Art by Laura James, LauraJamesArt.com
Big questions keep us awake at night. The answers define where we stand in relation to ultimate truth. They either cloud our view or take us to new vistas of awareness.
The psalmist asks a question.
Who can live close to God?
Who does God invite into proximity with the divine presence.
Psalm 15:1 - Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
The grand question introduces the next set of lessons from the psalms and sparks the imagination of all earnest seekers. As believers in Christ, we have the answer in the gospel, but the very asking of the question is a matter of opening to God for all that He desires to teach us. Do not take truth for granted or treat it as if it were not ever new and renewing. Allow the question to move you to the next level of seeking as you go before the Father in prayer today.
Psalm 15:2 - … He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart…
Here we have an answer to the question posed yesterday, “Who may dwell in your sanctuary and live on your holy hill?” Consider this: not everyone wants that. For some, the price of letting go of blame and embracing righteousness is too much. Truth is too threatening, and the lure of sin is too great. The psalmist however, longs for the presence of God and that is what it means to desire eternal life and heavenly bliss. It is not the beauty of the hill that captures the heart, but the beauty of God Himself.
To desire God is to desire the qualities that God brings to our lives: blamelessness through forgiveness, righteous behavior through the power of grace, and a heart of truth by the transformation of the Holy Spirit within us. Let us pray for that heart change that redirects our focus from sin to God and then, our very longing for heaven will be indicative of our readiness to enter in.
Psalm 15:3 - … and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong, and casts no slur on his fellow man.
The man or woman who can stand with joy and confidence in the presence of God and fully embrace the wonder of His fellowship is in constant touch with his or her fellow human beings. Those relationships matter. They have affect upon and are affected by our vital and honest relationship with God.
It is not possible to claim footing on the holy hill while usurping the place of a brother or sister. Slander, malice, and simple disregard for the feelings of a neighbor are indicative of shaky spiritual grounding and contribute to spiritual tremblers in our fellowship with the Lord. Let the love of Christ enter your heart at the choice level in all of your dealings with those around you and express your deep desire to love God by loving others.
Psalm 15:4 - who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
As we have so often noted, we must begin with the vile man within each of us and register our disgust with the vileness of our own sin natures. But we must go beyond that point. If we will despise the vileness within us, we must also honor the new man or woman recreated in God’s image that reveres God and loves truth.
That person lives inside of us as well and that person is fashioned by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. He or she is the Christ-life gifted to us through new birth. There are new values and a new integrity that is constantly going for truth no matter what it will cost because God is truth and nothing else matters more than God.
If we will value and honor that person, it will grow and take over our lives. That is the person God has made you to be.
Psalm 15:5 - who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
What some have, in the past, called social gospel, the scriptures call justice and righteousness. It is a very clear matter to the earnest student of the Bible that one must deal fairly, honestly, and uprightly in every horizontal relationship if the vertical relationship with God is to flourish. Allow dishonesty, greed, malice, and bitterness to enter into your heart in any dimension of your being and it will undermine your footing before God upon the holy hill where you presume to stand erect.
The key to unshakable spiritual growth is to despise that which is vile and embrace that which is holy and true and to never compromise our purity of purpose in seeking God – whether our eyes are fixed toward His sanctuary or upon His face in the eyes one of His children.
Sing along with this video
1. Who may a bide in Your dwelling, O Lord?
He who walks rightly and follows Your word.
Who makes his home on Your high, holy hill?
He who speaks truth in his heart by Your will.
2. He shall not slander a neighbor or friend;
Neither does evil nor seeks to offend.
All who are wicked by him are despised;
God's faithful servants find praise in his eyes.
3. He keeps his word without thought to his pain.
Lends to the needy, expecting no gain;
Stands by the innocent man without fail.
He who does these things shall ever prevail.
Words: David P. Regier, Music: Traditional Irish Melody
In Micah’s day, the same questions were being asked.
Micah preached it poetically.
Micah 6:1-8, New International Version
Listen to what the LORD says:
“Stand up, plead my case before the mountains;
let the hills hear what you have to say.
“Hear, you mountains, the LORD’s accusation;
listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
For the LORD has a case against his people;
he is lodging a charge against Israel.
“My people, what have I done to you?
How have I burdened you? Answer me.
I brought you up out of Egypt
and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
also Aaron and Miriam.
My people, remember
what Balak king of Moab plotted
and what Balaam son of Beor answered.
Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”
With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Out of the complex history of God’s dealings with his people up until that point comes a simple message.
In three short points, Micah summarizes the human obligation to God.
- Act with justice and fairness.
- Love mercy.
- Walk humbly with God.
When we walk in justice, we care about right and wrong in our personal lives, in our communities, and in the world.
We care about the poor, the wounded, the broken, and the disenfranchised.
We labor for the wellbeing of all people.
That is just justice. It is fair. It is right. It honors the dignity of humanity which is dignified by God.
But there is more. There is mercy. The people who love God, love mercy. The people who love mercy, feel the pain of others can care about them with great affection and passion.
Not to love mercy is to deny the heart of God and separate ourselves from God’s concerns.
Then, there is even more. The people who are drawn in to the inner circle of God’s presence are those who walk with God in humility. They have an honest view of themselves and a awe inspired view of God.
They cannot be self-focused because they have seen a glimpse of glory and that glory has humbled their hearts with reverence and joy.
Paul said such people who come to God in Jesus for mercy and grace, those who see God’s glory in the cross of Christ, those who have been transformed by the grace of God, are often considered as fools in the world.
How could thinking people accept such a simple and generous gospel?
1 Corinthians 1:18-31, New International Version
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
It is a great turn-round. Those who think they are clever, wise, sophisticated, powerful, and above-it-all will be frustrated and humbled. Those who have humbled themselves and received mercy shall be exalted.
Those who asserted their own importance shall realize how unimportant they are.
Those who knew they were weak and relied on God's strength shall be strong indeed.
God, working in Christ, makes people wise, and strong, and righteous as he redeems them and makes them holy.
It all makes sense in the charter message of the Kingdom of God, delivered on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee by Jesus himself.
Matthew 5:1-12, New International Version
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Let us zero in on verses 1 and 2
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them …” - Matthew 5:1-2:
The sermon on the Mount is the greatest description of kingdom living ever spoken. Its ideals are high and unattainable in the flesh. It lifts values and principles which go for the heart of God’s desire for the behavior of kingdom people.
To examine ourselves in their light is an arduous task. It would be discouraging and debilitating apart from grace. However, it can serve as a benchmark for progress is our spiritual growth. It can also remind us that no matter how far we have come, God can take us farther.
With an Open Mouth
“And he opened his mouth, and taught them …“-Matthew 5:2
When Jesus began to teach, he opened his mouth. The words that came out were words of congratulations. They were words of encouragement. They were spoken to the multitudes. They were spoken to disciples.
They were spoken to men and women who were poor come who were in mourning, who were meek hungry for righteousness merciful sincere and peacemakers. They were these characterized by all of these descriptions, or they aspired to be the people Jesus described and would become them.
They were people who would know persecution and hardship and sorrow.
So, Jesus called them blessed.
Some call this blessedness happiness.
Some call it congratulations.
Whatever it is called the poor are blessed because of their greatest possession the Kingdom of God.
Mourners are blessed because of anticipated comfort from God. The meek are blessed because in their powerlessness they find great power to inherit the earth. It is a world of opposites that we enter when we invited into the Kingdom of God.
We become odd people, people who cannot be put into a box, people who are not easily defined.
We are blessed when we are persecuted. We win by losing. We gain great mercy in showing mercy. Our eyes are cleared to see God when they are purified by our hearts which are sincere before God in their seeking.
Rejoice Jesus says. Rejoice when you are beat up. Rejoice when people speak evil against you falsely. Rejoice when you are reviled. Rejoice and be glad. You have a great reward awaiting you in heaven.
Those who find the way of Jesus, the simple gospel of God's Kingdom, and answer the gracious, welcoming invitation to come, are invited to the Holy Hill. They are drawn into divine proximity. They are ushered into the sanctuary.
The Kingdom of God is made up of common people with a sincere desire to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, all of whom have had multiple failures in that attempt. However, they have risen from the failures, accepted forgiveness, and have started over - sometimes over and over.
They are a rejoicing people that are hard to understand, but they keep rejoicing because they have found a way like no other way.
Theirs is the Kingdom of God and they shall see God and for them, that is the greatest reward of all.