“IN THE CONGREGATIONS”
1. We live in the second largest metropolitan area in the United States. If you ignore the artificial political boundaries that divide our region into individual cities and counties, the Los Angeles metropolitan area reached a population of 16.4 million by the year 2000, according to the Economics and Statistics Administration of the United States Bureau of the Census.
2. How did we get to where we are now? From a spiritual perspective, what is occurring with this relentless urbanization throughout the world? It seems as though almost everyone born on the farm grows up and wants to move into the city. But some of those who live in the city want to move back out onto the farm. What is at work in all of this?
3. Turn in your Bible to Genesis chapter 4 and I will tell you what my considered opinion is, without trying to be too dogmatic. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell into sin, and by their sin the entire human race was plunged into the darkness of depravity. In Genesis 4.8 we read that Cain, Adam and Eve’s firstborn son, slew his younger brother, Abel. God punished Cain for murdering his brother, but He also protected him from being killed for revenge by anyone.
4. Rather than getting onto any sidetracks at this juncture, I want to point out to you that, according to Genesis 4.17, Cain then built a city, which so far as we know was the first city ever to be built. I find it interesting that the first city to be built was built by Cain.
5. But this was before the great flood that God sent to destroy all flesh, with only the Ark preserving Noah and his family from God’s judgment. After the waters of the flood subsided and Noah and his family left the Ark and began to replenish the earth, Noah’s great grandson, Nimrod by name, began to build an empire, and built cities as a means of building his empire. This is all in Genesis chapter 10.
6. In Genesis chapter 11 we see this whole process summarized by focusing on a single city and the events that took place there. The city was Babylon. Let’s read Moses’ account:
1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
7. It appears as though sinful men came together in the city to do wrong, to unite with each other in idolatrous opposition to the plan and purpose of God, and that this activity interfered with God’s plan for man to go forth and replenish the earth. So God intervened by confounding their language and scattering them.
8. This suggests to me that God generally does not want people congregated into cities, and that when sinful men gather together in cities it’s for the purpose of doing wrong, not for the purpose of doing right.
9. Not that God doesn’t want anyone to congregate. After all, He did gather the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage into a congregation, and instructed that a tent be built while they were in the dessert that was called the “tabernacle of the congregation,” in Exodus 27.21. But God gathered the children of Israel into a congregation for the express purpose of worshiping and serving Him, not so they could commit sin.
10. Later, after He had settled the Israelites in the promised land, He dispersed them into their tribal lands and directed them to live out their lives. But they were to congregate from time to time as He had outlined in the Law He had given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
11. The children of Israel were supposed to congregate wherever the Ark of the covenant was. But through a series of mishaps the Ark had been moved from Shiloh, more than 20 miles north of Jerusalem, where it had been during the prophet Samuel’s youth, and ended up in a city about 10 miles west of Jerusalem called Kirjathjearim. Between the time the Ark had been in Shiloh and the time it arrived in Kirjathjearim it had actually fallen for a time into the hands of the wicked Philistines.
12. When David became king and solidified his hold on the throne of Israel he moved the Ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, which became Israel’s capital and the place where God wanted the children of Israel to congregate, in compliance with the demands of the Law that had been given to Moses.
13. As well, God had provided for cities of refuge and what were called Levitical cities, cities which would suit God’s purposes for His people by providing safe havens for whose lives were in danger, and cities in which priests from the tribe of Levi lived, which served as teaching centers for God’s people to be instructed in the Law. But except for Jerusalem and these designated cities it is unlikely that any city in the world was much more than a hothouse for men’s conspiracies to commit vile acts of sin and wickedness.
14. Now, I know that many people will jump to the defense of the city they love, and defend it almost to the death. New Yorkers will defend the Big Apple. Those from New Orleans will defend the Big Easy. Parisians will defend the City of Lights. Romans will defend the Eternal City. Scholars and historians will defend ancient Athens, that place where democracy was born and enjoyed by the 5 or 10% of the population who weren’t slaves.
15. But what does God’s Word seem to suggest about these large gatherings of humanity that we call cities? Let’s turn to Isaiah 14, where we will read a famous portion of Scripture describing Satan’s rebellion, his works, and his demise:
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
16 They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
17 That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
18 All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house.
19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
20 Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.
21 Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers; that they do not rise, nor possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities.
16. In short, Lucifer, Satan as we now know him, is the destroyer of cities, verse 17, and God does not want the face of the world filled with cities that are inhabited by wicked people set on doing wrong, verse 21.
17. “So, pastor, we should make our pile of money here in the city and then figure out a way to move to the hinterlands, figure out a way to move to the suburbs, or even better, buy some farm in a green valley somewhere and grow peaches?” No. That is not what you should do.
18. As God wanted the children of Israel to gather into a congregation for the purpose of worshiping and serving Him, so Churches of Jesus Christ are also authorized by God to congregate for the purpose of worshiping and serving God. But where are Churches supposed to congregate?
19. Where was the first Church? The city of Jerusalem. Where was the second Church that we know of? Probably in the city of Damascus or the city of Samaria. Where was the first predominately Gentile congregation, with members from different ethnic groups as far away as Africa? The city of Antioch. Where did Paul establish Churches? In cities, such as Philippi, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth.
20. Folks, New Testament Christianity is a city religion. Now, don’t misunderstand. The Christian faith is a relationship that exists between a believer and the Savior. But the Christian faith cannot be divorced from Christian Churches, and in the first century it is very clearly seen that Christianity was a city religion.
21. Why so? Because cities are where the mission fields are. Cities are where the sinners who need to be reached for Christ are concentrated. Now, it’s true that people gather in the cities to do wrong, to satisfy their longing for money, to fulfill their lusts, to bolster their egos, to make a name for themselves and to get famous. But it’s in cities where we see Churches planted in the New Testament, planted in the midst of the cities for the purpose of reaching people in those cities for Christ.
22. This notion of abandoning cities so that Churches might be built in the suburbs and rural regions does not reflect the New Testament pattern. So, while it is true that the unsaved are out of God’s will by being geographically located in the cities, as they are out of God’s will in so many other ways, Christians are supposed to be in the cities. And in the cities, we are also supposed to be in our congregations, our Churches.
23. You see, it was the responsibility of the Church of Philippi to reach the city of Philippi. It was the responsibility of the Churches in Rome to reach the city of Rome. It was the responsibility of the Church in Athens to reach the city of Athens. Just as it was the responsibility of the Church in Ephesus to reach the city of Ephesus. And it is our responsibility to reach people in this city of Los Angeles.
24. We don’t do this as individuals, but as a congregation, as a Church. Thus, as lost people are not authorized to gather together and to congregate, because they sin when they do so, we are not authorized not to gather together and to congregate, because we sin when we do not do so. Hebrews 10.25 is very familiar to most of us: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another.”
25. So, what about this congregating that God’s people are supposed to participate in? Though there are some differences in the specifics of what God’s congregated people are supposed to do at different times in history, there are many parallels.
26. Here is an example of a difference: The children of Israel were not to mix and mingle with the heathen. They were to separate from them and have nothing to do with them unless it was absolutely necessary. But God’s will for our lives is quite different in this regard. We are to be in the world, but not of the world, John 17.15. And to discharge our responsibility to preach the Gospel to every creature we have to go to where the creatures are. And where they are in abundance is in the cities of this world.
27. My sermon this morning will deal with one feature of our congregating that is parallel to the congregation of the assembled Israelites in Old Testament times, something God does not want changed.
28. But before the sermon Gary Isenberger comes to lead us as we stand to sing.
1. Turn in your Bible to Psalm 26.12, our text for this morning. When you find that verse please stand for the reading of God’s Word: “My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations will I bless the LORD.”
2. My friend, it is pretty obvious that we exert ourselves to bring visitors to Church. The great majority of our congregation goes out every Saturday evening in what is for us a massive effort to bring the lost under the preaching of the Gospel.
3. And just about every able-bodied Church member, as well as some who are not Church members and who are not so able-bodied, see the need to get out to work to bring visitors in. Most sinners who get saved get saved under preaching, so we must get sinners under the preaching. That’s why we have such a good turnout on Saturday evenings.
4. But sometimes there is a loss of awareness on the part of Church members about their own role in a Church service. “Okay, I got a visitor here to hear you preach the Gospel, pastor. What do I do now?” Another version might be, “I did my best to get someone here. What part do I play in seeing lost people come to Christ while we are all sitting here in Church?”
5. Here is where we see the parallel between the congregation of Israel in that period of time before Christ and the congregation of the Church in this time period after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension to His Father’s right hand in heaven.
6. The purpose of the congregation is to “bless the LORD.” This is what the gathered Israelites and the gathered congregation of Calvary Road Baptist Church have in common. They did and we are to “bless the LORD.”
7. Three observations in connection with our text for you to keep in mind this morning:
1A. First, KEEP IN YOUR MIND THE PEOPLE WHO BLESS THE LORD
The verse begins “My foot standeth in an even place”
1B. This is the self-description of the person who can bless the Lord. His foot stands on an even place. He is not on the rough terrain of the wilderness. He is not on the uneven ground of conflict. Neither is he navigating uncharted territory.
2B. This is the testimony of a man who is standing on the smoothed surface that has been prepared for those who come before God to worship Him, to serve Him, to adore Him, to bow before Him. This man knows that he shall not stumble, neither shall he fall.
3B. May I suggest to you that this speaks of someone who is genuinely converted? May I suggest to you that this speaks of someone whose feet are planted on the solid Rock, which is Jesus? In Psalm 40.2 we read, “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.”
4B. This cannot be a lost man. A lost man, you see, stands on the pitching deck of his small boat in the violent storm of life. A lost man walks along an uncertain and uneven path in the darkness, stumbling here and tripping there and stubbing his toes yonder. Only the child of God has sure footing and can say “My foot standeth in an even place.” So, only the child of God can bless the Lord after the fashion that is described here.
2A. Next, KEEP IN YOUR MIND THE PLACE WHERE THE LORD IS BLESSED
David writes: “My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations . . . .”
1B. The literal Hebrew word translated “in the congregations” is plural. But sometimes Hebrew plural words carry with them a singular idea. And so I think it is here. David, in my opinion, has in mind here the congregating of all the congregations. This is the great congregation. This is when the entire congregation is gathered together. This is where the Lord is blessed.
2B. Keep this in mind when some free lance Southern California evangelical tries to persuade you that a small group meeting is quite sufficient. It may be quite sufficient for him to play the part of an important Bible study leader, but it is quite insufficient, I promise you, for the Lord to be blessed in a manner that He finds fitting.
3B. And keep this in mind when some fellow expresses to you that he does not feel any particular need to attend Church, because he gets quite enough out of personal Bible study and communing with God in the woods by himself. But this has nothing to do with any particular felt need. Rather, this has to do with one who is redeemed blessing his Lord in an appropriate manner, blessing his Lord in a way that pleases the Lord . . . not in a way that especially gratifies his own wants and desires.
4B. Excuse me, but blessing the Lord is all about what God wants, not about what you want, not about what I want, and not about what anyone else wants. And one of the things God wants, one of the things God clearly wants, one of the things God undeniably wants, is to be blessed in the congregation, is to be blessed by His gathered people, is to be blessed in the crowd.
5B. So, you may find someone correctly asserting that they got converted alone and by themselves, as was the case with me. But you will not find anyone standing on solid Scriptural ground who claims to serve God alone, who claims to obey God alone, who claims to bless God alone. No way. The Christian life, some loners in our country are reluctant to admit, is a life that God has decreed is to be lived in concert with other Christians. And one of the things that is rightly done with other Christians, specifically, in the congregation, is bless the Lord.
6B. It was so in Moses’ day and in David’s day, and it is as much so in our day as it was in Paul’s day and Peter’s day and John’s day. The Lord is blessed in the congregation by His people. If it’s a congregation, but not His people, then He is not blessed. And if it’s His people, so called, but it’s not in the congregation, then, again, He is not blessed. At least, not the way that is fit, not in the way that He has chosen. So, before, Church, and after Church, and at Church activities, bless the Lord.
3A. Finally, KEEP IN YOUR MIND THE PURPOSE WHY THE LORD IS BLESSED
“My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations will I bless the LORD.”
1B. To bless the Lord literally means to get on your knees and bow before Him. It does not mean to plead with God, for David’s pleadings are found in verses 2 and 9 of this psalm. Neither does it mean to ask, as in ordinary and routine prayer. What David means when he says “will I bless the LORD” is that he will praise the LORD for making his foot to stand in an even place.
2B. Do you recognize what this means, my friend? David is showing us the propriety of publicly praising God in the congregation for saving us. To be sure, you can praise God in private, by getting on your face before Him and expressing your gratitude and thanksgiving in private prayer. But there is an aspect of the Christian life that requires that God’s people be gathered together so that public expressions of praise and thanksgiving to God can be made in the midst of the congregation.
3B. “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.” That’s what Psalm 107.2 declares. But where should the redeemed of the Lord say so? Our text shows us where. In the congregation. So, bless the Lord before Church. Bless the Lord after Church. Bless the Lord in song and with Amens. Bless the Lord tonight during our salad social. Bless the Lord on Saturday nights when the congregation goes out to do God’s business. Gather when we gather and in the gathering bless the Lord.
4B. And our text suggests to us why we are to bless the Lord. We bless the Lord as an expression of gratitude, and as an act of thanksgiving, for His great salvation wherewith He has saved us.
1. All over the United States we find preachers looking up demographics to find out where the white people are running to to escape the big cities. Preachers do this so they can go to where the white people are running to start Churches with cast offs from other congregations. You see, a great many of those who are running away from the cities are Church members who claim to be Christians, running away from their mission fields!
2. Rather than start Churches in new developments of white runaways from the cities, I suggest that Christians stay where they are, open up their Bibles, and prayerfully seek to become the kind of city Christians found in the Churches at Philippi, Ephesus, Antioch, Rome and Thessalonica. And it would be good for the preachers to start Churches in the cities, rather than catering to the fleeing so-called Christians who are running away.
3. “But pastor, it’s hard to live in the city and serve God.” It would be easier if you congregated more frequently than you do, and if when you did gather together with the other saints you made sure you blessed the Lord.
4. I have a strong suspicion that if I will preach the whole counsel of God’s Word, if we will all then pray and work together on Saturdays to bring visitors into our Church on Sunday, and if you will bless the Lord on Sundays when you get here, and before you leave here, then we will see God do great things.
5. What will we see? We will see sinners come to Jesus Christ for forgiveness, for cleansing, for life eternal. But if we do not bless the Lord in the congregation, if we do not congregate and if we congregate but do not bless the Lord, then what’s the point of this Church existing?
6. So, come tonight and bless the Lord. Come Wednesday night and bless the Lord. Show up Saturday evening and bless the Lord. And, of course, come back next Sunday morning and bless the Lord. And if that sounds dreary and boring to you, then I would suggest that you get saved. Then you will have plenty to bless the Lord for and you will love gathering with the saints.
 http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2001/cb01cn64.html (U. S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office, Last Revised: April 02, 2001 at 10:32:53 AM)