Sermons and Articles | Ken Puls
The City of God
Call to Worship — Psalm 48
Consider for a moment: If you got into a conversation with someone, a person you just met, and they said: "Tell me about yourself." What would you say? What defines you as a person? How would you identify yourself to others? What labels would you use? What matters to you the most?
AND if they were then to examine your life, what would they find?
There are many things in this life that compete for our interest and for our time. Many of them are good things. But for a Christian, for one who is committed to following Jesus as Lord, there is one thing that rises above all others, one thing that is primary.
What should define us above all else and set the contours of our lives is belonging to God and to His people. As Christians we are born again and placed into a family—members together of the body of Christ. Our lives together are bound up in Christ and His church.
Open your Bibles this morning to Psalm 87.
This is a psalm that celebrates our identity with God and God's identity with us—His people. God has rescued us from the sin that enslaved us. And He has brought us together as His church for His glory and praise. As His people, we are now rooted and refreshed in Him alone.
If you are taking notes this morning, I want to point out five truths from this psalm that display this identity between God and His people:
Let's begin by reading the psalm together:
We see all through this psalm how God has identified and invested Himself with His people.
1. God establishes His people (1, 5b)
And down near the end of verse 5 we read of Zion
Psalm 87 is one of the Songs of Zion. These are psalms that speak of Mount Zion, the city of God. They include this psalm as well as Psalm 46, 48 76, 84 and 122. Psalm 48 (that we read earlier as our call to worship) describes the beauty and joy of this city.
Here God is praised! Here God makes Himself known! Here is joy and beauty beyond measure. But what is Zion? What is this city that God has founded?
The first time Mount Zion is mentioned in Scripture is in 2 Samuel 5. In verse 6 King David and his men go to Jerusalem to fight against the Jebusites, who were then the inhabitants of the city. In verse 7 we read, "David took the stronghold of Zion, that is the city of David."
In the next chapter of 2nd Samuel (chapter 6) David brings the Ark of the Covenant into the city in a triumphal celebration. As we saw a few weeks ago in our study through Exodus, the Ark of the Covenant represented God's presence with His people—it was placed in the holiest place in the tabernacle (and eventually in the Temple with Solomon in 1 Kings 8).
So Jerusalem, or Zion, with the Temple and the Ark, became known as the dwelling place of God. In the Old Testament it was the physical city, set up in the high elevations of Israel. It was here in these hills that God made known His work of redemption:
Jerusalem is an earthly city—the place where Israel gathered for worship, where God manifested His glory in the midst of His people in the Old Testament. But Jerusalem also served as a type—a picture that pointed to something much greater. In Jerusalem of old the priests served in the Temple offering sacrifices day after day. Israel gathered to celebrate festivals and rejoice in God's goodness and provision. But that earthly temple, with all the sacrifices and festivals, pointed to a much greater provision—a greater prophet, a greater priest, and a greater king—Jesus Christ.
Isaiah hinted at this when he brought God's Word concerning the foundation of the city.
What was Isaiah speaking of? Who did he have in mind? The New Testament tells us. Jesus pointed to Himself when he questioned the chief priests and the Pharisees:
Peter said plainly in his sermon in Acts 4:
Paul concurs when he describes the church in Ephesians 2:
It is in the New Testament, as God sets in place the Chief Cornerstone, where we see the fulfillment of Mount Zion in the fullest sense: God dwelling with His people. Jesus, Emmanuel, came and tabernacled among us. He laid down His life and rose again from the dead that we might we rescued and redeemed. In Christ we are brought near to God. In Him, we are made citizens of God's city—a heavenly Jerusalem.
Hebrews 11 speaks of Abraham looking forward to God's work, even to the time of Christ.
The chapter goes on:
Chapter 12 in Hebrews more fully explains what this city is:
It is not the rebuilding or flourishing of a physical city of brick and mortar that God has promised here, but a spiritual, eternal city founded on the work of His Son by the power of His Spirit.
Paul reminds us:
In Galatians 4:26 he refers to "the Jerusalem above" as "mother of us all." In Jesus we are made citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem and members of the assembly of the firstborn—the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, rescued and redeemed by His shed blood.
We don't have time this morning to explore all the references, but this picture of the church, rescued and made perfect in heaven as a Celestial City, is carried throughout Scripture: from the longings of Abraham in the Old Testament to the glimpses of eternity given to John in Revelation. Listen how John describes the City of God near the end of the Bible:
Later in verse 10 when John is shown "the Bride, the wife of the Lamb" he says that an angel
Zion is the city of God, the people God has established and brought to Himself. We are secure in His mighty power, purposes and promises. The final and ultimate fulfillment of Mount Zion is Jesus Christ and His Church.
We see in Psalm 87 that not only has God established His people—
2. God loves His people (2)
God has set His love upon His people. He delights in being our God. He draws near. He inhabits our praise. Zephaniah 3:17 reminds us that God is in our midst. He is mighty to save. And He rejoices over us with gladness. He quiets us with His love. And He rejoices over us with singing.
It is amazing enough to think that God would save us by His mighty power—that He would bring us from death (that we deserved) to life and establish us on the sure promises of His Word. But God also loves us. He desires us for His dwelling place.
This is amazing! God loved us when He called us in Christ before the foundation of the world. He loved us when He sent Jesus to die for us. And He loves us when His Spirit opens our hearts and draws us to Himself. He loves us as a member of His bride, the church, where He calls us to walk together and love one another and keep watch over one another. And He will love us one day when He presents us as a pure and spotless bride—a holy city—with Him forever in glory.
Like the Chief Cornerstone, we are loved and precious in God's sight:
We are accepted in Him and when we place our trust and hope in Him, we will not be let down.
God loves the gates of Zion and the gates of hell will never prevail against her.
Now it would be enough for God to establish us as His people, and love us as His people, but He is not finished. We read also in verse 3:
3. God has determined to make His people a praise (3)
God has made us to be vessels of His mercy and grace. He has put us on display before a watching world that we would show forth His power:
As God's people we are reflection of His glory.
He made us. We are those living stones, built together into a house of grace to display the depth and wonder of His grace. God is building his church. He is designing His city to reflect His wonder. And we are to pray to this end. And so Isaiah encourages us to pray and give God
Zephaniah tells us that this is God's purpose for His people.
Now, again, it would be enough for God to establish us as His people, and love us as His people, and make us renowned and praised among the peoples of the earth as He magnifies His grace and power in us, but there is more! And what God says next about His people is even more startling and amazing. We learn in verses 4–6 that—
4. God makes even His enemy to be His people (4–6)
Do you see what the psalmist is saying here! This is mind-blowing! This psalm is celebrating the conversion of God's enemies. Those who were once far off are now described as being born in Zion.
Rahab refers to Egypt. We learn this in Isaiah 30.
Babylon was the capital of Assyria, the other superpower of the day.
Now think for a moment: What would Israel think when the names of Egypt and Babylon were mentioned? Egypt—the place of slavery and bondage; Babylon—the place of oppression and captivity. How can they possibly be of Zion? The psalm continues with Philistia—the Philistines who fought against Israel and captured the ark. Tyre (a Phoenician city) and Cush (Nubia, south of Egypt). All of these were ancient enemies of Israel. They were against God! At enmity with Him!
But here we see these very nations described as born in Zion: "This one and that one were born in her." Psalm 87 looks forward to an amazing day of grace when the nations would flow into Zion to worship the one true God. It is an amplification of a promise in the preceding psalm.
Zechariah speaks of this day when the nations will be brought to Zion:
Later in Isaiah, in a more familiar passage, we hear the theme again:
The passage continues speaking of those born into God's people coming from distant places.
What did Isaiah foresee? When did the light shine? When were sons and daughters brought into God's kingdom from afar?
This day that Isaiah and the prophets spoke of was fulfilled in Christ. It is in Jesus that we see the nations brought together, and those who were once enemies made to be friends. This psalm looks forward to a day when the riches of God's grace would be made known to all nations: The truth that God would make His enemies—Gentiles who were far from His grace—to be brought near to Him was a great mystery. Paul speak of his own ministry to make this mystery known:
Those who were once far off are now citizens of Zion— "fellow heirs, of the same body, partakers of the promises that God gave to His people in Christ through the gospel."
We read of those ancient enemies of Israel again through the book of Acts as the gospel spreads and takes root. Here are two brief accounts:
In chapter 15 Paul and Barnabas reported on the success of their labors.
Our God is a God who makes His enemies to be His people!
"Once Your enemies, now seated at Your table!" We who were far off are brought near and made to be worshippers of God.
Psalm 87:4 says, "Among those who know Me..." To know God is to be brought into a relationship with Him. Isaiah had prophesied of Egypt, speaking of this day of grace:
The Lord knows who are His. Psalm 87:6 tells us that the Lord records those who belong to Him. We read in Hebrews 12:
God not only establishes us as His people, and loves us as His people, and makes us to be a praise to reflect His glory, He makes even His enemies to be His people. The shed blood of Jesus ransomed a people for God "from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9–10).
So what should be our response?
Look now as we close at verse 7. Here we see the response and conclusion of those who were leading God's people in worship.
5. Belonging to God and His people is our wellspring (7)
All our life is bound up in belonging to God and to His people.
Being in Him and numbered with His people is our identity.
This final verse of the psalm is difficult to translate. Some of the words are unclear as to a precise meaning and so our English translations have some differences. The New King James reads in verse 7:
The word used here in Hebrew [cholelim] could be "dancers" or "pipe players." But in either case it refers to those leading in worship (the processions during the festivals or the music accompanying the sacrifices). And their testimony is this: "All my springs are in you." In other words, belonging to God and being in the company of the people of God is our fount. It is what matters to us most. It is our source of all life and blessing. It is the identity that shapes who we are and defines our priorities, our hopes, our plans, our expectations. It is our joy in the morning, the theme of our songs and the words on our lips through the day.
This is how we are to respond—with joy—loving what God loves, declaring what God has done for us and in us, doing what God calls us to do, being where God delights to be—in the midst of His people, where His power and grace are on display—for His glory.
Isaiah describes it this way in his brief hymn in chapter 12:
My question for you this morning, as we close, is this:
Does this describe you? Does this define who you are? Does it shape your plans, your time, your investments? Is this what matters to you most?
How much do you value belonging to God and belonging to and being with the people of God?
The Bible knows of no such thing as a rogue Christian. There is no following Jesus and being His disciple apart from belonging to His people and walking with His people. There is no loving God without loving His people, His church.
If you are here this morning, and being a member of a church is not something you see as valuable or desirable, then I implore you to consider the words of Scripture. My prayer for you is that you would learn to love what God loves and value what He Himself has determined to redeem and bring to glory. The church, though blemished and still at war with sin this side of glory, is still His work of grace and a marvelous testimony to His power to change hearts and lives.
And if you are here this morning and you have never known the joy of belonging to God and belonging to His church, I pray that this might be the day when He in His mercy finds you and draws you to Himself. May you find the joy of knowing Jesus and bowing to Him as your Lord and King, being made a citizen of the City of God.
Let us pray.
©2013 Ken Puls