Thursday, December 18, 2014

Psalm 134 - The Last Song

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God! His holy mountain
Psalm 48:1
1Oh, praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
you who serve at night in the house of the LORD.
2Lift up holy hands in prayer,
and praise the LORD.
3May the LORD, who made heaven and earth, bless you from Jerusalem.

Psalm 134 is the fifteenth, the last in the series of The Psalms of Ascent.  The pilgrims who had attended the feast were preparing to return home to their everyday lives. The beginning verse indicates that the pilgrims were addressing those who were working through the night in the temple. It is possible the pilgrims were beginning their journeys before sunrise. 

As they left the city, their thoughts would have been on what was taking place throughout the night in the temple. Or perhaps they had gathered at the temple during the evening for one final period of worship before they set out for home. There were twenty-four Levites, three priests and the captain of the guard on duty in the temple at night.The psalm was their last song as the days of festival came to an end. The psalm functions as a benediction to the whole collection.

Psalm 120 was a psalm for starting out, and along the way a number of different aspects of pilgrim life were covered. This last song bookends the series. Conclusions are important. They are the "take-aways”, what is remembered and hopefully adding something of growth to life.   God’s glory is absolutely central to a believer's life.  Its the "take-away" of this psalm. It is central to the believer's life because of who God is. 

It’s easy for me to get sidetracked in this area. There are so many other things to occupy my attention. It’s so easy for other things–good and important things–to displace praise from its central place in my life as a believer. This is one of the weaknesses of the self-help emphasis in much of evangelicalism today. 

The sheer number of books, radio programs and sermons along these lines sometimes gives the impression that the purpose of the gospel is to enable me to get my life together (to get out of debt, order my family along biblical lines, fix relationships, live successfully, etc.). The chaos and turmoil of living in a fallen world is overwhelming at times, so anything that promises to help bring relief is likely to have some immediate appeal. And many of these things are good and important. 

Yet the primary purpose of the gospel is not to help me get my life together, but rather the purpose of the gospel is to reconcile me to God. And when I am reconciled to God, the natural result is praise. Praise is central to a life of faith because God is central to my life as a follower of Jesus Christ. This is a good test to apply to myself. If I begin to notice that I am praising God less and less, something has gone terribly wrong. In all likelihood, God has been crowded out and displaced by something else. 
Over the past hundred years or so the Church has increasingly lost sight of the centrality of God’s glory. A hundred years ago, most evangelical Christians looked at the Christian life very differently today. Most would have understood, without question, the first answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” The first part of that answer is essential to a life of praise: “The chief end of man is to glorify God.” 

God fills a heart with a desire to praise Him. The responsive heart praises God because He is worthy. He responds as a loving Heavenly Father. He is always primary. Continually living this way, will find my heart more and more characterized by praise; until that day when I praise Him face to face, together with all believers crying: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.... To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 4:11; 5:13).