04.09.17 He Stands at the Door and Knocks Psalm 24 Sermon Summary
Gates have all sorts of useful purposes, and one major drawback. Fortunately Jesus has taken care of that for us.
- Two kinds of gates and why we have them
- How Jesus enters Jerusalem’s gate as a king
- A third religious use of the gate
- How Jesus reverses roles to open that gate
We have friends who live in a gated neighborhood. To visit them, they have to let the attendant know we’re on our way, or we have to ask the attendant call them when we arrive. On my last overseas trip, I purchased entry into the airline’s premier club. I couldn’t get in until I showed them my boarding pass.
Why do we use gates? In neighborhoods they protect property. In communities they protect privacy.
Psalm 24 knows about these kinds of gates. It ends with call to open the gates, for God the King is coming. God is returning in victory, having vanquished other gods and the threats to God’s people. “He is the king of glory, the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord of hosts.” With property and privacy protected, and upon the King’s arrival, the gates could be opened.
This Psalm presents a conversation between those outside and those inside. It was a liturgy remembering the triumph of God over the deities of ancient Israel’s neighbors. In his Messiah, Handel depicts the antiphonal nature of these verses by contrasting men’s voices with women’s, lower voices with higher ones, vocal lines with instrumental lines—back and forth, preparing the arrival of the King of Glory.
The Gospels used Psalm 24 in narrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on what we commemorate as Palm Sunday. Jesus had been preaching the “Kingdom of God.” The “kingdom” message offended political types; the “of God” message offended religious types. A conflict was imminent. The Gospel writers want us to remember the victorious king as they present Jesus entering the gates of Jerusalem to do final battle with political authorities and religious leaders.
But they present a different kind of King, and a different kind of battle. From the West, the Roman Governor Pilate was arriving in Jerusalem as he did every year during Passover. With a show of force and riding a war horse, Pilate arrived to remind the Jews that their celebration of liberation from Egypt shouldn’t get their hopes up about the same happening with Rome.
Meanwhile from the East, the Prince of Peace Jesus is processing on a donkey. . .
In the 1630’s William Laud was elevated to Archbishop of Canterbury. In an effort to retard Protestant reforms, he repositioned the Communion Table behind a rail like an altar, creating a gated space in the sanctuary. Gates protect property and privacy, and in churches they protect the holy.
Earlier in Psalm 24 it is asked who may ascend the hill of God and stand in God’s presence. Four qualifications are offered: those with clean hands, pure hearts, who have not lifted their souls to idols, and who have not sworn deceitfully. In other words, those who have done good, with pure intentions, who love God, and who love their neighbors.
Gates may be used to protect the holy, but there’s a problem: They also keep people out, or at least make people feel unwelcome. Not many of us have clean hands, pure hearts, are free from idols, and love our neighbors perfectly. So we exclude ourselves from God’s presence.
In the same way as Jesus subverts Pilate’s show of force on Palm Sunday, so he reverses the movement of the Holy. We don’t go to God; God comes to us. Jesus opens wide the gate for us, because we can’t open it and enter God’s presence by ourselves.
A compelling depiction comes from the book of Revelation. Jesus, having left holy heaven, now stands at the door of the church knocking, waiting to be let in. He is the resurrected Lord, strong and mighty, victorious in battle. Sin, death, and the devil have all been defeated. All that is left is for us to open the door.
When that door is opened, then the King of Glory will come in and lead us to have clean hands, pure hearts, true faith, and genuine love. This is what this Holy Week is all about.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, at the beginning of creation you defeated the enemy of chaos and darkness, calling forth order and light. At the beginning of redemption you entered our world through the gates of the womb of Mary, the waters of the Jordan, and the Cross of Rome. You defeated the enemies of sin, death, and the devil, and return asking us to open the gates once again to you. Give us faith to respond to your voice, to welcome you into our lives, and to submit to your reign as the King of Glory and the Prince of Peace. Amen.