The Lord’s Pilgrim’s Joy In Jerusalem 

a brief study of Psalm 122, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 29 April 2011


Psalm 122 is the third of the “songs of degrees” or “songs of ascent.” These are also known as Pilgrim Psalms because the Jews of old would sing these psalms whenever they ascended to Jerusalem on their pilgrimage for the annual feasts.

Psalm 120 sounds a note of hope, even a hope of peace to be found in the company of the righteous made perfect.

Psalm 121 is characterised by faith, even faith in the LORD who neither slumbers nor sleeps as He watches over us in our pilgrimage.

So Psalm 122 is defined by joy, even the joy in fellowship and worship of God’s people in Jerusalem. 

In Psalm 122, the pilgrim is thinking about Jerusalem as he journeys on. He imagines himself standing at the gate of Jerusalem, and a thrill fills his heart. He is excited as he anticipates the fullness of joy that he will experience within the walls of Jerusalem when he joins fellow pilgrims to worship the LORD.

We may entitle this psalm, “The Pilgrim’s Joy at Jerusalem.” But it is important for us to take note as we look at this psalm that this is not just about the city of Jerusalem in Palestine. Jerusalem, we must remember, was but a type of the church. But neither is this psalm only about the church as we experience it today. The joy and peace that is spoken of in this psalm will not be fully realised in the church on earth. No, no; the peace and joy spoken of in this psalm is the peace and joy that we will have one day in the heavenly Jerusalem.

But thank God that as believers, we have already come unto the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22). We have already received an earnest of our eternal inheritance (Eph 1:14). Therefore, despite our experiences to the contrary, we can already begin to enjoy a foretaste of the joy and peace that we will have in heaven. This psalm speaks of our yearning for this joy and peace.

It gives us words to exhort one another to seek the good of the congregation of Christ that He joins us to.

It gives us expression for the rare moments when joy overflows our heart and tears are brought to our eyes, as we realise that it is possible to find peace and love even in the midst of the covenant community, though we are yet imperfect saints.

This psalm has three parts. The first part, verses 1-2, is an expression of joy that we can have in Jerusalem. The second part, verses 3-5, describes the basis of the joy that may be found in Jerusalem. The third part, verses 6-9, is a word of testimony and exhortation to seek the good of Jerusalem.


1. Joy in Jerusalem Anticipated

1 I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. 2 Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.

The pilgrim is on his way to Jerusalem. He recalls the day when the invitation goes out amongst his friends—“Let us go into the house of the LORD!” His heart had been filled with gladness at the suggestion.

Three times a year, at the Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles, God’s people would gather in Jerusalem for worship. The righteous amongst the saints did not take the appointments as a matter of routine, but as a privilege and a great joy.

He delights to be found in the great congregation to worship the Lord with his people. He is ravished with the thought of standing within the gates of Jerusalem and gathering at the temple to worship the LORD with his people.

God’s people today ought to have the same yearning. We should yearn for the eternal Sabbath in the heavenly Jerusalem. And we should yearn too for the worship amongst God’s people today which serve as a foretaste of that heavenly worship. Such should be our attitude in our Christian life. Public worship should be the main reason for our gathering Sabbath by Sabbath. Fellowship we may find day by day as we interact with one another in informal ways. But public worship can be enjoyed only when we gather together. Oh may the Lord grant us the same delight in the worship of Jerusalem as expressed in this psalm.

But why should there be joy in Jerusalem?


2. Joy in Jerusalem Explained

Here are four inter-related reasons. First, there is joy in Jerusalem for…

3 Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:

Jerusalem was a beautiful city. It was not like the villages where buildings stood apart from one another and appeared to be haphazardly cobbled together. No, no; Jerusalem was an integrated city. Space was maximized, buildings were beautifully designed to fit in with one another and with the streets, the wall and the towers.

Jerusalem above is like that. The apostle John describes it as a city that “lieth foursquare, … The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal” (Rev 21:16).

Of course John was seeing a symbolic vision. It speaks of how the church is perfect and beautiful. Every member of the church is fitted beautifully as a lively stone with Christ as the chief cornerstone. Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together by the sovereign power of God. This is the wisdom and doing of the Lord, for which we can rejoice.

And not only so, but secondly, there is joy in Jerusalem for she provided the people of God with a point of unity, verse 4—

4 Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD,…

The tribes of Israel were scattered and diverse. But whatever differences they might have, they put them aside and gathered in Jerusalem for worship.

What a beautiful picture of the church, both on earth and in heaven! On earth, the families of God, so diverse and distinct, gather together to worship in a beautiful display of unity in Christ. In heaven, the manifestation of unity will be even more dramatic, for true churches from all ages and nations and denominations would be gathered together and represented. What a joy just to think about it!

But not only is there joy in Jerusalem for she is a point of unity, but there is joy in Jerusalem for it is there that our hearts will most greatly be inclined to gratitude. For we see that the tribes went to Jerusalem not because there is good food and good fellowship there but they go, verse 4b,—

4b …unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.

The testimony of Israel, or the ark of the Testimony (Ex 25:1) was there. This is the third reason why there is joy in Jerusalem. Jerusalem and the temple at Jerusalem represented the presence of God amongst His people. So God’s people whose hearts were filled with gratitude must go to Jerusalem to give thanks unto Him.

Today, we no longer are required to worship in the city of Jerusalem (Jn 4:21). We have come unto the heavenly Jerusalem. But still we must assemble together to worship the Lord. Why must we worship?

We must worship the Lord because of what the Lord has done for us. He has come into our midst to reveal Himself to us. He has come as Emmanuel. Emmanuel has lived, suffered and died for us, and He rose again for our justification.

If Old Testament saints knew how to gather together to show gratitude to the LORD, how much more, we who sees all things in clear? Thank God for the privilege of expressing our joy and gratitude for reconciliation unto God in Christ.

Christ is our compassionate Great High Priest who laid down His life for us even so that we may enjoy God in Him. Let us rejoice and be glad in Him!

And not only is He our Great High Priest, Christ is also our King. His kingship is represented by the Davidic kings who ruled from Jerusalem. This is the fourth reason why there is joy in Jerusalem. Verse 5—

5 For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David. 

Thank God for the joy of not only being a worshipper, but a member or citizen of the Kingdom of Christ. When the saints of old went up to Jerusalem, they also acknowledged their allegiance to the king. When the Northern ten tribes broke away and ceased to worship at Jerusalem, these ten tribes denied the kingship of Christ. I believe the righteous who would not bow their knees to Baal would still make the journey down to Jerusalem. But the rest had turned away from Christ.

Today, the keys of the kingdom of Christ have been committed to the elders and ministers of Christ to rule the church. When members of the church gather regularly for worship, therefore, they are acknowledging not only the priesthood but kingship of Christ. For did not the Lord Jesus told his apostles:

“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19).

Thank God that such as seek diligently to gather with the people of the Lord to worship today will also experience the blessing of being found amongst the justified to worship God forever and ever in everlasting joy. But thank God there is much reason for joy in Jerusalem, even today.

And so, let us also learn to exhort one another to seek the good of Jerusalem according to the final part of this psalm, which may be subtitled—


3. Joy in Jerusalem Desired

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: not Jerusalem in Palestine, but the church typified by Jerusalem. Those who love Jerusalem will prosper. The Lord Jesus said the same thing when He says: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt 6:33). The kingdom of God is largely manifested in the church of Christ today.

Let us therefore pray for the church. Pray for peace between members and between leaders in the congregation. Pray also for peace between the churches.

Let us pray with a heartfelt yearning that there may indeed be peace within the church and success in the endeavours led by the under-shepherds, as expressed in verse 7—

7 Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.

And let us exhort one another to seek the good of the church. Let us do so for 2 reasons. First, let us seek the good of the church for the sake of one another, verse 8—

 8 For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.

The church is not a building or a place. The church is a people. When there is peace in the church, there is joy, even joy for ourselves and for our brethren and friends.

We must not think only of our own joy, but the joy of our brethren and friends. Christian love is about seeking the joy of our brethren as Christ laid down His life for us. 

Since peace within the church brings joy, let us pray for and seek peace with her. Let us seek to imitate Christ by considering others better than ourselves, and refraining from being opinionated and quarrelsome.

And not only so, but, secondly, since the church is the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, and disunity greatly dishonours Christ, let us seek the peace and good of Jerusalem for the sake of the glory of God. The Psalmist puts it this way in verse 9—

9 Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.

The house of the LORD represents Christ and the worship of the LORD that is centred on Christ.

Oh may the Lord grant us such a heart for His glory that we may make a priority in our lives to seek the good of His church!


Conclusion

This, beloved brethren and children, is the message of Psalm 122. It is a favourite of the children and very familiar to many of us. But how many of us in this selfish and individualistic age can sing it with heartfelt sincerity?

How many Christians today will put the church first in their life and decisions? How many will pray for the church? How many think about the church first when deciding how to use their resources and time?

Oh that the Spirit of Christ will work in our hearts that our hearts may truly reflect the words that He has given to us to sing in this psalm! Oh may the Lord help us, that our attitude towards the church may be changed by the power of His grace and love. And in this way may we find joy in Jerusalem even as we grow together unto the heavenly Jerusalem wherein is perfect peace, joy and love. Amen.