The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – he is the King of glory.
I’ve summitted a few mountain peaks as a hiker. I’ve summited mountains in Egypt; I’ve hiked up the mesa-like plateau of Masada and Mt. Eleazar beside it; I hiked up Mt. Nebo in Jordan. Closer to home I hiked the Adirondacks in Vermont and upstate New York in the fall, and I’ve traversed the cliffs and hills of northern Ontario in every season. And since moving to BC I’ve hike a few around here too: Elk Mountain in early spring, Dog Mountain in the winter and Seymour Mountain; I’ve hike around Golden Ears but not yet to the summit.
I’ve even climbed the mountain of the Lord mentioned in Psalm 24 – the Temple Mount at the top of the city of Jerusalem: once coming up the Jericho Road and another up from the Mount of Olives and through the Garden of Gethsemane.
The thing about climbing mountains is that it is hard work. The terrain can be treacherous; the weather can make an otherwise easy hike dangerous; loose rock can make you slip; wind can buffet you around; get high enough and the air changes and fatigue sets in quicker. Climbing any mountain is hard work.
In Psalm 24 the question is asked as a parallelism: “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? [And] Who may stand in his holy place?” Putting these two beside each other, “ascend the mountain” means standing in his holy place. Ascend is an image for entering God’s presence, for knowing God’s presence in worship and life. And knowing God’s presence is a struggle: only those with clean hands a pure heart, only those who repent and have a clear conscience (vs. 4); to enter into the presence of knowing God you must first know what is not God – you must know your idols, you must reject them, and not live in service of them (vs. 4); to ascend to God you have to seek his face in prayer (vs. 6), you must wrestle with him as Jacob did that fateful night before seeing his brother again, when he called out, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Gen. 32:26)
And so, ask again, who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? Not me. That is a peak too far; that is a ridge beyond my ability. Oh, I think I can do it; and I may try over and over; but I always come up short – or it turns out I’ve been following the wrong path – one that takes me further away. Instead of finding the Lord who made the earth and everything in it, instead of finding the Creator who founded it on the seas and established it on the waters, I find only a mirror reflecting back a god of my own design – and deeper yet, reflecting back my inability to ascend.
Instead, I need another. Instead, I need one who has perfectly clean hands and is pure of heart. I need the King of glory – only He may come in! I need the Lord strong and mighty! “The Lord Almighty – he is the King of glory.”
Jesus is the one who has clean hands and is perfectly pure of heart (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Jesus is “our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus alone is the one by whom we “ascend the mountain of the Lord.” Unlike a hiking guide, Jesus doesn’t just show us the way, he is the Way! Unlike a guide, Jesus doesn’t just open the path to you, he goes in and he carries you through with him! “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’” (1 Peter 2:24) The new creation, gospel reality is that I am “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Phil. 3:9)
Let’s ask the question again: who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Because of Jesus the answer is now me. He makes me able – that’s being transformed from darkness to light; that’s being born again to a living hope; that’s being transformed from being dead in sin to life in him.
And, just as importantly, he continues to make you able. The grace of God in Jesus continues to transform your life; he continues to make you able to ascend the mountain of the Lord. Yes. It is still hard work. In fact, you be pretty much guarantee that the closer you are to the heart of God in your life and in Christian obedience the more difficult it actually becomes. And yet, we also believe and know that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6)
Knowing the presence of God in your life is hard work – and there will be times where you don’t feel it (or even where you don’t feel like continuing on up the mountain towards his glory); remember that the King of glory went there first. He knows your struggle, he knows your pain, he knows your hurt – “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb. 4:15) Not only did Jesus go there first – he goes there again with you. Every time, he is with you: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
The King of glory has ascended the hill in your place; the King of glory carries you up the hill. Praise to the King of glory!
Lift up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – he is the King of glory. Jesus, let me see and know you as the King of glory; carry me into the presence of our Father in heaven. When the journey gets hard – and I know it will – may my eyes and heart look to you. And yet, when I am unable to see, or feel, or know, may it be that you are still there. In your holy name, Jesus, Amen!