Who will approach God? Who is the King of Glory? These are questions David poses in Psalm 24, one of the Messianic Psalms.
He begins with recognizing who God is. God is the creator of everything there is, and He possesses and has authority over all that He created.
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
Though the nations all around David had their own gods in various images and likenesses, David recognizes that there is only one, creator God. One God made the heavens and the earth, and there is no god like Him. In that context he asks the question:
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
How does one approach a God like that? How do created beings, such as ourselves, approach the God who created us? David understands that we can only approach such a God on His own terms:
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
Only a person with clean hands and a pure heart can approach a God like that. Only a person who trusts in such a God, alone, can approach Him. Only a person who understands truth and is free of deceit.
Can any of us say that we meet these conditions?
If we think honestly on these things, we have to realize that we don’t. The truth is that no one is righteous, not even one person. (Psalm 14:3; Psalm 53:3; and Romans 3:10)
Think of David, the very person who wrote this Psalm. He didn’t meet those conditions, and he certainly knew it. He is one of the most flawed people of all the people of faith in the Bible. He knew where he stood with God.
The problem: we want clean hands and a pure hear; we want to trust in God alone, and we want to hold to nothing but the truth. The truth is, though, that no one meets these conditions. No one can approach a holy God!
Yet, this Psalm exalts in the anticipation of connecting with such a God – a God who made and possesses the universe, a God who can only be approached with cleans hands, a pure heart, with singleness of devotion and in the fullness of truth. This is because David anticipates something. And this is where the Psalm shifts:
They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.
The resolution to the problem is that we do not approach God: He approaches us. We must receive from God his blessing and vindication. It is nothing we can ascend to, nothing we can achieve.
God knows this well, and He provided a way. As with Abraham for whom God provided a ram caught in the thicket to sacrifice in place of his son, Isaac, God has provided for us what is necessary to clear the way for us to receive Him. Through Christ, we are made holy, clean and new.[i]
The Psalm is considered “Messianic” because David anticipates our need for God to come to us, to provide for us. He says:
Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Thus, David exalts not in the prospect that someone might ascend to heaven, but in the anticipation that God will descend to us. God meets us where we are. But there is more to this than God simply meeting us where we are: we need to be ready to receive Him.
Before the church service that inspires this article this morning, I read an article in my newsfeed: How the Capitol attacks helped spread Christian nationalism in the extreme right, from the Religious News Service. It may seem like a strange tie in to Psalm 24, but I hope you will stick with me to see the connection.
I believe in the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives and hearts of believers. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I read that article earlier this morning or that I listened in on a sermon from a church that I do not attend. I believe God has something to say to me today.
I wasn’t thinking about the article as I “attended” church online, but the connection “jumped out” at me. I will get to the connection in a little while, but first David ends Psalm 24 by asking another question.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Of course, he already provided the answer in verses 1 & 2. He is the God who created everything and possesses it all. This is David’s focus, and he comes back to it for emphasis. It should be our focus as well.
In ancient near east imagery, David imagines God as a King leading his army into battle. He is a King and has an army that is “strong and mighty” – the strongest and mightiest of all armies that marches behind in the King of all kings!
With this imagery in mind, we understand that God is not someone to oppose. People do not survive who oppose Him or set themselves against Him, but He doesn’t come to oppose us. He comes to us in a different manner. David says:
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
The King of Glory comes to us, and David exhorts us to let Him in! To do that, we need to understand who He is and to prepare ourselves to receive Him. For emphasis, he asks again:
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
Perhaps, the most descriptive illustration of who God is can be found in Revelations. This passage was quoted in the sermon this morning, and I have added emphasis to the portion of this passage that caught my attention:
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
At the end of the sermon, the question was asked: Do you want Him as your King? Or do you want Him simply to take a place in your kingdom? The question drew me back to the article I read earlier in the morning.
These statements from the sermon this morning ring true: We can acknowledge God; we can even invite God to be involved in our lives, and we can do these things, without submitting to God as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Until He comes again in full glory, we may not ever realize that He will not come into us on our own terms. We can not receive Him on our terms. He isn’t just a king; He is not just a god; He is not just another flag that we fly; He is the King of Kings! And the Lord of Lords!
We can not approach Him; we must rely on Him to approach us. We cannot ascend to Him; He must descend to us.
But, He is the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. He is the creator of all the earth and everything in it. He possesses everything. Can not receive Him on our terms and hope to stand. We cannot receive Him as anything other than who He is – the absolute God, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Creator of the heavens and the earth!
And this is where I find the emphasis today: “And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations….” No nation, no kingdom, no political party, no faction or group, or person can stand in opposition against the King of kings and Lord of lords.
We are either with Him or against Him. When He comes, He comes on His own terms. If we are going to receive Him, we must not be opposed to Him. We must receive Him for who He is.
If we are putting our trust in human institutions and swearing by human allegiances, we will stand opposed to Him when He comes. We will not be ready to receive Him if we have not prepared our hearts to receive Him and submitted to Him as our King of kings and Lord of lords.
Even earlier this morning, I saw this on Twitter:
“One can’t be a Christian and a nationalist at the same time.”
I believe God is speaking to us in the time to be careful. There is no room for nationalism in our Christianity, or anything else that rivals our allegiance to the kingdom of God in our hearts.
God will not get behind our earthly allegiances and allow our earthly kingdoms to stand. If we trust in them, we will sorely regret it. God will not share the stage with anything or anyone. He made the earth and everything in it, and He will share what He has made with anything but those who owe their sole allegiance to Him.
I don’t write this to call out people, specifically, who have maybe put too much faith and focus in patriotism, though God seems to be making that clear in this time. The truth is that we all have our allegiances, our biases, our pet gods to which we devote ourselves in place of God at times. This isn’t just about “Christian nationalism”.
Many things to which we devote our energies are good, but they become idols when they become our “ultimate things” (as Tim Keller says).
If we, have incorporated anything into our Christianity, if we have invited God in to bless us and support us in our efforts to uphold anything that overshadows our devotion and utter dependence on God, we may be in for a rude awakening when He comes again.
As David exhorts us, we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. We need to tear down the idols rival God in our hearts. God will subject everything to Christ, and we must prepare our hearts by clearing the way, and to keep clearing the way, for Him to take His rightful place.
Maybe the thing that shares your ultimate devotion is not patriotism. Maybe it’s something else. David (and the Holy Spirit) invites us to take inventory of the potential idols in our hearts. Let us be vigilant and diligent to destroy any “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ”. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
[i] The high priest in Israel had to enter the holy of holies once a year to make sacrifice for sins, and he had to do it over and over, year after year. But,
“when Christ came as high priest…, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!