saviour.
Somehow God will find a way to clean people up who have failed and make them into people who have passed perfectly.
The promise is that such people who seek God out as their Saviour in humble dependance will both stay and stand in heaven.
How can this be? God’s method is hinted at in verses 7 to 10.
Three things to notice from this short paragraph.
First, the focus shifts from a group to an individual.
Second, notice what the individual is called. Five times he is called the King of glory. Who is the King of glory? Verse 10, “The LORD Almighty is the King of glory.”
Third, notice where the king of glory has been. He has left heaven to fight an important battle and is now returning in glorious victory.
It is no surprise that many churches sing or use of Psalm 24 on Ascension Day.
It is a beautiful description of the triumphant return of Jesus into heaven after his great victory for sinners. It teaches us that Jesus is the LORD Almighty (the Warrior God) who left the splendour of heaven to make it possible for sinners to become saints.
That somehow because of his glorious victory on the earth those with polluted hands and unclean hearts would be made clean and would be granted a record of perfect obedience.
Psalm 24 doesn’t supply all the details of our salvation story but it fits perfectly with the story we find in the rest of the Bible.
If you want to know more about how this works you need to understand what is called the doctrine of our union with Christ.
You don’t need to know this doctrine to benefit from the reality of it let me encourage you to find out more and more about how your faith in Jesus unites you to him and enormous benefits that come from this.
A book to recommend (on screen). One forever by Rory Shiner.
But for now let me finish by applying how this truth that God is our Saviour who makes us acceptable for heaven through union with Jesus can really help us in the week ahead.
There will be many battles ahead. We are to have a wartime mindset. How are we to fight sin? Three distinctive things about our fight that flow from the truth of Psalm 24.
- Without fear
Our stay and standing in heaven has been secured in Jesus. Press on without the fear of exclusion.
- With gratitude
Gaze at Jesus and be freshly amazed at his victory for us. Don’t you find you can do so much more when you are happy? There is an energy source that is not supplied by food and drink. It is supplied from the refreshing spring of Jesus Christ.
So choose to disbelieve the lie of comfort the world tells you and choose to do the things that enable you to gaze on Jesus.
- With power
Colossians 1:28-29, “Jesus is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”
We are united in Jesus. The powerful King now works in us by his Spirit. So we can change.
So let’s fight without fear, with gratitude and with power.
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