The Psalm of the Ascension
Today is Ascension Sunday! What a joyous occasion it must have been for the disciples who witnessed it first hand.
After the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples. It was then that he said to them: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). After saying this Jesus blessed the disciples and was taken up into heaven. We then read that the disciples ‘worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God’ (Luke 24:52-53). It was a truly joyous occasion!
Of course, as we have seen, these events can be read about in the Gospel accounts of the ascension – but, just as Jesus says in Luke 24, these things were previously written about in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Having seen how Psalm 22 speaks of the Crucifixion and Psalm 23 speaks of the Resurrection – giving us an intimate account of both – we now come to Psalm 24, which gives us what was a prophetic insight into the events of the Ascension. Although many take Psalm 24 to be referring to the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple, Matthew Henry correctly observes that the Ark, with the mercy, seat are typological of Christ.
The Earth is the LORD’s
The Psalm begins with the LORD’s claim over creation (24:1-2). Although humanity may think they are rulers over the created order – thinking we can rule ourselves without the LORD – we are reminded here that the LORD is the true author and rightful owner of creation.
Who May Ascend the Hill of the LORD?
Verse 3 presents us with a question: ‘Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?’ In other words – who may approach heaven and stand in the presence of the Father? So – who can? If there was ever the slightest thought in our minds that this could be us, we receive an instant reality check in verse 4, which tells us that the one who can stand in the presence of the Father is: ‘He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.’ Now, of course, as a result of Genesis 3, no-one has clean hands and a pure heart – we all fall short of these requirements! As a result of these things we also fall into idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Is humanity doomed to never enter the presence of the Father?
Although it is not us who may enter the Father’s presence here, there is One who can. That person does have clean hands and a pure heart – that One shall be blessed and receive vindication (24:5). But how does this offer any hope to humanity? Verse 5 reveals all. We are told in verse 5 that these things are also true of ‘the generation of those who seek him.’ So, by seeking the One who may enter the presence of the Father, humanity is also able to approach the Father, not on our own merit, but on the merit of the One who is worthy.
Verse 7 describes the One approaching the ‘ancient’ or ‘everlasting’ gates of heaven – he is ascending the hill of the LORD. But who is this One who is worthy to enter? ‘The King of glory’ (verse 7). But who is the King of glory? Verse 8 poses that exact question: ‘Who is this King of glory?’ and in 8-10 we are given the answer as we read about his procession into heaven:
‘The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O 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.’
The LORD is the one who is able to ascend the hill of the LORD and enter the presence of the Father. Not the Father himself – he can’t enter his own presence – but instead the Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One with clean hands and a pure heart – he is the only One who is worthy to enter the presence of the Father – he is the Great Hight Priest ‘who ascended into heaven’ (Hebrews 4:14-5:-10). Matthew Henry says about this:
‘When he had finished his work on earth he ascended in the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13-14). The gates of heaven must then be opened to him, those doors that may truly be called everlasting, which had been shut against us, to keep the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). Our Redeemer found them shut, but, having by his blood made atonement for sin and gained a title to enter into the holy place (Hebrews 9:12), as one having authority, he demanded entrance, not for himself only, but for us; for, as the forerunner, he has for us entered and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.’ [Matthew Henry’s Commentaries, Psalm 24]
What a great Psalm of Ascension hope – that through the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God we are able to enter that heavenly court and share fellowship with him and his Father. He is the Great High Priest and our advocate in heaven (Job 16:19-21). As Hebrews tells us:
‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need … During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek’ (Hebrews 4:15-16, Hebrews 5:7-10).
Happy Ascension Sunday!!!