Kingdom Living (Sermon)
I vividly remember watching the news in 1992 and seeing people riot through the streets of Los Angeles. The riots began after a California jury acquitted four police officers who had been charged with beating an African American man named Rodney King. During the 6 days of rioting, 53 people were killed and more than 2,000 were injured.
One particular image sticks out in my memory. During the riots, Rodney King went on television and asked, “Can we all get along? Can we all just get along?” It was a powerful, heartfelt plea for unity…but the rioting continued. It didn’t end until the National Guard and United States Marine Corps were called in to assist the LAPD.
“Can we all get along?” That question has been asked during family feuds. It’s been asked during civil wars. It’s been asked during schoolyard beatings.
We want the fighting to end. We want to live in peace. We want to achieve racial, political and relational harmony, and yet everywhere we turn we see fighting and arguing. In the church, in the state, in the courtroom, in the living room, we can’t find a single place where people will for any extended period of time, just get along.
This morning we’re going to study Psalm 133. It’s a short psalm—only 3 verses long, and it addresses this issue of getting along. It answers this question, “Can we get along?”
Context: Psalms of Ascent
Before we dive into the psalm, we need to spend some time setting the context. Psalm 133 is near the end of a group of 15 psalms called the Psalms of Ascent. This group of Psalms begins with Psalm 120 and ends with Psalm 134.
Now, there are a couple of theories about the Psalms of Ascent.
The first theory is that they were Psalms sung at the Temple. In the temple, there are 15 steps between the Court of Women and the Court of Men. Some theorize that Psalm 120 was sung on the first step, and then each subsequent Psalm was sung as the worshippers took a step up (or ascended). There is little support for this theory—it seems to have sprung up because there were 15 psalms and someone started looking for 15 of something else to match.
The second theory is that these Psalms were sung by pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem for each of the annual feasts (Passover, Pentecost and the Day of Atonement). This theory is reasonable, particularly when you notice the emphasis on the Temple within the Psalms.
But the best way to understand these Psalms is to see that they are written by those returning to Israel from Exile in Babylon. Psalm 126 describes the Lord restoring the fortunes of Zion (or Jerusalem). After seeing Jerusalem sacked, the temple destroyed and the people carted off to Babylon, the nation of Israel wondered if it would ever return. These Psalms were written as the people ascended to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. In fact, the same word for ascent is used in Ezra 7:9. Listen to how it’s used:
(Ezra 7:9 ESV) For on the first day of the first month he began to go up [ascend] from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him.
Here’s why the context is significant. As the people returned from captivity in Babylon, they remembered God’s promise to David that one day a descendant of David would sit on the throne in Jerusalem and reign as king. This was the promise of the coming Messiah. These Psalms of Ascent are thoroughly Messianic. They focus on the Messiah’s reign from a restored Jerusalem.
One writer summed up how we are to understand these Psalms: "The Psalms of Ascents are thus to be read within Psalms as an expression of the hope of God’s faithfulness to David and the fulfillment of his messianic promise."[i]
Now turn to Psalm 132. The end of Psalm 132 gives us the immediate context for our study this morning. Psalm 132 begins asking the Lord to remember His promise to David. Verse 11—the promise was that his sons would sit on the throne. Verse 12—if they obeyed, they would sit on the throne forever. We know from our study of Kings and Chronicles that David’s sons did not obey God, and that’s what led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Davidic dynasty. Look at verses 17-18:
(Psalms 132:17–18 ESV) There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but on him his crown will shine.
Though David’s sons failed and the kingdom was lost, God would still bring a ruler from the Davidic line who would restore God’s kingdom, defeat His enemies and reign over a renewed people. This is the promise of the Messiah. This is talking about Jesus Christ, the son of God, born from the line of David, who would one day restore the kingdom of God.
That’s the context. Now let’s read Psalm 133:
(Psalms 133:0–3 ESV) A SONG OF ASCENTS. OF DAVID. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
Our question at the beginning was: Can we all get along? Here’s the answer. Perfect unity can only exist where Christ rules.
Psalm 133 is a beautiful picture of unity. It promotes unity. It describes and illustrates unity. But the context is important. This type of unity can only exist where the Promised King rules and reigns. The Messiah must defeat the enemies of God before this unity can happen.
Let me give you the plan for the rest of our time this morning. We’re going to break this Psalm down so that we understand and anticipate the kind of unity that will exist in the kingdom of Jesus Christ and then spend the end of our time thinking through how this applies to us today.
Let’s start with verse 1:
(Psalms 133:1 ESV) Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
The Beauty of Unity
Perfect unity is both good and pleasant. That’s a nice combination. Something’s are good for you and some are pleasant, but not all are good and pleasant. For instance, medicine is good for you. But it’s not always pleasant. When I can’t get rid of a cough, I know that taking cough medicine would be good for me, but I also know that I find it incredibly unpleasant.
On the other hand, when I drive down Broad Street and see a glowing “Hot Now” sign, I know there’s something that would be pleasant for me, but might not actually be good for me. Something that is both good and pleasant is something of great value. Unity is good and pleasant…beneficial and joyful.
I don’t know about you, but I like unity. I don’t like being in an argument. I don’t like walking into a room knowing that there’s going to be conflict. Now, I realize some times conflict is necessary. You could even say that some times it is good (meaning beneficial or helpful), but I have never been in a conflict that I thought was good and pleasant.
On the other hand, I’ve witnessed a type of unity that is pleasant but not good. There was a document written in 1994 called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” or ECT. It sought to minimize, even disregard, the severe differences in theology between Evangelicals and Catholics. It polluted the Gospel by implying that those who held to salvation by works were genuine Christians. This tragic document was building a type of unity that might have been pleasant, but was not good. Perfect unity is both good and pleasant.
Look again at verse 1:
(Psalms 133:1 ESV) Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Brothers—those dwelling in unity are members of the same family. Consider the history of Israel when this psalm was written. Prior to the Exile, the nation of Israel had been divided. There were two separate kingdoms—Israel in the north and Judah in the south—and they didn’t live in unity. Like the Hatfields and McCoys, they were constantly fighting with one another.
This Psalm looks forward to the time when Jesus Christ would reunite not only Israel but all nations would bow before Him. Jesus Christ can put to death centuries of animosity. He can heal life-long division.
It’s not always easy for brothers to live in unity. I know. I grew up with 3 of them. Though most of the time, we sat around the dinner table singing Kum-ba-ya and holding hands, on occasion we would argue and fight. As sinners with selfish hearts, we struggled to put the needs of each other before our own needs. We didn’t like to take the smallest piece of dessert after dinner. We loved each other, but that didn’t mean we always got along. Unity with brothers isn’t easy.
The final phrase in verse 1 is “dwell in unity!” We need to consider what that means. What does it mean to live in unity? We might be tempted to describe it as a lack of fighting, and absence of conflict. But unity is more active than passive. Dwelling in unity means to live as one. That certainly outlaws arguing and fighting. But it implies much more.
Another version translates this phrase, “living in harmony.” Just as unity is more than the lack of conflict, harmony is more than the lack of noise. A lack of noise is not harmony. It’s silence.
Before the service, the band usually plays a short prelude. Imagine you came one Sunday morning, looked at the stage and saw the band. It looked like they were playing. The guitarists’ fingers were moving over the strings, and the keyboard player’s hands were going back and forth. The singers’ eyes were closed. They were leaning into the microphone, moving their mouth, but no one was making a sound. Would you describe what they were doing as great harmony? Would you turn to the person beside you and say, “Listen to their beautiful harmony”?
Silence is not harmony. A ceasefire is not unity. Harmony is produced when people make distinct sounds that work perfectly together. When different notes blend to make a single, good and pleasant sound, that’s when you get harmony.
The opposite of harmony is discord. Discord is neither good nor pleasant. When someone plays a wrong note, it’s very unpleasant. It sounds wrong.
Harmony requires people working together. It also requires someone willing to not sing lead. Good harmony is when the melody is slightly louder than the other parts. To make beautiful 4-part harmony, three people need to take a backseat.
The reason harmony is so difficult is because sin’s very nature is disruptive. Sin disrupts relationships. Think back to the Garden of Eden. One sin by the man and the woman created chaos and disharmony. They hid from God, blamed each other and were cast out of God’s presence. Their oldest son killed his brother, and it’s all gone downhill from there.
It is good and pleasant when brothers live in harmony. But it’s impossible under the dominion of sin. It’s impossible because the presence of sin always creates discord. That’s why this psalm follows the one before. It encourages us that this good and pleasant unity is possible when Jesus Christ defeats sin and rules on the throne. Only under the rule of Jesus Christ can a unity exist that is both good and pleasant. We’ll come back to this and see why in a few moments.
Illustrations of Unity
Before we do, let’s look at verses 2 & 3. These verses give us two illustrations that help us understand how glorious and wonderful this Christ-secured unity really is.
(Psalms 133:2–3 ESV) It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
These two illustrations describe the unity that comes under the rule of Jesus Christ.
First, this unity comes from God.
We are shown a picture of Aaron, the high priest of Israel, being anointed for his special duty. Who chose Aaron? God did. The unity is like oil anointing Aaron, and God is the source of this anointing. He is the one who commanded Moses to anoint Aaron. Twice the psalm repeats the phrase, “running down.” This anointing comes from above. It’s poured out by God on Aaron.
Only God can give this kind of unity. This unity is beyond man’s ability to manufacture. Our hearts are evil and desperately wicked. We are self-absorbed and self-centered. There is no way we could achieve this type of unity on our own. It requires an act of God.
Because it’s God’s work, this unity is inexhaustible. Normally, when someone was anointed, a small amount of oil was poured on the top of his head. Look at the amount of oil poured out in this illustration. It runs down his head, through his beard, covers his neck, and even goes down onto his robe.
God is not miserly with His grace. He is generous. He doesn’t pinch pennies. He throws open treasure chests. The unity God gives to those who submit to His Son is extravagant and inexhaustible.
My ability for unity is small. I have a shallow reservoir from which to draw. For me to be the source of unity with someone else, they must meet a certain set of strict criteria, and even then I’m liable to still be cranky, ugly and resistant to any type of unity. Thankfully, I’m not God. The unity He gives comes from a bottomless pool of grace. He never runs dry. I’ve got a bathtub to draw from. He’s got an ocean.
Second, this unity extends to others.
The unity is pictured as dew on Mt. Hermon. Again, that highlights its divine source. But the dew doesn’t stay on Mt. Hermon, it falls on Mt. Zion. Now, Mt. Hermon and Mt. Zion aren’t neighbors. They’re hundreds of miles apart. How could dew from Mt. Hermon fall on Mt. Zion? The point is that when God gives the unity it spreads to others, even if it seems impossible.
This contrasts the unity God gives with the unity we might see in other places in our world. People can unite for a time around a cause. It may be political, or financial. A charity or a movement. But it only extends so far. It’s a unity with borders. The unity God will give under the rule and reign of His Son will spread across all creation. All citizens of His Son’s Kingdom will be brought into this unity.
In fact, this unity will extend beyond just people. Isaiah prophesied that in Christ’s kingdom the lion will lie down with the lamb, and children will play with cobras.
Let’s look at how this Psalm ends:
(Psalms 133:3 ESV) For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
The source of unity is divine. It comes from God. But something else. This final verse should remind us of something. “For there”—in a particular place, God gave a blessing which included living forever. This brings us back to life before sin. God’s people in God’s place receiving God’s blessing.
The kingdom of Jesus Christ will be a restoration of creation. Jesus will set things right. His people will live in His place under His rule where we will enjoy His blessing of life forevermore. It is in this kingdom that perfect unity will be enjoyed and experienced.
This verse reinforces the point we made earlier. This kind of unity can only exist where Jesus Christ rules. It’s impossible for us. We need to get this. We think we can do it ourselves. “Why can’t we just get along?” We think the answer is to change the environment. Or make the playing field equal.
The experiment of socialism—if everyone has exactly the same thing in the same amount than we’ll all get along. Wrong! We’ll want other people’s stuff. The strong will take from the weak, and the lazy will live off the effort of the diligent.
The experiment of capitalism—if everyone has a fair shot, we’ll all just get along. Wrong again! No, we won’t. We’ll become greedier and greedier. Rich will become richer, and the poor will be marginalized.
As Christians, we need to understand that no earthly system of government can ever produce unity. There’s a reason great nations fail. At some point, the rule of men falters, and everything they built comes crashing down.
Only Jesus can bring the unity we long for. Only He can establish a kingdom where we all can get along. Only He can create a harmony that is good and pleasant. And guess what? The unity Jesus creates will last forever. Unlike earthly kingdoms, the kingdom of Jesus will not fall. Unlike earthly rulers, the reign of Jesus will not end. Perfect unity in the kingdom of Jesus forevermore!
The Kingdom Has Begun
So, we’ve seen the context of this Psalm. The nation of Israel is returning from exile. They’re anticipating the kingdom of the Christ, where perfect unity will forever be enjoyed. How does this apply to us?
The application is more than to look forward to the return of Jesus Christ when He will set up His kingdom and reign forever and ever. That is going to happen, and we should look for that day with great joy and anticipation. But there is more.
When Jesus was on earth, here was His message:
(Matthew 4:17 ESV) From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
That passage goes on to say:
(Matthew 4:23 ESV) And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.
The kingdom of heaven isn’t merely something in the future. Jesus Christ ushered in the kingdom when He came to the earth the first time. While on earth He proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, and told people the kingdom was here.
The kingdom of Jesus Christ has two stages. It was inaugurated at His first coming, and it will be fully realized at His second coming. Theologians call this the “already, but not yet.” It is already here, but it’s not yet here in its final form.
It’s like a baby. The baby is alive at the moment of conception. For nine months before the birth, the baby is already alive. But the baby is not yet here fully.
The kingdom of Christ is in utero. It has begun in the hearts of those who follow Him, and someday it will be established fully when He returns to this earth. Right now, He rules in the hearts and lives of those who have believed on His name, but one day He will return to rule visibly over all creation.
Application to the Church
Here’s why this is significant to us, brothers and sisters. Perfect unity can only exist where Christ rules. Well guess what? He rules in our hearts and lives. We, as a church, are able to experience a unity far greater than any other organization in the world because we are ruled by Christ.
That means that when someone walks through those doors on Sunday, they should be struck with the unity they see in this body. They should be overwhelmed by the oneness evident everywhere. No matter which direction they look, they should see us putting other’s needs before our own.
This is what Jesus said should happen in His church. On the night before He died, He prayed:
(John 17:20–23 ESV) I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Did you hear that? Jesus prayed for us. He prayed that we would be perfectly one. He prayed for perfect unity. Would he have prayed for it if it wasn’t possible? No. He made it possible when He established His kingdom in our hearts.
The result of this type of unity is a powerful impact on those who don’t know Christ. Of course it is. Who in their right mind wouldn’t be attracted by a community that functioned with this level of harmony? A church filled with kingdom citizens should give the world a taste of kingdom living. We testify to the reality of Jesus Christ, and nothing speaks louder than our unity as a church.
Of course the reverse is true. Nothing slanders the Gospel more than a church that lives in a constant state of discord. Nothing betrays the King like a civil war. That’s why we find this warning given to those who would create division in the church.
(1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you [the church] are that temple.
Let me translate that for you: Don’t mess with God’s church or God will mess you up!
I want to take a minute to explain why this is such a big deal. I want you to see why unity in the church is tied so tightly to the work of Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 2:1-10, we find a description of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Basically, because of what Jesus did, we who believe have been united to God. Before we were saved, we were enemies of God, living in rebellion to Him. But Jesus’ death paid our penalty. We now by faith have been reconciled to God.
Let me just say: Friend, if you’re not a Christian, you’re still in rebellion to God. You need to hear this: Rebellion brings punishment. “The wages of sin is death…” I urge you to turn from your sin and place your faith in Jesus Christ who died in your place so you could live forever in His kingdom.
So, brothers and sisters, the death and resurrection of Jesus united us with God. The second half of Ephesians 2 tells us that His death and resurrection united us with one another as well. By virtue of our union with God, we are now united with other Christians.
Therefore, our unity with other Christians is a sign of our unity with God. Our unity with other Christians testifies that we were first reunited with God. That’s why division amongst Christians strikes at the heart of the Gospel. Division amongst Christians bears false witness about our relationship with God. If we are united with other Christians on the basis of our union with God, what does division with Christians say? It contradicts our confession of faith. It contradicts our profession of peace with God.
Building Unity in the Church
Because we are under the reign of Jesus Christ, unity should mark the church. It should mark this church. We have been commanded as a church (Eph. 4:3) to eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit. We don’t create it. Christ does through His Spirit, but we are given the charge to preserve it.
With that in mind, let me end with a few exhortations about unity to us as a church.
Ask for unity
Ask God for unity. Jesus did. He prayed for us to have unity. He prayed that we would be one. You should pray the same for our church. You should regularly pray that God would cast out a spirit of division, and unite us all around one common purpose—to make the name of Jesus Christ famous in this community.
I’ve found that it’s hard to work against something you’re praying for. It’s hard to be the source of disunity if you regularly and consistently pray for unity.
Put others first
Be willing to play second fiddle. Sing harmony. Go out of your way to meet the needs of others in this body even if it means you’ll be inconvenienced. Nothing promotes and preserves unity like humble service. Rarely has a fight broken out because two people were both humbly serving one another.
If unity is a taste of Christ’s kingdom, then it only makes sense that it’s accomplished by putting others first. Our king put us first. We should follow His example. People can spot followers of our King not because of a uniform or haircut, but because of an attitude of humble service.
Do it today. After the service. Before you leave. Don’t wait to put others first. How can you start right away?
Submit to Christ
Ultimately, disunity is a heart problem. Disunity is the sign of an unsubmissive heart. Years ago, A.W. Tozer asked what was the best way to tune a hundred pianos? Was the best way to tune piano 1, then tune piano 2 to piano 1, and then tune piano 3 to piano 2, and to keep going until all 100 were finished? No. The best way to tune 100 pianos was to get 1 tuning fork and tune each piano to the tuning fork.
Redeemer won’t achieve this supernatural unity by everyone getting on board with me…or Scott…or the elders as a whole. This type of unity—good and pleasant—will only come as we each submit our lives to the rule of Jesus Christ.
I urge you to be on the look out for areas of division or discord in your own life. Those areas are warning lights pointing you to places in your heart that are not submitted to the Lordship of Christ. Remember, unity can only exist where Christ rules.
Let’s ask one more time the question we opened with: “Can we all get along?” The answer is up to you. As a church, we can. But only as you submit yourself fully to Jesus Christ.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] John H. Sailhamer, The NIV Compact Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 343.