thumbnail graphic for sermon series "the pilgrim's survival guide: messages from Psalm 122 to 134"

Sweet Communion in Christ

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

Psalm 133:1-3, ESV

The Songs of Ascent in Psalm 122-134 were sung by pilgrims journeying to and from Jerusalem three times per year for the mandated feasts. This next song was likely intended as a reflection on the journey to Jerusalem, being with God’s people there in the temple, being washed and cleansed of sin, celebrating the work that God is doing, and finally returning home and back to normal. It is a beautiful picture of what it is like for believers in this age to go to church together, worship the Lord, and be rejuvenated by the presence of God and his people. In Psalm 133, the pilgrim’s song of ascent describes the blessed experience of being together with God’s people in God’s presence in three distinct ways.

1. In Terms of Location (v3)

2. In Terms of Liturgy (v2)

– Genesis 14:18-20 “Abram Blessed by Melchizedek”
– Hebrews 7:1-28 “The Priestly Order of Melchizedek,” “Jesus Compared to Melchizedek”
– Matthew 18:20

3. In Terms of Life (v1)

– Genesis 1:31
– Genesis 13:6ff
– Matthew 18

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To celebrate those great festivals or those great feasts right? Those three in particular. So please give your full attention, now to– as we hear from our great and gracious God, the God who is not silent. Please listen now, Psalm 133.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down the color of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there The Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

For the reading of God’s Word, may he indeed add his blessing to it.

How do you feel about church, especially in light of the issues we are currently in right with the health concerns the governmental concerns. The technology that’s available to us, the thought process regarding the use and benefit weighed against the potential dangers and liabilities of how those things work for the church for God’s people corporately together, and more personally. How do you feel about your church, is it good for you?

The odds are pretty hard, Pretty, pretty high that you know someone at some time who has made that accusation that church has been bad for them. Sadly, that can be the case right? we’ve not all grown up in and had experience in one particular church I think that’s rather a rarity in our day, we come from different churches, different backgrounds, people are listening through those technologies from different churches far and wide. And I wonder, is the first thing that comes to a stranger or a visitor, that you might bring to your church is the first thing they think is well this church would be good for me. And it would be good for me, not just at Providence but if your church is somewhere else. The similar question right are you confident that your church is good for people.

I was at the Y recently, this last week when it opened back up. And I noticed when I pulled into the parking lot there was a newsman there one of the local news stations, was there and while I was on the treadmill. I saw the commotion going on there was only a few of us there but there was this commotion from the camera guy and the reporter, asking people about coming back to worship after the time away and the time that we were locked out from doing so. And thankfully and mercifully I was able to avoid the whole thing. But I was thinking about Psalm 133, as this happened and I was on the treadmill and watching this, and I wondered what people would say, if a reporter snuck up and put the microphone in their face and asked them, “tell us how you feel about your church?” I wonder how you would answer that question.

You might say well we come together at God’s call and we pray, and we sing, and we hear what the Bible says, and we fellowship together in a meal. And then afterwards, in a more substantive meal. And the reporter might ask, “Yes, but how do you feel about it?” Because you know that’s what our culture has become obsessed with and enamored by, feelings.

Right, not everything is good and true, but how does it make you feel. And I, as I thought of the psalm, I imagined the answer coming to the reporter. “When we come together, the best way I can explain and describe it is like this, it’s pleasant and good. Like the oil on the head of Aaron, running down on his beard, running down on the collar of his robes.”

And you could see, can’t you, the reporter, the excitement of that reporter, right? that’s an answer that scratches where he’s itching. He says, “go on. Yeah. Tell me more.” And the person might go on and say, it’s like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountain of Zion. And of course the reporter with the vacuous stare with will gaze back and he hears that and he signals the cameraman that’s a wrap. Let’s get back to the station. All right, that’s not something he can relate with.

But how do you feel about church, right there’s been quite a movement that historians have recognized starting about 100 years ago really or more, where the emphasis or weight or significance in people’s, you know, whether it’s politics or philosophy or whatever has moved from the rightness of something from what was true to what was felt. And we see this, if we look at and we study, again this move we see it in politics and philosophy and in religion in the church. In our society, by and large feeling good, is the summum bonum right it’s the greatest good it’s the Supreme. It’s absolutely supreme. Feeling good. You may have noticed this emphasis on emotions, on feelings as the greatest good when you’re talking with others. I know I have. I was recently noticed this in staggering ways. I’ve talked with people and tried to be clear and factual and logical, because those are good things and because they aid in getting what is true, getting what is true. And the person I was talking to had no interest at all in hearing any of it. He was completely deaf to those things. And he wasn’t only deaf to it, but because feelings were most important to him, he not only refused to hear actual facts but he distorted what was actually being said, because of his feelings. He ignored words and he added other words, because there’s feelings directed him to do those things. And for Christians, it’s imperative that we be truthful and honest and clearly express true things.

And we should be very concerned about how we communicate and very careful in our speech in all of our communication. We shouldn’t let our feelings about something lead us to distort the truth. We of all people should not do that. And the Bible teaches us that our minds need to be engaged right? We don’t check our brains at the door when we come into church, or when we commit ourselves to the Lord. We are thinking people. And the two work together, the mind and the heart. And our feelings don’t lead the train of our belief system.

Right belief, justified true belief will lead us to feel certain ways to be sure, and I’m not discounting our feeling we should be feeling things, but it’s in a response to the truth. Right thinking that leads us to feel certain things. In a response to the truth, the gospel transforms our emotions. It transforms the way that we respond to things.

Well, back to our message for today. How do you feel when it’s time to go to church? When your spouse or your parents or your friends or whomever says, “It’s time to go,” how do you feel about that? Now the answer you give may be different depending on the week you’ve had, or the day, you know, or the Lord’s day that it is. But we want to be thinking rightly so we will feel rightly, appropriately to that question. And our psalm this morning in some ways gives us an answer to that, those kinds of questions.

And so let’s remember the pilgrim right on the way he’s made his way to Jerusalem, the City of God. He’s been there for some time probably for most of the week engaged in what was going on for the particular festival, the feast that he was at. And remember all the anticipation and the joy, and even the lamenting we saw in Psalm 130. There will be a, an even after the the lamenting the delight, or the atonement, that will be made for him, all these things going through the mind and heart of this pilgrim on the way.

And, as he’s there right he’s journeyed and he’s arrived at last to the City of God and he’s been through the city around and back again. He’s taken in the glory of the city, and what it stood for and what it meant to accomplish and point towards. And some of what he’s taken in of the wonderful liturgy that was charged with the drama of those festival weeks. And it’s come time to return home. And he reflects on what it all has meant to him. And it’s clear that it was, for him, a glorious experience.

But what is his meaning, what is what is his meaning by these different things that he says, these three short verses? What has it been like to be in church? What has it been like to be amongst the people of God? Before God?

1. In Terms of Location (v3)

Well, let’s begin to look at what the psalmist says by starting with the end. Let’s begin with verse three, verse three. We’re looking at the blessedness of God’s presence, God’s presence among his people. And the psalmist is describing this experience of being together with God’s people in God’s presence. And how does he do that? Right, notice first he describes this blessing in terms of location and or place. Right, location or place. Look at verse three it says it’s like the dew of Mount Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. Right. He says that the experience of being with God’s people, when brothers— right now this means God’s children— when brothers live together in the unity of the fellowship, or the partnership right, under the cover of the reality of God’s presence.

He’s saying that that can be depicted or described as though the dew of Mount Hermon fell upon Jerusalem. And what’s that picturing there? What is that a picture of? Lest we be confused and completely miss the point, like that reporter I mentioned, Mount Hermon is– you’ll remember is northern, it’s to the North.

It’s the Highlands, right, if you will. And it’s around 100, 130 miles north of Jerusalem, and what he’s doing here is this: he’s remembering the days when he’s at his place in the mountains, and he’s enjoyed those days. He was up early and the dew was lying on the ground. Right, and even city people, people raised in the city can relate to this experience of getting away and getting up and out in a way into the woods or into the mountains and breathing in that fresh, crisp air and walking, touching the wet ground in the morning. And our pilgrim is remembering the refreshment of it. And he’s contrasting that, the city life ordinary events, and he compares them to being with the people of God. And it has an effect on him. It’s like the dew that falls on Mount Hermon, in the highlands, right falling on Jerusalem.

And I can remember vividly a few times when I was a very young boy and then as a young teenager, going back to my home state of Idaho, and we had a family, we had family members who had a cabin up in the mountains. And I remember being overwhelmed with the beauty and grandeur and just the awesomeness of that place. Well, as much as a teenager young teenager could being struck with that and overwhelmed, but I remember that even those who were there, who went there often and were familiar with that place, they were overwhelmed, too. They were overwhelmed by the grandeur and the beauty and the awesomeness of that place.

And like everybody who’s been to a place like that does, I wanted to bring some of that water and that air back home with me, I wanted to jar it up and bring it back, something of that place back home with me to remember it to taste and to breathe. Breathe it now and again. The Psalmist is saying, that’s what it’s like in our church. We live in a hostile world, there doesn’t have to be corruption and riots happening to realize that. It’s a hostile world. This world present possesses, it poses hostility towards us. Our life is, in this fallen world, it is a grind. Its a battlefield, the way the Bible describes. We war against, yes our flesh and fallen nature, but also the world all around us. There’s danger all around us and battles all around us. We have things to do. We are bound by who we are and to whom we belong, to fight, and struggle, and press forward in integrity and in love and in peace. And it’s hard brothers and sisters. It’s not easy it’s hard. It’s not hard for you. Maybe you need to reevaluate your commitments and your convictions, because it should be hard we’ve been promised that it will be hard.

We feel the pressure of these things and of the world, and even in a small town, such as ours in Middle America, there is an antagonism towards the faith, towards the gospel, for many. Our society is driven by emotion and far too often, the emotion that is driven by is anger. Whether it’s the way people drive or the way people interact with one another, or their cell phones or the social media. The default setting for very many is anger. And very many angry people are even blind to the fact that they’re angry. Very often, that anger falls upon the children of God.

But he says here he rejoices. He says that it’s that when he’s with the people of God, when he’s bound and woven together with God’s people and when the Lord is present, well then it’s like that Highland air filling the lungs. And these made able to live in that world with the cleansing consequences ramifications of being with God’s people before God together. Right, I hope you’re getting the picture there of what’s going on. When you’ve gone to that special place that cabin, whatever it might be up in a way, and you get up out of the heat and the pressure and you experience that crisp air right that sharp, crisp air. And it’s wonderful and refreshing.

And then the time comes, where you have to go back down right here to go back down the mountain and return back home into the heat and into the pressure. Brothers, sisters, this is precisely what we live every week of the year, every week of the year we struggle. We struggle, or in our in a way beat up all throughout the week. And it seems as though there’s really no place that is safe for me. We struggle in the world. And we struggle in our hearts. And we struggle and we struggle. But then we come to church. Right. The truly safe place. And when we are in fellowship of the true and living church, we take in, we breathe deeply of that pure mountain air, and our lives are refreshed and rejuvenated and invigorated. And that air, of course, is the presence of God amongst his people.

2. In Terms of Liturgy (v2)

And so he uses this picture right and he moves to another picture right but another picture that may be a bit more removed or foreign to us today right? We see in verse three that he describes the blessedness of being in God’s presence, together with his people in terms of location or place, and then in verse two, we see, he describes that blessedness in terms of liturgy or praise. Liturgy or praise. And he says this, that is like the precious oil on the head running down on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes. Right and, what is he doing here? He’s appealing to the liturgy of the Old Testament, of the high priest. The first high priests of course was Aaron, we know, the brother of Moses and the high priests would be chosen thereafter from the offspring of Aaron, right, Aaron’s descendants.

And the high priest was marked by particular things. He was marked by distinct clothing that he wore and distinct ceremonies that he went through. And one of those ceremonies, was that he would be anointed with oil for his office as a sign of God’s presence and God’s power by His Holy Spirit. And you see how the pilgrim, he dwells a bit here, he remains on this, because the oil that has been anointing Aaron’s head, and the head of those who came after him, it would flow down from the head over his beard. And then it will flow down on his robes, dripping on the robes of the high priest.

And if you remember your Old Testament, as we read earlier, something about the garb, about the the garment that the, the Old Testament– that the priests, the high priests would wear. And there were precious jewels on the shoulders of the high priests’ garments. And there was the breastplate, right, over the heart. And on it were precious jewels. And on all these jewels, you know, on the breastplate and on the shoulders, there were engraved on these jewels, the names of the tribes of Israel, the families of the tribes of Israel. Their names were on these stones, these jewels.

Now listen to what’s going on here. It was the high priest, he’s being anointed to do something that would impact the lives of those who many carried on his shoulders and wore on his heart. And you know, dear Christians, you know, that the high priests was a picture for the Old Testament believers of the very one whom God promised that he would send. And it was a priest, described in the Old Testament as a high priest, not after the order of Aaron, but after the order of Melchizedek. We read about this in Genesis.

And the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Melchizedek was a high priest of Salem, of peace it tells us, who simply appeared from nowhere to Abraham, and then he disappears after Abraham paid him tribute. And Hebrews tells us that it is the lesser, the inferior who pays tribute to the greater to the superior. Well, no one in that at that time was greater than Abraham. And if he pays tribute up to Melchizedek, and Hebrews tells us that the priest had, apparently, he had no beginning in his story and no end, as well.

And it says that this is a picture of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, who was the eternal Son of God. He was the one who took on our flesh, in order to be our great and final High Priest. He has no beginning of days and no end of days, he continues as a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.

And it’s significant when we read of Jesus, when he entered into his ministry, he was anointed with the Holy Spirit, remember? And remember his baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon him. And again, the author to the Hebrews refers to the psalm, to the Psalms, again, and he says, You have anointed me with the oil of gladness beyond my companions. And you see the Holy Spirit, the anointing oil of His grace, flows from our Lord Jesus over his shoulders onto those, whose name he carried on his shoulders, and does carry into the presence of his Father, and begins to trickle down over their names, as he bears them on his heart and leads them into the presence of God.

So being among God’s people when God is with them in that special, promised manner, when Jesus’s promise is fulfilled, I remember what he said. When two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there in the midst of them. It is promised and you see, it’s like breathing in that crisp, clean refreshing truth reality that air. It’s like the anointing oil of the presence of the Lord Jesus flowing down upon his people, and over those whom he carries on his heart into the presence of God.

3. In Terms of our Life (v1)

And then notice how else he describes this blessed experience, right. We see this in verse one. He’s described it, this blessedness in terms of location, In terms of liturgy, and now he describes it in terms of his life. Right, personally, his life. So, behold, right, that means Look, look how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.

And those are important words right, good and pleasant. We don’t have time to unfold all of what this means, but that’s one of the first and one of the most important words that we see in the Bible right? You remember that refrain that runs through Genesis chapter one: God spoke, it was done and it was good. Right? He did this, it was good.

And then at the end of chapter one of Genesis, when God had completed all that he was doing in creation, it said God saw, and behold, was very good. Very good. Well, our time is running slow and I mean running, running out of time and running out of stamina, frankly, but reflect on these things, dear friends. Reflect on these things.

Part of the unity and the peace and the goodness of dwelling in God’s presence with his children is rooted in something we read in Genesis 13. Right near that place when we were talking about Melchizedek, when brothers had to separate because the land couldn’t support them remember. And so they had to go elsewhere, find other land.

And in our situation, the Lord has remedied that, He has remedied that. He’s reversed that in Jesus. He has made a way for you and for I, and all the families of God to dwell in unity. Because we’re together united in Christ. We’re united to Christ. And God has given us this unique and wonderful blessing of growing in this life, and continue to experience the wonder and newness of coming together and having a sense of that awe. Oh, this is what it is to experience the goodness in the pleasant refreshment of being with him, and being with his people.

And it’s ever fresh, and it’s meant to be ever new to us. Now dear Christian, I know, along with you I know the struggle of the anger that’s not just born on us, from the outside, but I know the struggle of the anger that’s born out of many things, but most painfully out my own lingering sin and stubborn, that stubbornly clings to me. And I would venture to guess that you know that as well.

So when we disrupt, when we disrupt the pleasant and the good that should come from dwelling in unity, when I’m gutted for my contribution to that ugly reality, what do I do, and what do you do? Well, the last thing that we should do is to abandon our family. Right, and go into hiding. Still its the first thing we want to do but it’s the last thing that we should do. The very place that I should be is with my family, before my king and priest Jesus. Because it is there that I’m reminded again, that in all of my lack of holiness, and growth and slowness, my High Priest remains faithful. He remains strong, he is powerful. And he is good, and he’s honest. And he continues to intercede for me, and he continues to remind us that he ever lives to pray for us, to plead our case, and to refute the enemy. And he continues to grow our faith through the things that he’s promised to use for that very growth, right? Word, sacrament, and prayer. And he promises, even in our weakness, especially because of our weakness, that he has done everything that was needed to keep us and to protect us.

And he’s even given us a way, brothers and sisters, when we do cause disunity or when we are sinned against. He has given us the prescription for resolution of those things. We’re not left to try to figure it out on our own. Scripture tells us these things. He’s dealt with our every need and want and he’s promised to bring us even until the final, the final end where we will experience forever, good, and pleasant, and glorious unity.

So as you, dear Christian, descend back from spiritual mount Zion, back into the world, you go refreshed. Right, go in glory and comfort and hope. You’ve been to the safe place. And this safe place is where life is, its where joy is, it’s where goodness and pleasantness is. And go in that particular, peculiar joy that only comes from being a Christian. And through it all, we can together praise and rejoice and shout out, “There, the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” Amen. Let’s pray together.

Dear heavenly Father, we we praise you and we thank you for your love and mercy towards us. We thank you that you have indeed seen fit to graciously stoop down and speak to us through your word. Lord, we pray that we will be attentive to that word. We pray that we’d be receptive of that word and we pray Lord that we would believe what you tell us there, that we are truly dead to sin and alive to walk in newness of life. Dear Lord, we praise you, and thank you for the glory of the freedom from the guilt of our sins, and the punishment of our sins. Father we pray continue to grow us. Lord, we pray that you would help us to always seek to comprehend, even though it is incomprehensible, exhaustively. But Lord that we would seek, dwell upon and meditate on the reality that we are united to Christ. And that we are united one to another. Father, you will pray that you would bless us now for the remainder of the service, we ask this all in Christ’s name. Amen.