Sermons and Articles | Ken Puls
Who Shall Stand?
Call to Worship — Psalm 15
Open your Bibles this evening to Psalm 24. Tonight, before we come to the Lord's Supper together, I want look briefly at this psalm. Here David asks an important question—one that every person will eventually face, whether in this life or in the next.
That question is: Who shall stand before a holy and mighty God?
In these verses, David not only asks the question; he also shows us the answer.
If you are taking notes, I will be dividing the psalm into five sections:
Let's begin by reading together the psalm.
This is the Word of the Lord—Thanks be to God.
Psalm 24 was likely composed to commemorate the event recorded in 1 Chronicles 13 and 2 Samuel 6. After David was anointed King and when he defeated the Philistines and captured the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites in 2 Samuel 5, he celebrated God's victory by bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Remember that in the Old Testament, the ark in the tabernacle was a testimony of God's presence with His people. And it served as a reminder to Israel that God is the One who saved them from their enemies, established them and provided all they needed. As we saw in our study of Psalm 87, Jerusalem or Zion became renown as the dwelling place of God.
But the Ark and the Tabernacle, with the sacrifices, celebrations and festivals in the Old Testament were always pointing to something greater. They gave God's people in the Old Covenant a glimpse of what God would one day do through Jesus on the cross.
Here in Psalm 24, in this celebratory song, we have an early presentation of the gospel. A clear picture of Christ, sung as Israel rejoiced that God was in their midst. God was not only just and holy, He was merciful, forgiving and gracious in His provision of salvation and life.
David begins this psalm, in verses one and two, by answering the questions: Who is God? and Why should we serve Him? In verse one he describes the world as God's possession.
God owns and is sovereign over all His creation.
The whole earth belongs to God—and not just the earth, but its fullness; all that the earth has—all it produces, and will produce—it is all God's. Our God owns not just the land, the water, the air, animals, plants, and birds; He also owns and is sovereign over people—every man, woman, and child.
And notice that His sovereignty is not just over His own people, not just over Israel or over those in Jerusalem, but over the whole world. The term for "world" here refers to all the inhabited regions of the earth. Everywhere that God has been pleased to allow men to dwell; there He is to be acknowledged as Lord and Sovereign Ruler of the heavens and the earth.
This has massive implications that shape our view of the world and worship. There is not a single nation, people group or place in this world that does not belong to God. There is not a single moment of the day that is not His. He is Lord, not just on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday as well. He is worthy of our worship and praise, not just here in the gathering of the church, but at home, at school, at work, in our neighborhoods, in our stores and restaurants, in every place. The world and those who dwell therein all are the Lord's! And He is worthy to be praised and worshipped by all people.
The world is God's possession, but David also describes the world, in verse two, as God's creation.
God is the Creator of all things.
Our God is the rightful Owner and Sovereign over the earth, because He has made it. He not only established His people as a nation; He established the whole world!
This God made us and all things. This God watches over all of creation. Nothing is hidden from Him. This is the God to whom one day we must give an account.
And so in verse 3 David posses the question:
Who may approach and come near this God?
All in heaven and earth must acknowledge that God is Lord and Ruler over all; but who can approach and draw near to such a Holy and Mighty Sovereign?
David asked this question in the Old Covenant in the context of the Levitical priesthood who would serve in the presence of God in the Tabernacle and Temple. But it is question that we must ask as well. We are called to worship God. Peter describes the church in the New Testament, in 1 Peter 2:9, as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own special people" that we might "proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light."
David begins his answer to this in verse four by listing four qualifications:
He gives here four qualifications of those who would approach God:
1. Clean hands
This demands outward purity; purity in our actions; purity in our activities.
2. Pure Heart
This demands inner purity; purity in our thoughts and motivations.
3. Does not lift up his soul to what is false
This demands purity in our devotion to God alone.
4. Does not swear deceitfully
This demands purity in speech.
Now—all these are marks of holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). As we pursue holiness, as God commands us, and as God sanctifies us, and helps us grow in grace, we want these things to be true of us and more evident in our lives.
Having clean hands, having a pure heart, forsaking what is false for the pursuit of God, speaking the truth in love—God has command these things and we are created for them. They are a statement of His Law. We must have these if we are to serve Him and honor Him and love Him.
But it is here that we must stop a moment and make sure we grasp what this verse is really saying. This is showing us what qualifies us to come into the presence of God, what must be true in order for us to come and stand before the most Holy God.
Some have read this psalm, this far, and have come to an erroneous conclusion.
They read passages like this, that teach us God's Law, and they pare down its meaning and recast it into something they think they can attain. They pretend that they are better than they really are: "God doesn't really mean perfection here… I'm not as bad as those people over there. Just look at all the good I am doing. Surely those good things about me will outweigh the bad."
But consider, what verse four presents to us. Clean hands, a pure heart, a life that does not pursue what is false, lips that speak only truth—these are God's high and holy standards for those who would draw near to Him.
But who can meet such qualifications?
Who can attain such a high and perfect a goal?
If we honestly assess our own hearts and hands, who among us can say that we have:
A pure heart?
That we have not lifted up our souls in the pursuit of vain and false things?
That we have spoken truth and not deceit?
This cannot describe us! David says in another Psalm:
If this must be true of us, and we are left to ourselves to meet such demands—we can only despair as ones who have failed in every part and are judged to be unfaithful.
We are justly condemned in this not only by what we do—using our hands to do what we should not do; thinking what we should not think, saying what we should not say. BUT we are also condemned by all we have not done. Everything we should be doing, but fail to do—everything we should have said—everything we should have thought.
Were we to stand before God in judgment [outside the gracious provision of Christ]; we would see written against us a multitude of sins of which we never knew or acknowledged. The "handwriting of requirements written against us" (Colossians 2:14) would overwhelm us.
Now if the psalm ended here we would be without hope of ever standing before God.
Our just end would be condemnation and death— "for the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
But the psalm, thankfully does not end here. David now considers in verse five, the provision that God has made for those who come to Him.
We cannot stand before God on our own, in our sin, and live. We need a Savior. We need rescued. We need to be reconciled to God. Verse 5 promises blessing for those whom God chooses to draw near to Him. We read in Psalm 65:
But are these blessing beyond our reach, because of our sin? NO!!
For God Himself provides for us salvation in Christ and a righteousness not our own.
Verse 3 of Psalm 65 (the verse just preceding the promise of blessing) reads:
We can have hope! God Himself provides a way for us to enter into His presence! Verse six concludes the first half of the psalm.
In other words: God has provided a way of salvation for His people. There is no other way to approach God apart from His qualifications and His provision. For those who seek God and desire to worship Him—This is the only way!
The psalm now gives direction for a musical interlude. The word SELAH provides a moment of reflection—a pause to stop and consider what has just been said.
Again, in the context of the Old Testament, these were the qualifications for the priesthood. How could they enter the Temple in Jerusalem and worship the Holy God?
How are we, now in the New Testament, a people who are a kingdom of priests—how are we to come into the presence of a holy God?
In verse seven we learn the answer to David's question from verse three.
Look at who is seen in the last half of this psalm preparing to ascend into the presence of God.
Here the King of Glory approaches the gates of the holy city, Jerusalem.
This is too good to sing only once—and so the chorus, with its question and answer, is repeated in verses 9 and 10:
Who is the King of Glory?
It is our Lord Jesus Christ alone! We read God's declaration back in Psalm 2:
Verses 7 and 8 of Psalm 2 continue
Christ is the King of Glory. He is the One who ascends into the presence of the Lord, to whom God the Father has given the nations as His inheritance.
Christ alone meets all the qualifications.
Only He has perfectly fulfilled the Law in perfect righteousness and can ascend the Holy Hill. Jesus Himself said to Nicodemus:
He is the Blessed One of God to whom the multitudes would sing, as He entered the gates of Jerusalem in Matthew 21:9: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!"
It is Christ who went to the cross and became our salvation and our righteousness! It is Christ who entered the true temple not made with hands— the heavenly Temple—to make lasting atonement for our sins. It is His cross that has removed our guilt and shame.
Paul exclaims that God has forgiven us in Christ:
Jesus is our salvation, our Mediator. His righteousness alone is our provision.
Now in closing, let me give two brief comments by way of application.
We do desire that God would work in us and produce in us clean hands, pure hearts, a steadfast soul and lips that speak truth—and this He does as He sanctifies and conforms us more and more to the image of His Son. But we are never justified by the work and the fruit produced in our lives—our standing before God is solely on the basis of Christ and His work for us.
And so because of Jesus, we don't have to pretend that we are something we are not—we don't have to pretend to be better than we are—we don't have to pretend that we don't struggle with sin. If we say we have no sin, we make God a liar. We cut ourselves off from the gospel and deny the very reason that Christ came to die on the cross.
Because of Jesus we can acknowledge sin and confess our sin, and know that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. So I encourage you tonight to remember Jesus and remember what He has done to bring you near.
Tonight as we celebrate the Lord's Supper, let me encourage you—lift up your heads. See the King of Glory entering into the presence of God for you. A perfect and holy sacrifice—crucified that we might be cleansed, rejected that we might be embraced, and risen again that we might have life and joy in abundance.
Let us pray.
©2013 Ken Puls