Psalm 122 – Gathering with God’s People

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The Psalms of Ascent | Stepping Stones to God’s Heart

“Gathering with God’s People” (Psalm 122)

“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

INTRODUCTION: We are studying the Psalms of Ascent together and when we reach Psalm 122 something odd happens. The psalmist arrives in Jerusalem. There are fifteen Psalms of Ascent, we’re only three psalms in, and we’re already there! How can that be?

We have said that the Psalm of Ascent have an upward motion. They begin in Psalm 120 with the psalmist crying out in trouble far away from Jerusalem, and they end in Psalm 134 with the psalmist offering up praise in the temple courts.

So the psalms have an upward motion, but they also have an up and down motion. If you break the fifteen psalms into five groups of three, you notice a pattern in each group of three psalms. The first psalm in each group focuses on trouble of some sort. The second psalm in each group focuses on trust. And then the third psalm in each group focuses on triumph or victory.

For example Psalm 120 begins with the psalmist in trouble in a far away land. In Psalm 121 he puts his trust in God. And in Psalm 122 he gathers with God’s people for worship in Jerusalem. This pattern of trouble-trust-triumph repeats in Psalms 123-125, Psalms 126-128, Psalms 129-131 and then again in Psalms 132-134.

                 1     2      3      4     5
Trouble    120  123  126  129  132
Trust        121  124  127  130  133
Triumph   122  125  128  131  134

Each group begins with the psalmist in trouble and then moves upward to victory. The pattern repeats in the next three psalms, although each time, the psalm of trouble starts a little higher than the one before. All fifteen psalms together represent one big journey to God, and yet within this larger pilgrimage we find these five mini-pilgrimages as well.

And so as you work your way through the Psalms of Ascent, you get a very realistic view of the Christian’s journey in life. It’s not all the way up all the time but very often three steps forward, one step back. It’s progress in fits and starts, but it is progress nonetheless.

Psalm 122 is a psalm of David. There five psalms in the Psalms of Ascent that are attributed to a specific author and these five psalms are spread out among the five groups of psalms listed above. One psalm in each of the first two groups and in each of the last two groups are attributed to David. And then the middle psalm of the middle group is attributed to Solomon. (Read Psalm 122 and pray.)

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“Are we there yet?” Ever gone on a long road trip with kids? Then you’ve heard those words before, right? Whenever our kids would ask, “Are we there yet?” I always gave them the same answer: “Just five more minutes!” An hour later they would ask the same question and get the same answer. No matter how far away it was always, “Just five more minutes.”

I remember when I was a kid we would make the long journey to visit my grandparents. It was a six hour ride from our home in Massachusetts to my grandparents up in Maine, and I would so look forward to arriving. I looked forward to the fresh homemade donuts my grandmother would have ready for us piping hot out of the oven. I looked forward to my grandfather’s hearty laugh and grandma and grandpa’s warm embrace.

Psalm 122 is a song of arrival. It’s the song of someone who has been looking forward to that arrival for some time. And it’s also a song about going to church, about gathering with God’s people for worship each week. You will notice that the psalm both begins and ends with the phrase “the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1,9)

Ever ask someone why they don’t go to church? They’ll give you all sorts of reasons. “It’s boring. I have better things to do. It’s my one day to sleep in. We have sports on Sundays. We like to keep Sundays for family time.” People give lots of reasons for not going to church, but there is one overriding reason why we should go and that is God. As Eugene Peterson writes: “Psalm 122 is the song of a person who decides to go to church and worship God.”

The weekly gathering of the church for worship should be one your highest priorities and one of the high points of your week. Psalm 122 teaches us it should not simply be your duty but also your delight. Fortunately many people have discovered the joy of Christian worship. There are more people in church on Sunday morning than people at all the football stadiums combined in the afternoon.

As a Christian you are on a journey, but you are not alone on your journey. In fact, the gathering of God’s people for worship is one of the most important parts of your journey with God. We need each other for the journey. You cannot be a growing Christian without also being an active part of Christ’s church. So, let’s take a look at this psalm and see what it teaches us about church and our journey to God.

I. Look forward to gathered worship each week (1-2)

First of all, Psalm 122 teaches us to look forward to gathered worship each week. Look at verses 1-2: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ 2 Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:1-2)

   A. Look forward to worshiping with God’s people
      – Hebrews 10:25

There are a couple things we learn from these verses. First of all, we should look forward to worshiping with God’s people. Verse 1 says: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (Psalm 122:1)

Remember the psalmist is on a journey. He started his journey in Psalm 120 surrounded by people who didn’t care about God or God’s ways. Along the way in Psalm 121 he learned to trust in God’s providence and care. And now that he is finally arriving in Jerusalem he thinks back to the beginning of his journey and how glad he was to leave for Jerusalem.

Jerusalem was important because that’s where the temple was. The temple was important because that’s where God met with his people. And so why was he so glad to begin his journey? Because he was going to worship God with his people. The Psalms of Ascent are all about going to meet with God, and the temple is the place where God promised to meet with his people.

For the Old Testament Jew worshiping with God’s people meant going to the temple. For the Christian today it means going to church. And so in our context this psalm begins with an invitation to church. Don’t be shy about inviting someone to church. Many a church invitation has resulted in salvation and a life changed for all of eternity. Perhaps the person you invite will someday say, “I am so glad someone said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”

But this verse is not just about inviting someone else to come to church. It’s about inviting each other! It’s about mutual encouragement, encouraging each other to gather for worship, whether you do that by a phone call, a conversation or posting on Facebook. It’s about looking forward to worshiping with God’s people. You could even translate verse one: “I rejoice whenever they say to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”

How do you respond when someone says it’s time for church? Do you get excited? Or are you unmotivated? There’s the old joke about the mother getting her son up on a Sunday morning. “Time for church,” she says. “But I don’t want to go to church,” her son replies. “No one likes me there, and the people are all mean to me. Give me one good reason why I should go.” The mother replies, “I’ll give you two good reasons. Number one, you’re 54 years old. And number two, you’re the pastor!”

Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) We get out of bed for other things that are important to us. And church is one of those things of first importance. Psalm 122:1 says, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (Psalm 122:1) Look forward to worshiping with God’s people.

   B. Enter gathered worship with anticipation and joy
      – Psalm 100:4

And then secondly, enter gathered worship with anticipation and joy. Look at verse 2 where the psalmist writes: “Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:2) This is the joy of arrival. The long-awaited moment has come! There is a sense of wonder and delight for the traveler as he stands at the gates of Jerusalem, about to enter the holy city. The Good News translation captures this sense of wonder well: “And now we are actually standing inside the gates of Jerusalem!” (Psalm 122:2; GNB)

You could also translate the word “standing” as “standing still.” In other words the travelers are so full of anticipation that they pause for a moment before entering just to take it all in. What do you do when you climb a mountain – immediately turn around and go back down? No, you pause and enjoy the view. It’s why you came. Here we pause for a moment in anticipation of worshiping God together with his people.

Samuel Cox writes, “[This psalm] teaches us not simply what the Hebrew pilgrims felt, but also what God would have us feel.” When you get to church on Sunday morning, it should feel like arriving at your destination after a long trip. It’s like seeing the Disney sign when you get to Disney and the kids get all excited and cry out, “We’re here! We’re finally here!”

Psalm 100:4 says: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” (Psalm 100:4) How you enter worship matters. It shows your attitude towards God and his people. When you’ve been looking forward to worship all week long, you will enter worship with anticipation and joy. That’s the first thing we learn from this psalm. Look forward to gathered worship each week.

II. Reap the benefits of gathered worship each week (3-5)

The second thing is this. Reap the benefits of gathered worship each week. Look at verses 3-5: “Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. 4 That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel. 5 There the thrones for judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David.” (Psalm 122:3-5) Now these verses are talking about the actual city Jerusalem and yet there are several applications we can make to our own experience of gathered worship in the church today. So what are some of the benefits you reap from gathered worship each week?

   A. Enjoy the closeness of Christian fellowship
      – Psalm 133:1

First of all, you enjoy the closeness of Christian fellowship. Look at verse 3 where the psalmist writes: “Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.” (Psalm 122:3) Here the psalmist is talking about the physical architecture of the city. Jerusalem was a walled city on a hill, and its boundaries were fixed by its natural geography. There was limited space with no room for expansion. There was no room for fields between the houses, no room for urban sprawl, and so the houses were all joined together, everything was close and compact.

But he’s not just talking about architecture. He’s talking about the people. The psalmist has traveled to Jerusalem for one of the three great feasts, and so there are many others there with him. A large crowd has assembled for the feast, and there is a great excitement in the people coming together.

Remember, the church is not the building. It’s the people. And one of the benefits you reap from weekly gathered worship is enjoying the closeness of Christian fellowship. As we read in Psalm 133:1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) Psalm 133 is another of the Psalms of Ascent so we will revisit this verse later in the series. But one of the things this verse is saying is that there is a closeness, there is a sweetness in Christian fellowship that you cannot get anywhere else. So that’s one of the first benefits you reap from weekly gathered worship. Enjoy the closeness of Christian fellowship.

   B. Experience the unity that comes from praising God together
      – Romans 12:4-5

And then secondly, experience the unity that comes from praising God together. Look at verse 4: “That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel.” (Psalm 122:4) When the psalmist got to Jerusalem he was joined by people from different tribes, different locations, different backgrounds, different places, different situations – but they all had one unity of purpose. They had all gathered together to praise the name of the Lord!

Notice they are not called the tribes of Israel here but rather the tribes of the Lord! As Derek Kidner writes: “The ties were more than those of blood or convenience; these were the tribes of the Lord, and Jerusalem was where they were to meet him, not simply one another.”

And it’s the same for us today. We all come from different backgrounds, places and situations, but we have a unity because we are all members of the one body of Christ. We are not merely members of a church, we belong to God! As Romans 12:4-5 says: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5)

At church we all learn to get along with each other despite our differences. As long as we keep the main thing the main thing, we will get along just fine. And what’s the main thing? Worship. Praise. Christ. God. That’s the second benefit you reap from gathered weekly worship. Experience the unity that comes from praising God together.

   C. Receive direction from God’s word
      – Colossians 3:16; Revelation 20:11-15

So you enjoy the closeness of Christian fellowship. You experience the unity that comes from praising God together. And then thirdly, you receive direction from God’s word. Look at verse 5: “There the thrones for judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David.” (Psalm 122:5)

Jerusalem was both the religious and political center for Israel. The king’s throne was in Jerusalem, and that’s where various judgments were handed down.

The word translated “judgment” in this verse is a word that means to make a decision. The judge makes a decision in a court case, and we need to make decisions every day of our lives. So where do we get the wisdom to make right decisions in our lives? From the word of God. Even the king of Israel was not supposed to make judgments on his own, but rather he was to hand down judgments in accordance with God’s word.

This is another one of the great benefits we reap from weekly gathered worship, because church is chock full of God’s word. It is in our Bibles; it is in our songs; it is in our prayers; it is in our preaching and teaching. Colossians 3:16 gives the following instruction to churches gathering for weekly worship: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

And so every week we sit under the authority of God’s word and we learn more of God’s will and his ways. Each week we receive direction from God’s word to help us in our lives. We confess our sin, and we renew our commitment to walk in the right way as revealed by God in his word. That’s ultimately what Psalm 122 means by “thrones for judgment.”

In the book of Revelation we also find thrones for judgment. We read in Revelation 20: “Then I saw a great white throne … And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books … If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15)

Every thing you have done in life – every thought, word or deed – will be judged by what is written in this book, the Bible. The book of your life will be judged by God’s book of life. You can be judged by God’s word now, or you can be judged by God’s word later. But this is one of the many benefits you reap from weekly gathered worship. Enjoy the closeness of Christian fellowship. Experience the unity that comes from praising God together. Receive direction from God’s word.

III. Pray for God’s people regularly (6-9)

Psalm 122 teaches us to look forward to gathered worship each week. It motivates us to reap the benefits of gathered worship each week. And then finally it encourages us to pray for God’s people regularly. Look at verses 6-9: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. 7 May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’ 8 For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’ 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.” (Psalm 122:6-9) In other words, gathered worship will have a tremendous effect on your prayer life throughout the week.

   A. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem
      – Genesis 12:3; Luke 19:41-42

These verses tells us four things about prayer and God’s people. First of all, pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Look at verses 6-7: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’” (Psalm 122:6-7)

The city of Jerusalem is vitally important in the Scriptures. Jerusalem is mentioned over 800 times in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New. The name “Jerusalem” means “city of peace” so when you pray for the peace of Jerusalem you are literally praying peace for the city of peace.

And when you pray for the peace of Jerusalem, God promises to bless you back. God promised Abraham in 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)

Israel, Jerusalem and the Jewish people still have a place in God’s heart, and I believe they still have a place in God’s plan. The Middle East is wracked with conflict and always has been. What happens to Jerusalem has worldwide consequences. Whatever your theology of Israel, we need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

And part of praying for the peace of Jerusalem is praying for Jewish people to come to know Christ. When Jesus approached Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he wept over it and said: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42) Jesus is the promised Messiah, and only Jesus will bring the Jewish people true peace – peace with God, peace and security for all of eternity.

   B. Pray for the peace of the church
      – Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 4:3-6

In praying for God’s people we must not only pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we must also pray for the peace of the church. Derek Kidner writes: “What Jerusalem was to the Israelite, the church is to the Christian.” The church is God’s people today, Jews and Gentiles brought into one body together through Christ’s death for us on the cross. God loves his people – so don’t mess with Israel, and don’t mess with the church.

We have a beautiful picture of the early church at peace within and without in Acts 2:42-47: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer … All the believers were together and had everything in common … They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Ephesians 4 tells us: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Psalm 122 says, “May those who love you be secure.” Do you love the church? Do you love God’s people? Do you love gathering with God’s people to worship God? Then this promise is for you as well.

   C. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ
      – Ephesians 6:18

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, pray for the peace of the church, and then thirdly pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Look at verse 8: “For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’” (Psalm 122:8)

As Christians we are family. We are brothers and sisters, we are family and friends. And so in praying for God’s peace upon Jerusalem and the church, you are really praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ. You are praying a prayer of blessing, peace and safety for the people of God. As Ephesians 6:18 tell us: “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

   D. Seek the well-being of your church
      – Philippians 1:23-25; Revelation 21:2-4

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, pray for the peace of the church, pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ, and then finally seek the well-being of your church. Look at verse 9: “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.” (Psalm 122:9)

To seek something requires intention and effort. In the context of this psalm it means especially to seek these things in prayer, but there are other ways of seeking the good of the church as well. Pray for the church daily. Serve the church with your time and talents. Support the church with your finances. Attend the services of your church faithfully. As Charles Spurgeon writes: “First we love the church, and then we labor for it. We see it’s good, and then seek its good.”

The apostle Paul is a good example for us here. He always sought the good of the church first. Paul wrote in Philippians 1: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” (Philippians 1:23-25) Paul was not only willing to die for Christ – he was willing to live in order to seek the well-being of Christ’s church.

This prayer for the good of God’s people is ultimately answered in Revelation 21 where we read these beautiful words: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” (Revelation 21:2-4)

CONCLUSION: It’s sad but too many people make weekly worship an optional part of their lives rather than a non-negotiable. They don’t think about it during the week, they don’t look forward to it or anticipate it. When they do come they treat it more as a duty rather than a delight. As a result they miss out on the many benefits of gathering weekly with God’s people.

The bottom line is this: if you love God, you will love God’s people. And if you love God’s people, you will love gathering with God’s people to worship God. We need each other for the journey. What a privilege we have every week to gather with God’s people, to set all our differences aside, and to worship our great God and Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Weekly worship with God’s people is life-changing. And so if you are not in the habit of going to church every week, let me encourage you to take that next step of commitment. You wouldn’t start your day without food, and you shouldn’t start your week without church.

My prayer for you is that you will commit to regular, weekly worship with God’s people. Make weekly worship with the church a non-negotiable in your life, and then you can look forward to reaping the benefits every week for the rest of your life. “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (Psalm 122:1)

© Ray Fowler

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