We’ve been quarantined for weeks now because of the Coronavirus. For many of us, the things we miss the most are not the restaurants, the school activities, the theatres, or the shopping centers. And, hey, let’s be honest…we miss those things a ton. The thing Jesus’ disciples miss the most is being able to gather with fellow believers for the worship of our God.
Facebook conversations and Zoom meetings are amazing; they are privileges other generations could have never imagined. But to meet in person with brothers and sisters in Christ, to sing and to pray, to hear the Word of the living God and to share testimonies of the goodness of our wonderful God in our daily lives, cannot be replaced with technology.
The writers of this Psalm (attributed to the Sons of Korah, servants of the Tabernacle who specialized in music) had a similar situation to ours. They could not attend God’s worship. Possibly they were chased out of Jerusalem with a rejected and persecuted King David so that they could not attend the regular worship services. Whatever the reason, they could not go to church. And God’s worship with God’s people had been the center of their lives, the hub of their weekly schedule that everything else revolved around. What happened in those hours could not be duplicated anywhere else. Being forced to social distance from that sacred fellowship was eating their hearts out. So, listen to these sweet servants of God pining for that place where they used to meet with their brothers and sisters.
How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD of Armies. 2 I long and yearn for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God. 3 Even a sparrow finds a home, and a swallow, a nest for herself where she places her young—near your altars, LORD of Armies, my King and my God. 4 How happy are those who reside in your house, who praise you continually. Selahpsalm 84:1-4
The Tabernacle was an ugly tent on the outside. It was the inside that was decorated to the hilt with gold and colorful silk materials. But only the priests were allowed inside. They alone could enjoy the grandeur of the Holy Place. The people had to stay outside where the stench of the flayed animal carcasses and the burning sacrifices filled the air. Nevertheless, the people congregated–joyfully singing and praying because it was there that atonement for sins was made and where God lived and reigned among them. It was there that the special presence of God was known, where His shekinah glory filled the tent.
The psalmist eloquently expresses envy, even of the birds, who got to build their nests in the rafters of that Tent where they were always near the altars of the Lord of Hosts. What privileges the priests had who were able to always enter the place of God’s presence! Hear the yearning of the psalmist for their King and their God, their living God. How happy they are who could congregate in an uninterrupted way in the house of the Lord!
5 Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a source of spring water; even the autumn rain will cover it with blessings. 7 They go from strength to strength; each appears before God in Zion.psalm 84:5-7
Then the Psalmist’s thoughts move toward those pilgrims who were on the road to Jerusalem. “Lucky ducks!” They will soon get to be there worshiping, meeting with God, enjoying the most delightful place on earth. To them, the “Happiest Place on Earth” was not Disneyland…it was the House of God, the place where God revealed His glory and grace on the earth!
They are so happy with anticipation, filling every part of the journey with joy and life. Their joyful travels left signs of happy lives at every pitstop, every rest area! Their excitement turns dry places like the Valley of Baca into a Shangri-La. The farther they travel, and the closer they get, the stronger they become, anticipating the joy and blessings of that place. They know they will soon appear before God, in the very bright presence of God there, together with His redeemed people! They will join in with the handclapping and loud singing of those who share like-precious faith!
8 LORD God of Armies, hear my prayer; listen, God of Jacob. Selah 9 Consider our shield, God; look on the face of your anointed one. 10 Better a day in your courts than a thousand anywhere else. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than live in the tents of wicked people. 11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield. The LORD grants favor and honor; he does not withhold the good from those who live with integrity. 12 Happy is the person who trusts in you, LORD of Armies!psalm 84:8-12
After describing the blessedness of God’s presence among His gathered people, the prayer requests begin to flow…LORD God of armies, hear my prayer; listen, God of Jacob…consider our shield, God…look on the face of your anointed one. The Creator King who has paved the way of accessibility into His very presence will call forth and welcome such prayer requests. He welcomes bold approaches to His throne. What a gracious, loving God, a God of omnipotent protection and competence! He’s the God of Jacob! He saves and redeems even the worst scoundrels on earth and makes them respected worshippers of the King!
Then the song resorts back to the blessedness of that place and that experience there. The gathered church, the precious worship, the powerful atmosphere of that place…hands down, there is no place better on earth. Just one day there is better than three years anywhere else on earth! Take all the places and activities of those who boast about their sinful exploits, take these against the overwhelming love of God…no comparison, no contest…give me Jesus and His people!
The beauty of that place is not about us…it’s about Him! He is a sun with all its light and warmth, a shield with all its strength and protection. Those metaphors illustrate the overwhelming strengths of our great and very good God! They symbolize a relationship with God which is other-worldly. This kind of experience cannot be seen or known anywhere else on this earth!
And what generosity—to come to God through Jesus means we have received and continue to receive precious gifts that money cannot buy here on earth…favor with God, honor and dignity with Him before men, and good, good of all types, good in the soul and good in the life, good that only God can give to His beloved people.
That’s what we have found in Jesus! Truly, the person who has the Lord Jesus present in his or her life of daily faith is the happiest person on earth! Hear the shouts of happiness from the most satisfied people on planet earth!
Since Jesus has come, we no longer have a physical House of God (i.e. the Tabernacle, the Temple) as in Old Testament times. God has changed that radically. Now the body of each and every believer is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:20), and the church, the people of Christ, is now the house of God (Ephesians 2:19-22). When Jesus’ followers meet together every Sunday (the Lord’s Day), that group of worshipers is the House of God, whether we meet in a cathedral or in a barn. God now lives in His people, in His family of sons and daughters. Our Triune God is present among them in a mysterious, yet glorious way wherever they assemble.
This is to us today what it was for the Psalmist then at the Tabernacle. For us to have to be separated from this House of God, the family of God, from our brothers and sisters in Jesus, and from that manifestation of the presence of God Himself…we miss it! Do you?