Psalm 24 is part of a group of five psalms that share a common theme of God’s protective shepherding of his people. The most famous of these shepherding psalms is Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.” We are all familiar with Psalm 23, probably not so much with Psalm 24.
Both psalms were written by King David. Some people think David wrote this psalm when the ark of the covenant was first brought to Jerusalem after it was stolen by the Philistines and subsequently recovered.
It is also possible that this psalm was sung by pilgrims to Jerusalem as they entered the temple and ascended its many steps. Surely it makes us think of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey as he did on Palm Sunday.
But whatever the case, Psalm 24 has to do with King Jesus returning from battle and entering his royal city as the conquering victor. His people are overjoyed at his coming. They are not afraid of him as though he were coming to judge them. Rather, they can’t wait to welcome him, to praise him, and to give him the glory that he deserves.
Now this psalm was written one thousand years before the birth of Jesus. It’s difficult for us who live in the New Testament to understand the intense longing by the faithful in Israel for the Messiah to come. But for Old Testament believers there was nothing they looked forward to more. It is similar to New Testament believers looking froward to Christ’s second coming. There really should be nothing that we desire more.
The earthly king of Israel was God’s personal representative. He did not replace God, but he was a flesh-and-blood person whose duty was to provide for, protect, and lead his people in some ways as if he were God himself. The king was more than an elected official. He wasn’t even an elected official. He was appointed by God himself. And as such, he had all authority over his kingdom.
David was a good king. He understood very well what his responsibilities were to God and to his people. He understood that he was just second. Although he was number one in his earthly kingdom he was still second before God. And maintaining that perspective was essential to the success of the kingdom.
So, he writes psalms like Psalm 23 and 24, where he clearly states that God is Lord over all, that God is the true King of Israel. That is not how it is when you go to the dictatorships of the world today. In these places, the dictator himself is the supreme leader. He makes himself out to be God for the people. He encourages their worship and praise. Not in Israel. Israel was not an autocracy. It was a theocracy. God was King. And the people along with the earthly King were his servants.
Notice how David recognizes at the outset of Psalm 24 how he, himself, is the owner of nothing. You would think that the king would claim to be the owner of all in his kingdom. But he doesn’t. “God is the owner,” he says. “We are just the stewards. We are just appointed by God to take care of all that is rightfully his.”
Verses 1 and 2: “The earth is the LORD’s and everything that fills it, the world and all who live in it, because he founded it on the seas, and he established it on the rivers.”
So, you ask, “Who does this belong to?” The LORD. “And who does that belong to?” The LORD. And you can take anything that you can see, experience, or posses and say the same thing. “The earth is the LORD’s and everything that fills it.” Abraham Kuyper, former prime minister of the Netherlands said it this way, “There is not one square inch on planet earth over which the risen Christ does not say, ‘Mine!’”
Such a truth doesn’t sit well with much of the world today. People today are very passionate when talking about their “rights”, as if we really had any. Ask yourself as a believer, “Do we really have any rights that we can call our own?” Or is everything that we have a gift from God? Ours to take care of, yes. Our to make prosper, yes. But a right?
Even you, yourself, are not your own to do with as you want. King David writes, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything that fills it, the world and all who live in it…” So, we belong to God. Our bodies belong to God. Our minds belong to God. Our speech belongs to God. That is what King David confessed.
Imagine a king confessing that today! Leaders today are so full of themselves thinking they have a mandate to do this or that. The only mandates we have as humans are those that come from God. That is why we say we are a nation “under God”. I, as a human being, am under the authority of God. It is He who made me, and it is he who continues to give me life each and every day.
Let that be a lesson for us as we grow proud and forget that “rights”, if we want to call them that, are always God given. The right of a husband. The right of a father. Women’s rights. Children’s rights. They are technically privileges and responsibilities. We have one King, and he is Christ the Lord.
Now, this puts things into proper perspective. We are only servants. That does not mean we are insignificant or without dignity. Quite the contrary. We have tremendous significance and dignity as humans. We are the crown of God’s creation! Would to God that more people would understand how much dignity and meaningfulness they inherently have because they were created in God’s image! God wasn’t created in man’s image the way atheists try to describe the origin of religion. No. God was first, and he created man in His own image. So, each human has tremendous dignity and worth. But God has more.
You see God is holy. And God created mankind to be holy like him. But mankind has foolishly forfeited his holiness under the illusion that sin would be better. Sin is not better than holiness. Sin is not more fun than holiness. Sin will never give you the happiness you so desire.
Now, the word “holy” means “set apart”. The fact that God is holy and that we are unholy means that there is a gigantic chasm that separates us from him. Which is why king David writes: “Who may go up to the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, whose soul is not set on what is false, who does not swear deceitfully” (vv. 3,4).
We’ve really lost the concepts of holiness and sacredness as a society. It seems that nothing is holy or sacred anymore. Even worship. Even one’s faith. Even God and his Word. But whether people see God as holy anymore or not doesn’t change the fact that he is.
You know, sometimes, just to remind myself that what I do as a pastor in our public worship is a holy work—it is set apart, there is nothing else like it—what I will often wash my hands before coming out of the sacristy. Why? Because “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy pace? He who has clean hands and a pure heart...” So, I wash my hands realizing that God is not talking about dirt; He is talking about sin. And I ask God to forgive me before I walk out of that door.
In Old Testament Israel Mt. Zion was another name for Jerusalem. The temple was on top of Mt. Zion. And this is where God literally dwelled above the ark of the covenant inside the temple. So, you can imagine the people walking up the steps to the temple saying to themselves, “Who may go up to the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?”
Well, that is why they had to bring a sacrifice. You could not approach God without a sacrifice for your sins. The same thing is true today. You cannot approach God without a sacrifice for your sins. But here is the Good News: you and I have the true sacrifice of Jesus to present to God for our sins. “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). And God graciously accepts us into his presence.
So, church is not entertainment. It is entering a place that is unlike anything else in the entire world. It is not supposed to be entertainment. Neither is church a place to be playing around on your cell phone or kids playing video games. No, God’s house and his pulpit are holy places. Not that they are holy in and of themselves. But rather, when God speaks, we his people listen.
Now, here is the connection to the season of Advent. The King of Glory comes! Advent is a time of waiting. It is a time of expectation and hope. There are different ways that one can wait for something to happen. They can wait with dread, hoping that it never happens. They can wait with indifference, not caring whether it ever happens. Or they can wait with eager anticipation, hoping that it happens and that it happens soon.
Which one of those three would you say describes the faithful believer in Psalm 24? The third one. “Lift up your heads, you gates. Lift yourselves up, you ancient doors, and the King of Glory will come in. Who is this King of Glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle” (vv. 7,8).
What David does with these words is he personifies the city of Jerusalem. “Lift up your heads, you gates.” Well, obviously, he is talking about the believers of Jerusalem. He’s saying, “Prepare to meet your King joyfully!” Not in dread. Not with indifference. But with Hope! Luke 21:28, Jesus says, “But when these things begin to happen, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.”
The color of Advent is blue, which symbolizes anticipation and hope and hope in our Savior’s coming. We look up into the blue sky realizing that this is from where the LORD who has fought all our battles is going to come!
The Shepherds looked up in the night’s sky on that first Christmas. What did they see? An army of angels proclaiming that the Messiah had come. The Magi looked up into the sky. What did they see? The Star of Bethlehem that led them straight to Jesus.
We look up into the sky. What do we see? Well, nothing. Not yet. But we will. That much is sure. For the King of Glory has come at Christmas and he will come again. He came the first time and won salvation for the entire world. He will come again and take all believers with him to the heavenly temple where we will celebrate His coronation. Amen.