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A Bit of a Meandering Approach…
I remember the third stanza of Psalm 24 (verses 7-10) from my Sunday School childhood. Our teacher had selected this psalm for her class to memorize and present in a little program to the church. What did it mean? Who knows? We were never taught. My young mind created an image of large and heavy, wood and iron gates, fairytale style, cranking themselves up all by themselves, so that a King on a horse could enter over a stone road paved in large, boulder-like slabs to whatever it was that lay beyond. Did I know that the King was the Lord Almighty Jesus Christ at his ascension? No, not at all. The words held no concrete meaning for me at that point in my life. Actually, that the words came from “the Bible” meant nothing to me either. Nevertheless, I always remembered those few lines of this little poem. Our teacher had us perform the psalm chorus style. Although I enjoyed following her stage directions to deliver these final verses in a loud, strong voice, no internal emotion accompanied my recitation. No wonder, since the words held no meaning for my tiny life.
I reread this poem in January, and in the margin I wrote, “Awesome.” Then I forgot about it. This morning, when I read it again, my first reaction was one of confusion. What does Stanza 1 have to do with Stanza 2? And how do we get from there to Stanza 3? Nevertheless, I knew that something amazing was happening in the third stanza, and I wrote the one word response, “Wow.”
Finding the psalm to be beyond me, I went straight to my most spiritual commentator, John Barclay. In light of what I’ve written here, you my reader may understand why I burst out laughing, as in “LOL!”, when I read what Barclay had written. He wrote bunches, far more than normal.
Although it seems perfectly true, as all the commentators say, that this Psalm (and perhaps all the rest) was used to be sung in parts, by the different bands of sacred music which David (no doubt by the direction of the Holy Ghost) had appointed for the service of the Sanctuary; yet, if we attend any further than that, to the dull, dry, bare, and beggarly disquisitions of the carnally-minded … [academics] …, concerning the procession of the ark, its being received into the temple, and set upon its own place, with such like childish ideas, and nugatory [worthless, trivial] observations, retailed and enumerated every day, and almost in every place of worship, in the most stale and tedious manner imaginable; now do we find our whole spirit, fervor, and devotion, in the most amazing manner, all at once, as if it were by enchantment, damped, destroyed, and shrunk to nothing, after the manner, if we may so say, of the plump kine [cows], and full ears of corn, which were devoured and swallowed up by the lean, thin, blasted and shriveled!–But if, ceasing from the… [academicians], we take the spirit of the Psalm from the Spirit who inspired it, and read it in its own light, the light of its parallels, and especially the light of the New Testament, we will find, instead of the darkness of the Mosaic veil, the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus, filling our whole hearts… (Barclay, 147).
I hope you were able to wade through that–he did, after all, write those words in the early 1800’s, before texting, Twitter, and bit-speech were ever invented. I laughed when I read his impassioned description of dry, dead academia because of the confidence and unabashed moxy he displays in his vigorous attack of the “letter” that kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). I laughed because he sums up my thought exactly and bludgeons where I barely dare to hint.
So, what did Barclay (and others in my bibliography) find in Psalm 24? In short–a summation of the entire Bible and gospel.
Stanza 1, which is verses 1 and 2, represents Christ before time in his sovereignty and great creative act, as God and with God.
1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2 for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. (ESV)
His parallel verses are John 1:1 and Colossians 1:17. I would add a phrase from Hebrews 1:3, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3 ESV)
16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:16-17 ESV)
Stanza 2 extends from verse 3 through 6 and displays Christ in his sinless human nature making atonement as mediator between those sinners who nonetheless desire God, and God in his holiness. It is by the obedience of belief in this one man Christ that God declares every willing human righteous, who is “found in him… not having a righteousness of [their] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:9 ESV) This verse from Philippians is almost a restatement of Psalm 24:3-6 and presents the gospel message in a nutshell. In Psalm 24, verses 3-5 refer to Christ, and verse 6 to his followers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah (ESV)
Stanza 3, verses 7 through 10, closes this short psalm with a dramatized declaration of Christ’s victory in battle over sin and death and his ascension to kingly reign alongside his Father in heaven–Christ is both Savior and Lord, both human and God, the point of connection between earth and heaven. Verse 8 makes reference to the battles Christ fought in his incarnation as human, and verse 10 displays him as the LORD of hosts, the King of glory, coequal with God.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah (ESV)
A Bit of Editorial Meditation
There is no doubt that it is difficult for us as readers today to comprehend the life and vitality of these 10 verses. We are inundated by media that proclaim a worldview in staunch contrast and opposition to the faith-view presented in Psalm 24. Further, we are limited by a contemporary language that has descended to near illiteracy. Finally, we experience noise all around us constantly, noise which distracts us and robs us of contemplative moments when we can simply ask God by his Spirit to open the understanding of our spirit made in his image.
Yet these are not insurmountable obstacles. I believe a deeper issue lies at the heart of our inability to appreciate God’s biblical treasure map to us, our love letter-in-a-bottle, that is, Holy Scripture. The issue is pinpointed when we answer the question, Who do I worship? Negotiating daily life in today’s age has taught me to place myself at the center of everything. How am I doing? How do I rate? Are my needs being met? Am I performing adequately? Even our church worship services tend toward the me, me, me. Have I met God today? Have I been fulfilled by this service? Rather than, Have I presented God with a sacrifice of worship that pleases him?
Yes, the church is included in Psalm 24:6, but it’s not a psalm about the church, it’s a psalm about Jesus Christ. In order to fully appreciate Psalm 24 I need to accept that it’s a psalm not about me–it’s not about my successes and failures, my needs, my wants, my poverty, my riches–it’s a psalm about the person and fantastic success of Jesus Christ in his eternality and temporal mission. In all honesty, I find that most of my waking thoughts are about myself. Most of the living I do is an attempt to make my self happy, to fulfill my needs as I perceive them, and yes, even when I go to church. To let all that go and to find contentment in extolling an outsider–not myself–that is today’s challenge. To let someone else’s success be my own–that is rest. I do it for my favorite football team–why can’t I do it for Jesus Christ?
Am I making sense?