Because Earth Couldn't Ascend to Heaven

Psalm 24 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2 for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. 3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? 4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. 5 They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob. 7 Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty— he is the King of glory.

Their voices were so joyful. Their song was so sincere and their praise so beautiful. And the whole thing made Jesus cry for all the wrong reasons. Actually Luke’s a bit stronger about it than that. He says that the people’s joy, the people’s song, and the people’s actions on Palm Sunday rocked Jesus to his core in the worst of ways. Luke very memorably says that, “He wept.” (Luke 19:41) And, no, it wasn’t because Jesus liked music so much and somebody in the choir had accidentally hit a sour note. In fact, Jesus was so uninterested in the pitch and tone of the number that he said he’d even allow stones into the choir if he had to. You know what devastated him so badly? It wasn’t a sour musical note that was in the song. It was a sour theological one. It was the twisting of truth that made Jesus so sad that when they sang it he broke down over it. He broke down even as the people around him joyed. You know what line they sang on that Palm Sunday that really got to Jesus? “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38)

Now you may say, “Well that sounds fine. What’s so wrong with that?” But did you see what the choir did? You remember the song that the angels sang at Jesus’ birth? “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” (Luke 2:14) Do you see the difference? The heavenly choir sang about peace on earth, but the earthly Palm Sunday choir? It sang about peace in heaven. That was the twisting of truth that rocked Jesus to his core and the idea that stuck sadness deep down in his soul. And please understand this wasn’t Jesus being upset that heavenly copyright law was broken or that plagiarism had been committed. It was quite simply that the Palm Sunday choir had everything 180 degrees wrong in their hearts. They really thought the angels were all wet. That God was the one who had needed to get his act together. That God was now at peace with finally doing what he was supposed to be doing all along: saving them from all the nasty pagans around them. That’s the idea that bugged Jesus. They had no idea what he was doing there. So he wept and he said, “If you, even you, had known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42)

I think it would’ve made David just as sad. You know why I think that? Because David’s big problem in this psalm is not problem God’s having up in heaven. David’s big problem in this psalm is the problem we’ve got here on earth. And that’s just where David wants us. Here. On earth. Literally. To deal with our problem here. And, no, David’s not talking about an ecological, environmental, or political problem. He’s talking about a spiritual one. In fact, this spiritual problem is all he can really think about. In the Hebrew he goes after it with a head shot. All in one powerful and heavy hitting word he leads off the psalm saying, לַֽ֭יהוָה, “The Lord’s.” (v. 1) It’s the sort of opening that leaves you wondering for a millisecond what kind of possession and lordship he’s about to talk about, but just for a millisecond. Because just a millisecond later David makes the most comprehensive and complete property claim you’ll ever hear. “The Lord’s – the earth and everything in it.” (v. 24) Not just the land. Not just the waters. Everything. And just in case we try to get a little legal – a little lawyerly – and we say, “Well, Lord, you deeded at least the inhabited parts to us, right? And you made us free beings, we can do what we want, right?” David comes back and says, “Actually no. When I said the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it I meant it.”

And, yes, he does have standing to that legal claim. “For he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” (v. 2) He really did. It’s hard to fathom it. Impossible really. I can quote facts at you about it. I can tell you that 70% of the planet is covered in water. I can tell you that there is something like 326,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of h2o on our planet. (That’s 326 million trillion gallons!) I can tell you stuff like that, but I’m not sure that’s going to make the impact that it should. I think getting caught in a nasty ocean riptide might do it though. Or getting crushed in a submarine at some ridiculously profound ocean depth. Or maybe staring out over the Atlantic as hurricane force winds pummel the shore and threaten to – putting it mildly – give you a little wind burn. My point is that David wants to get us way past the heady statistics. David wants us to fully sense the transcendence and holiness of the Lord – the power and the magnificence of him who corralled every hydraulic power, made all 326 million trillion gallons of water do his bidding, and now lays rightful claim to everything he has made.

And, the fact, that we are the possession of that holy and transcendent Lord and we walk on his planet? David thinks that maybe just maybe we should ponder that for a second. That’s David’s big next point and why he’s pounds us with questions. “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” (v. 3) So what are the answers to those questions? Really. What are they? Who can ascend to the Lord? Who should? Who may stand in his holy place? What are the answers? Before you attempt them, I should probably point out that those questions really aren’t God’s way of asking our opinion about who he can or should be buddies with. He’s also not asking us to help him formulate different clearance levels or to help him develop criteria for who should get to ascend to him. In fact, it seems that if we’re people who’ve gotten this far in the psalm that we should have the answers to those questions. The psalm says that you have the right credentials if you’re somebody whose his business and his life has always been completely, לַֽ֭יהוָה, the Lord’s. Because then you have clean hands. You get clearance to ascend to him if you’re a person whose soul has always been perfectly in pursuit of this world creating, hydraulic controlling Lord. Because then your heart is pure.

Like I said, the questions don’t hang there so that by committee we can decide what the criteria should be for a pass up the mountain or so that by teamwork we can decide who gets clearance to God. These questions are here for far more personal reasons. David wants us to ask ourselves, “Am I someone who can ascend to the Lord? Do I have the right credentials? Do I meet the criteria? Can I get clearance?” Or to put it another way, they’re there so we ask, “Do I belong up on the same hill as the God who is so powerful that for him building the Hoover Dam is like playing Legos. Should I be in the same place as the Lord who commands hurricanes to shut down?” Or, to put it plainly, is your spiritual ego big enough to claim that? Do you make the claim that you’ve woken up with joy every morning of your life and proclaimed to yourself, “I can’t wait to read the Word, say my prayers, and live for Lord?” Would you really say that you’ve never pursued your kids or your career or your lust more than your Lord? Would you really say that your heart has never contained a thought that wouldn’t make your grandma turn over in her grave and your mouth has never spoken a word that your mother would take soap to. That’s what I’m asking. Is your spiritual ego that big?

It’s either that or you have to believe you’re eternal toast. Seriously, you have one of those two options. You have to believe you are so unfathomably good that you can waltz your way right on and up to the Lord of heaven and earth. Or you have to believe your eternal toast. At least, that’s the way it would seem. And I think David knows that. And I think that’s why you can sense in this psalm how much awe when the Spirit showed him a third option. He had so much awe that there was a third option that his faith came out of him in the form of a question, “Who is this King of glory?” (v. 8) Who is this one who bridges the gap for me between heaven and earth? Who is this one who is so glorious that he changed for me my eternal math and gave me a third option? Now I don’t have to ask whether or not I’m so unfathomably good that I can waltz my way right on and up to the Lord of heaven and earth. Now I have to ask who it is that is so unfathomably good that he waltzed his way right on down here to me; who it is who is so kingly and glorious that he left heaven to give me this third option. I can believe in the King. I can believe he came from heaven. I can believe he’s here on earth. And I can believe this King fights so I won’t be eternal toast.

And let me tell you, or better yet, let David tell you how this King fights. I’m telling you. Nothing’s been seen like it before in world history. And nothing will be seen like it again. Nothing.  Who is this King? “The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” (v. 8) That’s who rode in on Palm Sunday. Nothing less than the Lord in possession of heaven and earth, the Maker of this all. And it had to be him. The Lord so strong that he owns the world and corrals its waves. The Lord so mighty and transcendent and magnificent that everything is properly deeded to him. It had to be him. Because if it was him – if it was him - he would mighty enough and big enough to redeem an earth full of people like us for himself. If he would bleed in a battle for our unclean hands, he would be mighty enough to wash them clean. If he would die in a war for our impure hearts, he would be strong enough to declare ours pure. It had to be him. And so he did it. On Palm Sunday he ascended the hill for us to give us clean hands and a pure heart. Once there he climbed a cross. And there he fought. By not fighting. There he battled. By not battling. He let our unclean hands tack his to the cross. He let our impure hearts take his life.

And when you get that, I mean really get that, then and only then can you get the rest of the psalm. Because maybe you notice David got pretty obsessed toward the end. It’s really pretty crazy stuff. There’s a gate. And then there’s an ancient door. Then there’s another gate and then another ancient door. There there are commands. They come like a drill sergeant from David. Lift up. Be lifted up. Lift up. Lift up. Command. Command. Command. Command. Four times in four verses. And probably our best clue to what’s going on is that as David the drill sergeant issues the commands he calls these doors, “doors of forever.” (v. 7) I think that’s our best clue in figuring out what David’s getting at. I know the translation says, “ancient doors,” but literally the Hebrew word here refers to doors that have immortality. Now I’m not that old, but I’m old enough that no doors here last forever. They decay. They rot. They give out. They get busted in. I know of no doors here that have immortality, but I do know of immortal doors. They’re off on some high holy place. They’re off in the Most Holy Place – with the Lord in eternity. They’re the gates of the Lord’s heaven.

Do you see what David’s after? David wants you to see what Jesus was up to on Palm Sunday. Jesus was busting open the immortal doors of heaven for you. They must part before you like the Red Sea parted for Moses. They must come down for you just like the walls did around Jericho for Joshua. Be lifted up, you ancient doors. Get gaping wide you, you gates. And you have to understand something. They will. They have to. They don’t have a choice. The Lord of glory – the one who owns it all, the one with a hugeness and a magnificence and a power that transcends everything we know here – poured himself out on us in the form of grace. And do you know what that means? Those questions David has us thinking about… who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? You may. Because you have the right celestial credentials. And you meet the heavenly criteria. You have hands cleaned with the blood of Jesus. You have a heart made pure by the Lord who owns it all. You may. That’s what David was so excited about. So excited that he stood there barking orders at those gates. Lift up. Be lifted up. Lift up. Lift up. And they will. They have to. Because the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ, rides for you.

And, for the record, that future is what the angels were so excited about on Christmas Eve. They believed in Palm Sunday too. It’s why they sang what they sang in their gorgeous song that still makes hearts glow today, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” (Luke 2:14) And now the day they had been waiting for had come. Because here he was riding. Here he was climbing the hill. Here he was heading to the holy place ahead of us. Here he was kicking off Holy Week. It’s time for us to kick ours off too. There’s only one proper way. See the King of glory kick in heaven’s gates for you. See the Mighty Warrior make those celestial doors gape wide open before you. That’s what Palm Sunday’s about. It’s the day the Mighty Warrior started his big move. The day that heaven began to do what heaven had come to earth to do. To give you clean hands and a pure heart. So that you could ascend to spend eternity with the Lord who corrals the waters and owns the earth. What do you say to that? How about this? Let’s put a smile on Jesus’ face today. Let’s get the Palm Sunday song right.  Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace. Amen.

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