Who Shall Ascend God’s Holy Hill?
In my Old Testament seminary class, one of our requirements was to memorize Psalm 24. Do you know it?
“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” (vs.3-6)
Just a few chapters earlier, David makes a similar confession of praise…
“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does not evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in who eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.” Psalm 15
These psalms of King David reveal a deep passion to worship God in His temple presence. David loved, in fact, he craved above all else the glorious presence of God in His temple.
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in His temple.” Psalm 27:4
Throughout the Scriptures, there are many common themes; themes such as sin, sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness, mercy, and holiness. Another important theme is worship and how God’s people are to approach the presence of God.
We see this with Moses when He encountered the holy God at the burning bush. What did God command Moses to do? God told Moses to take off his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground.
We see this in the mediatoral role of the High Priests of Israel. These spiritual mediators between Israel and the holy God were given very specific instructions regarding how they were to approach the presence of God. Whether it was their own personal confession and sacrifices, the detailed clothing they were commanded to wear, or the specific time of year – these men were instructed to carefully honor the holiness of God as they entered the dwelling place of His glorious presence, the Holy of Holies.
Of course, we could go on and mention the detailed instructions God have the temple builders. We could mention the festivals and feasts that God commanded the Israelites to observe with specificity and great care. We could mention Uzzah (2 Sam 6), who disobeyed God by touching the Ark of the Covenant and who was immediately struck dead by God. Each of these Old Testament examples, and many others, emphasize the high premium God places on our corporate worship of Him and how we present ourselves to Him.
In the New Testament, we see our very Savior aroused to righteous anger as he cleansed the holy temple in Jerusalem. Interestingly enough, we do not see such anger from our Savior when He is rejected by His own people, betrayed and abandoned by His disciples, falsely accused, scourged, and executed by Pilot and the Romans. Why was our Savior’s righteous anger aroused? Because the holy presence of God was being defiled, cheapened, and disrespected.
All of these biblical examples should be a solemn reminder for God’s people to take seriously how we approach and enter the corporate (and private) presence of the most holy God.
As your pastor, I fear that we Christians have overemphasized the friendship of God at the expense of forgetting the holiness of God. The result is that many Christians today approach the corporate presence of the holy God with a cavalier, irreverent attitude. This must change if we are to worship our Lord in Spirit and Truth.
Yes, thru Christ we are called friends of God and this glorious redemptive truth should cause our hearts to leap with joy and profound gratitude. However, such a salvific position in no way permits us the freedom to approach the holy presence of God with a carte blanche, cavalier attitude. God will always be holy, whether we are His enemies or friends. Such holiness demands our deepest respect. Such holiness demands that we, the Body of Christ, corporately approach the glorious presence of God with reverence, humility, and profound excitement and expectation – knowing that we are about to encounter the One Almighty and Sovereign God who spoke creation into existence and nailed His beloved Son to the cross for the forgiveness of our sin.
Dear friends, when we, the redeemed of the Lord, approach the corporate presence of God without hearts that have been prepared and attitudes that have been recalibrated to reverence, we become no different than the money changers Jesus violently expunged from the temple. I am convinced that none of us desire such humbling discipline from our Lord Jesus.
I write this to you with deep love and out of great concern for the way I see many at Christ Community Church approaching corporate worship. It concerns me that so many cannot arrive on time. It concerns me that so many choose to enter our corporate hour of worship late – sometimes 10 to 15 minutes late. It concerns me to watch the number of people (and sometimes older children) who walk out of our service during the proclamation of God’s Word. Yes, I recognize that occasionally a parent will be called out due to childcare reasons. However, the sheer number and frequency of some who walk out during our services leads me to believe that childcare is not the primary reason.
Regarding these concerns, our elders engaged in a significant discussion during our retreat. Although we are more than prepared to do whatever it takes to protect this sacred hour, we believe it is wise to first offer you, the Body of Christ, the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments from your end. To this end, the elders would like to offer you the following challenges.
First, we challenge you to approach the presence of God each Sunday morning with joy, reverence, and deep respect. Corporate worship is a sacred hour. We believe God deserves nothing less than our deepest respect for His presence and His preached Word.
Second, we challenge you to come prepared to worship, listen, and be transformed by God’s presence and Word. For many, especially parents of young children, such preparation will begin Saturday evening. Bathe your children and lay out their clothes the night before. Get a good night sleep. Eat a healthy breakfast. Prior to leaving for church, spend time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to clear your mind and soften your heart.
Third, we challenge you to arrive “early.” Living in a relatively small community, there is no reason why an individual worshipper or family cannot arrive at 9:45am. Doing so will give you ample time to distribute your children and enter Patriot Hall prior to the beginning of worship.
Fourth, we challenge those of you who like to come in late to STOP. Once our worship service begins, those who come in late are a distraction to those worshipping, as well as those leading. If we can arrive early to our jobs, college football games, movies, business meetings, and dinner reservations, surely God’s people can arrive early to His house of worship.
Fifth, enter worship with a God-centered, rather than man-centered, perspective. Far to many Christians approach Sunday morning believing it is primarily about them. It’s not! Corporate worship is not about entertainment. Nor is it about therapy. Corporate worship is about exalting our crucified and resurrected Savior. Corporate worship is about fixing our collective gaze upon Christ and allowing His preached Word to transform us into holy, righteous saints who live for His glory and fame – not out own.
Sixth, bring your Bible. Modern technology is producing lazy Christians who are biblically illiterate. This is nothing shy of an embarrassing travesty. PowerPoint should never replace God’s Word. Every Sunday, you should enter God’s house with the Sword of the Spirit in your hand.
In conclusion, the elders respectively and lovingly ask you to renew your commitment to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. In part, fulfilling this commandment (Ex. 20:8) involves approaching corporate worship on Sunday mornings with the right heart, attitude, and preparation.
How will you enter the presence of God this Sunday? How will God’s people ascend to His holy hill?