Reading: Psalm 42, 43
In the light of the current events, now that it is not possible for churches in Australia to have worship services in a church building, and many services are being live streamed, it is important to remember how good it is to come together as God’s people and enjoy the fellowship together. Live streaming is a blessing under the present circumstances. A century ago, in 1918, may churches were closed as well, because of the Spanish flu. They did not have the possibility of live streaming. We do, and in that we are blessed.
Nevertheless, I hope that this situation does make us yearn for the day that we can come together again in the assembly of God’s people and worship Him there together.
In this light I re-publish a Bible study which I published last year, about Psalm 42. It is in two parts, I publish them both.
In verse 1 we read about panting for God. There is a strong longing to see the face of God again. As our Lord Jesus Christ in His deepest suffering cried out to God, out of His desire to be with God, His Father again, when He said: My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me? So the author here cries out for God. He thirsts for God, the living God. While the author depends on God, to give him flowing streams of living water, there the Lord Jesus Christ will be the Rock Who will give these rivers of living water, through His Spirit.
The author wants to appear before God, to be able to drink from this Rock, Christ. He is thirsty for the living God. In that, he also responds to the mockery of his enemies. God is the living God: that is what he knows. The gods of his enemies are all dead gods, statues that cannot speak and cannot hear. This may be the background of the ridicule of the enemies. They all point at their own gods, and then they ask him: where is your God? Your God is far away, how can He help you? But he responds to that by speaking about the living God. Those other gods, their statues may be visible and may be close at hand, but they cannot hear and cannot speak. He thirsts for the living God. He knows that God lives and that God will hear him. It is not that he doubts that. But he misses the communion with God. Living with the living God. That is, coming before Him, together with His people. Being united with God’s people and together with them being united with Christ.
It is important to understand here that there is a strong unity between these two things: coming together with God’s people, and with God’s people coming before God, in order to enjoy the joy and blessings of God. So often we are focused on ourselves, on our own sufferings, on our own misery, and so often we want others to come to us, we want the communion of saints to reach out to us and bring us the comfort. But here in this psalm, we see the opposite. It is he who has to go to the communion of God’s people because he knows that it is there, where God’s people come together, where he will find salvation. There he will join them and come before God, and there his anguish and pain will be relieved and he will receive God’s blessings.
We live in a time and in a society in which we are very much encouraged to focus on ourselves, on our own sufferings, our own sorrows, our own adversity, and to focus on what others do or do not do to us. We are encouraged to very much focus on our sickness and the details of it, and what doctors can do and cannot do for us. The whole environment in which we live is: blame others for your misery, find the cause of your suffering outside of yourself; if possible, even accuse others for what they did wrong to you, or for what they could have done but did not do for you, and then complain and sometimes even to sue them for it. That is the world in which we live.
But that is not what this psalm teaches us. That is not what Christ teaches us. The Bible directs our attention away from ourselves to Jesus Christ. He is the God of our salvation. In Him, we find our joy. And it is important to see how the Bible teaches us the importance of coming together with God’s people.
Again, the author’s misery was not in the first place that he wasn’t sure if God existed. He knew that God exists and that God is the living God. His misery was foremost that he couldn’t come together with God’s people to come before God. This psalm is a prayer to God, from his loneliness across the Jordan and he knows that God hears him. In verse 9 he speaks to God. And in psalm 43 it is even clearer that he speaks to God, directly.
The place where God chose to meet with His people. That was in the Old Testament the temple or tabernacle. That is in the New Testament the church. Christ gathers His people, His church. It is there where His people are gathered together in His name, that He is in our midst. There is the body of Christ. There is the Head, Jesus Christ, Himself. There is where God’s people enjoy being in the presence of God and celebrating their communion with Jesus Christ, the Head, and each other as the body of Christ.
It is this important teaching of the Bible that our ancestors understood rightly when they adopted the Belgic Confession as the confession of the church, and confessed in it in article 28 that it is everyone’s duty to join the church. Not just to be able to say that you are a member or show a membership card. No, join the church, and unite with it, maintaining the unity of the church, and there is no salvation outside of it.
There is no salvation outside of it. Think about that: no salvation outside of it. That is not about the institution church, or the organisation church, or whatever you want to call it, of which you could show a membership card, or an attestation, as we call it. This is about the communion of saints, the assembly of the redeemed, the Belgic Confession says in art. 28. It is the assembly of the redeemed and there is no salvation outside of it.
Assemble means coming together. That is where we find our salvation: there where God’s people come together to gather before the LORD, their Rock and their Saviour. Going to church is not about doing our duty every Sunday, twice a Sunday, and after church, we can go home as soon as possible, have coffee and lunch, come again in the afternoon and go home as soon as possible to be on our own, with our own family. Going to church is the joy of being together with God’s people, and being able together to unite in faith and come before God and praise Him. Being together with God’s people is just as much part of it as coming before the LORD.
If that were not important, God could have told us to go in our inner room, to have a kind of sanctuary in our houses, and worship God there. And maybe to have the minister come there to administer for us the grace of God and the sacraments there, at home. But that is not what God tells us to do. It is God’s desire that His people comes together and in fellowship with each other, enjoy the fellowship with Christ. There is it where God comforts His people, there is it where we should seek and find comfort. This element of the importance of the communion of saints, the Church not being the clergy or an institution, but being the people, the communion of saints, which was an important teaching during the Reformation and was also emphasised by the Great Synod of Dort, 400 years ago. And we must remember this always.