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Worship Message - Songs of Ascent, Psalms 133 & 134

Songs of Ascent
Psalms 133 and 134

I will say the first line of the reading. Please respond with the second line.

In my distress, I cry to the LORD,
that He may answer me

Thank you. That is first of several responsive readings we will do during this message. It comes from Psalm 120, the first of what is called Songs of Ascent.

All the responsive reading during today’s message will come from the series of messages we have had for a few weeks now. A series that concludes with this message. A series of messages based on all 15 Psalms known as Songs of Ascent. Psalms recited by Old Testament people of God as they prepared their hearts and minds for worship. Psalms we can recite as well. Psalms that, if we recite them together, will help us achieve something very wonderful that is described in Psalm 133, which is one of two Psalms to be considered in this message.

Psalm 133 is the first of the two for today. However, we will consider it second so we can end with the challenge to have what the Psalm calls us to have.

Today, Psalms 133 and 134. First, Psalm 134, which we will consider right after another responsive reading from the Songs of Ascent, which we will do together. Again I will say the first line. Please respond with the second line.

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

let’s be glad as we concentrate on Psalm 134. “A Song of Ascents. Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD? Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the LORD? May the LORD bless you from Zion, He who made Heaven and earth!”

Again, this is the second Psalm for today. It is the last of the Songs of Ascent. What a wonderful way to end the series of Psalms Old Testament people were to recite on their way to worship. What a reminder of why they prepared themselves to worship. Why they traveled, in some cases great distances, to get to Jerusalem. Why they, in Jerusalem, climbed the steps to the Temple.

They did all that for the purpose of blessing their God. “Come,” was the invitation. “Come, bless the LORD.”

Who was to do that? All who were - all who are - servants of the LORD.

Now, to some extent, that was a call for the religious leaders to bless God. In this context, to speak well of Him. To declare His goodness. The application to religious leaders is at least suggested by the phrase, “who stand by night in the house of the LORD.” That refers to those who would remain at and in the Temple after worshipers who had traveled returned home. Those who would watch to keep the Temple safe, to make sure the fires needed for sacrifices did not go out, to be available to help those who came to worship, even at night.

To that extent, it seems that part of worshiping God is praying for His leaders to remain true to their calling. I hope I have made it clear I appreciate such prayers. All who are Christian leaders, including in this congregation, need prayers so we will remain strong in our faith. True to God’s word. That needed so we can meet what we recited a moment ago, which was the challenge to be glad when we have opportunities to be here.

This Psalm, to some extent, does refer to religious leaders. But it also refers to God’s people in general. For our purposes, it applies to all of us who are Christians. We all are to serve Him. We are all to maintain our worship.

Putting religious leaders and all Christians together, here is another responsive reading from another Song of Ascent.

Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness.
Let Your saints shout for joy.

How are we to shout? What are we to do as we bless God. As we worship Him. Verse 2. “Lift up your hands to the holy place.”

Not so much to the place - to the Temple - but to the one whose presence was there, that being God. The LORD. And maybe not literally lift our hands, although there is an important significance to doing that.

The significance?

It can represent reaching out for help. We need God’s help.

It can represent reaching out to accept a gift. All God’s blessings are gifts. By lifting our hands, it can be portrayed we realize God is the giver of all good gifts.

And people reach out when giving a gift to someone. Lifting our hands can, in that case, be a display of our intent to give God the gift of our speaking well of Him. Our intent to declare His goodness.

The literal lifting of hands has special significance, so that is called for. But also in our hearts and our minds we should be pointing to the only one who can help. The only one we are to serve. Hence another reading.

As the eyes of servants and a maid look to the hands of their masters and mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD.

We are to look to God, watching for how He wants us to serve Him. We are point to God as the only one worthy of worship.

How worthy? Verse 3. He is the one “who made Heaven and earth.”

Wow. Think of it. What we have around us - the earth we have around us - did not just happen. Someone created it. That someone was God.

Think of the complexity of it all. The colors. The shapes. How everything works together with plants and animals and humans - all of nature. How the sun and moon are right where they need to be for the world to function. How their movements are predictable to the millisecond.

The list could go on and on and on about how God made the earth. But think, too, of this. It is God who sustains us while we are on the earth He created. Hence this responsive reading.

If it had not been the LORD on our side, we would have been swallowed up.
Blessed be the LORD.

I hope we are all always in awe of the beauty of God’s earthly creation. I hope we are always aware of His willingness to sustain us and that He has the power to accomplish that. I hope we who are Christians will allow Him to sustain us here on earth.

But He made Heaven as well, which is the place His people will be when their time on earth is done.

I do not think we can - I certainly cannot - imagine how wonderful Heaven is.

I, like millions of others, enjoy the Christian song I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me. The words of the song ask, “Surrounded by Your glory, Lord, will I dance or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing or will I be able to speak at all?”

One thing is sure, according to the song. It is that in Heaven we will worship God forever and ever. But beyond that, as in specifically what we will do there, I can only imagine.

But God made Heaven. He made it and is even now preparing a place for you and for me so we can be surrounded by His glory forever. The only thing we have to do to get there is to accept His Son Jesus as Savior.

Psalm 134. It is one of the Songs sung by Old Testament people of God as they traveled to Jerusalem to worship God. which, by the way, I was reminded in my study for this message, was most likely to occur one or more of three times a year. When those people celebrated Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, each of which lasted a week, and Pentecost, which lasted for a day.

Those people wanted to be prepared to worship God when they arrived in Jerusalem. When they entered the Temple after climbing steps to it. They worked for that as they recited all the Songs of Ascent. They did that so they could answer the call in Psalm 134 to “come, bless the LORD.”

And, as the Psalm teaches, the LORD was to be worshiped not only in the Temple on special days. For us, not only in church on Sundays or Wednesdays. As the Old Testament people of God were to do, so are we, His present day people, to do. We are to bless God all the time, wherever we are. So the teaching to lift our hands, and our hearts and our minds, to the LORD, doing so as we look forward to the spiritual reward of Heaven. Doing so with humility, which leads to another responsive reading.

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised, too high.
Hope in the LORD, from this time forth and forevermore.

There has, by the way, been a reason for reciting together in this message. The reason can be explained in one word. A word found in Psalm 133, which has been saved for now so we can end this series of messages with the challenge contained in it. It is a word in verse 1.

Psalm 133. “A Song of Ascents. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

There is significance to the words “good” and “pleasant” being mentioned together. I was reminded in my study that some things that are good are not pleasant. An example I read is that vegetables are good for us, but they are not always the most pleasant selections on a menu. On the other hand, chocolate is very pleasant, but too much of it is not good for us.

“Good” and “pleasant” do not always go together. But unity? It is good. Both for us and for God’s cause. And it is pleasant. It is pleasant for us. I find it pleasant when there is not strife in the church. It is pleasant for God as well because He knows that when there is unity, His people can then concentrate on serving Him and making Him known.

The point is often made when speaking of unity that unity does not necessarily mean total agreement on absolutely everything. There may always be differences of opinion on lots of things. Including church-related things. And of course, to promote unity, differences of opinion should be handled with love and kindness.
But there is to be unity of purpose.

Relating that to what we have recited in this message, we must be unified in the knowledge it is to God we are to cry when we are distressed. We must in unity do all we can to help each other be glad when we come together to worship. We need to work together in unity at being clothed with righteousness so we can shout with joy. We are to be unified, always looking to God, rather than our own plans, to see how He wants us to serve Him.

Here is something else to recite.

Unless the LORD builds the house and watches over the city,
those who build or stay awake do so in vain.

Let God build and guard. And we must together know that if it had not been the LORD on our side, we would have been swallowed up.

Unity. Let’s always strive for that, knowing how good and pleasant it is, as it is described in verses 2 and 3 of Psalm 133.

Verse 2. It is like “precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes.”

To understand that, remember that Aaron was the brother of Moses in the Old Testament. The brother God chose to be the first chief priest of Israel. With that, Aaron’s family would always be Israel’s priests.

Moses could have felt jealousy toward Aaron. He could have felt anxious about his own authority.

Instead, Moses was glad Israel would have priests. So it was that, during the ceremony to anoint Aaron, Moses obeyed God by pouring oil on Aaron’s head. Not just use a little oil. Moses was so glad, he poured plenty of oil on Aaron. So much it ran down Aaron’s beard and went on his special clothes.

There was unity between Moses and Aaron. The result was that the fragrance of the oil affected not only Aaron, but Moses as well, along with their families, and all the other people of God anywhere near.

A special fragrance can be enjoyed spiritually around us when there is unity. And verse 3. Unity will bring blessings like the dew of Hermon, like that which falls on the mountains of Zion.

Mount Hermon is the tallest mountain in Israel. It is in the northern part of the country. It is well-known for its dew. Mount Zion is where the Jewish Temple stood. It is drier, but at times there is dew there.

Verse 3 means that as many dew drops as there are on Mount Hermon and Mount Zion, that is how many blessings unity will bring to the people of God.

And think of this. Dew is cool, is it not? It refreshes dry ground. The suggestion is that unity will cool any conflicts that come up. Unity will refresh, in a group of God’s people, the desire to work together in worship and service.

And hey, unity is taught not only in Psalm 133. It is a frequent topic in the New Testament.

For instance, in John 13 Jesus said this. “A new commandment I give, that you love another. By this, all will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love certainly should result in unity. In having a willingness to work together spiritually.

In Philippians 2, Paul encouraged God’s people to be in “full accord and of one mind.” Again, there will not necessarily be agreement on everything, but there is to be a willingness to serve God together for His purposes.

I Peter 3. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind,” along with “sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” Sympathy, love, tenderness, humility will all promote unity.

And whoa. Listen to this in Titus 3. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful.” Wow. I guess we better have unity. We better do all we can to make sure there is unity.

* * * * *

Let me ask. As this series of messages on the Songs of Ascent draws to a close, are you ready to worship?

As I said at the outset of the series, and as I have mentioned a few times in the series, I think - I hope - we are already ready to worship. I think - I hope - that is the case each Sunday as we gather here and each Wednesday as we gather for Bible study and youth meeting. As today’s Psalm 134 teaches, it needs to be the case every other day of the week, too. We need to worship God all the time, no matter where we are.

I think - I hope - I pray - we are already ready to worship. But may that continue, even after this series of messages.

To that end, may we know it is to God to whom we are to cry when we are distressed. May we do all we can to help each other be glad when we come together to worship. May we work together at being clothed with righteousness so we can shout with joy. May we always look to God, rather than our own plans, to see how He wants us to serve Him. May we make sure we are allowing Him to continue to build and guard. May we know that if it had not been the LORD on our side, we would have been swallowed up. We would be swallowed up now except for God.

Come, bless the LORD, all we who are servants of the LORD. Let’s lift our hands in unity. How good and pleasant unity is.

Today’s closing song is the hymn We Are Called to Be God’s People. It has been chosen because words like “we” and “us” and “our” and “together” are so often used, which is to remind us of the need to live and work and speak and worship in unity. We Are Called to be God’s People, verses 1 and 2.

We are called to be God’s people,
Showing by our lives His grace,
One in heart and one in spirit,
Sign of hope for all the race.
Let us show how He has changed us,
And remade us as His own,
Let us share our life together
As we shall around His throne.

We are called to be God’s servants,
Working in His world today,
Taking His own task upon us,
All His sacred words obey.
Let us rise, then, to His summons,
Dedicate to Him our all,
That we maybe faithful servants,
Quick to answer now His call.

One more time, we will, as we have before in this series of messages, end the service with a responsive reading for the benediction. A reading that highlights, in today’s case, the two teachings in today’s Psalms. I will say my part, which is the first line of each section. Please respond with your part, which is the second line of each section.

Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD.
We lift up our hands and bless the LORD.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity.
It is like precious oil and like the dew of Hermon and Zion.

May those words, as they are recited - as they are repeated over and over again - prepare our hearts and our minds to worship God, today and always. Amen.

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