FROM THE HEART - THE FIGHT FOR PEACE
Dear Christian friends,
Psalm 133 is one of the Psalms of Ascent. Psalms 120-134 are called the Psalms of Ascent. Nobody really knows completely why. Ascent obviously means to go up. There are three schools of thought. 1) A group of biblical scholars think that when the nation of Israel returned from Babylonian after seventy years of captivity, they sang these psalms on their return up to the city of Jerusalem. 2) Others think that when the priests ascended the steps in the temple courts, they sand these psalms as they climbed each step. 3) My personal preference in explaining the term “The Psalms of Ascent” is this: Every year Jews from everywhere were to go to Jerusalem for three major festivals: Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of the Tabernacles. Since Jerusalem was 1100 feet above sea level the songs of ascent were sung as the people approached the city.
Psalm 133 is one of those songs. Frankly, I chose this psalm because it is hard to understand and I wanted to understand it better and I want you to understand it too. Our last hymn is based on this psalm.
David wrote this psalm a thousand years before Christ. He speaks from the Heart and praises God for the gift of unity and peace.” It is not easily achieved. There is a Fight for Peace and Unity. 1) Let’s look at Satan’s strategy and 2) Let’s look at the Lord’s strategy.
We can only guess at the circumstances under which David wrote this psalm. Many believe he wrote it when he was officially accepted as king of all of Israel. While he was a king for 40 years, he was king of all of Israel for only 32 ½ of those years.
King Saul was the first king of Israel. He died and civil war broke out. David lived in Hebron which was about nineteen miles southwest of Jerusalem. He was king over Hebron for 7 ½ years. After all kinds of war and disunity, the Bible says, “All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’” When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.” War was over and unity was established. Israel was one country. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
In the past, there were people who considered me their pastor who lived in Germany during World War II when they were children. War is anything but unity and peace. They spoke about heavy artillery that was parked in the back yard of their homes. They spoke about the fear that their homes would be destroyed by the enemy sought to destroy the nearby cannons. I can’t imagine what that was like. I can’t imagine living in London when the German Luftwafe bombed London nightly and nights were spent in bomb shelters with the background of explosions and smoke and fire. The Civil War split our nation and pitted family against family. Many expected our president to unify our nation and many say we are more split than ever.
Satan loves disunity. That’s what he accomplished when he led the original rebellion in heaven, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment.”
The second rebellion came when Satan convinced Adam and Eve that God was hiding something from them and led them to rebel. So Adam and Eve and all of their children were born divided against the Lord God.
Satan loves to divide and conquer. He does that in churches. Paul was battling disunity when he wrote to the Corinthians and said, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” He says those words up front in his letter that covers sixteen chapters. In the rest of First Corinthians he takes on all the problems they were having that kept them from peace and unity.
In his letter to the Galatian churches he was speaking to people who too were divided. Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.” Those churches were no longer united with Paul; those churches were no longer united with the Lord. They were teaching something other than the unconditional free and amazing grace of God shown in Jesus Christ.
Over the years of ministry I have seen people who are hurt by disunity and division in God’s church. My first church was started by members who had been in churches where disunity about was present. One of the women told me that going to their former church was no longer comforting. She said she always came home with a knot in her stomach. Her family quit going. I give them credit. Before they joined Sola Fide in Lawrenceville, they checked my doctrine up and down to see. I started a church in Greenville, South Carolina exactly the same way. As part of my work in the synod in the past, I have stood before people hurt by pastors who not only didn’t preach the truth, they didn’t live the truth either. You know what? Satan laughs. His strategy is working.
I don’t know everyone’s history. I don’t know if you have ever been in a church where there was division. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, it doesn’t even have to do with what is taught. It’s about money or programs or a loose tongue or a lack of love. Satan smiles; his strategy is working.
The background of this psalm might have been written when the Israelite nation came together after a civil war. They united in seeking David as their king. When David writes here he is not seeking unity behind himself as a political figure. As David writes about unity he doesn’t take us into his cavernous palace but takes us to the temple.
The psalmist once wrote, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” When the nation of Israel had a godly king and honored the commandments and repented of their failures, the Lord smiled on them and blessed them. When there were kings who strayed from the Lord, there was disunity with God and with the Lord who grants unity and peace.
Yet our nation is not learning a lesson. God is being removed from mention in history books and in every day life because he is “offensive.” Did you see how the lesbian mayor of Houston tried to subpoena the sermons of five very visual Houston pastors who spoke out against the sin she is committing. Satan’s strategy all right! Unfortunately it seems to be working. .
Now let’s look at the Lord’s strategy to bring about peace and unity. As I said a few minutes ago David takes us into the temple and not to his palace. He causes us to cast our eyes on the High Priest and not onto the king. Peace and unity are as refreshing as the anointing of the High Priest. “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.”
The anointing took place as a public declaration for office. Oil, precious oil with its special formula was poured over the priest to show the people who was called to this important office. The prophets were anointed in Israel, along with the kings and the high priests. He says that peace and unity is refreshing like precious oil poured over the head running down the beard and onto the collar of his robe.
The high priest was special. His job was one of intercession. He was to stand between God and the people. He was a picture of the Great High Priest – Jesus. On the Great Day of Atonement he entered the Holy of holies, the place where God dwelt. He entered with blood and sprinkled blood on the Ark of the Covenant. The ark contained the Tablets of stone on which the commandments of God were written. Blood was sprinkled. The blood pictured the blood of the Great High Priest that took away the sins of the world once and for all.
He also grabbed a goat by the horns and passed the sins of the people to the goat that was led away into the wilderness to picture the taking away of sins that Jesus the Lamb of God did for us as he took away the sins of the whole world.
Unity and peace are so difficult to accomplish when people are so different. We look different. We like different things. We come from different cities, states and countries. We drive different cars. We have different names. We have different interests when it comes to life and family and politics. We have different hobbies and like to sit in different places in the church.
But let’s stop the differences and talk about the similarities. The list is not long. You are a sinner. I am a sinner. You need Jesus. I need Jesus. You have the Great High Priest Jesus who stands between you and the Lord. I have that same high priest. He makes you right. He makes me right. He took away your sins and mine too. In the end, that is all that matters.
It is like the dew that refreshes the ground. That forgiveness “is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on MountZion.” I have a difficulty with that concept of it being something good. I liked the dew on the ground, but it got me into trouble more than once. Thick dew was fun to walk through except when I wore the new pair of tennis shoes to be saved for school and meandered into my mom’s kitchen and dirtied her floor with the inevitable mud and grass that came with it. Yet farmers like dew in the morning during years of drought. So did Israel where they could go months at a time without any rain. A good thick dew helped immensely.
Mount Hermon is the highest mountain in all of Israel. It is almost ten thousand feet high. It has snow on the peak. MountZion is a much smaller hill. It is the mount that covered the western side of the city of Jerusalem, the home of the great temple. It is often a euphemism for God’s church.
That forgiveness that comes from the Great High Priest refreshes like the dew of Hermon on Zion. It brings peace and it brings unity. There is no need for guilt. Jesus took it away. No need to be jealous of each other. We have the same God who loves us equally in Christ. No sins were left unforgiven.
In fact that Bible says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The unity is established by keeping Jesus and his word important, not by fighting with our brothers and sisters over different opinions and selfish interests. Our goal is not to win arguments but to win over more people for Jesus Christ who unites us with him and each other.