Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken

Sermon by David Strain on Jun 25, 2017

Psalm 87

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Now if you would take a Bible, turn with me in it to the book of Psalms and to Psalm 87. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, you can find that on page 494. Psalm 87. This is a psalm that celebrates the glories of Zion, the city of God, Jerusalem. Although as we’ll see, the psalmist has in mind an idealized Zion; not just the earthly city of Jerusalem with which he was familiar, but the spiritual city of God whose citizens are drawn from every tribe and language and nation under heaven. Or to put it perhaps more directly, Psalm 87 celebrates the glories of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, the church of Jesus Christ. As Christians, as Hebrews chapter 12 verse 22 and following reminds us, as Christians "we have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to innumerable angels in festal gathering to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven." That is the reality that our Psalm this evening is rejoicing in.

One of the temptations we face as we think about the Church is to look at it from a purely human point of view, from below as it were. And so we focus on its failings, its besetting sins, its weaknesses and its foibles, its inconsistency, its inadequacy. We see very readily the hypocrisy of the church, its compromised witness. We’ve been hurt by the Church, perhaps, let down, disappointed. And in light of all of that, sometimes we are tempted even to give up on the Church, just to walk away. But Psalm 87 invites us to look at Zion, the Church of Jesus Christ, from another vantage point altogether. It looks at the Church from God’s point of view. Here is the view from above, celebrating the Church’s glories, listing her citizens, enumerating her blessings. If ever we are tempted to become overly critical of the Church of Jesus Christ, Psalm 87 offers a much needed corrective teaching us to love the Church and to cherish her.

If you’ll look at it with me briefly before we read it together, you can see how it will break down into three sections. In verses 1 to 3, the glories of Zion. Then in verses 4 to 6, the citizens of Zion. Then in verse 7, the joy of Zion. The glories, the citizens, and the joy of Zion. Before we consider each of those, let’s pause to read God’s Word and first ask Him to help us as we pray. Let us pray together.

O Lord, Your Word is spread before us. So are our hearts. There’s nothing hidden there. And we ask You now to do the sometimes mysterious, often surprising work You do again and again as we gather to hear the preaching of the Word of God – to take the portion of Scripture before us and to match it to the needs and the questions and the fears and the sins and the blind spots and the inconsistencies and the struggles that lurk in our hearts. Thank You that You know us completely, perfectly. And we ask You, please, to wield the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, with great power and effect in our hearts for Your glory tonight, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 87. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. A Song.

 

On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God. 

 

Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush – ‘This one was born there, they say. And of Zion it shall be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her’; for the Most High himself will establish her. The LORD records as he registers the peoples, ‘This one was born there.’

 

Singers and dancers alike say, ‘All my springs are in you.’”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.

Next time you have five minutes – not now, but the next time you have five minutes when you’re not in church – get your phone out and Google “Enchroma.” It is a company that makes special glasses for the colorblind. And you can see on their website videos – several of which are now viral – of people receiving their glasses for the first time, seeing the world like we see the world – in color, in vivid color for the very first time. And you can imagine their reactions as they get a perspective they’ve never had before. They put these things on and they’re speechless, then the tears begin to flow, and then they walk around, sort of touching green and blue and red in amazement as they see the glory of the world around them in a way they never had before.

The Glories of Zion

Psalm 87 is about helping us see the Church in the full spectrum of vibrant color the way God sees it, in its beauty, that we might cherish the Church and love her. It starts, notice, in verses 1 to 3 with a description of the glory of Zion. And the big idea here is that Zion is glorious, the Church is glorious, because God has chosen her. “On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God.” The very first word of the psalm in a position of emphasis is, “His foundations.” The foundations of Zion were laid by God. He has established the city. Zion is glorious, the psalmist is telling us, because it rests, it exists because of the divine initiative. Similarly, the Hebrew word for “love” in verse 2, “the Lord loves the gates of Zion,” has the sense of the divine choice – election. The Lord chooses and establishes Zion. It is in consequence of God’s loving choice and His sovereign initiative that “Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God.” That’s the connection. The reason people say glorious things about the Church is because of the sovereign love of God for the Church. The Church is praised and cherished and rejoiced in because the Church is beloved by God and chosen by Him and precious to Him.

God loves His Church

Let me ask you, “How do you speak of the Church?” Does the way you speak about the Church mirror the way God loves the Church? Whatever her weaknesses, however she may have failed you, whatever sins stain her reputation out there in the world, God loves His Church. He designates the Church the Bride of Christ. He sends His Son, as it were, to marry Himself to her at the cost of His lifeblood at the cross. Jesus, as we saw this morning, Paul teaches us in Ephesians chapter 5, Jesus loves the Church and gives Himself up for her, a husband for His bride – the broken down, messed up, prone to wander Church. This Church is chosen by God and precious. "He has founded Zion and He loves her gates more than the dwellings of Jacob." The Church is precious and special in the eyes of the Lord. It is a blood-bought company, purchased by Christ. It is the embassy of His kingdom in the world. It is the temple of the Holy Spirit, the place of His presence where His Word and the ordinances of Gospel worship are made available to us. Outside of the visible Church, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. The Church is the ordained instrument for the salvation of the nations. Here, in the Church, men and women pass from death into life through the Gospel. Here, believers limping and struggling and world-weary are helped heavenward, strengthened to press on while the world assails us with temptations and trials. Here, we meet God. We meet God here by His Word and by His Spirit, Lord's Day by Lord's Day. Here, we say to the world around us, "We have good news for you. Jesus our King is a Savior to all and any who come to Him." How glorious is the Church, chosen by God and beloved!

And yet, how poorly we often speak about her. We’ve become, perhaps, overfamiliar with her glories so that they no longer amaze us. But our eyes linger longer, perhaps, than they ought on the stains of her failures and the compromises in her past. And we can list all the ways that so-and-so and such-and-such let us down and wounded us. “And let me tell you a thing or two about those folks who gather on 1390 North State Street!” Don’t get me wrong, the Church, this church, has much to repent of. We still have sin to deal with, don’t we? There are unhealthy patterns we need to grow out of. There’s spiritual progress we need to make. That’s right. But do you love that Church, warts and all? God loves that Church. He delights in her.

Speaking about these verses, Spurgeon said, “Where God reveals His love the most there should each believer most delight to be found.” God reveals His love in and upon His Church and those who love Him learn to love what He loves. Isn’t that the way it is with a young couple when they fall in love? She never used to like guacamole until she met him. He never used to like classical music until he met her. And then, they fell in love and they began to love the things their beloved loves. “Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God, because we who love the God who loves you have come to love you too!” The glory of Zion. The Lord loves His Church. Do you love the Church?

Citizens of Zion

Then look at verses 4 to 6. Here are the citizens of Zion. Notice first of all who they are. “Among those who know me I mention Rahab” – that’s another name for Egypt –  “and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush” – or Ethiopia. These are Gentile nations, many of whom have been ancestral enemies of Israel, but here, notice, here they are described as citizens of Zion, members of the people of God. It’s a wonderful prophecy of the global expansion of the Church beyond the borders of Israel, even to the ends of the earth. Notice the speaker in verse 4 is God Himself. He’s the one who designates them citizens. “Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Cush.” Or verse 6, “The LORD records as he registers the peoples” – the here’s what He records of them – “‘This one was born there.’” These people who once were aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, God now pronounces to be the people of God, chosen and precious, a kingdom and priests to proclaim the praises of Him who brought them out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Missionary Hope

It's the great missionary hope of the Old Testament Scriptures. Isaiah chapter 2, verses 2 to 4 echoes the theme. Listen to this. Isaiah 2:2-4, "It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be lifted up above the hills. And all the nations shall flow to it and many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways that we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.'" A day was coming, the psalmist is teaching us, a day was coming when Zion would become the home of all nations. Of course, that day began to dawn, didn't it, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church at Pentecost. In the city, remember, were pilgrims from Parthia and Medea, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, visitors from Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.”

And from that moment onward, like ripples emanating from the epicenter, the Church was propelled outwards in a great centrifugal movement reaching to all of Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth, inviting into Zion people from every tribe and language and nation. The mission that Christ gave to the Church on the Mount of Olives on the day He ascended into glory fulfills the prophecy of Psalm 87. "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

We Have Work to Do

And all of that means at least two things for us. First of all, it means we have work to do. Doesn’t it? It means we have work to do. Those of us who know the Lord and are citizens of Zion, it is the expectation of the whole Bible that the ends of the earth will hear the Gospel invitation that “out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” calling all people everywhere to come to Jesus Christ and find their home in His Church. We are to be His witnesses. We are to be His witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The joy of Psalm 87, that the gathering in of the nations is a joy that we can only fully enter into when we are active participants in the harvest. As the master at the banquet in Jesus’ famous parable puts it, we are to “Go out into the highways and the hedges and to compel people to come in that my house may be filled.”

So let me ask you, “Who are you praying for regularly who doesn’t know Jesus today? When last did you venture to speak a word for Jesus? Or when last did you bring a guest with you to church to hear the Gospel preached and to see God’s people sitting under the Word and praising the name of their Savior?” This is a call to action, a summons to reach the lost, to pray for them, to share the good news with them, to plead with them and to invite them into Zion through faith in Jesus that they, with us, might become citizens of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Zion Embraces All People

And then, the second thing to notice in this part of Psalm 87 is the perhaps obvious point that Zion embraces all people. It means that unlikely candidates – look at the list again. Rahab, Egypt, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia – unlikely candidates become welcome citizens. It means that enemies can become friends; orphans adopted into the family. It means there is room for you in Zion. There’s room for you in Zion, in the Church of Jesus Christ. There is no class or category of person of whom Jesus will ever say, “We don’t allow their sort here. You’re not welcome.” The kingdom of Jesus Christ is not a narrow, exclusive club for which you must qualify based on your class or color or connections. Its doors are flung wide open and the invitation sounds from within, “Come, whoever will, let him come and drink of the water of life freely.”

Now maybe you’re here tonight and you feel almost as though you were standing on the outside looking in the window, a mere spectator, intrigued perhaps, perhaps even enticed, but an outsider nonetheless. Psalm 87 is God’s invitation to you to come on in and to take your own place among the great assembly from every nation and tribe and tongue streaming to Zion. Stay outside no longer; come and welcome. The doors are open wide to you.

Basis of Citizenship

But then notice also if you would please the basis upon which people become citizens of Zion in this psalm. Three times, verses 4, 5, and 6, the basis of citizenship, do you see, is what? It is birth. “Of the people of Rahab and Babylon and Philistia and Tyre and Cush it is said, ‘This one was born there.’” Or verse 5, “This one and that one were born in her." The Hebrew phrase translated, "this one and that one" is literally "a man and a man." It means one after another in a growing, expanding record more and more coming to belong to Zion. These are people who are natural citizens of another country – Philistines and Egyptians and so on. And yet, more and more of them have come to be reckoned natural born citizens of this new country. Verse 6, "The Lord records as he registers the peoples, ‘This one was born there.'"

I serve as the chairman of a small mission that reaches out to the Jewish people around the world. And I had the privilege of interviewing a potential missionary from Taiwan last week. He will be serving, God willing, in the Chicago area in the Jewish community there, and he had previously lived there with his family before returning to his homeland. But since he is not a U.S. citizen, there are all sorts of legal and logistical challenges involved in bringing him over to work here. His children, however, were born in Chicago. They are U.S. citizens and have no difficulties. The door is wide open to them. Psalm 87 is teaching us that while all people and any person is invited into the Church of Jesus Christ, while all and any are welcome, the condition of citizenship in Zion is conferred on the basis of birth alone. God must come to say of you, “This one was born here.” Or as Jesus put it to Nicodemus using the same vocabulary, “You must be born again. Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

A New Heart

Nicodemus, you will remember, was a Jewish religious professional. He was, in fact, a natural born citizen of the earthly Jerusalem. He had every expectation as he came to Jesus that night that all he needed was a tweak here, a minor religious course correction there, and all would be well. He was coming to Jesus a bit like as though He was a sort of spiritual chiropractor. You know he’s not looking for radical surgery, just an adjustment. That’s what he thought Jesus would provide – just an adjustment. And Jesus’ reply to him left him flabbergasted. You remember how Jesus responded? He didn’t need to add a few new practices to his essentially sound religious performance. He did not need to simply adjust his thinking on a few minor points of doctrine here or there. It wasn’t that he simply had to add Jesus’ special teachings to those of the rabbis that he already knew so very well. No, Jesus said, “What you need, Nicodemus, if the kingdom of God is to be opened to you, is a radical new start. A radical new start. You must be born again. It’s not just new convictions; it’s a new heart that you need. Not just a change of moral behavior. A new heart is what you need. Not just participation in a different religious organization. You need a new heart, Nicodemus. You must be born again. God must say of you, Nicodemus, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”

Friends, you might be a total outsider like one of the Babylonians or Philistines or Egyptians listed in Psalm 87. Or tonight, you might actually be Nicodemus. You know the lingo, you're comfortable with religious routine. But whoever you are, this is the issue with which you need to wrestle. This is the question you need to answer. "Have you been born again?" A new birth, a new heart is what you need. Do you have a new heart? Only God can give it to you. Only Jesus Christ, by His Word and Spirit, can make you new. Nicodemus had the right idea at least in this. If we’re to find our place among the citizens of Zion, we need to start by going to Jesus Christ. He alone can give you a new heart. Have you been born again? The only citizens of the heavenly Zion there are, are those who have been born there, to whom God in Christ by His Spirit has given a new heart. Do you have a new heart? The glories of Zion. The citizens of Zion.

The Joy of Zion

Then finally, look at verse 7 with me. The joy of Zion. “Singers and dancers" – or one scholar translates it – Debbie and Paul will be glad of this – possibly "singers and flutists," – "all alike say, ‘All my springs are in you.’” So it’s a picture of celebration. They’re singing, they’re dancing, they’re playing musical instruments. And their theme is the inexhaustible fountain of living water welling up to eternal life that flows to them from Jesus Christ. Now they’ve come to belong in Zion. “All my springs are in you.” Refreshment and satisfaction, life-giving water I find in You. I need look nowhere else now. Here in the Church, the river that makes glad the city of our God, flows constantly. Here among His people, here under His Word, here as His Spirit works and His praises are sung. As we worship and work together, serve and care for one another, here this deer that pants for the water brooks finds a river of life flowing in the desert places of my life. “All my springs are in you.”

Joy in Midst of Sorrow

Christians, you know, have grounds for joy no one else can know. While all around us there are reasons for sorrow – and there are plenty of them – terror attacks, moral collapse, political chaos, a divided society, there's suffering, there's sin, there's loss, there's heartbreak, and we are right to weep for a broken world. Nevertheless, still, there is a stream that is flowing to us, refreshing us, and sustaining us and gladdening our hearts and comforting us in the middle of it all. Jesus said, you remember, "Whoever believes in Me as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." Now, this He said of the Spirit whom those who believed in Him were to receive. God gives His Spirit to His people to quench their thirst that they might say, "All my springs are in you. I never run dry. I'm never parched. I can drink and drink my fill."

Can I say this to you with the understanding that as a dour Scot, morbid introspection is my default setting? Okay? So I get it! I’m with you. I’m ahead of you! Melancholy is my spiritual gift. I get it, okay? But isn’t there something of a rebuke here in verse 7 as Christians when the dominant mark of our Christianity is gloomy negativity and pessimism? Doesn’t verse 7 sting just a little? It ought to. When we’re marked more by our fears than by our faith, that is not the characteristic mark of the citizens of Zion, drawn from all the nations, born as residents of the New Jerusalem, to whom in every trial in a dry and weary land flows streams of living water. Our great characteristic is joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I will say rejoice!” Paul says to us. Yes, there will be weeping that lasts for a season, but joy comes in the morning. Yes, sometimes we grow weary in well-doing, but the joy of the Lord is your strength. “Singers and dancers alike say, ‘All our springs are in Zion.’” The resources of grace are inexhaustible. “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” In Zion, there are no needs Jesus does not have sufficient grace to meet. “All my springs are in you.” How we ought to love Zion. How we ought to cherish the Church.

You remember Newton's famous paraphrase of Psalm 87, don't you? He gets this point, this note; he strikes it really very well I think. He says, "Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God. God, whose word cannot be broken formed thee for His own abode. On the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose? With salvation's walls surrounded, thou mayst smile at all thy foes. See, the streams of living waters springing from eternal love. Well supply thy sons and daughters and all fear of want remove. Who can faint while such a river ever flows their thirst to assuage? Grace which like the Lord, the Giver, never fails from age to age.” Never fails. So the glories of Zion are here. The Lord loves His Church. He has chosen her, established her, and those who dwell in her say glorious things about her because they know the Lord loves her. Do you say glorious things about Zion because you know she is precious in the sight of the God who loves you?

And there are the citizens of Zion here. All and anyone who would come to Christ are welcome, born again from above. And finally, there’s the joy of Zion here. All our streams are in her. The well will not run dry. The tank will not be empty. Grace supplied by the hand of God Himself will always be there for you, child of God, sustaining you and keeping you so that you will be able to say with joy, in a dry and parched land, “All my streams are in you.” May the Lord help us to love the Church as He loves the Church. Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we do confess, I confess how easily we attend Church, we consume Church; we may even serve Church. But there are times we don't love the Church – wounded by the Church, disappointed by the Church. In those times, maybe tonight is one of those times for some of us, in those times would You help us to see how You love Your Church and learn, because we love You, to love what You love, and to say glorious things about Zion. And we pray for those who are here who are not yet citizens of Zion, the city of our God, the Church of Jesus Christ. Whether they are like the nations listed in the Psalm – outsiders completely foreign to the Church, new entirely – or perhaps like Nicodemus, who was very comfortable with the religious patterns and traditions of the Church. Whoever they may be, we pray, O Lord, that You would bring to crystal clarity in their thinking this one single question, "Have I been born again? Do I have a new heart?" And then would You draw them to Jesus Christ who alone can make them new; that they may indeed be said to have been born in Zion. And we pray for one another, knowing that there are days when we wonder if we're going to make it, if our stamina will hold, when we feel dry and parched. We pray for one another, O Lord, that we might know and taste and drink deeply of the streams of living water that flow out to us by Your Word, in the Church, in the fellowship of Your people, from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself that we, drinking deeply of Him, might be able with glad hearts to say, "All my streams are, all my springs, all my every fountain that refreshes my soul, they're all in you, in Zion, and for that, Zion is beloved." Would You hear us? Draw near to us? And as we go from this place, would You send us with the help and blessing of Your Spirit, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

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