The Glory of the Church of Christ

a brief study of Psalm 48, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 11 March 2008

Like Psalm 47, Psalm 48 is very joyous Psalm. It is also a Psalm of celebration. On the surface, it is a Psalm of praise in celebration of Mt Zion, or Jerusalem. So this Psalm speaks of the palaces, towers and bulwarks of Jerusalem as well as the victories over her enemies that ventured to conquer her.

But let us not forget that Jerusalem and Mount Zion is but a type of the Church. So this Psalm is not really about Jerusalem per se. So when we sing this Psalm, we do not think of Jerusalem in Palestine, and certainly not of the Dome of the Rock Mosque that stands on the temple site today.

No, no, when we sing or meditate on this Psalm, our eyes must be lifted up to our great God and King, the Lord Jesus Christ to praise Him for Jerusalem that is from above, the Church.

In the Church of England liturgy, this Psalm is appointed for use on Whit Sunday, which is to commemorate Pentecost or the day of the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ upon the Church after the ascension of Christ. Why? Well, to paraphrase the Rev. George Horne, this Psalm contains a snapshot of the glory, beauty and strength of the Church, immediately after she was rescued from her enemies.

We may divide this Psalm into 4 parts:

1. Mt Zion is Glorious because of the LORD (v. 1-3).

2. Mt Zion is Victorious because of the LORD (v. 4-8)

3. Mt Zion Rejoices because of the LORD (v. 9-11).

4. Mt Zion is to be spoken about because of the LORD (v. 12-14)

1. Mt Zion is Glorious
because of the LORD

1  Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness.  2 Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. 3 God is known in her palaces for a refuge.

Mount Zion is the Church of Christ, the city set upon a hill to show forth the praises of God. She is beautiful and glorious not in herself; by herself, she is wretched, full of spots and wrinkles and blemishes of all sorts (Eph 5:27). But when she stands in the arms of her husband and head, Christ the great King, she is altogether lovely.

This is why even as this Psalm of celebration of the Church begins, it is not the Church but the Head of the Church that receives the first accolade: “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God…

The Church, the city and bride of our great God and King is glorious and beautiful because of our LORD. The words ‘beautiful for situation’ speak of her loftiness. Just as Jerusalem of old was on an elevated plane geographically, the church must be on an elevated plane morally and spiritually.

Indeed, she is beautiful and a joy of the world by shining forth for Christ as a city on a hill. How does she shine forth for Christ?

She shines forth for Christ, in the first place, through the preaching of the Gospel, for it is by the preached Word that our King conquers and blesses.

But in the second place, the Church shines forth for Christ through the example of mutual love within the communion, for “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples,” says our King (Jn 13:35a). For this reason, though trials are painful, we thank God for them, both so that we may be moved to go to Him to be our refuge and strength as well as to pour forth the love of Christ to one another.

And yes, there will be trials, only that our Lord has designed trials not for our destruction, but for our sanctification.

This is what the second part of this Psalm is about.

2. Mt Zion is Victorious
because of the LORD

The biggest trial that the people of God in earthly Zion experience would be war. We remember how Sennacherib laid siege on Jerusalem and kept Hezekiah, in his own words, like a bird in a cage.

But God’s people need never fear, for when the Lord is with them, their enemies will return in fear and shame:

4 For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together. 5 They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled, and hasted away. 6 Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail. 7 Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind. 8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever.

Today, this truth remains. Many things, in the hand of Satan, threaten to shake us loose and separate us from the love of God. But our Lord will not allow it to happen. He has established the Church in His love forever.

Nothing shall separate us from His love—neither wars, nor sword, nor famine, nor persecution, nor tribulation,—shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us (cf. Rom 8:35-39).

So Satan and his cohorts and agents are frustrated. They return from their attempts defeated and troubled. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church (cf. Mt 16:18), for the King of kings has established it forever.

So the Church rejoices. This is what the 3rd part of this Psalm is about…

3. Mt Zion Rejoices
because of the LORD

9 We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple. 10 According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness. 11 Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments.

The world sees the work of the Lord, but does not apprehend the purpose behind it. In fact, even believers sometimes get discouraged when we see the wicked prospering, while the righteous doing not so well. This thought is found in Psalm 73, which begins on a gloomy note that the wicked often prosper more than the righteous. But the Psalm begins to brighten towards the end when the Psalmist says:

“Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (Ps 73:17)

Going into the sanctuary of the LORD is a symbolic way of speaking about spiritual meditation and reasoning. Only when the Psalmist thinks carefully about what God is doing from the spiritual and eternal perspective then he begins to see things clearer.

This is the case in our text, verse 9. Some of the things that happen in this world are hard to understand. Some have asked: “If there is God, why is there evil?” Others ask: “How can a righteous God allow the righteous to suffer while letting the wicked go free?”

But the children of God, in whom dwells the Spirit of Christ, know that God is righteous in all that He does. Indeed, the children of God desire that God be praised throughout the world—by an understanding that His right hand is full of righteousness. All that He does arises out of His heart of compassion and love and is always righteous.

The children of God must be the first to acknowledge this truth. But not only are we to acknowledge, we must rather rejoice in His righteousness as we see His great hand in all the things that are happening in the world and especially in His Church.

Indeed, let us not only rejoice to see what the Lord is doing in the Church, but let us study it and talk about it. This is what the final section of this Psalm is about.

4. Mt Zion is to be Spoken About
because of the LORD

12 Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. 13 Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.   14 For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.

Taken literally, these words instruct us to go to Jerusalem, to walk about the city, to observe the towers, the bulwarks or fortifications and her palaces. We are to note down what we see so that we may talk about them to our children and grandchildren.

But certainly, this cannot be the meaning, for otherwise, we will never be able to do as we are commanded to do today. For most of the towers, bulwarks and palaces of Jerusalem are long gone.

What then does the Holy Spirit want us to do? I have no doubt He wants to see what He has done in building up the Church in history and in our own times.

He wants us to tell the story of the Church to our children. We must read the Bible for the inspired history of the Church. But we should also read church history books. We should talk about the great work of God in the history of the Church. Talk about His great work of redemption and deliverance. Talk about the servants of the Lord and their exploits—of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainnerd, Hudson Taylor, about the 2 Margarets, about the dairyman’s daughter, about the little kitchen girl.

And we should also talk about what the Lord is doing in our own time. Talk about how the Lord saved and delivered.  Talk about how He saw us through various trials. Speak of the Dorcas and the Lazaruses. Tell of lives transformed.

Tell it to our children. Tell them of things that will evoke praise. Don’t tell them of our grievances and disagreements unless there has been reconciliation and mutual forgiveness. Do not make them despise the Church because of her spots and wrinkles. But lead them to love the Church because Christ loves her. Tell them, therefore, of the great work of God. Tell them that they may know that:

…God is our God forever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death [and beyond].

It is because of our LORD God, that we are what we are. It is because of the LORD that it is meaningful to talk about the Church.

And our LORD is well pleased when we talk about what He is doing in the lives of His people. Malachi puts it this way:

“Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name” (Mal 3:16).


What a blessing it is to be in this glorious and victorious Church of Christ, to rejoice and to talk about what Christ is doing in our midst.

May the Lord help us, that we may truly find it a blessing to be in the Church of Christ, and truly be able to see with spiritual eyes that she is beautiful and glorious in Christ who is altogether lovely. Amen.

            —JJ Lim