Psalm 134 – Blessing and Blessed

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

Palm Sunday

“Blessing and Blessed” (Psalm 134)

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord!” (Psalm 134:2)

INTRODUCTION: Please open your Bibles with me to Psalm 134, our last song in the Psalms of Ascent. This last song is also the shortest. It is the shortest of all the Psalms of Ascent and the second shortest psalm in the whole Bible (Psalm 117 is the shortest.)

We have learned that the Psalms of Ascent were originally sung by travelers journeying to Jerusalem for the great feasts. And so it is appropriate on Palm Sunday that we come to this last Psalm of Ascent which would have been sung by the people arriving in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.

We read in the gospel of Mark that on Palm Sunday: “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” (Mark 11:11) It was Sunday night. The triumphal entry was over. The crowd had dispersed. It was late, but Jesus visited the temple anyways. Remember, this was the whole reason why you came to Jerusalem for the feasts. It was to worship God at the temple. The temple may not have been open for business, but it was still open for worship. There was always worship going on at the temple.

Jesus visited the temple at night, and interestingly, Psalm 134 is also an evening psalm. It brings us into the temple at night when the priests and Levites are still offering up praise and worship to the Lord. It reminds us that every day we are on a journey with God and that: “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” (Psalm 113:3)

Our message series is called “Stepping Stones to God’s Heart,” and we have been looking at how the Psalms of Ascent help us on our journey as we draw closer to God in our walk with him. This final psalm is a blessing or a benediction to the whole Psalms of Ascent. When you reach Psalm 134 you’ve reached the top of the mountain. You’re at the very highest step. You cannot go any higher than this. This is why you made the journey to begin with. This is the goal of your journey as a Christian: blessing God, and being blessed by God. This is what we will be doing as believers for all of eternity, and this is what God calls us to do every day here on earth. (Read Psalm 134:1-3 and pray)

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What does it mean to bless the Lord? The word translated “praise” in verses one and two of Psalm 134 is the same word that is translated “bless” in verse three. You can even translate it as “bless” in all three places. “Bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord…. Lift up your hands … and bless the Lord. May the Lord … bless you from Zion.” (Psalm 134:1-3)

The word “bless” literally means “to kneel or bow down.” So how does that work when we talk about us blessing God and especially God blessing us? Obviously God doesn’t kneel or bow down to us.
Here’s the difference. When we bless God, we kneel or bow down before him in worship. When God blesses us, he reaches down to take care of us and our needs. We bless God by praising him for who he is and what he has done, and God blesses us by loving us and providing for us.

And that’s what Psalm 134 is all about – blessing God, and being blessed by God. The life that blesses God is a life that is blessed by God. You can break the whole psalm down into two basic statements: “May you bless the Lord! And may the Lord bless you!”

I. May you bless the Lord! (1-2)

So let’s begin with that first part, may you bless the Lord! Look at verses 1-2: “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” (Psalm 134:1-2)

   A. Praise the Lord all you servants of the Lord
      – 1 Chronicles 9:33, 23:30

The first instruction here is simply: “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord.” The servants of the Lord here in the psalm are the priests and the Levites who ministered in the temple. Notice that these particular servants are those who minister by night in the house of the Lord. We know from the Scriptures that the Levites in particular praised the Lord both day and night. For example we read in 1 Chronicles 9:33: “Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night.” (1 Chronicles 9:33) Or again in 1 Chronicles 23:30: “They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD. They were to do the same in the evening.” (1 Chronicles 23:30)

      1) All God’s people should praise him
         – 1 Peter 2:9

But even though this instruction was initially given to those ministering in the temple, it is really an instruction to all of us. As believers today we are all servants of the Lord. 1 Peter 2:9 says: “But you are a royal priesthood … a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) As believers in Christ we are all priests in God’s kingdom, and we are all called to declare his praises. All God’s people should praise him.

      2) All God’s people should praise him at all times
         – Psalm 30:5, 126:5

Not only that, but all God’s people should praise him at all times. Earlier in the Psalms of Ascent we looked at Psalm 126:5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalm 126:5) And then we saw how Psalm 30:5 related weeping to the night time: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) But once again, look how far we have come in the Psalms of Ascent. Now instead of weeping, even the night is full of praises. All God’s people should praise him, and all God’s people should praise him at all times.

   B. Lift up your hands in worship and prayer
      – Psalm 24:3-4; 1 Timothy 2:8; Hebrews 10:19-22

And then the next instruction is to lift up your hands in worship and prayer. Look at verse 2: “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” (Psalm 134:2) Lifting up your hands is associated with prayer in the Scriptures. It adds a visual and a physical element to your worship and prayer. It is a beautiful way to worship God, and if you’ve never done it, I encourage you to try it.

We often use physical gestures in other areas of life to express our emotions. For example, you might give a fist pump in the air when you are really excited. So why not use physical gestures in prayer?

Sometimes we lift up our hands in prayer because our heart is already lifted before God and we rightly get caught up in the emotion. Our emotions should be engaged in praise and worship. But then there are times when you don’t feel like praying or your heart is not in it. That is also an excellent time to lift up your hands in worship and prayer. Sometimes your heart lifts your hands, but other times your hands can help your heart. As John Calvin said: “Why do men lift their hands when they pray? Is it not that their hearts may be raised at the same time to God?”

When you lift up your hands before God you are opening yourself up to him, confessing your need for him and your dependence upon him. You are also offering yourself up for inspection. We read in Psalm 24: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” (Psalm 24:3-4) We are talking about the Psalms of Ascent, and who may ascend to the Lord? Only the person who has clean hands and a pure heart.

You might be wondering, “Well, that’s not me! I have sinned against God. How can I lift up my hands before him?” But that’s the beauty of what God has done for you in Christ. When you put your faith in Christ as Savior God forgives your sin, and he cleanses you from all unrighteousness. You can lift up your hands before the Lord because you are clean in Christ.

There’s a reason Psalm 130 comes before this psalm in the Psalms of Ascent. Remember Psalm 130 was a psalm about forgiveness. We read in Psalm 130:3-4: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” (Psalm 130:3-4) You need God’s forgiveness and cleansing before you can lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and forgiveness only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. But once you are forgiven, you are clean. That’s why Paul can write in 1 Timothy 2:8: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8)

Your forgiveness and cleansing in Christ is so complete that you can not only lift up your hands in the sanctuary. You can now enter the very presence of God through Jesus your Savior. We read in Hebrews 10:19-22: “Therefore since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus … let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)

In the Old Testament only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and that only one day a year, on the Day of Atonement. But now a way has been opened up for you through Christ’s death on the cross. You have been washed clean in Christ, and you may approach God with confidence in full assurance of faith with your hands lifted high. We come before the Lord not in our righteousness but in the perfect righteousness of Christ. “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” (Psalm 134:1-2)”

II. May the Lord bless you! (3)

So that’s the first part of the psalm. May you bless the Lord! Now let’s move on to the second part. May the Lord bless you! Look at verse 3: “May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.” (Psalm 134:3) The “you” in this verse is singular. In other words the blessing of this verse applies individually to each person who is trusting Christ as their Savior.

The original psalm probably worked as a call and response. The people would call out verses 1-2 to the priests and Levites in the temple, and then the priests and Levites would respond with verse 3 as a benediction.

But how appropriate that this psalm, and indeed the whole Psalms of Ascent, ends not with us blessing God but with God blessing us. It is God’s blessing that makes our blessing possible in the first place. It is God’s grace that allows us to draw near to his presence. And this final benediction draws our attention to two things about God in closing.

   A. Remember who God is: the Maker of heaven and earth
      – Psalm 121:2; 124:8

First of all, remember who God is. Who is this God who blesses us? He is the Maker of heaven and earth. He is your creator, and the creator of all things. We have seen this description of God as the Maker of heaven and earth twice before in the Psalms of Ascent: once near the beginning (Psalm 121:2); once toward the middle (Psalm 124:8); and now once more here at the end (Psalm 134:3). So this is a very important description of who God is.

The life that blesses God is a life that is blessed by God. And who this God is who blesses you? He is the Maker of heaven and earth.

   B. Remember where God’s blessing is found: Zion
      – Hebrews 7:25-26, 12:22-23

     Note: Zion = where God meets with his people

So remember who God is, and then, finally, remember where God’s blessing is found. Psalm 134, and indeed the whole Psalms of Ascent, ends with the phrase: “May the Lord … bless you from Zion.” (Psalm 134:3b) We have seen that Zion is a major theme throughout these psalms. Zion represents Mount Zion which represents Jerusalem which represents the temple which represents the place where God meets with his people.

And so whenever we see “Zion,” we need to think: “Where does God meet with his people?” Because that is Zion, and that is where God’s blessing is found. And so Zion is here this morning as we meet with God and his people in worship.

Ultimately Zion represents heaven where we will be with God and his people forever. Hebrews 12 talks about heaven in terms of Zion and Jerusalem and the people of God: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” (Hebrews 12:22-23)

The book of Hebrews also tells us that Jesus ascended to heaven where he sits right now at the right hand of God and prays for us his people. We read in Hebrews 7: “Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” (Hebrews 7:25-26)

Jesus ascended to heaven first, so that he could pray for us and bless us from the heavenly Zion. Because Jesus ascended, we also can ascend to God – through prayer and worship during our time on earth, and eventually in the very presence of God when we die and go to be with him.

God’s blessing starts from Zion but then it goes wherever you go, because he is the Maker of heaven and earth, and the whole earth belongs to him. His blessing is not just for heaven, but for every day you live here on earth as well. And so ends the Psalms of Ascent: “May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.” (Psalm 134:3)

CONCLUSION: Psalm 134 closes out the Psalms of Ascent by teaching us that the life that blesses God is a life that is blessed by God. The very act of praising God is a blessing in itself, plus God promises to add his own blessing to it. Our whole lives are meant to be worship – every thought, every word, every action. As Christians we are called to live a life that brings praise and honor and blessing to God. And when we do, we will also know God’s blessing on our lives.

When you climb a mountain, what’s the first thing you do when you get to the top? You turn around and look at how far you’ve come. It’s the same thing with the Psalms of Ascent. Now that we’ve reached the top, we should also look back and see how far we’ve come.

The Psalms of Ascent began way back in Psalm 120 with the psalmist basically saying, “This world is not my home.” Now they end here in Psalm 134 with the believer safe at home with God and his people. And along the way we have learned important lessons of trust and dependence; perseverance and faith; forgiveness and humility; unity and blessing.

Perhaps the best summary of this psalm are simply the words from the hymn: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” “Praise God!” – that’s you blessing God. “From whom all blessings flow!” – that’s God blessing you.

The life that blesses God is a life that is blessed by God. So let us bless the Lord together this Palm Sunday and every Sunday and every day of our lives. As the people called out to Jesus at that first Palm Sunday on the road to Jerusalem for the great Passover feast: “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9)

© Ray Fowler

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