Friday, 19 September 2014
Psalm 15: Where’s the good news here?
After reading Monday’s post, we were all eager to learn what it takes to live in God’s presence. We know the alternative, right? At any given moment in my day I’m probably living in regret, anxiety, irritation, or sadness. You get the idea. God’s presence sounds like just the vacation I need. I want to live there.
David’s longing stirs my own. David wanted to live there for the LORD himself. “I want to live where you are, O LORD.” Psalm 15 may mention God’s tent, but Psalm 84 paints a picture of it. David quickly sketches a sparrow building a nest on the altar, a pilgrim finding refreshment on the way, and himself acting as a doorman rather than a king. Then he dips his brush. Strokes of joy. Blessing. Strength. Protection. Favor. Honor. His longing springs into full color. It stirs me.
As king, David was the leader of his people. He didn’t just desire bliss for himself, he longed for his people to enjoy it, too. That’s why he penned this psalm. A holy God requires holy people. It’s only appropriate. So he drafts “10 commandments” (commentators make it an even 10 by combining the first 2 phrases of verse 4) to bring the Law of God into everyday life. Holiness looks like this: it’s God ward and man ward, internal and external. This is what it takes to live in the palace.
And you know what? It’s a beautiful picture. Now my heart leaps twice. Not just “I want to live there” but “I want to be like THAT”. Longing intensifies. Desire doubles. The holiness that God requires is just as lovely as his dwelling place.
Unfortunately…As Meredith commented, I can’t live up to that. Maybe I score 2 out of 10. On a good day I might think, “there’s hope…I just need to try harder, maybe clean up a few things.” On a bad day I despair, “there’s no way…I give up!” The standard is just too high.
The bad news packs a double punch. It doesn’t just bar me from his holy hill. It exposes my ugliness. The beauty I admired in the commands eludes me. I don’t keep my promises when they demand sacrifice. In fact, I often forget I’ve made them. I do take up a reproach against a friend. In fact I’ve almost ruined friendships because of being easily offended. Disqualifying ugliness abounds in my life.
Where’s the good news here? There is nothing obvious in this Psalm to bring us to the gospel. Where is the link to my Savior? Is it messing with the text to insert Jesus here?
Theologians D. A. Carson and Alec Motyer, take this approach. I quote here from Tim Keller as he summarizes their thinking:
The Old Testament asserts truths in apparently irreconcilable tension with each other. These themes have”thickening plots” as the Old Testament goes on. In other words, like all good stories, there is dramatic tension within the theme that seems almost insoluble. Only in Christ, however, are the “tensions” resolved and fulfilled. With this approach…we should look for the questions the text raises to which only Jesus can be “the answer in the back of the book.”
Our psalm is one of many texts that treats the theme, “How can a holy God let unholy people into his presence?” It actually spells out the question in clear terms. It not so much a catechism as a riddle. Who can dwell with God? No one, I guess! The answer isn’t located in this psalm. Instead the psalm serves to heighten the dramatic tension. It demands a hero. I am not a hero. Neither is any one else in my immediate field of vision. Like John in Revelation I wail, “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” My distress makes me more ready to recognize the true Hero when he is revealed.
Good news doubled. Lissa did a beautiful job of spelling out the good news of Jesus as the answer to this psalm. He is the only one who fulfilled every qualification. He lived a blameless life, utterly righteous toward God and man. Not only were his words true and his actions good, but even his thoughts were pleasing to God. Always. As for promises, he kept them, even when it cost him his life. As for friends, he never took up a reproach against them, even when they betrayed him. His life was heroic and qualified him to live in the Presence.
The good news is that his life counts for me. The two-way exchange of the gospel is my sin for his righteousness. He takes my sin and pays for it with his life. I take his righteousness–for free. 2 Corinthians 5:21 spells this out most clearly:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
So in an instant, my ugliness is covered by the beautifully complete gown of his righteousness. I qualify! I’m in! I can live on his holy hill, clothed in his righteousness. I can dwell in his palace, properly dressed in royal robes.
But that’s not all. Deep down, I don’t just want to be clothed. I want to be changed. God has shown me the beauty of holiness, first in this psalm, again in the life of my Jesus. I want to BE like him, not just be dressed like him.
Here is the double good news: the gospel is not just about my acceptance, but about my transformation. Both are hinted at in the Psalm because both relate to dwelling with him. The New Testament word is “abide.” When we believe in Christ, we immediately begin to dwell in his presence. It is an intimacy that goes beyond what David imagined:
Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:4
This abiding, a two way indwelling, is also described as union with Christ. It is not only the source of our fruitfulness, it is the power for change in our lives. The very life of Christ flows to us as we abide in him.
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; 1 John 3:6a
Abiding brings us the very power of his resurrection life to fight sin and pursue righteousness. I can grow as a promise keeper, because I am united to the Promise Keeper. I can become a true friend who doesn’t take offense because I am indwelt by the True Friend.
In short, his righteousness qualifies me to abide. Then abiding starts to make me truly righteous.