Theme: Citizens of Zion
In this week’s lessons we look at the nature of the church, which is itself a picture of the eternal City of Zion, of which every Christian is a citizen.
Scripture: Psalm 87:1-7
I read some time ago in an article critical of former President Jimmy Carter, who remains politically active, that he only has one objective and that is "peace among nations at any cost.” The last part of that judgment seems an unjustified slander to me. But whether it is or not, the idea of world peace issuing in a true brotherhood of people and nations is a good one.
Many have done it, of course. Socrates voiced the idea when he called himself "a citizen of the world.” The philosophers who were known as Stoics dreamed openly of a worldwide brotherhood of peoples. Rome imposed a harsh kind of unity by force of their arms. In our day the vision has been embodied in such dreams as Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations or our own United Nations. Yet brotherhood does not come about that easily as the many wars of history, both ancient and modern, testify. Most nations want to achieve unity by conquest, trying to force others into one all-embracing government, their own. Even the ancient Israelites thought along these lines. They looked for a day when their enemies would be subdued and be brought under the rightful sway of God's own king in Zion.
Yet sometimes the Jews rose to greater heights of vision and saw the goal of peace as something God himself would achieve and by means very different from those of godless nations. Psalm 87 embraces such a vision. It is a prophecy that anticipates a day when the heathen nations of Egypt, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush, and no doubt many others since these are clearly representative, will be received as citizens of Zion, the poetical name for God's rule over God's people from Jerusalem.
This prophecy is a great advance over psalms which call for the utter destruction of Israel's enemies. But we cannot read it without thinking of an even greater advance provided by the New Testament. In the writings of the apostles, Zion of Israel becomes Zion, which is the church of God, and the unity of the peoples described in the psalm becomes the unique and truly amazing fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters in the spiritual family and under the reign of Jesus Christ. In other words, the vision of Psalm 87 is achieved in the church where, writes Paul, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” since we "are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
This is the psalm that led John Newton, the former slave trader turned preacher, to write "Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion City of our God,” the first line coming from verse 3. The lines of this well-known hymn provide apt titles for some of the psalm's themes and sections:
Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, City of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for his own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation's walls surrounded,
Thou may'st smile at all thy foes.
We should note, before going on, that Psalm 87 follows nicely after Psalm 86, which prophesied that "all the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name” (v. 9). That was a prophecy, and this week's psalm is also, though Psalm 87 is more fully developed. The vision of Gentiles joining Jews in Jerusalem to worship the true God is also expressed in Isaiah 2:2; 19:23-25; 56:6, 7; Micah 4:1, 2; Zechariah 2:11; 8:22, 23; 14:16-19; Malachi 1:11, and in other places.
- Who is a citizen of Zion?
- What does the psalmist anticipate?
- Why is the prophecy of this psalm called an advance over other psalms?
- How does the New Testament provide unity?
Reflection: How can you be a citizen of Zion? What does this citizenship look like?
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