Father, Son and Spirit,
Still our hearts in this moment, silence our thoughts and center us on you.
Speak and spill your life into us this evening.
Ground us in what is real, what is true, what is lasting, what is beautiful.
Ground us in hope this evening. Ground us in you.
SEEKING THE SACRED TENT
We’re going start this evening by reading two psalms—Psalms 15 and 16.
So I invite you to turn to them.
The last few times we’ve been together, we’ve been reflecting on this ancient collection of songs and prophecy and poetry that sits near the middle of Scripture.
If you’ll remember with me, Psalms 1 and 2 introduce us to these psalms,
and they expose us to a strange, new world.
A world where Yahweh—the God of Israel and creator of this world—is rescuing this world through his anointed king (his “messiah”) who will shatter rebellion and pride like pottery (Ps 2), and who invites us to live grounded and rooted—like a tree—in the actuality of his life-giving reign. (Ps 1)
The temple in Jerusalem—that sacred “tent” atop the holy mountain of Zion—is the place where people anticipate the arrival God’s reign into our dimension of reality—his kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
We mentioned it a few weeks ago, but it’s worth remembering again what the early church father Athanasius said about the psalms—he said that most of Scripture speaks to us, but the psalms speak for us.
The words of the psalms only really begin to teach us
as we really begin to make them our words.
To understand the psalms, we have to utter the psalms.
We only begin to grasp these words as we finally begin to gasp these words.
And as these words of David were being collected and compiled and arranged,
it seems like these psalms were put together intentionally.
Psalm 15 invites us to live with God,
and then Psalm 16 tells us what living with God is like. (cf. Rom 5:8)
Psalm 15 puts a question on our lips. It gets us asking: “What kind of person can come into the sacred tent? Who can come into God’s presence?” (v1) Because—according to the end of Psalm 15—we won’t be shaken there.
And then Psalm 16 puts confidence on our lips. It gets us saying: “I am one of the people who take refuge in you, God (v1), so I will not be shaken (v8).” And then—according to the end of Psalm 16—God gives more than just mere security. God gives satisfaction.
God makes known the path of life.
At his right hand—ready to be given—are eternal pleasures.
The Common English Bible translates that Hebrew as “beautiful things.”
I love that.
All God has to do is show up, and we start tasting the spillover of his life.
His very presence fills us with gladness and delight and euphoria.
This is what we’re all ultimately aching for,
what we’re all itching for,
what we’re all longing for.
Security and satisfaction—that’s the longing of all our hearts.
We’re all seeking security and satisfaction.
We seek security.
That’s why we—as a country—spend over a trillion (with a T) dollars each year
on what we call “national defense”
to fortify our lives, our systems and our interests
from the seemingly endless threats
of basaltic missiles, cyber warfare and shoe bombs.
We long for satisfaction
That’s why we—as consumers—spend ungodly, endless amounts of money
on gadgets and games,
beverages and box seats,
cars and clothes,
on experiences, accessories and Apple products,
that we think will finally quench our cravings.
Our ache for security is why we—as a culture—spend billions of dollars each year
on insurance and technology and legalities
to insulate ourselves from anything that could possibly damage
our health, our vehicles, our data or our property.
Our itch for satisfaction drive us to nearly kill ourselves
working to achieve that next career advancement
eating food when we’re not even hungry
endlessly chasing the best sexual experience
pouring a drink when we’ve only just woke up
We’re seeking and longing and aching and itching
to finally arrive,
to finally breathe easily
so we can finally be secure and satisfied.
It’s what we’re all desperately seeking.
We’re all scrambling the earth for something to quench our thirst for heaven.
We’re all combing through our three dimensions in search of security and satisfaction.
But according to the psalms, the sacred tent is the longing behind all our longings.
We’re longing for something only our mysterious maker can give.
TWO PSALMS, TWO CHALLENGES
C.S. Lewis said it well in Mere Christianity when he wrote:
“If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
As we begin to make these prayers our prayers, we hear precisely that whispered to us:
There actually is something quenches our deepest thirsts.
The Bible doesn’t try to prove God’s existence anymore than it tries to prove our own existence.
The psalms take for granted that meaning and goodness and beauty and justice actually do exist in the same way that every single one of us take for granted that they exist.
The psalms assume that security and satisfaction actually do matter
in the same way that every single one of us assume they matter.
And the psalms teach us to recognize
that these things exist,
that these things matter,
because of God—because God exists and God matters.
It’s worth noting well—something really will quench our thirst.
The presence of the divine can be found.
There really is sacred tent.
And that means there’s a huge challenge confronting us as we pray Psalm 15—
Do we actually want to live with this God? (v1)
Are we even asking the question?
And if we do want to live with him, are we willing to have our lives realigned?
Am I willing to have my life become like God’s life? (v2-5)
Notice—the challenge of Psalm 15 is NOT how we can make ourselves right before God.
It’s important to remember that the psalms grow out of the story of Israel—a story all about how God reaches out to rescue and restore stubborn, stiff-necked slaves back to himself. Psalm 15 isn’t suggesting that somehow we get our act together in order to make God want to live us.
God reconciles us to himself even when we couldn’t care less.
That’s what God is like.
No—Psalm 15 gives us a picture of the kind of person who actually enjoys God’s company.
The kind of person
who hurts others and doesn’t live with integrity
who slanders instead of speaking truth
who swindles instead of giving generously
that person should be careful.
Because that kind person really doesn’t want anything to do with the very life of God.
So Psalm 15 isn’t challenging us to become the kind of person God wants us to live with.
Psalm 15 challenges us to consider whether we’re the kind of people who actually want to live with God.
And then it seems to bleed straight into Psalm 16. In fact, the first four verses of Psalm 16 seem to be inviting us to answer “yes” to the challenge of Psalm 15. They want us to pray:
“Yes. I want to live with you, God; I take refuge in you;
You are my master, and those who love you bring me joy.
Reshape and reorient my life, God; I will not run after anything else
because apart from you, I have no good thing.”
And then the rest of the is a completely different kind of challenge than most of us are used to. Because from verse 5 onward, we’re given some of the most mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, heart-stirring poetry anywhere in Scripture—and we’re challenged to make it our own.
Psalm 16 puts something absolutely absurd on our lips—confidence.
We’re challenged to hope. Challenged to believe.
This is a different kind of challenge than most of us are used to.
It’s not a challenge to compete,
not a challenge to achieve,
not a challenge to accomplish.
We kinda like those kinds of challenges.
If you want to know what this is, blindfold yourself and let someone you trust—again, someone you trust—lead you around the house. Or better—across the street.
That’s crazy hard.
And this is too.
This the challenge to trust.
And it’s really hard when those who want nothing to do with God
seem to be prospering more and more. (v4)
Really hard when money is tight and there are unexpected bills—
when our lot feels anything but secure. (v5)
Really hard when we keep praying but circumstances just don’t get any better—
and we think, “Are these the boundary lines of my delightful inheritance?” (v6)
The poetry is shockingly beautiful but aren’t the promises—well, just too good to be true?
I mean, good grief—“You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead”? (v10)
That sounds great, but think about it.
We’re praying the words of David after him, but David is dead.
How do we pray these promises, how do we claim this confidence,
when it feels like you and me and friends and family and David
often seem abandoned to the realm of the dead? (v10)
Is the strange, new world of the psalms just a world of denying reality,
a world of whistling past the graveyard?
Is there really any security and satisfaction in the sacred tent?
Hold your place in Psalm 16, and turn with me to Acts 2.
For me, it’s helpful to learn how to read the psalms from the earliest followers of Jesus.
In case you missed it, last week was Easter, and it’s shortly after Easter in this passage too—just a few short weeks after. In case anyone, anywhere was confused about what we were celebrating, Peter is going to tell us:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.
This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
David said about him:
And then he goes on to quote that too-good-to-be-true poetry from the end of Psalm 16.
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.
Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this:
God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
To really make sense of the strange, new world of the psalms,
we have to jump into the the strange, new world of the gospel.
Last week we celebrated the good news that Jesus of Nazareth is alive. Let’s be crystal clear, that’s what the resurrection means. There is now a real human being ruling the universe—exalted to the right hand of God—and it’s impossible for this guy to die.
The good news isn’t a formula you tap into.
The good news isn’t a plan for us.
The good news is what God is like.
The good news is a person.
Jesus is the good news.
And we’re invited to trust him.
So according to the earliest Christians,
before Psalm 16 is about us
before Psalm 16 is about David,
Psalm 16 is about Jesus.
They were witnesses to the resurrection—to the holy and faithful One who died but wasn’t abandoned.
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
One week after Easter, we’re challenged to completely change the way we view the world.
Heaven has invaded earth with a new form of existence—a new mode of being.
An existence full of eternal pleasures and beautiful things where it is impossible to die.
God himself became human,
the sacred tent became flesh (Jn 1:14),
in order to burst through the brick wall of death.
And now his very life (his very Spirit) is spilling over into those
who are willing to be reoriented and reshaped by him.
(That’s what it means to repent.)
And that means we actually become the sacred tent. (cf. Eph 2:21-22)
God living in and with us teaches
our hearts to be glad,
our mouths to sing,
and makes our bodies rest secure (Ps 16:9)
Perhaps verse 7 of Psalm 16 is near the crux of it:
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me. (Ps 16:7)
I think we’re invited to experience this new form of existence right now.
We’re invited to dwell with the divine.
To find security and satisfaction in the sacred tent.
Security and satisfaction are found in worship and witness.
We find security by worshipping at the most unlikely of places—at an execution stake.
Shelter and safety are found in worshipping at the cross.
Learning to praise God in the midst of pain, ambiguity and feeling abandoned.
Recognizing that this is the way God works.
He shapes us—he instructs us—while it’s still night.
And we discover deepest satisfaction by bearing witness to the resurrection.
Deep and lasting fulfillment is something we taste by testifying.
Learning to proclaim—to others and to ourselves—the truth of sacred spillover.
The beautiful, indestructible life of Jesus is being poured into us and will never, ever stop.
The dawn is coming.
So may you the deepest desire of your heart be to live with this God,
may you be willing to be reshaped and reoriented by him,
and may you learn to learn to find security and satisfaction in the sacred tent
by worshiping at the cross and witnessing to the resurrection.