Sermon preached on Psalm 84 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/16/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Novato, Marin County, CA
The Delight of God in Worship
When you are hungry, it’s hard to ignore your body’s desire for food. When you are thirsty, it’s hard to ignore that craving as well. Hunger and thirst are both mental and physical cravings for something we truly need. The sensations of hunger and thirst can be powerful. They help us to survive, even.
Well, this psalm describes a craving and a desire. It’s a craving and desire to be in the House of God. It’s a passion to be with God and to worship God in his holy temple. C.S. Lewis rightly referred to this as an “appetite for God.” As the Bible tells us, man does not live by bread alone. That physical hunger and thirst alone is not enough to meet our basic needs. Man also has a need to be in communion with God. This psalm expresses that fundamental need.
And so we’ll be studying this psalm today as the third and last sermon in our short miniseries on worship. Two weeks ago we talked about the Glory of God in Worship. Last week we talked about the Fear of God in Worship. Today I had originally planned to talk about the Grace of God in Worship. In fact, that’s still a large part of what we’ll be talking about today. But I retitled the sermon after further meditation. I changed it from the “Grace of God in Worship” to the “Delight of God in Worship.”
The point I wanted to make with the original title is that we come to worship God in part because of the grace that God gives us as we worship him. I wanted that to be another motivation for us to prioritize this time each week. That’s certainly true. And yet as I reflected on Scripture about that, I was reminded of one way in which Scripture expresses that. It expresses that in passages like this, where the delight of being in worship and communion with God comes out. This “appetite for God” is partly the result of the grace of God in worship. The result of God’s grace coming to us in worship is this craving and desire to be in worship. That’s what I always wanted to highlight today. And so I changed our messages’ title to help bring that out.
I hope you see the contrast to this message, compared to our last two messages. When we discussed the glory of God and the fear of God, we rightly said that we should prioritize worship because of who God is. Who he is, his greatness, is the chief reason for our weekly worship of him. Exalting God is the chief reason to be here. And yet, as true as that is, there’s another real reason to be here too. We come here too because it is so good for us to be here. God blesses us so wonderfully as we worship him. The result should be such delight from us to be here with him! That’s the wonderful balance expressed in the first catechism question – what’s man’s chief end? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. Our first two sermons on worship focused on the glorifying God part of our worship. Today’s message focuses on the enjoying God part of our worship.
Let’s dig into this passage and get a taste of this truth from this wonderful psalm. Here in this psalm we see the psalmist expressing his strong desire to be in the house of God, that holy tabernacle in Jerusalem. It’s a psalm of pilgrimage to worship God in the tabernacle. Many think that this psalm may have originally been about King David, and possibly also written by King David. You’ll note that in verse 9 it asks God to look upon his anointed one. That’s certainly referring to the king of Israel. As you read this psalm, then, what comes out is that the king of Israel is not currently in the tabernacle, but is longing to return to it. The fact that verses 8-9 here give a prayer for the king, suggest that something had been hindering the king’s return to the tabernacle. King David had multiple times in his life when he was away from the tabernacle of God and surely longed to return. Like when he was fleeing from King Saul, or when he fled from Absalom his son. And yet regardless of the specific historical context behind this psalm, we can see how this song would have been used in Israel. It was a psalm of pilgrimage. A psalm of desire for the king, and by extension for all God’s people, to see the delight of coming into the house of the Lord.
First observe with me in this psalm a concern for the tabernacle. In other words, let’s start by noticing that this psalm throughout is talking about gathering in God’s house of worship. That’s the topic throughout this psalm. In Jerusalem the house of God sat, first as a tent, known as the tabernacle, and later as a physical structure known as the temple. That was the central place of worship for God’s people. That’s where the Ark of the Covenant was held. That’s where the Levites would offer up the sacrifices. That’s where they were to come and worship God. We just finished Deuteronomy, and that was a point it made several times. Worship in this central location, where God’s presence would especially dwell.
Notice all the references to this place of worship. In a very poetic fashion, there are a number of different descriptions given to this place of worship. Verse 1 refers very clearly to the tabernacle of the Lord, literally, the dwelling place of God. Verse 2 talks about the courts of the Lord; referring to the immediately surrounding enclosure to the tabernacle. Verse 3 mentions the altars of God; that would have been at the tabernacle of course. Verse 4 mentions God’s house. Verse 7 mentions Zion; that’s the name of the mountain in Jerusalem on which the tabernacle sat. Verse 10 again refers to the courts of the Lord. There the contrast is against the tents of the wicked.
And so the psalm clearly has a concern for the central place of worship; for being in the tabernacle of the Lord. Of course we already said what goes on there: the worship of God. That’s clear in this psalm too. Several verses bring out the praise that is associated with the tabernacle. Verse 2, my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God; the word “cry out” here in the Hebrew is the word for shouting for joy; could also be translated as “sing.” Verse 2 then is talking about the desire for the praise of God that would have taken place in the courts of the tabernacle. Verse 4 makes the same connection. It connects those in the house of God as the ones still praising God. That’s what goes on at the tabernacle. Praise. Worship. This song itself would have been a song sung there. The psalm itself is full of praise of God throughout. Titles and phrases throughout this psalm give adoration to God. Verses 1, 3, 8, and 12, all refer to God being the LORD of hosts, that’s a title expressing God’s mightiness as the captain of his holy army. Verse 2 says God is the living God. Verse 3 calls God my King and my God. Verse 11 calls God our shield and sun. These are all descriptions praise God. This psalm itself is doing what will go on at the tabernacle. Praise and worship of God.
And so this psalm presents a concern for the temple worship of God. In Old Testament Israel, this would be a place where the people would gather together in corporate assembly. Well, by extension, then this psalm applies to the worship we do here each Sunday. The New Testament calls the church the temple of the Lord (2 Cor 6:16). The New Testament says that we worship God, no longer in a physical structure in Jerusalem, but spiritually together (John 4). When we gather together, we are a holy assembly. The focus isn’t on the building. The focus is on the gathering. The whole point of the Old Testament tabernacle is that it was the place where God’s special presence met his people. Well in the New Testament God says that that special place will be wherever his people officially gather to worship. His holy presence is with us in our corporate worship.
My point then so far is very simple. If this psalm presents a concern for the tabernacle worship, we should see that as applicable to what we do here on Sundays together. As we are studying this psalm today, the concerns for what went on in the tabernacle, have an application to what goes on here each week when we gather for God’s worship. What we’ll turn to look at now is at the benefits described here in this psalm for being in the house of the Lord. In turn, we’ll remember that they then have an application for us as we gather together in our worship.
So let’s consider the benefits for being in the house of God and in communion with God. Notice the contrast in verse 10. It contrasts being in the house of God versus being in the tents of wickedness. We’ll think more about this verse in a moment. But for now just recognize the contrast. There’s something better about being in God’s house. Well, what makes it better according to this psalm? Well, it’s about blessing and it’s about grace.
Three references in this passage talks about blessing for God’s people. Verse 4 most specifically connects that with the tabernacle. Blessed are those who dwell in your house. Verse 5 again talks about blessings. Blessed is the man whose strength is in you, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. There the blessing is more broadly stated, but still connected with the coming to the tabernacle; there in a context of pilgrimage. The psalm ends in verse 12 with blessing: blessed is the man who trusts in you. Certainly in context we understand that a large part of this trust in God is expressed through going to the tabernacle to worship. So this psalm is connecting blessing with the people going to the tabernacle to worship God.
These blessings are explained a bit in verse 11. The Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold. Dwelling in the house of God meant blessing. Those blessings include grace, and glory, and every good thing! This brings us back to what I said I originally wanted to talk about today. The grace of God in worship. We benefit when we go and worship God. Not only do we give to God when we worship. But God also gives to us. That’s what grace is about. Grace is something God gives us that we don’t deserve. And not only do we glorify God when we worship. Something of God’s glory is extended to us! He gives grace and glory; every good thing!
Isn’t that amazing? We could understand if worship was just about God. If it was just about giving to God and glorifying God, we’d understand. He’s the almighty and all glorious God. But isn’t it amazing that he gives us grace and glory and every good gift? Isn’t it amazing that this psalm can talk about these gifts and blessings in the context of meeting God in his holy tabernacle? This is what our worship is. It’s a meeting of God and his people. One where he gives to us! Don’t take lightly every benediction that’s given here. Don’t take lightly every word of blessing and grace from God! Those words that I utter here from the pulpit aren’t from me. They aren’t me blessing you. They are from God. God has commissioned me to declare his blessings and grace to you!
Of course thinking about this in light of our worship service, this makes sense. We talk about three means of grace, the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. Well, isn’t that what we do here on Sundays? We adminster the means of grace in our worship service. So do you see how practically this works out? The chief way the means of grace are administered to God’s people is in this holy convocation that we have each week. We benefit from being here!
So we’ve seen the concern here for the tabernacle worship. We’ve seen how the psalm sees this as a blessing for God’s people. Let’s turn now to think about the resulting appetite this should leave in us. God’s people should have a desire for being in God’s presence and worship. We should find our delight in this. Let’s survey all the references in this passage for this delight. Verse 1 talks about how lovely is God’s tabernacle. You could say, how loved it is. The man of God finds a great love for the tabernacle, for what it represents. He loves being there worshipping God. Verse 2, “My soul longs, yes even faints, for the courts of the LORD.” That passion is expressed in parallel when it talks next about the heart and flesh crying out. The point is that the whole person yearns to be there. Like how God calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. That’s what verse 2 expresses concerning worshipping God in his house. Verse 3 uses the imagery of the sparrows and swallows nesting in the tabernacle to make the same point. The birds of the air know how good this place is. They delight in it; so should especially all mankind.
But I think the most wonderful verse here that expresses the delight of worshipping God is verse 10. “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Such a wonderful and powerful way of saying it. It’s showing the surpassing greatness of God’s house versus the way of wickedness. Notice the different contrasts made here. First, you have God’s dwelling place, versus the wicked’s dwelling place. Two different camps. With God or with the wicked. Second you have the contrast of being a doorkeeper in God’s house versus fully dwelling within the tents of the wicked. A doorkeeper is a less exalted position than one who lives inside the house, obviously. But the psalmist is saying that the lowest position in God’s house, is far better than the best position among the wicked.
Third, you have the contrast between one day versus 1000 days. Better is one day in God’s house than a thousand elsewhere. That sounds nice, but realize what it’s getting at. God’s house has to be pretty amazingly better to really mean what’s being said here. 1000 days is almost three years. What would you be willing to trade for one day of pleasure in exchange for three years of your life? Think of the best vacation you’ve gone on. Let’s say you spent a week in Hawaii. It was probably expensive. But would you have still gone if each day cost you almost 3 years of your life? Would a week of pleasure be worth 21 less years of life? If that was part of the cost of the trip, would you say it was worth it? I’d imagine not. On the other hand, would you be willing to trade 1 day of pleasure in exchange for 1000 days in jail? Maybe some of us would; maybe some of us wouldn’t. But I’m just trying to get you to think about the psalmist perspective here. One day in God’s courts as a servant is better than 1000 days of the best the wicked have to offer!
This can only be said if being in God’s house is that much better. It has to be so much far better to be able to say that. Actually, to say this, it actually needs to not just be better, but you have to really personally perceive it to be better. To make this kind of confession, you have to actually desire and delight in God’s house that much more than wickedness. Whether or not God’s house is actually better or not – thought it is – is not the focus. The focus is on how much more the psalmist delights in God’s house. This is an expression of how so much more he personally delights in God’s house over wickedness. This appetite for God and God’s worship is what this psalm commends to us today.
Keep that perspective in mind when you look again at verses 8-9. The psalmist had just talked about the joy of pilgrimage to God’s house. Then it mentions a prayer request in verse 8. That prayer request is given in verse 9. Behold our shield and look upon your anointed. I mentioned this is a reference to the king. It’s very possible that this whole psalm is the song of this king, now making an appeal to God. Or it could be the people of God making this appeal. Either way, the request seems to be that God would bring their king to the tabernacle. That is this kings’ delight. We’re not told the reason why the king was not at the tabernacle. We just see the desire for the king to return before the presence of God. That desire is expressed in terms of a prayer request. The king longed to return to God and God’s house.
Of course, the word for the anointed in verse 9 is where we get the word Messiah or Christ. Messiah means anointed one in Hebrew. The Christ means the anointed one in Greek. And so regardless of the original historical context for this psalm, we see how it looks typologically forward to Jesus. We see that the pattern of the king in this psalm sets a pattern for what King Jesus would later do. Jesus would have to leave the temple. He had to leave Mt. Zion. He had to leave and go suffer outside the city. And in fact, he not only had to leave the earthly tabernacle, but he had to for a time leave everything that the earthly tabernacle represented. It represented God’s presence and fellowship. And so on the cross, Jesus lost what he loved the most. His cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” represented that. On the cross, he was cast out of God’s dwelling place. He was given over to the wicked. This he did in our place. He delighted in God the most. This psalm expresses his delight. But on the cross, for a time, he lost what was his greatest delight.
And yet in answer to verse 9, God beheld our shield. God looked upon his anointed one. He looked upon our Christ, and returned him to God’s house. This restoration was seen on the third day when God rose him from the dead. It was seen again when Christ ascended up into heaven. He is there right now with God, in God’s heavenly tabernacle. He is there not just for a day, but for eternity.
Who is allowed to dwell in the house of God? If such dwelling means blessing and grace and glory, we should want to dwell in there. Well, only those who have set their heart on pilgrimage can come before God. Those who want to stay living in the tents of wickedness cannot come. And yet even if our desires change, we know that our sin would keep us from God’s house. We have not been those who walk uprightly. And yet this is why Christ was abandoned for a time on the cross. This is why he allowed himself to be removed from the place he most loved. He left the house of God and went unto the tents of wickedness to get us. To bring us out of those tents into the house of God. That we could experience blessing and grace and glory and every good gift. He bring us out of the wickedness. He shows us the goodness of God’s house. And on the cross, of course, he paid the penalty of sins. He solved our problem with sin, and now is working uprightness in our hearts. This is what our shield and what our Christ has done for us. We rejoice that God has brought us with Christ to appear before him in the heavenly Zion!
Saints of God, my appeal to you today is to see why worship is so good. That you would want so passionately to be here each Sunday, or if out of town, to be somewhere each Sunday worshipping God with God’s people. That this would be your appetite: a hearty craving for God and his worship. Like the old slogan for Lay’s potato chips – to good to eat just one. We want to crave and desire this time with the LORD. That we just can’t wait to be back again next week.
Now often there are a number of tangible things in a church service that, practically speaking, influence how we feel about coming back each week. If you like your pastor’s sermons, you might really want to come back each week. If you think he’s boring, you might instead be looking at your watch the whole time. If you really like the singing of the church, you might crave returning for that experience again next week; or if you think the church’s singing needs serious help, that might be something that makes you want to stay home. Maybe the snack time is a big enticement to you; or maybe you’re on a diet and dread the temptation each week. You see, there are many human reasons that might attract you here; things that might fuel your desire to come here. And there are many human reasons that might detract you from wanting to be here. But I’m not talking about any of those today. I’m talking about the endless passion and desire to come here and worship God, to be with God and his people. To receive his grace and blessings. To delight in him and his goodness and glory. That can happen whether your pastor has interesting sermons or not. That can happen whether the snacks satisfy your personal preferences or not. That can happen whether our singing sounds good or not. The church is called the temple of the Lord. When we gather to worship him each week, we are gathering together in the presence of God. We leave blessed and built up. I’m talking about delighting in that! May that delight be your greatest delight. Your most insatiable desire.
Now I recognize that this needs to go from your head to your heart. It’s easy to know this. We can know that we should have this desire. But that doesn’t mean that it is our desire. I recognize that I can inform you today that this is to be your desire, and that doesn’t necessarily translate into this being your desire. I mean, when we hear these words, we tend to theoretically agree with them. Yes, one day in the house of God is better than a thousand elsewhere. How easy it is to say a hearty amen to this here in church. Yet in practice, which do we crave more? Do we desire to be at church worshipping God, or do sometimes the lures of wickedness seem to whet our appetite more? The reality is that only Jesus Christ has ever been able to sing this song as the true, full, expression of his heart.
And so what can you do, if you leave today and still don’t sense this “appetite” inside you? What do you do today if you know you should delight in worshipping God in this way, but don’t find that to be the reality in your heart? What do you do? Well, God is the one who changes hearts. And he does it by forming Christ in us. Christ who is the only one who could truly sing this song and fully mean it – God is working that Spirit of Christ in our hearts. And so start by praying to God about this heart change. And then act on that prayer in faith. Make yourself go to church, even if you don’t feel like it some Sunday. It’s amazing how God can use those two things to often bring about heart change. But let us keep asking that God would form this aspect of Christ in us. That aspect of Christ that delights in coming to the house of the LORD over all other things!
Let me end with one final thought. Verse 10 tells us that one day in God’s house is better than a thousand elsewhere. That’s true. It’s reminded us of the joy of even just one day with God. And yet be reminded of the end of another psalm. Psalm 23:6, “And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” In Christ, we get more than just one day. More than even a thousand. We get to spend eternity worshipping God in his holy presence. I’m sure we all are excited about that day, and we’ll be even more excited for that day when it comes. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.