I have an annoying problem, which I think may be a problem for others, too. I keep having preachers’ thoughts, and I’m not a preacher. Ideas come to me that I think would make terrific sermons or sermon series—though I have no desire to fill a pulpit. Preaching isn’t natural to me, and I would rather listen to someone else. I’ll gladly leave the preaching of the Gospel to my pastor and other friends who are gifted that way.
But let me tell you an idea that came to me the other day. It didn’t come from Scripture, at least not directly. We’ve all heard of the man who stopped his car to get directions and was told, “Well, you can’t get there from here.” It’s hard to imagine someone saying that to a lost driver except in a teasing way.
A Spiritual Mindset
But the notion “you can’t get there from here” is not at all unusual as a spiritual state of mind. Think of Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the world, turned out to pasture to eat grass like a beast. A prophet warned him of trouble ahead. But not to worry, he thought: “You can’t get there from here.” He did get there. God saw to it. He was put in the field with the herds. Now surely, he was finished.
After seven years his reason returned along with his conscience. He would never regain his earlier state. He was too debased—too self-debased and God-debased. “You can’t get there from here.” But he did. God saw to it. He returned to his rule and was the better for what he had gone through, and so was his kingdom.
The great King David of Israel was comfortably settled in his kingdom and at ease with himself. He no doubt never imagined his ability to degrade himself. “You can’t get there from here.” What hope is there for an adulterer who murders to conceal his adultery? Even if he repents, how can he ever rise above his shame? “You can’t get there from here.”
But David did. God saw to it. A prophet stirred David’s conscience, and he bitterly repented and was restored. Oh, there were some deficits. There would be trouble in his family. He had lost moral stature there. Problems kept cropping up in his reign. But David would finish well. His challenge to Solomon is evidence. After David’s death God would speak of him as a man after His own heart. “You can get there from here.”
David, the adulterer-murderer, was a warrior and a poet. We don’t think of those attributes as going together, partly because poets of the last two hundred years have been everything other than manly types parading their life confusions. Now I want to look David’s Psalm 24 which extends this idea of “You can’t get there from here” to a deep desire of the soul.
Ascending to God
There is said to be a hopeless distance between man and God. Yet the religions of the world show man’s yearning to rise to Him. The pyramids and ziggurats and high-arching temples are monuments to this sense that God is far above and yet hopefully not beyond reach. When Israel entered their Promised Land, the hills had places of pagan worship on them—high places they were called. Deities were associated with height and were worshiped on sacred mounts.
Solomon’s temple rose forty-five feet from a rocky ridge known today as the Temple Mount. It was situated high above the surrounding valleys and the still lower foothills and plains and the deep Jordan River gorge. David’s house and later Solomon’s were below it. The king and his household like the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for the great Sabbath festivals would ascend to the house of the Lord.
There is something planted in our psyches that tells us we must go up to get to God. Literally for Israel there was or could be a long journey upward to the hill of God and the house of God. But more is implied here. More was in David’s mind.
David was not a priest. He was not of the tribe of Levi. Yet he speaks in the preceding psalm of residing in the house of the Lord forever. There was in his mind a heavenly place of worship correspondent to the earthly hill and house of God. To access that place would require preparation.
Psalm 24 speaks of a physical ascent, but the emphasis falls on inward matters. There is an ascent that qualifies a priest to enter the sanctuary. There are specified rituals of cleansing that must be taken care of before a priest or Levite can perform his duties. But the requirements mentioned here are matters of the soul and spirit. They are directed to all who would seek and find God.
There is then an ascent to be made if one is to get to God. That is the age-old story of fruitless human striving. The problem for humanity is, “You can’t get there from here.” It is addressed by another story, the story of the Gospel. God came to us so we could come to Him. He got our attention. We didn’t need to get His attention. But I want to go further, as I believe this psalm does, and put its challenge to those who think of themselves as worshipers of God.
Conditions to Ascend to God
Verse 3 tells us the great need of mankind and what men fundamentally desire, though the desire can be overridden and buried. It puts it in the form of a question: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place?” All religion tries to capitalize on those desires.
The next verse gives instructions. Israel knew about preconditions for worship from the tabernacle days. The Levites would instruct worshipers about dress and deportment. They were inspected before allowed to enter the temple court. Priests and Levites were subject to special scrutiny by their elders before they could enter the holy place.
We use standing in a legal sense: a plaintiff must have legal standing to bring a civil suit. Psalm 1:5 speaks of standing as a matter of personal integrity. “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” That is the sense in which the expression is used here.
The picture is of someone seeking an audience with the king, the great King. It’s a daunting thing to enter the presence of a mighty ruler. There is great concern, quite properly so, about being presentable. What is the protocol? What is required? What is the court ritual concerning visitors?
The Promise of the Gospel
Here there are moral preconditions. “Clean hands” speaks of conduct and reputation. “A pure heart” speaks of character and purpose. The first deacons were “men of honest report” as well as men “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double minded,” writes James to Christians (4:8). Jesus put the answer in the form of a promise. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”—they will have an audience with the King (Matt. 5:8).
Not everyone who wants an audience with the King has clean hands and a pure heart. The Gospel is the royal invitation. But there are failed lives among Christians. How to ascend from so low? How to get clean when so soiled? How to regain standing among the people of God when you’ve disgraced yourself and disappointed those you care about and who care about you? Consider what you once knew: the lifting power of the Gospel. I like to speak of the heft of the Gospel. It is good for unsaved sinners. It is also good for the fallen saint.
There is promise in the Gospel of ascent to God and the throne-room privileges of His family. Ask Mary Magdalene whether you can get there from here. Ask the publicans Matthew and Zacchaeus, the maniac of Gadara. Ask Peter. There is a standing to be gained or regained. God will see to it. You can get there from wherever you are—if the desire and the willing are first here.