Imagine approaching your childhood home. You see a familiar sign on the front porch that reads, “Home is where the heart is,” though the “H” is missing, a couple other letters are broken, and others are so caked with pollen and dust they’re almost indiscernible. You’ve arrived at the house which was so full of life when you were a child, but years of vacancy and neglect make for a cold welcome. Where is the warmth that once filled this house?
We all long for a welcoming, safe home.
While we may appreciate the aesthetic of a well-crafted house, what makes a house a home is the life within it. The same is true of the house of the Lord.
We see this clearly in Psalm 122, as the author begins with the invitation:
I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Who is the "us" that invited him? It was the sojourners who would make their annual pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. This psalm would become one of many they would recite as they made their ascent to the holy city.
What a shock to be a pilgrim who, upon arrival, finds the house of the Lord was empty. He makes the journey through “many dangers, toils, and snares,” only to learn the house is vacant—there isn’t a single light on in the whole building, not one person in sight.
Would the weary traveler still be glad about his invitation? Hardly.
The rejoicing hinges on the personal invitation. He is glad to make the journey because he makes it with others and plans to meet others there (v. 4). It's a family reunion of sorts, in which traveling disciples meet with other disciples. Their rendezvous is overdue, so they are eager to reconnect.
God makes a disciple by bringing a man or a woman to Christ. But that is only part of the work. God also saves them into a family, the church. Disciples are meant to rejoice and long to reconnect with their extended family each Sunday in worship and throughout the week. It's not the building that makes the church but the people gathered before the Word of God.
Abandoned houses serve as a memento of the life that once existed within their walls. They remind us that things are not as they should be.
This reminder is even more painful for those currently living in a broken home. Their house may be full of life, but not firing on all cylinders. Maybe a divorce or an untimely death is a constant reminder that the dinner table has one empty chair.
Part of God’s design for his covenant people is that the spiritual family can make up for the parts of the nuclear family that are demolished by death, disease, and depravity. God’s family should be united (v. 3), and those brothers and sisters and friends (v. 8) that comprise it should pray for its well-being (v. 6), peace, security (v. 7), and prosperity (v. 9).
Some of the most moving testimonies in the church involve mothers and fathers who stood in as parental figures for those who never had them or who live far away from moms and dads. Beautiful stories unfold when those have been abandoned by or have left behind their families find a new family created by the shed blood of Christ.
God makes disciples as they come into relationship with Jesus, but they are matured in the community of the Church.
Others may not come from a broken home or ever experience the emptiness of returning to an abandoned house. Yet what family has not experienced a season of chaos?
Perhaps your home is free from glaring and unrepentant sin and God has blessed you with a house that has been passed down for generations. But the reality is we will all face sins of varying kinds (Heb. 12:1) and seasons of busyness that border on chaos.
Some Sundays it may be hard for the modern pilgrim to drag himself to church because he worked a sixty-hour week. A mom of small children is likely putting in even more hours on the regular, and coming to worship on Sunday might seem impossibly difficult.
In Psalm 122, the pilgrim’s feet are standing within the gates of Jerusalem (v. 2). Those feet must have been tired, sore, and blistered, but to paraphrase Mother Pollard, “his feet were tired but his soul was rested.”
What is it that compels you to keep gathering with the saints?
Is it the chaos that seems to increase every time you get ready to head out the door to church on Sunday morning? Is it the weariness you feel after a long hard work week? Is it the spiritual apathy that creeps in?
Obstacles and temptations try to prevent us from gathering with God’s people, but push through and resolve to find nourishment for your soul. The body and its ailments will pass away, but God and his Word will last forever (Matt. 24:35).
The mature disciple begins to prioritize church, not just for her own needs, but because she recognizes she is called to multiply disciples and think beyond herself.
DWELLING PLACE OF THE LORD
To bring this all home (pun intended), a word has to be said about the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. It's commonplace to see preachers and theologians play fast and loose with the relationship between the Old Covenant temple and the New Covenant Church. To be sure, there are some commonalities. However, it is a mistake to draw a one-to-one comparison between the two.
The distinguishing mark of the Old Covenant temple was that it was indwelt by the presence of the Lord. The God of Israel himself inhabited their building of high worship.
The arrival of Jesus in the first century A.D. flipped this whole paradigm on its head. He was indwelt personally by the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:18) and referred to himself as the new and better temple (Jn. 2:19; Matt. 12:6). What’s more, he promised that when he departed he would send that same Spirit to indwell his followers.
The New Covenant equivalent of the Temple is the church, to be sure, but only when we correctly define the Church—the people of God, the living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) that are built up into a spiritual house.
REJOICE TO GO TO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD
Do you rejoice to go to the house of the Lord? I hope you do. But hopefully it’s not because the music is superior or the aesthetics are amazing. The right reason to rejoice in going up to the Lord’s house is that his presence is there.
The house of the Lord is found in the midst of his people. There, Jesus is present and glorified.
Otherwise, it’s like walking into an abandoned house.
Sean Nolan (B.S. and M.A., Clarks Summit University) was born and raised in Upstate New York where he is now working to plant Engage Albany, a church in the heart of the capital. Prior to that, he served at churches in Troy and Maryland and taught hermeneutics. He and his wife, Hannah, are raising three kids: Knox, Hazel, and Ransom. You can read all of Sean’s articles here.
 Quoted in The Montgomery Bus Boycott: A History and Reference Guide, Cheryl Phibbs, 2009.