Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?”
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the psalmist writes: “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem” (Ps. 122:1, 2a).
In the old dispensation, if anyone were to ask, Where does God dwell? he would have been informed that there was only one place in the whole world where God dwelled. He would have been directed to go to Palestine, and more specifically to Jerusalem, the city that stood in Zion’s holy hill. At the portals of the holy city he would be directed to the temple, the house of God, where God dwelled among His chosen people Israel.
This house of God was the center of all Israel’s life and worship. True Israel confessed: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” To be in the temple was to be very definitely in the presence of the Lord, to behold all His infinite perfections, to worship and adore Him in the beauty of holiness. In the dispensation of shadows, that was the closest anyone could come to God. It was a foretaste of the eternal rest that remains for the people of God.
That necessarily raised the question: Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? Who is worthy? Who is fit to draw near to Jehovah, the only true and living God, and enter into His rest?
It is Sunday morning and we prepare to attend the public worship in our church.
Well may we ask ourselves: Why? Why am I going to church this morning? Is it because I was taught this from my early youth? Or is it my custom? Or is it because others expect it of me? Foremost in my mind may be the question: Who is preaching? Our main interest is the sermon, whether we shall enjoy ourselves, whether our spiritual hunger will be fed and our spiritual thirst satisfied. As important as that may be, however, the main purpose of our attending church is not for our sakes, but for God’s sake! We come to worship our God, to stand in awe before Him, to adore and praise His most glorious name. He is of first importance in our lives. His glory is the chief purpose of all mankind. The sweet singer of Israel teaches us to say: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: … to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.”
We enter into God’s presence with singing: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.” And we bow our heads to receive God’s benediction.
We are here to praise and adore our God in humble worship, for here we experience the communion of saints, we pray and sing together, and hear the Word of God together. Here Christ speaks to us through His ambassador. Jesus says: “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am in the midst of them.” For the Spirit of Christ applies His Word to our hearts. Here we experience, as we sing, “He feeds with good the hungry soul and satisfies the meek, and they shall live and praise the Lord who for His mercy seek.” He feeds us with none other than Himself, the Bread of life, and He causes us to drink of Himself, the Fountain of living waters. For Christ bestows His blessing there. There is no assembly on all the earth at any time that can compare to a worship service. God has appointed this as the means of grace to bestow His blessing upon His people. “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God!” But again the question arises: Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? (Ps. 24:3) Shall you? Shall I?
In Psalm 15 David does give the qualifications of him who is worthy and fit. “He that walketh uprightly and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.” He successfully controls that small member that no man can tame, namely, his tongue. He does not come into the counsel of the ungodly; nor does he stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scorners. His companions are those who fear the Lord. He never takes advantage of the poor or the innocent. In a word, he loves God and reveals that love toward his neighbor with a perfect heart according to the second table of the law. Do you meet those qualifications? Do I? Is there anyone in the fallen human race who can qualify? We are conceived and born in sin. We all are prone by nature to hate God and the neighbor. We are corrupt, depraved, incapable of any good and inclined to all evil, as we confess with our Heidelberg Catechism. We never come into God’s presence without confessing our guilt and sins, always seeking forgiveness by the mercies of our God.
But there is One who did and does qualify. That is our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to do the Father’s will, even as it was written of Him. In complete self-surrender and obedience to the Father He gave Himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of those given to Him of the Father. He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. He not only merited for us the right to enter into God’s presence, but also through His death and resurrection attained for us eternal life and fellowship with the Most High.
Therefore God has highly exalted Him to the very throne of heaven with a name above all names. All power is entrusted to Him in heaven and on earth. We read in Revelation 5 of a book with seven seals. It contains the full counsel of God that will be carried out in this present dispensation, that the church may be gathered and brought into glory through the judgments of this present time. The apostle John weeps because there is no one in heaven or on earth who is worthy to open the book and to loose its seven seals. But he is told: “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof.”
Christ now reigns in heaven and on earth to carry out the counsel of God even until He returns with the clouds. In heaven He prepares a place for all those given to Him of the Father, that they may be with Him in His eternal rest. On earth He pours out God’s wrath upon the wicked, and meanwhile pours out His blessing upon the church, whereby He purifies her and prepares her for glory.
The true believer of the old dispensation fixed all his hope on the promise of Christ’s coming. On Friday afternoon he laid aside his work, put off his work clothes, washed himself, and prepared for the Sabbath. As he did so he realized that in his six days of labor he had not loved Jehovah his God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. In fact, he had failed miserably, had made himself guilty of sin, and had polluted himself with sin. How could he possibly keep Sabbath by entering into the rest of his God?
But he clung to God’s promises that would never fail. He looked forward to the coming of that One who would enter into the courts of the Lord, stand in His presence, bear His wrath against the sins of all those given Him of the Father, bring atonement for their sins, and merit for them the right to eternal fellowship with Jehovah. His faith in God’s unfailing promises made the keeping of the Sabbath day possible for him.
In the new dispensation we enter into Christ’s accomplished work on the cross. Christ comes to dwell in us by His Spirit. He imputes to us His righteousness through faith. He implants His resurrection life in our hearts, whereby we becomenew creatures, saints in Christ Jesus, united to Him by a living faith. We are like branches of the vine that draw their life from the vine. Without Him we can do nothing. But in Him we live. Yes, Christ lives in us, in order that through faith we may bring forth fruit unto repentance and salvation.
God’s dwelling is no longer in one place, but even as Christ gathers His church by His Spirit out of all the nations of the world, so also the Spirit now dwells in that universal church. Even though the believers are widely scattered, divided by language and by race, and even scattered among many denominations, they are one universal church in Christ Jesus. Wherever that church is gathered Christ bestows His blessing, defending and protecting His people.
Thus the Sabbath day spreads its blessing over us throughout the week. We live in the blessed hope of the saints as strangers and pilgrims in the earth, looking for our eternal rest with Christ in the life to come.
Our eternal Sabbath.
There remains a rest for the people of God. We expect our Lord Jesus from heaven, who will change our mortal bodies into the likeness of His glorious body, and we will be united with Him forever. Even though there is a multitude that no man can number, Christ will dwell in and with each one of us individually by His Spirit. We will know the Lord as we live in intimate communion of life with Him. We will sit, as it were, at the table of the wedding feast of the Lamb, enjoying His blessed life and the bounties of His hand. In Christ we will see and know our God in all His glorious perfections, living unto His praise, even as we will live by Him and through Him.
Even as God is infinite, so there will be no end to our growing into Christ, becoming ever richer in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness as children of the King, sharing His fellowship and living ever more fully to the praise of our glorious, blessed God, who lives and reigns forever and ever.
Forever. The figure has been used, that if a bird were to peck away one grain of sand from the seashore every million years, ultimately there would be no more sand on the seashore; but eternity would carry on.
Eternally beholding, reflecting, declaring the praises, the awesome wonders, the glorious virtues of our God! That will be glory! Glorying in God, to whom be all the praise and glory forever and ever!