Rev. Langerak is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Up is not a very impressive word. But it need not be, to be important in the Christian faith. Our God, who delights in saving base things, has also given great significance to rather mundane words. Faith and idolatry are the difference between worshiping a god and worshipingthe God. Heresy or orthodoxy regarding the Christ is determined by a single Greek letter (iota). The truth of creation rests upon the word day. And up is more significant than we may realize. Together with its antithesis down, this humble word describes an entire plane of our existence—one dimension of the four we occupy. Simply imagine life with only left-right, backwards-forwards, past-future, but no up-down, and you get an idea of its importance. And up also has great spiritual significance.
Christianity is a faith of ascension, and updescribes the rich, certain, progression of its life. Especially three aspects of it are emphasized. First, up describes the busy activity of Christian life. Up is the direction of anticipated action, while down is the direction of idleness. If someone ceases from activity, then he goes down—he lies down, sits down, or puts his tools or hands down. But, in Scripture, people who get busy go up—they rise up, get up, stand up, look up, come up, spring up, lay up, set up, bring up, take up, gather up, lift up, nourish up, grow up, or cheer up. There is a long list of activities saints go up to do. They go up to war and destroy, to testify and judge, to possess and build, to weep and laugh, to plant and reap, and to help and deliver. When something important needs to be done, they rise up early. Abraham and Jacob (Gen. 22:3, 28:18), Moses and Israel (Ex. 12:31); Joshua and Gideon (Josh. 6:12; Jud. 6:38); Hannah, Samuel, and David (I Sam. 1:19, 15:12, 17:20)—all rose up early to perform some significant covenantal work. God, who never sleeps, nevertheless rises up early to deal with us (Jer. 7:13). Up is especially prominent in the activity of worship. Places of worship—tabernacle, temple, and altars—are raised up (Ex. 40:18, I Chr. 21:18). Instruments of worship—eyes, hands, and soul—are lifted up (Ps. 123:1, 134:2, 25:2). Offerings of worship—praise, prayer, and song—rise up (Ps. 5:3; Is. 24:14). So do the saints. Whenever traveling to Mt. Zion, though not the highest mountain, and no matter from what altitude, country, or direction they came, the children of Israel went up to worship (Is. 2:3).
Secondly, up denotes the necessity, certainty, and finality of an action. Something bound might get loose, but if bound up there is no escape. So we read in Scripture of things swallowed up, dried up, ate up, stirred up, sealed up, burnt up, or torn up. Cities, the mouth, and heaven can be shut up. In Christ, our sins are not simply sealed, but sealed up (Job 14:17). Our Lord not only holds us, but holds us up—from the womb and by His right hand (Ps. 71:6, 18:35). When He lifts up the light of His countenance upon us, it cannot go dark (Ps. 4:6). When He builds up Zion, it lasts forever (Ps. 102:16). And from among us, God has decisively raised up the covenantal Ark, the Judge, the Prophet, the Priest, and the King, who Himself was lifted up on the cross, from the grave, and ascended up into heaven (Gen. 7:17; Jud. 2:16; Deut. 18:15; I Sam. 2:35; Jer. 30:9).
Finally, up describes the progressive advance of the saints by God’s grace, from down in misery and humiliation, up to joy and glory. The wicked, who refuse to go up, are cast down to the ground, to death, to the grave and hell (Deut. 1:26; Ps. 55:15, 147:6;Prov. 7:2). But the Lord lifts up His covenant people—from the bondage of Egypt and abomination of Babylon, to the glorious promised land (Josh. 24:17; Ezra 1:11). He brings us up from the pit and miry clay of sin, and sets us upon the Rock (Ps. 40:2). He raises us poor up from the dust, lifts us beggars up from the dunghill, and sets us up among princes on the throne of glory (Ps. 113:7). Our souls He has brought up from the grave, and lifted us up from the gates of death to be set in glory on high forever (Ps. 19:3, 28:9, 30:3, 69:29). Wherefore, lift up the hands that hang down and the feeble knees (Heb. 12:12), lift our hearts up on high in heaven where Christ Jesus is our Advocate, whither the tribes go up, to give thanks unto the glorious name of the Lord (Ps. 122:4).