LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 21 June 2020
Sermon Text: Psalm 123:1-4
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I. A worshipper who believes in God
II. A worshipper who is humble before God
III. A worshipper who takes refuge in God
We’ve been following these psalms of the Bible that are introduced to us as Songs of Ascents. These are the songs the OT church – our fellow God-worshipers in the OT times – sang as they approached God in worship. Singing these psalms, they were excited because they were approaching the place that symbolised God’s presence in their midst; they were excited because they were going to meet their God in worship. In addition to their excitement, singing these psalms, they were educated as well as reminded of what was required of a worshiper.
We began from Ps. 120 and, last Lord’s Day, we meditated on Ps. 122. Ps. 120 was about the delight of worshipper based on the understanding of God who answers His children’s prayers. Ps. 122 sang the joy of worshippers who finally stood in the house of the Lord. Now, Ps. 123 we’ve just read points out the attitude or mindset that is required of every worshipper who approaches God in worship.
So, before looking into the words of Ps. 123, I’d like you to think about the attitude that is required of a worshipper. What does the Bible teach us, ask us as our approach in worship to God? Ps. 123 is an answer to this question. In this sense, this 123rd psalm is important for all worshippers. This psalm is like a static image of a worshipper’s heart. Like an x-ray film shows the status of what is hidden under the skin of a person, this psalm shows us the status of a typical, exemplary heart of a worshipper. It is, if you like, a cross-sectional view of a worshipper’s heart.
So, let us look into the words of this 123rd psalm and see what it is that our Heavenly Father seeks from worshippers like you and me.
I. A WORSHIPPER WHO BELIEVES IN GOD
The first thing revealed to us through our psalmist is that a worshipper should come to God in faith. In other words, a worshipper should come to God, believing in Him. V. 1 presents as of first importance faith, saying, “To You [God] I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” To no one else but God, I lift up my eyes. Not any of those millions of so-called ‘gods’ of the unbelievers, but to ‘You alone who enthroned in the heavens’ I come and lift up my eyes. This does not mean that the worshiper thinks that there might be other gods in the world. Rather, it means there’s only one true God and all others are false and illusions and lies of man. Every worshipper must come to God, believing in the God of the Bible.
Hearing it, some of you might think that this is too simple truth. I mean, too simple to draw your attention. But more often than not, many worshipers come to God, half-believing and half-doubting, if you know what I mean. They come to God in worship, but their eyes are kept looking down than lifted up; their eyes are on the things of the world and hardly are they lifted up. They are in worship to God, they bow in prayers and stand to sing praises, but their mind wanders between God and the things of their business or social life or anything of the world. Such worshippers rest in worship, not in the sense of biblical rest in God’s presence as ‘sabbath,’ but rest as their mind being dull, unfocused, daydreaming and mind-wandering.
Our psalmist begins this psalm, saying, “To You [God] I lift up my eyes.” He means, ‘All worshipers should also lift up their eyes to God who is enthroned in the heavens!’ As I illustrated earlier that this psalm is like a static image of worshiper’s heart, this ‘eyes being lifted up to God’ is a fixed posture of all who come in worship. This fixed posture does not change. Like an x-ray film shows bones of a person that are fixed permanently, the eyes lifted up and set onto God is unalterable. From entering in the house of the Lord to leaving it after worship, the eyes of a God-fearer ought to be lifted up and remain in that posture. Moreover, such attitude should be kept all day long, at least, on the Lord’s Day.
Hearing it, some of you might think and say, ‘That’s too extreme; how could we keep looking at God and contemplating the things of God all the time, never losing a moment, in worship, let alone on Sunday?’ Well, my brothers and sisters, if you remember what costed Jesus to bring you to the presence of God in worship, such a question would lose its weight straight away. The Lord Jesus paid His life to bring you to this house of God. On His way to the cross, He kept silent to enable you to open your mouth to sing praises to God in worship. He shed His precious blood on the cross so that heavenly blessing may flow to you from God’s throne of grace. Jesus tore His flesh on the cross and His word is now read and expounded to your ears and heart freely and abundantly. Most of all, He reconciled you to the Father and made you children of God, members of God’s household and heirs of His eternal kingdom together with Jesus. In a word, the Lord Jesus has brought you to worship which is family reunion. So, in this family reunion, having gathered together before the Father, watching the Son standing between the Father and us, would your eyes ever be able to look away from your Father? Would your heart ever be able to wander off from the things of this family reunion, this worship? No! Instead, every moment in worship would be joy and delight to your eyes, heart and soul. This joy would last all day on the Lord’s Day.
Our longing for worship, God’s family’s reunion with our Heavenly Father, is deeper than any reunion – it rises from our soul! The delight of our heart and soul lasts days during the week. And as it fades away over the weekdays, the longing in our heart for another worship, another reunion, grows and we look forward to being at church, worshipping the Father again through the Son by the Holy Spirit together with our fallow members of God’s family! No meeting, no event you attend in the world is like our gathering in worship to our Father. We wish we could remain in worship always, but that’s impossible until our days in heaven. Meanwhile, we long to be in worship; and when we are in worship, we treasure every moment in worship!
This is what it means that a worshiper should come to God in faith, believing in the Father, believing that you’re and we’re altogether children of God, siblings to one another, as the result of the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. A WORSHIPPER WHO IS HUMBLE BEFORE GOD
As much as we ought to come to God in faith, we need to stand humbly before Him in worship. This is our second point to consider this morning. Our psalmist says in v. 2, “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.”
I think some people at this point in time might dislike the picture this verse draws because it might be viewed as a matter of slavery and human rights. But this picture we look at in v. 2 has nothing to do with slavery or human rights. This picture depicts the attitude of worshiper in the presence of God. Its focus is on worshipper’s constant search and diligent wait for his Heavenly Father’s mercy and grace. Although this worshipper is a child of God, his search and wait is not like that of a spoilt child. Instead, he humbly, patiently, attentively, beseechingly waits for the help needed. That’s the picture in v. 2.
Moreover, in his humble and patient waiting, this worshipper is not in doubt of God’s mercy. He never doubts and thinks that God might not be merciful to him. He is more than sure of God’s mercy be given to him in due course of time. He knows that God will surely bless him. While a servant (or more literally, a ‘slave’) waited for his master, while a maidservant or female slave attended her mistress in fear, never does a God worshipper wait in fear, but in great joy and delight and excitement, like a child waiting for the time of unboxing his Christmas present. That’s because his gracious Father will always be gentle, always be merciful, always be kind and merciful to him.
One important point in this constant, patient wait is humility. By humility, I mean a lack of false pride but full of thanksgiving toward God’s blessing. Whatever God provides, a worshipper joyfully and willingly receives, knowing it as the best and most perfect provision of God.
This is an attitude required of a worshipper. He approaches God in worship and his heart is free from any false pride. As long as the worship service he attends is based on the word of God, thus, trinitarian and Reformed, the worshipper neither observes, nor evaluates worship service. Instead, he participates in it, giving himself to God in the way the Lord Jesus teaches in Jn. 4:24 that says, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” In addition, this worshipper does not look to fellow men in worship, but God alone. His eyes, ears, heart and all senses must be opened toward God rather than anything or anyone else. The eyes of the servants in v. 2 are constantly fixed on their masters to pick up every slight movement of eyelid, finger or any facial expression change. Likewise, a worshipper waits for God, delights in His mercy, and thanks for what He provides.
How different it is from the attitude of the ordinary worshippers of our time! Not many of us come to worship in this mindset. The very first difference is that many, if not all, of us come to worship, expecting a good experience, hoping that today’s service would impress our eyes, excite our senses. I’m telling you this not to put my finger on anybody but to point out a so widely shared problem of our generation. I’m not different from other worshippers of our time. Although I’m a minister who leads worship services and preaches God’s word, I occasionally forget this attitude required of a worshipper and come to church, expecting to have a ‘good, impressive’ service. But this is not the attitude our psalmist presents in this 123rd psalm. Rather than coming to God in worship to have a good experience, to satisfy our needs, to appeal to our feelings, we ought to come with a humble heart, excited to meet God and receive what He provides out of His mercy in worship. So, it’s not the style of preacher that excites me, but God speaking through reading and exposition of the word in worship; it’s not the amusement the beats and thumps of music produce, but the worshipping congregation’s unified heart of adoration of and thanks to God in their singing uplifts us in the Spirit of God.
Someone asked me about the meaning of God’s command in the OT, especially in Dt. 27:6, for Israel to build an altar to God of ‘uncut’ stones instead of chiselled and decorated stones. The answer for that question was simple; God wanted His people to approach Him in worship with a humble heart, looking to none other than God alone.
The true stone uncut that is laid to bring all sinners to no one, but God alone is Jesus Christ. He was always humble before God in worship. He came to do the will of the Father, that is, to call all the Father’s elect who look on the Son and believe in Him, and give them eternal life, thus, bring them into eternal relationship with the Father. He revealed the Father to the eyes of His disciples and began, inaugurated the kingdom of God in the midst of His church. By looking to the Father in all His life on earth, He is the perfect example of true worshipper whose heart is humble and beseeches the Master, King of all kings!
III. A WORSHIPPER WHO TAKES REFUGE IN GOD
In addition to faith and a humble heart, God worshippers are to take refuge in God through worship. This is the third and last point for us to consider with the words of vs. 3-4.
Many commentators and preachers point out that the psalmist is talking about his own specific troubles and contempt he experienced. So, this psalm is a prayer in times of trouble. If you read vs. 3-4 and what these verses say, you see their point. Our psalmist talks about ‘more than enough of contempt’ in v. 3 and ‘more than enough of the scorn’ in v. 4. One of the occasions mentioned from the OT history is the troubles the returned exiles of Israel had under the leadership of Nehemiah. None of their neighbours was friendly toward them and their works of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. So, they had to continue their works while holding weapons on one hand and building tools on the other. They were in alert constantly. Contempt and scorn and ridicule were thrown at them from all directions. So they turned their eyes to God and sought His help. So, this psalm could refer to that historical occasion and to that contempt Israel had which was more than enough.
But this psalm depicts a greater picture than that, and presents an attitude of all true worshippers in worship. In a word, all worshippers should take refuge in God every time they worship Him. Worship is a refuge for worshippers. When we approach God in worship, we’re coming to our refuge. This refuge provides relief, safety, freedom as well as joy and hope. Otherwise, the psalmist would not say in v. 3, “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us.” Unless God to whom our psalmist petitions is able to resolve such a trouble, our psalmist would not cry to the Lord for help.
By the way, who is this Lord? How can God free one like our psalmist from his calamity and provide him a safe and eternal refuge? The answer goes to the very beginning of this psalm, to v. 1, “O You [God] who are enthroned in the heavens!” He is the King who rules all things from His heavenly throne; He is the Judge of all controversies who will vindicate the righteous cause in His justice. No one can dare to object His rule or His decision. Every man on earth is under His power and authority. So, He can free one from trouble, from all evil ones, and provide a refuge.
So, as we come to God in worship, you and I must know and remember that our God is our only refuge, our only safe haven. I don’t mean we just know of it intellectually or theoretically, but we must live it out in worship by leaving our petitions for various troubles and difficulties at the feet of our God. Once you leave your troubles at His feet, lay also your anxiety, worry and angst before Him. Trust that your Heavenly Father who is gracious, who is your only refuge will answer you and be merciful to you. This is the attitude required of you and me as worshippers of God. we must come to Him in worship to find such a refuge in Him.
To close this message, let me point out to you a truly sweet comfort and joy for all true worshippers like us. That is, we CAN lift up our eyes to our God. No one in the world can do this unless he/she is blessed by the Saviour and washed by His precious blood. Let us not take it for granted; because none except Christians can lift up their eyes to the One who enthroned in the heavens!
Then, whenever you lift up your eyes in worship, remember to come to your amazingly gracious Father in faith, with a humble heart, knowing that He alone is your refuge! So, desire to worship God; long to be in His house of worship week by week, and all throughout your life! ***