After another long pause, we return today to the Psalms of Ascent (120-134), used as a liturgy for ancient Israelites traveling to Jerusalem for annual worship festivals. The last post covered Psalm 122, where David wrote of the joy found in the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. Next comes Psalm 123, which discusses the attitude of the journeying pilgrims to that LORD, and the attitude of the world to them as a result. Here are the first 2 verses:
“A Song of Ascents.
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he has mercy upon us.”
Earlier in Psalm 121, the pilgrims lifted up their eyes to the hills, away from their circumstances, to seek the Lord and His help. Here, the Psalmist emphasizes the Lordship of the Lord, who is “enthroned in the heavens.” His people look to him as “servants” to “their master”, or as a “maidservant” to “her mistress.”
While the idea of treating the Lord as an actual lord to be served should be obvious, it often isn’t, even for our Biblical “heroes.” In Acts chapter 9, when Jesus confronts Paul (who was still a self-righteous Pharisee called Saul) about persecuting Christians, Paul responded by saying “Who are you, Lord?” Apparently stricken by the miraculous light and voice, Saul somewhat ironically calls Jesus Lord before he even knows it is Jesus, and while he was on the way to threaten and arrest Christians. In Acts 10, Peter answers a command from Jesus by saying “By no means, Lord,” as if basing his disobedience on the very lordship of the one currently telling him to do something!
Right up to modern times, the Lordship of Jesus remains hard to accept. We would rather accept Jesus as Savior than as Lord, but the God who is one is also the other. The two cannot be separated any more than I can ask my boss to keep giving me raises and time off, while I insist on ignoring my job. If I wish for God to save me, but have no interest in what He wants to save me to, I might as well say “By no means, Lord,” or “Who are you, Lord?” If I wish to live for eternity in a world without sin, I need to agree that the Lord can define sin and that sin, especially my own sin, is bad.
While making the pilgrimages to Jerusalem and reciting the Psalms of Ascent, the Israelites would testify to the other nations that 1) God, as Lord, does not take disobedience lightly, but also that 2) He has provided a solution to their inability to serve Him, as symbolized in the temple and its sacrifices. Similarly, believers today gathering on a regular basis are a sign to the world that salvation is only to be found in another place, through sacrifice, and that it’s worth the effort to go there. Since the time of Christ, God’s people have been called the “ekklesia,” a Greek word translated as “church” in the English New Testament. “Ekklesia” literally means a “calling out” – a call into the kingdom of God under the Lord of that kingdom, and out of the kingdoms of the world. This new kingdom brings hope for a future world with no sin, bought by the sacrifice of One Eternal, Perfect High Priest on a dirty cross. In that world there will be no liars, no deceit, and no war. No evil of any kind, or in any degree.
Therefore, church – even if only a few are gathered together – should be a place dedicated to reminding us of the sacrifice required, and provided, to give us this hope. It should be committed to “preach Christ crucified” because “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”.
The ancient Israelites could seek help in many hills, but there is only one LORD. All hills are part of our world’s circumstances and can only provide us with more of what we already have, except for one hill. Our help comes from this hill in particular – the one called Calvary on which Christ was crucified. But the Bible also says: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” and Psalm 123 ends with:
“Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.”
The kingdoms of the world, and those who have faith in them, have contempt and scorn for those who follow another way. When we return to this series, Psalm 124 explains that our Lord has not left us alone. In His mercy, He provides us help and comfort as we await the coming of His kingdom in its fullness.