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The City of Our God - Psalm 48 Sermon From September Prayer Service

The City of Our God - Psalm 48 Sermon From September Prayer Service

Prayer Service September 2nd - 2015. Rev. Ted A. Giese, Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina SK. Psalm 48 - The City of Our God

          Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised

                   in the city of our God!

          His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,

                   is the joy of all the earth,

          Mount Zion, in the far north,

                   the city of the great King.

          Within her citadels God

                   has made Himself known as a fortress.

          For behold, the kings assembled;

                   they came on together.

          As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;

                   they were in panic; they took to flight.

          Trembling took hold of them there,

                   anguish as of a woman in labour.

          By the east wind You shattered

                   the ships of Tarshish.

          As we have heard, so have we seen

                   in the city of the LORD of hosts,

          in the city of our God,

                   which God will establish forever.

          We have thought on Your steadfast love, O God,

                   in the midst of Your temple.

          As Your name, O God,

                   so Your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.

          Your right hand is filled with righteousness.

                   Let Mount Zion be glad!

          Let the daughters of Judah rejoice

                   because of Your judgments!

          Walk about Zion, go around her,

                   number her towers,

          consider well her ramparts,

                   go through her citadels,

          that you may tell the next generation

                   that this is God,

          our God forever and ever.

                   He will guide us forever.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. "Behold, the kings assembled; they came on together. As soon as they saw [Mount Zion, as soon as they saw Jerusalem], they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight. Trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in labour. By the east wind [God] shattered the ships of Tarshish." Those ships sunk without a trace. Gone. As did those kings who gathered their armies at the gates of Jerusalem. At the time that the sons of Korah were writing their Psalms, at the time they wrote Psalm 48 - Tarshish was found in the distant land of what has become modern day Spain and it was extraordinarily far away from Jerusalem in Judah and Samaria in Israel. You might remember how the prophet, "Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD."[1] God had promised to make His presence known in Jerusalem at the Temple[2] and Tarshish was the edge of the world, it was as far away as you could get from God's presence, as far away as Johan or anyone could think to go to get away from God. And yet the sons of Korah in Psalm 48 confess boldly that God from Mount Zion shatters those ships no matter where they come from, no matter how far away they might come from. And not just the ships but the men who set those ships to sail. Every king in all the earth are in the hand of God whether they are close or far away, it makes no difference. There is no running from God. No running that truly gets you away from His reach. But what of those who are not running? How about those who set to un-throne God? And put themselves in God seat? To set themselves on God's throne?

A little later on in the Bible, the prophet Isaiah talks about the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, saying, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit."[3] Isaiah uses this little line: king Nebuchadnezzar says, "I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north." And Psalm 48 says this, "[God's] holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north." Nebuchadnezzar strives to unseat God from His throne in heaven and Nebuchadnezzar finds himself dead in the deepest reaches of death. His ship is sunk, His plot is a failure, as are the desires of all who seek to set themselves up in God's place, on His throne.  

If you're starting to get the feeling that there is something more going on here in Psalm 48 than just a Psalm about a city, about the bricks and mortar of the Temple in Jerusalem, more than the simple city walls of Jerusalem, then you're on the right track. Jesus says, "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden."[4] When He says this He is talking about you, because while, "in the Bible the city of God is Jerusalem. It is Jerusalem on three levels: the earthly city, the church on earth and the church in heaven."[5]  

Last time we were together we heard about king Jehoshaphat and his prayer, his trust in God as the kings of the Ammonites, Edomites, Moabites, and their allies gathered their armies against Jerusalem and the people of Judah. We heard how God set an ambush against the men who had come against Judah, so that they were routed,[6] in the waves of the ambush they became confused, they were like ships caught in a mighty storm, they sunk into the grave. How in their fearfulness and confusion they were set to fight amongst themselves and their plot was laid to waste at the edge of their own swords, so that there were found only dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. Not a one. Psalm 48 then is another song of victory like Psalm 47, a confession of faith in God, a song of praise for God who within the earthly citadels of Jerusalem, upon Mount Zion, had made Himself known as a fortress. The earthly city of Jerusalem is not like the heavenly city - a trip there will teach you this.

I've been in Jerusalem, and the walls you see built around the city are not the walls that the sons of Korah looked upon when they composed this prayer, this Psalm, this song; the current walls built around the old city were built between 1535 and 1538 by the order of Sultan Suleiman I, Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. The Temple is twice gone from the Temple that king Jehoshaphat brought his prayer to, the Temple where Psalm 48 was first sung: the Roman Emperor Nero was the one who sent an army to crush Judah for its rebelliousness and it was under Emperor Vespasian that King Herod's restored Temple was destroyed in the year 70 AD by future Emperor Titus. I saw modern bullet holes in the exterior stones of the gate named "the Zion gate," the gate to the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem; the gate which leads out to the place called Mount Zion just outside the walls of the Old City. Marks, scars, wounds of the recent past, bullet holes from the six day war in 1967. They leave those bullet holes unrepaired - a reminder. There are more reminders around the city, reminders of even more recent conflicts Intifadas. And on the Temple mount, in Jerusalem, I saw the dome of the rock, dedicated to Allah, a false god worshiped by the Muslims, a god who neither the modern day Jews or the people of God worship. So many wars, so much blood, so many moments of victory and defeat. How often the land has changed hands, how often the city changed hands. At the time of Jesus' public ministry the Romans, then the Muslims under Caliph Omar who captured Jerusalem from the Christian Byzantines in 638, then the Christians and then the Muslims again, back and forth, and then the British and today the Israelis, new walls, new towers, new ramparts.

From a purely human perspective it would look like this Psalm of the sons of Korah is nothing more than excited wishful thinking on their part following a miraculous fluke victory, that their psalm is ungrounded in pragmatic, logical, concrete thought. That this Psalm was true for a moment in time but false in the light of history. When the sons of Korah say, "Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever," that when they say that, they are delusional. The towers are gone, replaced, the ramparts are gone, replaced, her citadels are gone, replaced: replaced by the towers and ramparts and citadels of kings, some of whom did not acknowledge, did not confess, God as LORD of all.

Psalm 48 however is not simply a Psalm with an eye on earthly bricks and stones, it is a Psalm with an eye on eternity. It's a Psalm of trust that can be prayed in the good times of life and in the hard dark times of life. Echoes of it are found in the Lord's prayer, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," - "deliver us from evil," - and then as we respond to Jesus' words, as we conclude the prayer, "for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen." Psalm 48 is the same sort of prayer, a prayer with an eye on the daily bread of today and an eye on the eternal bread of heaven, a psalm with an eye on our rest in Christ, with an eye on our future home: The City of Jerusalem, Mount Zion, in the far north, heaven, where in Christ, in our baptism, we have our true citizenship.

Like Psalm 48, Isaiah points ahead in anticipation, with great expectations, to this holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, this joy of all the earth, this Mount Zion, in the far north, this city of the great King, who is God, when Isaiah writes,

          "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

                   and that we may walk in His paths.”

          For out of Zion shall go the law,

                   and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

          He shall judge between the nations,

                   and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

          and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

                   and their spears into pruning hooks;

          nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

                   neither shall they learn war anymore.

          O house of Jacob,

                   come, let us walk

                   in the light of the LORD."[7]

In these words from Isaiah we have a picture of Jesus and His bride the church; a picture of the church on earth and the bright picture of the church in heaven - the church on the Last Day. Psalm 48 likewise pictures this. God's right hand filled with righteousness is Christ Jesus, and Christ Jesus is God. His steadfast love is shown to you there at Jerusalem, at the cross on Good Friday, at His crucifixion, as He takes the judgments of God the Father in your place. St Paul teaches this is 2nd Corinthians when he writes, "For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."[8] Without Jesus and His sacrifice for you Mount Zion would be a place of dread for you, as it is for all who fight against God. But this is not so for you dear Christian, you need not fear the City of God for your citizenship in this city is bought for you by the blood of Jesus, and given to you as a gift by the Holy Spirit in your baptism, you are part of the nations who "flow to" the new Jerusalem, the eternal Mount Zion, the Jerusalem, "which God will establish forever."

You are free to pray this prayer with the sons of Korah, with the church, with all who turn in trust to God. Sing this song and watch for the coming of the new Jerusalem on the Last Day, watch for the fulfilment of the vision St. John had, which the Holy Spirit preserved for you in the Revelation of St. John, where John writes, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And [Jesus] who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment."[9]

No hostile earthly king, or tyrannical ruler or despot, no mealy-mouthed bureaucrat can keep you from this heritage; In Christ the heavenly Jerusalem is yours no matter the ugliness of the day, the tragedy of the moment, the pain of this present darkness. "This Jerusalem that is the joy of the whole earth is not the earthly city but the church which was born in Jerusalem."[10] The church on earth is the foretaste of that future Jerusalem, they are bound together in Christ Jesus, for they both sprung forth from His side at the cross in the water and the blood.  

Because Psalm 48 is a Psalm of trust and praise, the question to ask is this, "Have you given into the temptation of despair, have you fallen prey to the temptation to mistrust God, to walk away from your praise of God? Have your problems, your troubles, your sinful desires become a wedge between you and the promises of God?" Fear not, return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, His forgiveness is steadfast and true - all these things are forgiven in Christ Jesus. If you've failed to fear, love and trust in God above all things He will forgive you. If you have run from Him, return, He will forgive you. As a pledge of His forgiveness the Holy Spirit gives you this Psalm as a gift, an encouragement, a promise of the Day to come.

From this prayer, this Psalm you can trust that the city of God will have no bullet holes in it, no man of war will take it from God, no wicked king will tear down its walls or build it new ones. And there will be no Temple in its wall either: St. John in his Revelation says, "I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life."[11] The body of Jesus Christ has replaced the Temple once and for all and this night He gives it to you for heavenly food to tide you over until you walk the streets of glory, "forever and ever."

The sons of Korah, king Jehoshaphat, the people of Judah could lay their heads down in peace and sleep with confidence knowing that God was their fortress, that they were safely in His hand. You have one better, you have the long awaited messiah, you have the Christ in a way that they did not have Him, you have the Lord Jesus who promises, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.”[12] You are in His hand, He is your fortress. Amen.    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.


[1] Jonah 1:3
[2] 2 Chronicles 7:1-3, "As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD's house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
[3] Isaiah 14:12-15
[4] Matthew 5:14
[5] A Commentary on Psalms 1-72, John F. Burg, Northwestern Publishing House 2004, pg 479.
[6] 2 Chronicles 20:22-24
[7] Isaiah 2:2-5
[8] 2 Corinthians 5:21  
[9] Revelation 21:1-6 
[10] A Commentary on Psalms 1-72, Burg, pg 479.
[11] Revelation 21:22-27
[12] John 10:28-30