The Glorious City of God Psalm 48

We looked last week at Psalms 46 and 47. Those two Psalms gave us a number of reasons why we should put our trust in God.

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Because God is creator and sustainer of all things we need not fear natural disasters. Even if the whole earth should come to an end, God is in control!
And God is also the Ruler over all the nations, the awesome great King over all the earth. So God’s people do not need to fear anything that other people can do to us.
God has made his chosen people into a great nation and God is always working out his cosmic masterplan of salvation through his chosen people. We are never alone. The ever-present God will never fail us or forsake us or abandon us.
So God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. NLT

Psalm 46:10 He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’

God is ALREADY exalted all over the earth and among all the nations. And God ALWAYS WILL BE exalted and honoured over all the earth and among all the nations.
So what we need to do is, Be still and know that I am God.
1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

So on to Psalm 48. We said last week that many theologians link Psalms 46 and 47 together with Psalm 48 with the suggestion of an annual ritual drama performed in the temple. They think it was part of a celebration of the Lord’s kingship over all the earth. Psalm 48 focuses on one particular way in which God keeps his chosen people safe. This way was a vital expression of the salvation God provided for Israel.
Psalm 48 1 Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
2 Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth,
like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King.
3 God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.

God expressed his love for his chosen people in his Holy City Jerusalem. Built on Mount Zion, Jerusalem was the political and military capital city of the nation where the King had his palace.
At the same time Jerusalem was also the spiritual centre of Israel because it was the location of Solomon’s Temple. That was where sacrifices were offered day by day and particularly year after year at the great Festivals celebrating Israel’s faith. The nation believed that God was especially present in his Temple and in His Holy City and that as a consequence He would always protect Jerusalem.
So the Israelites found God to be their refuge and strength especially within Jerusalem.
For God’s chosen people, the city of God is the most beautiful and glorious place in the world.
Psalm 48 1 Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
2 Beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth,
like the heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King.

Because God in in his Holy City his people are safe there.

3 God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.

Verse 8 8 As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the LORD Almighty,
in the city of our God: God makes her secure for ever.
The Israelites were convinced that God would always protect His Holy City and defend her against any attacks from other nations
4 When the kings joined forces, when they advanced together,
5 they saw her and were astounded; they fled in terror.
6 Trembling seized them there, pain like that of a woman in labour.
7 You destroyed them like ships of Tarshish shattered by an east wind.

God will keep Jerusalem safe because his Temple is there. The God who is Lord of heaven and earth has chosen to make Jerusalem his home
9 Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.
10 Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
your right hand is filled with righteousness.
11 Mount Zion rejoices, the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments.

Because God is in His Temple he will keep the whole city and of his chosen people within it safe forever.
12 Walk about Zion, go round her, count her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts, view her citadels,
that you may tell of them to the next generation.
14 For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.

God is especially present in His Temple and in His Holy City and so he is the strength and refuge of all His chosen people there.
Psalm 46 7 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

This is another of the Psalms written the Sons of Korah. We can be pretty sure it was written in the tenth or ninth centuries BC, long before the time when God would allow the Babylonians to tear down Jerusalem and destroy the Temple and take the few surviving Israelites off to exile scattered across Babylonia. It expresses the complete faith the Israelites had in their God’s care and protection. They still trusted God in the face of overwhelming opposition.
As Christians, we view Jerusalem differently. The geographical city of Jerusalem has an important place in the history of the Jews and equally in the history of the church. Our Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again in Jerusalem. The church was born and grew out from Jerusalem. But Christians don’t attach the same importance to the city or to the ruins of the Temple there as the Jews still do.
For us there is a new Temple. The church is God’s new Temple. We are the living stones being built into a holy Temple and God lives in us by His Holy Spirit
For us there is a new city of God, the new Jerusalem. The church is the new city of God, now scattered throughout the earth but waiting one day to be revealed in glory.
Revelation 21 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Verse 9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel.
So the Old Testament city of God, Jerusalem, has been replaced by the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, the Church. The old Temples lie in ruins but we are the New Temple where the Holy Spirit lives. These ideas are summed up in a number of well-known hymns.
GLORIOUS THINGS OF THEE ARE SPOKEN, Zion, city of our God!
He whose word cannot be broken Formed thee for His own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded, What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded, Thou mayest smile at all thy foes.

See! The streams of living waters, Springing from eternal love,
Well supply thy sons and daughters, And all fear of want remove;
Who can faint, whilst such a river Ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace which, like the Lord, the Giver, Never fails from age to age.

Round each habitation hovering, See the cloud and fire appear!
For a glory and a covering, Showing that the Lord is near.
He who gives them daily manna, He who listens when they cry:
Let Him hear the loud hosanna Rising to His throne on high.

The church is the new city of God. We are the new Temple. So what does Psalm 48 have to say to us today? Something which I think is very important.
For us as Christians, Jerusalem and Mount Zion are now metaphors and symbols. God is still our refuge and strength. God is still our fortress. But our safety does not lie in some physical city on Mount Zion, or anywhere else. Our safety DOES still lie in the New Jerusalem, the church.
Let me put it another way. God wants us to experience peace and security. These come to us in our relationship with Him. But God’s peace and security also come to us through other Christians in our shared life in the church. We experience God caring for us, as Christians care for each other. We experience God helping us, as Christians help each other. God keeps us safe, as we keep each other safe.
Many folk have been saying to me during these hundred days of lockdown how much of a help and comfort the church family have been to them. We have been appreciating our fellowship and our common life together more and more. God has been our strength and refuge, and we have experienced that in the community of the church.
Jim Wallis and his organisation the Sojourners, is an influential advocate of Biblical community. In his book, Call to Conversion, he wrote “The greatest need of our time is for koinonia, the call simply to be the church, to love one another, and to offer our lives for the sake of the world … the creation of living, breathing, loving communities of faith at the local church level.” Wallis argues from Ephesians that such a life of love is central to God’s purposes for the church, which should be a family rather than an institution or an organisation. “Community is the great assumption of the New Testament.” Community life, he says “is both the lifestyle and vocation of the church.” I like this bit. “At a minimum the church should be known as the kind of community that makes it more possible, not less possible, to follow Jesus.”
So God is our strength and our refuge and this comes to us in large part through our experience of the common life of the Christian community, the church. I can’t find the exact quote, but Jim Wallis wrote that in all the crises which life can bring us to, he would rather have the support of the community of the church than the biggest Swiss bank account in the world.
God is our strength and our refuge. The God of Jacob is our fortress. And as Christians God wants us to experience those blessings through the fellowship and community of the church.
1 Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.
3 God is in her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress.
8 As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the LORD Almighty, in the city of our God: God makes her secure for ever.

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