For the Love of God

A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on December 4, 2022.

            Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor,

                        all the hardships he endured,

            how he swore to the LORD

                        and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,

            “I will not enter my house

                        or get into my bed,

            I will not give sleep to my eyes

                        or slumber to my eyelids,

            until I find a place for the LORD,

                        a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

            Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;

                        we found it in the fields of Jaar.

            “Let us go to his dwelling place;

                        let us worship at his footstool!”

            Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place,

                        you and the ark of your might.

            Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,

                        and let your saints shout for joy.

            For the sake of your servant David,

                        do not turn away the face of your anointed one.

            The LORD swore to David a sure oath

                        from which he will not turn back:

            “One of the sons of your body

                        I will set on your throne.

            If your sons keep my covenant

                        and my testimonies that I shall teach them,

            their sons also forever

                        shall sit on your throne.”

            For the LORD has chosen Zion;

                        he has desired it for his dwelling place:

            “This is my resting place forever;

                        here I will dwell, for I have desired it.

            I will abundantly bless her provisions;

                        I will satisfy her poor with bread.

            Her priests I will clothe with salvation,

                        and her saints will shout for joy.

            There I will make a horn to sprout for David;

                        I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.

            His enemies I will clothe with shame,

                        but on him his crown will shine” (Psalm 132).[1]

The psalmist prays,

Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place,

                        you and the ark of your might.

And he declares,

For the LORD has chosen Zion;

            he has desired it for his dwelling place.

And the Lord says,

[Zion] is my resting place forever;

                        here I will dwell, for I have desired it.

So, the psalmist prays, then declares, and the Lord confirms a particular place of his presence, but isn’t God omnipresent? Doesn’t David describe his inability to escape God’s presence?

            Where shall I go from your Spirit?

                        Or where shall I flee from your presence?

            If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

                        If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! (Ps. 139:7-8).

And when Solomon dedicated the temple, the holy dwelling place of the Lord, did he not confess, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27b)? And yet, after he finished his prayer, Solomon turned to the people and pronounced, “The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us” (1 Kgs. 8:57). How can Solomon acknowledge God’s limitlessness and yet desire his presence? How can God be omnipresent and have a dwelling place?

The distinction is in God’s choosing to manifest himself, particularly to his chosen children. In the Old Testament we see this clearly in the ark of the covenant, which was kept in the tabernacle where Israel came to worship the Lord. So important was this manifest presence of the Lord for Israel, King David transferred the ark to Jerusalem and then sought to build a “house,” or temple, for the Lord. He who is omnipresent is present with his people particularly, uniquely. The point of the Lord’s presence, as David knew well, is to know and worship God, not according to our notions but as he has chosen to reveal himself to us.

This is why the Word of God is so important to us. God is not silent but has chosen to reveal himself to us in his Word. “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16) as “the rule of faith and life”[2] Rightly does our Confession state that “all things necessary for [God’s] own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”[3] Therefore, it should not surprise us that the psalmist begins his prayer for the Lord’s presence by praying God’s Word.

Praying God’s Word

If it is God’s Word, doesn’t he already know it? Isn’t praying God’s Word a purposeless redundancy? Not at all! When we go to God’s Word, we find that it gives us the concepts and words to pray, in keeping with God’s will. The psalmist begins his prayer, “Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor,” not because God forgets but because the Davidic covenant serves as the basis and framework for his prayer. What does he include in his petition? David’s hardships, David’s oath, David’s goal to build God’s temple: It is as if he is walking through 2 Samuel 7 or 1 Chronicles 22, poetically summarizing it and praying it to the Lord.

The psalmist is not aimlessly plucking bible verses to pray, he is praying with intent. Why does he point us back to David’s favor? Because, he desires to worship the Lord in joyful praise, just like the day the ark of the covenant was sent up from Kiriath-Jearim, or Jaar; just like the day when worshipers came up to Jerusalem, where the consecrated priests prepared the people for worship, and the king danced before the ark with joy. And in this Word-saturated prayer, we see a heart set on seeking the Lord, like David. Couched in remembering the faithfulness and favor of David, the psalmist is teaching us how to pray too.

Remembering God’s Promises

Unique to the psalmist’s prayer is his emphasis upon David’s oath to God, “how he swore to the LORD / and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,” and the Lord’s oath to David:

            The LORD swore to David a sure oath

                        from which he will not turn back:

            “One of the sons of your body

                        I will set on your throne.”

As we read in 2 Sam. 7, David desired to build the Lord’s temple, but the Lord promised David a dynasty instead: “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). The language used is binding, covenantal, and telling of the Lord’s steadfast love and faithfulness. It is a remarkable moment in Israel’s hope-inspiring history.

And then, following David’s reign, Solomon ascended to the throne—so far so good, until the end. The history of the Davidic throne goes downhill from there: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And then, there were none, not one king left to sit on the throne. When there is no king, no throne, no kingdom, did God fail to keep his promise? In the moment, one might think so. One might think: What good is remembering when the dynasty is dead? It is easy to lose hope when we read God’s eternal Word through the filter of current events. God’s Word can feel impotent to those entrapped by the tyranny of their times.

In challenging times, we can be tested by the Lord: Will we believe what he has said to us? For, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). When the psalmist remembered God’s promise to David, the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4) had not yet come, and yet he believed and so he prayed. And was his prayer answered? Yes, it was! But not in his lifetime.

Are we willing to believe and pray prayers that may not be answered in our lifetime? The psalmist believed and prayed, and it was answered in Jesus, the Son of God, the heir of David’s throne. As the angel revealed to the virgin Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk. 1:32-33). God indeed does answer prayer, but not according to our timing.

Consider that we are recipients of answered prayers prayed. Consider that we are recipients of the Lord’s fulfillment of his promise to David: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:20 NIV). And so, let us pray and let us always remember, “the one who made the promise is trustworthy” (Heb. 10:23b NET).

Loving God’s Church

So then, let me return to the topic of the presence of God and specifically Zion. In Scripture, Zion is a name rich with significance and varied in meaning. The name dates back, at least, to David’s capture of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. When David had the ark of the covenant transferred to Jerusalem, its resting place became the highest point in the city, Mount Zion. The name Zion means “highest point.” But the use of the word became more than a geographic description.

Although technically within the confines of Jerusalem, Zion is used as a synonym of the capitol city as well as its inhabitants. Zion also refers to “the city of David” (2 Chron. 5:2), “the city of God” (Ps. 46:4), God’s “holy hill” (Ps. 2:6), the “holy city” (Isa. 48:2), the “holy mountain” (Dan. 11:45), and here as the Lord’s “chosen” and “desired…dwelling place.” And in the context of God’s promise to David, Zion is the designated place of the dynastic reign. This has led many to look to the specific location of Jerusalem for its fulfillment, but the New Testament writers don’t see it that way.

In the second chapter of Ephesians, the apostle Paul describes how God in Christ has made Jew and Gentile “one new man in place of the two” (Eph. 2:15), giving us “access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18), and being joined and built “into a holy temple in the Lord…a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22). This language is strikingly similar to the psalmist’s reference to Zion. Under the New Covenant, Zion no longer refers to the ethnic, geographical, or socio-political realm and reign of David’s kingdom, but the realm and reign of Christ. In Christ, the writer of Hebrews says, we have already “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22a). In his vision, the apostle John sees Zion not as a rebuilt temple but a heavenly pinnacle of Christ’s reign (Rev. 14:1). What the New Testament makes clear is Zion is not a geographic place but a redeemed people, in whom the living God dwells (2 Cor. 6:16).

In Christ, individually we are “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19), but we are not indwelled to live out our faith alone. God is using each of us as “a living stone…chosen and precious in God’s sight”; together we are being “built up as a spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:4-5 NET). As Zion, we collectively are the place of Christ’s regal rule and reign. Therefore, the church is not merely an option for Christian observance but the place of God’s abiding presence, a holy temple, and “you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:17b).

In light of the New Testament’s interpretation of Zion, in this passage I want us to briefly consider four demonstrations of God’s love for us, four truths that every Christian must know. First, we do not live as those who are seeking to win God’s love and secure his affection but as God’s chosen and desired people. Beloved, “In love he predestined us” (Eph. 3:4-5); for love “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); as love, he abides in us, and we in him (1 Jn. 4:16); We are his chosen and desired dwelling place:

            For the LORD has chosen Zion;

                        he has desired it for his dwelling place:

            “This is my resting place forever;

                        here I will dwell, for I have desired it.”

Consider the magnitude of this statement! As one pastor observes, “[The] Lord did not choose the university, government, industry—or even the family, as important as it is. He has set aside a body of believers, an assembly of saints, to be his chosen dwelling place.[4]

Second, while God works through our means, ultimately he provides for our physical needs. In a highly materialistic society, it is easy to take the Lord’s provision for granted, but what do you have that you did not receive? The Lord says,

            I will abundantly bless her provisions;

            I will satisfy her poor with bread.

Regardless of our individual income or net worth, do we not pray for our daily bread? Does not the Lord provide for each of us? Does not the Lord teach us, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26)? Indeed, we are, for we are his chosen dwelling place.

Third, in Christ, God provides for us spiritually. In the ninth verse, the psalmist prays, Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy. In the sixteenth verse, the Lord answers, matching word for word,

            Her priests I will clothe with salvation,

                        and her saints will shout for joy.

What a beautiful promised answer to prayer delivered to us as Christ’s priests and saints of God! In Christ, we are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9), Zion indeed. As promised, Christ’s church is “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, saved unto eternal life, how can we not, as saints, rejoice?

Fourth and finally, as we are chosen and desired by God, and as he cares for us physically and spiritually, he rules over us as his church. We see this in this psalm as the psalmist returns to God’s promise to David of an eternal dynasty. How will God fulfill his promise? The Lord says,

            There [in Zion] I will make a horn to sprout for David.

The horn in this case is a symbol of strength or power, personified here as the son, or sprout, of David. Who is this son?

It is no coincidence that upon the birth of the last prophet, John the Baptist, his father regained his voice and prophesied,

            “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

            for he has visited and redeemed his people

            and has raised up a horn of salvation for us

            in the house of his servant David” (Lk. 1:69).

The “horn”, as Zechariah prophesied, is that “horn” for which the psalmist prayed, and is none other than Jesus, the Lord’s “anointed,” a word transliterated from the Hebrew as “Messiah,” and translated in Greek as Christos, or Christ. It is Christ Jesus who is the light shining through the often-dark Davidic line of kings. As God promised, David “One of the sons of your body/ I will set on your throne,” so he fulfilled in Christ, who reigns over his kingdom, crowned and resplendent in glory.

This is of course good news for all who are in Christ and joyfully under his reign. But it is not good news for his enemies, all who reject his gospel freely offered, his righteous rule graciously given. And as Zion is the dwelling place of God, to whom Christ has given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” and the authority to bind and loose on earth as in heaven (Matt. 16:19), all who reject the gospel of Christ’s church will be clothed with shame. But the love of God shines forth in his dwelling presence, for Christ and his body are one (1 Cor. 12:27). But where there is no love for Christ’s church, there is no love of God (1 Jn. 4:7-12). Therefore, for the love of God, “let us love one another” (1 Jn. 4:7a), enjoying the dwelling place and presence of the Lord forever.

[1] Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[2] “The Confession of Faith” 1.2, The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (Lawrenceville: PCA Christian Education and Publications, 2007), 3.

[3] Ibid. 1.6, 5.

[4] Rhett P. Dodson, Marching to Zion: Ancient Psalms for Modern Pilgrims (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2017), 221.

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