" />

One In Christ: The blessing of Unity in Worship of God

Series: How Pilgrims Praise: Psalms of Ascent

Sermon by Derek Thomas on Jan 19, 2000

Psalm 133:1-3

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing — life forever.”

And may God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant word. Let's pray together. Our Father, brake Thou the bread of life and grant that by Your Spirit this wonderful and precious Psalm might be born home into our hearts and lives, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

I speak tonight on this Psalm of Christian unity with somewhat of a heavy and troubled heart, and that because, as my Scottish brethren here this evening will know, today is indeed likely to be a sad day in the course of Ecclesiastical life in Scotland, because a well-loved church is in the midst of trouble and finding itself, indeed, getting into deeper trouble. And it is in some ways ironic that I should be speaking on this day of all days on the Psalm of Christian unity. And I don't know about you but I hate it when the Lord's people quarrel. Oh, some of you are so young in the faith that that may come to you as somewhat of a surprise, that God's people do in fact fall out and quarrel, but let me tell you, they do. Of course, there are times when it's necessary to disagree and there are times when it is necessary to go to war: to go to war for the principle and cause of Christian truth, when the gospel is being despised, when Christian truth is being trodden down under foot, when Christian principles, vital and essential Christian principles, are being ignored in the church of Jesus Christ. It is necessary to disagree. It is sometimes necessary to go to war. But the kinds of disagreement and warfare of which I now speak are of a different order and different genre. They’re the kind that Paul addressed when he wrote to the Philippian church, you remember, and in the course of his epistle singled out Euodia and Syntyche. I don't know what it was like when that epistle was first read in the Philippian church. I can only imagine you would have heard a pin drop when these two women members of the church at Philippi were singled out and read out in this epistle, and Paul the apostle beseeching them that they be of the same mind because their attitude and behavior in the church of Christ was reprehensible and unbecoming to the honor and the glory and the integrity of the name of Jesus Christ. Psalm 133 is a testimony to the rejoicing of a believer in God and in the grace of God as God bestows blessing upon His people and, in particular, in the context of the blessing of Christian unity.

When I think about Christian unity I almost inevitably think of that 17th chapter of John's gospel and the so-called. “high, priestly prayer of Jesus Christ,” when, you will remember, that He prays that all of them might be one “…just as you are in Me.” Jesus says, speaking to His Father in Heaven, “…just as You are in Me and I am in You.” And that is altogether staggering, that the example and basis of Christian unity is the relationship that exists between the Father and Jesus Christ, and we could spend eternity trying to unfathom the depths of that relationship when John puts it in as simple and yet complex a form as it is possible to put it. “And the Word,” speaking of Jesus Christ, “and the Word was with”–or perhaps using a preposition which sometimes can mean ‘towards’–“the Word was towards God.” And that communion and fellowship that exists between God the Father and God the Son is the example and basis of the unity and fellowship that ought to exist between brothers and sisters in the Christian church.

I. The geographical and spiritual manner

Now what's stated in verse 1 of this Psalm is then illustrated along two different lines in verses 2 and 3: in verse 2 illustrated in a theological and historical manner, and then in verse 3 illustrated in a geographic and perhaps spiritual manner. And if I may, I want to consider this in reverse order beginning with verse three. And I want us to see in the first place, the geographical, the geographical and spiritual idea that the Psalmist is eluding to here. Because he puts it like this: this blessing of which he speaks is “like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion.”

Now we need a short lesson in spiritual and Palestinian geography. Mt. Hermon, of course, is to the north and slightly to the east. It's one of the tallest mountains in ancient Israel. It was often snowcapped, snow peaked, and I vividly recall in a modern visit of Israel going to the Sea of Galilee. Just north of the Sea of Galilee you can see Mt. Hermon rising above the plains very visibly and very stunningly. And I remember well a minister of the free church of Scotland in a bus tour that I was leading, as soon as he saw Mt. Hermon for the very first time, he stood up in the middle of the bus and began to sing Psalm 133 in Gaelic. And his eyes were shut and he was, he was oblivious to everyone around him, and we were all in some kind of mesmeric awe as we listened to this man singing the praises of God as he first caught sight of Mt. Hermon. And Zion, of course, is to the South. It's where Jerusalem is situated. It's not really a mountain at all but the comparison between Hermon and Zion is not that of the heights, the relative heights of the mountain, the comparison is a different one. If you make a journey to Mt. Zion to Jerusalem today, you will immediately appreciate the climate in Jerusalem is a dry one. If, however, you begin to journey north and you come into the regions of Galilee and go further north toward Mt. Hermon, you will immediately appreciate that you’re back in Mississippi, because it's humid. And what, astonishingly, the Psalmist is saying–and it may not ring with you and it certainly doesn't ring with me–is this: that the blessing that he discovers in worshiping with God's people in Jerusalem is like waking up at the foot of Mt. Hermon all soaking wet. And that doesn't mean anything to me at all. That, that to me doesn't compute. But imagine it this way, because I think we need to do some gymnastics here to get into the sentiment of the Psalmist, because the Psalmist may well have come from the regions of Mt. Hermon and Mt. Hermon for him was home. Mt. Hermon for him meant a great deal. And imagine your favorite location on Earth, and it's as though the Psalmist is saying, ‘There's a time in the worship of God in Jerusalem when I feel as though I'm transported, as if I have an out-of-body experience almost. And it's as though I'm back on the foothills of Mt. Hermon again.’ Have you never had that when you’re listening to the word of God being proclaimed? I have to confess that I had it on Sunday morning, listening to Dr. Duncan preaching so powerfully from the gospel of Matthew. And do you remember that point when he began to read that account, the quotation–

I believe it was from Don Carson–a very graphic, a very graphic citation. And I found myself sitting in a pew in this building and I was transported; I wasn't here at all. And my mind began to focus on Jesus Christ being crucified and I felt for a moment as though I was there and saying to myself, “Why, why would You do this for the likes of me?”

And the Psalmist is saying something like that here, that there are times when the blessing of God in Mt. Zion and in Jerusalem and amongst the people of God transports me to another world and almost to another consciousness. And, oh, for more such graphic spiritual experiences of the grace of Almighty God! But you know this isn't just a piece of mysticism. And you might be thinking that that Mr. Thomas here is now being guilty of…but you remember that occasion in the epistle to the Ephesians when Paul speaks too graphically that we sit, you and I, saved by the grace of God and “that not of works lest any man should boast.” You remember, we sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. That even though in one sense we are sitting here tonight, if we are in union and communion with Jesus Christ, we are sitting in heavenly places. We are surrounded by angels and archangels, and the redeemed are God's. And you know there's an uncanny way in which Paul writes to the Philippians in the very opening verse of the epistle. And he writes to the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi. They are in Christ but they are at Philippi. They have union and communion with Jesus Christ which transports them into heavenly places, but at the same time they are at Philippi. And the blessing of which the Psalmist speaks here is a blessing that transports him, that transports him to consider something entirely different from the location in which he actually is. And Paul, you remember, can speak about Christians and he writes in 1 Corinthians 10:11 of those upon whom the end of the world has dawned. And we ought, in a sense, to live our lives just like that, as those upon whom the end of the world and the reality of things as they are has dawned.

II. The theological and historical manner

But the Psalmist also uses another illustration or metaphor to describe what he's trying to say. And he does that in the second verse of the Psalm where he uses a theological and perhaps historical illustration of the blessing of which he speaks, and it's that of the anointing of the high priest. The illusion, of course, is to Exodus 29 and how the oil was poured upon the head of Aaron, and the oil in its profuse quantity would come down his face and beard and down upon his clothes, his priestly robes. And it's a beautiful and graphic metaphor because the high priest, you remember, had a very distinctive task. He was the one who officiated at a sacrifice on behalf of the people. He was the one who prayed for the salvation of the people of God. He was the one, by consequence of the fact, that he bore upon his breastplate and shouldered the stones which represented the twelve tribes of Israel so that when the high priest went into the Holy of Holies with the blood of atonement, he took the people of God with him. He was their representative. He was their substitute. And the Psalmist is saying here as he worships God in Jerusalem that the center and focus of all his worship is the ministry and person of the high priest and what he performs. You know something perhaps needs to be said about the extravagance of the anointing because the blessings of God are so great, but more especially the Psalmist is saying that no blessing, absolutely no blessing comes to the people of God apart from the ministry of the high priest.

And if we were to bring this Psalm now into the pages of the New Testament, this Psalm is saying something very clear, isn't it? That there are no blessings that come to us apart from the ministry and function, the person and work, of the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek without beginning or end of days. You remember how the author to the Hebrews in chapter 3 and verse 1 exhorts his readers? “Consider Him”…“Consider Him the Great Apostle and High Priest of our faith.” So that the application of this Psalm to us this evening is just that, isn't it? Consider Jesus Christ. Consider Him because there are no blessings, there are no blessings apart from His ministry.

The voice that you hear in the faithful preaching of the word of God from Lord's Day to Lord's Day–I don't want to embarrass Dr. Duncan. I really was transported on Sunday morning and it came home to me…John 10 and verse 4, “My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me.” And there is a very real sense, a sense in which Calvin especially and the Reformation followed that line of thought to the extent that when the word of God is faithfully preached, it is Jesus Christ who is preaching. It is the voice of Jesus that you hear. Doesn't Hebrews, you remember, doesn't Hebrews site something similar in Hebrews 2:11 about the singing of the congregation? I remember reading in one of Dr. Clowney's books–and I believe it's reprinted in his book on the church but I think I heard it before that–that every time you sing in the covenant fellowship of God's people, Jesus Christ is holding your hymn book, and He's singing, as it were, with you and over your shoulder and leading you in the worship of God. That's a beautiful thought, isn't it? That would be a challenge to some of you men who I notice don't sing a great deal in the congregation. Let me exhort you when you don't sing that standing right next to you is the Lord Jesus Christ who is exhorting you to sing His praises. It is Jesus Christ, of course, who comes to us in the ministry of the sacraments and by way of a mirror shows Himself, so that in all of the marks of the church and the means of grace it is Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, that we are to see. And that's who the Psalmist saw here. When he was caught up in the worship in Jerusalem, he thought about the great High Priest and his ministry…and, oh, that we might focus in our worship more and more on the beauty and splendor of Jesus Christ in all the magnificence of His offices!

III. The consequence of God's blessing is that the people of God live together in gracious unity.

But if in the first place the nature of the blessing is described in terms of local geography, and if in the second place the source of God's blessing is described in terms of Old Testament theology, in the third place, the consequence of God's blessing is that the people of God live together in gracious unity. Now I want you to notice a contrast in this very brief Psalm between the first verse and the third verse. You notice at the end of the Psalm in verse 3 it is the Lord who commands the blessing and not us. It is the Lord who commands the blessing and not us. Oh, let me pause there before I draw out the comparison and the contrast here. It is God who commands the blessing. There's nothing that you can do as such to guarantee the blessing of God. The blessing of God is a work of His grace, and every time we experience that blessing in our times of gathering together, it is the evidence of the grace of God.

But notice in verse 1, it is we who do the dwelling together and not the Lord. God commands the blessing but it is us, brothers and sisters, who dwell together in unity. And I think that the Psalm is saying that without the dwelling together in unity there can be no blessing. It is, as it were, in the context of brothers dwelling together in unity that God commands blessing upon His church. You see, that raises a fearful thought that it is perfectly possible for you and I to be the obstacle to that blessing because we refuse to live together in unity and fellowship. And how may that be, and it may be in a thousand different ways, but it may be, for example, because of an uncontrolled tongue and a gossiping tongue and a spirit that refuses to treat one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. We have an enormous responsibility in a church of this size, to work hard at Christian unity. And one of the blessings, isn't it, one of the blessings of this prayer meeting, especially these prayer meetings where we pray for each other and we remember each other…and isn't it in some small way one of the blessings of having met together over a meal beforehand, biblical as those metaphors all seem to me to be, that thereby we express with each other our love and concern for one another? This Psalmist is rejoicing in the blessing and privilege of Christian unity of a context of covenant people who care for each other and love each other and pray for each other, who call each other on the phone, who send messages–“I'm praying for you.” “I'm concerned about you”–who speak to each other in moments when they meet, and as Americans, perhaps the equivalent of greeting one another with a holy kiss, you hug one another.

All of these ways and a thousand other ways revealing that ministry of caring and fellowship that represents the unity of God's people. I put it to you that we really do need to work hard at this, not least because of our size, not least because I'm sure it's true of many of you that you've been members here for a long time but you still meet people who have also been members here for a long time and you never knew it. Now I'm not castigating that. I'm just pointing out the fact of it and that we need to work at unity; we need to work at dwelling together because it's a great, great blessing. It's a beautiful thing because it represents in a small way something of the relationship that exists between the Father and the Son, and that's the mystery of it, and that's the wonder of it. And oh, if I can just make one tiny little application.

Notice how it ends, “For there the Lord commanded the blessing — life forevermore.” Oh, that we might make it our burden to pray, “Lord, Lord, command the blessing; command the blessing on this congregation; command the blessing on us as the people of God. Rend the heavens and come down and grant us, grant us, O Lord, such vistas of Your glory that we might not be able to take it in.” Will you make that your prayer? Let's pray together.

Our Father in Heaven, we thank You for this beautiful Psalm in all its simplicity yet so very profound. Command, O Lord, the blessing because we are bereft in and of ourselves to do anything to warrant or merit that blessing. It must be of grace from beginning to end. Hear us, O Lord, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Now will you stand and receive the Lord's benediction? Now may the grace of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of you now and forevermore. Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.