A Pentecost Sermon
Sometimes, when working through a decision that you have to make, it is useful to know what your end-goal looks like and then to ask, which decision do I need to make to contribute toward arriving at that goal.
There is a story told of a master artist who was beginning a large mural. A week or so into it, a passerby began stopping to watch the painter’s progress. Eventually, the painter, noticing the passerby, engaged him in conversation and asked the passerby, “What do you think about my work?” The passerby reflected for a minute and then respectfully replied, “Sir, I’m sure that it will be wonderful when it is complete, but right now all I see is a background, some outlines, and some shadows.” The Painter looked surprised for a second and then pointed at his head, saying, “That’s because you can’t yet see what I see in here.”
Before the artist had even begun to put brush to paint, he had the picture in his mind. And thus, every line drawn, every stroke of the brush was designed to transfer the image from within his mind onto the mural.
This is why it is so important to me that we discuss vision as church leaders. For if we do not have a clear picture of where we are going, we likely won’t get to where we would like to go. Further, if we do not have a clear picture, how can I articulate it to you in such a way that you can find your place to participate within it?
And this is why I chose Psalm 45 for us to reflect upon this morning. According to the traditional church calendar, this is the day on which we celebrate Pentecost — the descending of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire (a baptism of the Holy Spirit — flames poured out on them with no immersion required) and the Apostles went out and preached to the masses gathered in Jerusalem — speaking in tongues (human languages that they had not studied and in fulfillment of Isaiah 28:11-12 and Joel 2:28-32) — Judgment on unbelieving Jews and a hope of salvation for all who call upon the name of the Lord.
It is here at Pentecost that the Christian church was born, and in a Biblical sense, that makes all true believers in Jesus Christ, “Pentecostals,” though that is not how our broader society looks at the term.
Yet, something happened. Yes, the church exploded and spread across the known world and beyond…but Jesus’ return was not “soon” as many people expected “soon” to be — Peter even addresses this question in his second epistle, stating that 1,000 years are as a day to God and a day as 1,000 years — in other words, for God, time is irrelevant — He is God after all. He created time for our benefit, not for his.
But over the years, the church drifted…
- The church in Galatia was pursuing a kind of legalism that required obedience to the Jewish laws and legal ways.
- The church in the diaspora had become self-absorbed and cold to the poor and hurting and James is forced to address them fairly sharply.
- Another group of diaspora churches had fallen in with false teachers who were only interested in lining their own pockets…and both Peter and Jude had to address these churches.
- The Jewish churches (probably in Alexandria) were mixing Jewish mysticism with Christian teachings and the book of Hebrews is addressed to correcting their errors.
- And five of the seven churches to whom the book of Revelation is addressed have fallen into serious sin.
Then there was division and debate between the European (Latin Speaking) and the Eastern (Greek Speaking) churches around the Holy Spirit and the celebration of Holy days. There was the rise of the Roman Pope, defeats in the east and eventually in Europe at the hands of the Muslim hordes, a necessary Reformation took place, but with that the church broke into numerous factions with countless protestant denominations and independent churches…some Biblical…some anything but, totally ignoring the Bible in favor of humanistic teachings.
And sometimes in the middle of the wilderness, we get overwhelmed by the trials and challenges at hand and we forget what we are called to be and where we are going.
That is where Psalm 45 comes in. The Psalm is Messianic in nature and anticipates the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in Revelation 19. It’s the end-picture — the final goal of the church. The bride — the united body of Christ, all of the faithful through the ages, based on God’s election and not on one’s denomination — standing before her husband and Lord, pure and undefiled, clothed in the good works of the saints.
And so, this Pentecost, if we look forward to where we are going (in God’s timing), perhaps it will be useful in sorting out the challenges we face as we plot a path forward.
This Psalm can be divided into 6 Parts:
- Verse 1: focusing on the heart of God’s people in worship
- Verses 2-5: singing of the majesty of Christ
- Verses 6-7: singing of he character of Christ
- Verses 8-12: focusing on the privilege it is to have been called by God to be the bride of Christ
- Verses 13-16: Focusing on the clothing of the bride
- Verse 17: Concluding with the purpose of the bride
So, this morning, what I would like to do is to look briefly at each of these sections in turn with the end goal of drawing some observations in light of our “Pentecostal Calling” as the church of Jesus Christ located here on the top of Muller’s Hill in New Sewickley.
“To the Choirmaster (Literally: Overseer of Music), According to the Lilies (probably a tune), a Maskil (a category of Psalms), of the Sons of Korah (the author), A song of adoration (ESV: “a love song”; NIV: “a wedding psalm”; KJV: “a song of loves.”)
“My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verse to the king…my tongue is like the pen of a read scribe.”
I want you to take notice that the heart (personality, the passions) of the church is drawn to worship of Christ — and not just one day in seven, but every day and all day. What we the church will be in glory is a people who worship God because there is nothing else we would rather be doing and because there is nothing better that we could do. It will be what we most want to do.
Note also that Christian worship is also not just about singing, though it is about singing. It is not just about corporate prayer, though it is about corporate prayer. It is not just about the reading, study, and preaching of God’s word, but it is very much about these things. It includes the meditation on the word of God, Reflection on the Word, offerings, vows made before God, and the use of the sacraments, rejoicing together and suffering together and encouraging one another to live out the Christian faith.
And when we turn our lives into lives marked by worship, our efforts in all we do are turned toward honoring Christ.
The ESV, I think makes a poor decision when it renders the text, “You are the most handsome of the sons of men.” A more literal rendering would be: “You are more magnificent than the Sons of Adam; grace pours from your lips. Therefore God has blessed you forever. Put your sword on your thigh, great warrior, in your splendor and in your majesty. In your majesty, mount your steed and charge with the Word of Truth, Humility, and Righteousness and your right hand will instruct you in fearful things. Your arrows are sharp in the peoples; before you they fall in the heart of your enemies and their kings.”
Note the emphasis on the glory or the majesty of Christ.
1 Chronicles 16:27 proclaims:
“Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his presence.”
The presence of Christ should first and foremost inspire us to awe. Yet, in today’s world of supercomputers and spacecraft, I fear that we have become so jaded that we are not awed by the things that are meant to awe us. We go, ‘Ho Hum, that’s nice, but…’ and then we move on to the newest thing.
And sadly, I fear we have often adopted that approach with God, approaching Him way too casually…and by casual, I’m not talking about external dress but I’m talking about internals. Do we approach Christ and his worship with a sincerity and humility that the one whom we have gathered here to worship deserves? He is entirely other — transcendent and “awful.”
Sometimes, when nobody is around the church, I like to go into the quiet of the sanctuary to think or pray. It has a way of making me feel very small and tiny as I reflect on the “bigness” of God. We cannot totally capture that reality in the here and now, but ought we not try? For there will come a time when every man, woman, and child will know the bigness of God — for the believer, we will enjoy that in glory as the grace-filled gift it is. Unbelievers will recognize that bigness in fearful terror as they endure the eternal wrath of God in the fires of Hell. Which will it be for you?
Verses 6-7 focuses then on the character of Christ
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness, thus God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of jubilation over your attendants.”
The heart of the character of Christ is to love righteousness and to hate wickedness and the character of the bride is that she loves the things that her bridegroom loves and hates the things that he hates….As the church — the Bride of Christ — we should, but we don’t. We make excuses for wickedness in our lives, we justify sin because we think that God will forgive us anyway. But that is not how the Righteous Bride is to think.
How rarely it is that we genuinely strive for righteousness. We strive for things that we want and things that we think will make us comfortable, but how rarely we make decisions based on what the righteous action would be rather than based on what will benefit us. Then again, you cannot take righteous actions if you do not know the Scriptures instructions in that area. One day our attitude will change; why not begin now?
Verses 8-12 — the Privilege of Christ’s calling
“Your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cinnamon; from palaces of ivory, stringed instruments continually rejoice over you. The daughters of kings are amongst your nobles; your queen stands at your right hand in gold from Ophir. Hear daughter and see for yourself; incline your ear, forget your people and the house of your father, the King will desire your beauty. Because he is the Lord, worship him. The daughter of Tyre will offer gifts before you; the wealthy people will appease you.”
The imagery here is that of living in the luxury of the king’s presence. And while some enjoy royalty and wealth in this world, none can hold a candle in comparison to God’s riches in glory. And for the Christian, it is not a matter of earning these riches, they are given by grace and we will be welcomed into the throne-room of God where even creation itself sings of God’s glory. And we will have done nothing to have earned the privilege of being in that place.
When I was in High School, I worked for a family, doing landscaping and upkeep of their 60-acre property. At Christmas each year, Mr. St. Clair hosted a big Christmas party for his wealthy friends and he would hire me to come out and manage the traffic of cars going up and down his long driveway. After a bit, once the guests would get there, Mr. St. Clair would invite me in to warm up and when that happened, he would make a big deal of introducing me to his guests as if I were a guest of honor, though I was still clothed in my jeans and work boots — and those around me were in expensive suits and dresses.
The funny thing is that though Mr. St. Clair went out of his way to welcome me in and the guests were quite sincerely friendly to me, I never truly felt like I belonged there — I felt too “common” for folks like that.
To me, that is a bit of a taste of the welcome into God’s house — given full access as an adopted son (or daughter) but admitted by the grace of the Master of the house — humbled but grateful. I fear that too many Christians think that we deserve such treatment, but we are nothing but unworthy servants.
Verses 13-16 deal with the clothing of the bride.
“All glorious is the daughter of the king within, her robes with gold filigree. In colorfully embroidered robes she is led to the king with her virgin companions after her — coming to you there are bright with jubilation and rejoicing as they enter the palace of the king. Under your fathers will be your sons; you will make the princes of the earth.”
The bride is clothed and ready — her garments pure and undefiled (Revelation 19:8) fine linen bright and pure being the righteous deeds of the saints.
The church is clothed by the righteous work that God prepared for her beforehand (Ephesians 2:10) — pure and undefiled — but how often are our works tainted by pragmatism.
Verse 17: The bride’s purpose…
“I will cause your name to be remembered in all the generations forever. Therefore their people will praise you forever and ever.”
We are to tell the world about Christ.
Close: There is a lot here that we just cannot go into (though I have written verse by verse in devotional form on my blog). With this in mind, the picture portrayed is that of the glorified church, perfected and this can guide our vision as we work to purify our church in the here and now to guide her to maturity. With that in mind, I would like to make 4 observations…
- We need to emphasize worship and the ordinary means of grace in the life of our church — worship that is anticipation of worship in glory. I heard a quote from Pastor Randy booth recently that went, “The decision to go to church is one you make only once in your lifetime.” Are we ready or eager for worship? Do we prepare ourselves for worship or do we pursue the things of earth with more zeal.
2. Too many people worship a god of their own making rather than worshipping the God of Scripture who makes demands and that demands us to be holy as he is holy. Yet the god that meets our preferences is anything but awesome and the God of the Bible is an awesome God.
3. Being a Christian is a desirable thing in both this life and the next. We ought to live like it. Blaise Pascal argued that there are three things that one must do in converting a pagan to Christianity. First, show him that Christianity is reasonable. Second that it is desirable. and third, show that the pagan should desire it. How rarely we live lives that look desirable to those on the outside.
4. We must tell others of God. Nuff said.