Hebrews 12:22-24- We Have Come To Innumerable Angels In Festal Gathering (Psalm 42)
In Hebrews we have seen that every Christian is running a long race (Hebrews 12:1-3). This letter was written to believers who were in the middle of a long race and they were tempted to stop running. Their arms hung down low and their legs had become weary. They needed encouragement because they felt like they would never see the finish line, or be rewarded, and enter the Promised rest.
Like their forefathers, these Jewish Christians had spent most of their lives going to Jerusalem at certain times of the year to attend certain festivals. Jews were required every year to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the festivals that the LAW required. For some this may have been a long and difficult journey but they were to do this with joy.
You can imagine how exciting it would have been for the Jews to travel to Jerusalem and to see the city of David rising up into the sky ahead of them. After going a little farther they would arrive at the gates of the city where they could hear the sounds of the festivities and someone would declare to them, “Welcome sojourner, you have come to Mt. Zion and to the city of the living God, to Jerusalem where innumerable people have come in festal gathering.”
Before we turn to Hebrews 12:22-24 please turn with me to Psalm 42 and let’s consider this psalmist as he desired to go to Jerusalem to worship the LORD at just such a festival (4). This psalm is a ‘maskil’ and we learned last week that a ‘maskil’ is intended to teach, instruct and give application to God’s people.
Psalm 42 describes a time when a saint longed to worship God during one of Israel’s feast days.
Psalm 42:1-2, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God. When shall I appear before God?”
Psalm 42:11 says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”
The psalmist desires to attend this feast but he admits that he is exiled and is wandering through difficult places and is unable to go. We read in verse 5, “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.” The psalmist is discouraged because of this and says in verse 3, says, “My tears have been my food day and night…”
In this psalm we find several things that may have made the psalmist long to be in Jerusalem for one of their festivals. First, the psalmist was in this desolate wilderness where he consumes his is left to consume his own tears (3). In that moment he sees a deer that is panting for water. We read in Psalm 42:1-2, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God. When shall I appear before God?” In this moment he becomes aware of a similar thirst in his own life. The psalmist longs for the flowing streams of God’s grace, love, mercy and comfort. He longs to worship the living God and to appear before Him with His people. (In 2024 what things will create this thirst for the Living God in our lives?)
Secondly, the psalmist is exiled from Jerusalem and unable to go there for a feast day. Perhaps the psalmist watched this deer and he realized that like that deer his soul longs to be somewhere else. Psalm 42:4 says, “These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng to lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”
Third, the Psalmist longed to be in Jerusalem for the feast because he finds himself surrounded by enemies and he longed to worship the LORD in Jerusalem among fellow saints and god-fearing people. All day long these enemies would taunt him again and again by saying,
“...they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (3)
“I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’ As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (9-10)
Through these things the psalmist discovers that there is a way to find some comfort. He says in Psalm 42:4, “These things I remember, as I pour our my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” The psalmist remembers past times of worship and prays that there will be another time in the future when he will worship the LORD in Jerusalem with God’s people.
Oh, how little most men’s souls long for God like this. How easily we can become distracted or discouraged and fail to come and appear before the LORD. This was happening to the Jewish Christians that the book of Hebrews was written too. The author of Hebrews wrote to them and said in Hebrews 10:22-25, “...let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
If you find yourself among a throng of people who long to be with God and with His people even when they are afflicted and tempted by the Tempter you should rejoice greatly. Paul does this in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-10 when he discovers that the Thessalonians are this type of people. He acknowledges their love for God and for the church and he says, “For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before God!” (9)
The psalmist says, “I remember...how I would go with the throng” (4). When the psalmist writes this psalm he is not surrounded by enemies by faithful friends, but by enemies who scoff at him and taunt him saying, “Where is your God!”. We live in a world full of such unbelieving scoffers who taunt us night and day. We should not expect to live in a world any better than this (1 Thess. 3:4)
In this moment of discouragement the psalmist could easily allow his soul to be cast down even more and to feel like he was all alone and abandoned by God and by men (42:9). This is what happened to the prophet Elijah who felt like he was the only prophet left in all of Israel (1 Kings 19:9-10, 14). Like Elijah, the psalmist needed to remember that God always has a remnant who have been kept faithful to God (1 Kings 19:18). Therefore, in this moment the psalmist remembers that there is a throng of faithful people who love the LORD and who joyfully worship the LORD.
The psalmist admits that in past times he had been a leader in that great company of worshipers. He says, “I remember...how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” (4) The psalmist is not describing a time when he got caught up in some emotional and un-scriptural movement that sweeps over a throng of people (Exodus 32:1-6). No, the psalmist describes a time when he led this ‘throng’ in procession to the house of the LORD according to the Word of the LORD. They did this with hearts that abounded in praise to God as they joyfully ‘kept’ the festival.
Application: The church needs leaders like this who are called to use their grace gifts in the service of the LORD. Are you using/stewarding the grace gifts that God has given to you? Is there something that God is calling you to do for Him and His church? This psalm reminds us that those who have been willing to lead God’s people and serve them will sorely miss being with God’s people when they do not have an opportunity to be with them. Better to feel this pain than to have lived in such a way that you feel no loss at all during times of exile and difficulty.
The psalmist says, “I remember...how I would...lead them in procession to the house of God”. (4) I go to Veritas Christi Classical Academy every week and I see an example of leading people in a procession. At the end of the morning assembly the teachers gather their students and they lead them in procession to their classrooms where the students can worship the LORD all day in what they are learning and by how they interact with others. One of the teachers gathers her students to go to their class and she says, “Line,”. Then the kids say, “Swift, Straight, Silent”. Then the class walks out of the assembly hall quietly to their class.
The psalmist doesn’t say to this great throng of worshipers, “Swift, Straight, Silent”; rather, he says that he would lead the people to Jerusalem, “...with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” As we come into a new year perhaps we can determine to lead ourselves and others to live joyful lives of true worship of God ‘with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.’ Perhaps this morning we can examine our own hearts by asking,
What was the disposition of my heart as we came to worship the LORD today?
Did I come with a grateful and joyous heart or out of a sense of duty and obligation?
The psalmist remembers a time when he would lead God’s people to worship the LORD. On the journey he protected them, prepared their hearts, and planned out their path, led them in songs of praise so that they would arrive at a particular place prepared to worship the LORD.
Psalm 42 ends with these words, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”
Psalm 42 speaks of a man who found himself unable to be where he wanted to be. He longed to be with God, to worship Him, and to be in His presence. He finds comfort in two things when he cannot do this.
First, he remembers what he experienced in the past.
Secondly, he remembered what will happen in the future and hoped in God.
I spent a lot of time looking at Psalm 42 because I think it can help you and I appreciate Hebrews 12:22-24. Like the psalmist, these Jewish Christians found themselves surrounded by scoffers who would say to them, “Where is your God?” They would say, “We have the Temple, the Law of Moses, the priesthood of Aaron, the animal sacrifices. What do you have?” They would say, “Where is your God. Where do you go to meet with him. Remember what you once had and all that you have given up.” They would ask, “Who is your leader that you follow? We follow Moses but you say you follow Jesus who was taken outside the city and killed on a cross. Why would you follow him?”
I can imagine that these Christians felt like the Psalmist in Psalm 42. In this moment some of them may have even turned to Psalm 42 for comfort and may have begun to think that the psalmist was encouraging them to return to the Law, to Jerusalem, to Temple worship, to the Levitical priesthood, and to Moses to worship the LORD.
The author of Hebrews comes to them in this moment and gives them a better understanding of what Psalm 42 would have ultimately been pointing too. He leads them “in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival”, but he does not lead them to the city of Jerusalem but to Heavenly Zion.
If these Christians read Psalm 42 and thought it was calling them back to the Old Testament Law then they would have failed to see that through Christ they had a better Leader and a better eternal inheritance. They would have failed to see that the psalmist was teaching us to look forward to worshiping God at Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem!
In Psalm 42:2 the psalmist asks, “When shall I appear before God?” Ultimately this could only happen when Jesus Christ would lead a great throng of worshipers to the house of God. Jesus Christ leads us as our Prophet, our Priest and our King and there is a great multitude of people who have received mercy, grace, and steadfast love to keep His festival with great joy.
Hebrews 12:22-24 reminds believers that we have come to something far better than anything the psalmist could have imagined when he penned Psalm 42. The author of Hebrews contrasts these two things in Hebrews 12:18-24. The author of Hebrews could not be more clear in the contrast that he makes when he says, “We have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”
Rather, the author of Hebrews says, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (12:22-24)
In the time I have left let me make a few points about the words, “You have come to...innumerable angels in festal gathering”.
The psalmist longed to worship before the LORD with a great throng of faithful men and women. The author of Hebrews describes an even better moment. He describes a moment when we will gather together in heavenly Zion with innumerable angels for a festival. Our text describes the LORD’s mighty angelic army but they are not wearing their battle attire any longer. No, now they are wearing clothes appropriate for a festive gathering.
At this gathering is it the angels who are to be honored because they have helped to deliver God’s people and fought great angelic battles on our behalf?
No, as we will see in coming weeks everyone will gather at that time to honor Jesus and what He has done for us. Throughout the scriptures angels have often been used by God to help His people (2 Kings 6:15-19).
For example, in Genesis 19 we see that God sent angels to destroy Sodom. On the day that Sodom was to be destroyed Lot lingered in the city despite the angels repeated instructions to leave quickly! In Genesis 19:16 we read, “But Lot lingered. So the angels seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand...” (19:16)
At this festive time in heavenly Zion, would this angel deserve Lot’s praise for this? No, Lot should thank God for having saved him and his family from that great calamity. Consider what the rest of Genesis 19:16 says, “But Lot lingered. So the angels seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside of the city.” It is the LORD who is to be praised for His great mercy towards us.
Similarly, in Acts 12 we find Peter in prison and Herod intends to kill him on the next day. However, that night an angel comes to Peter and wakes him up. The angel gives Peter some instructions and after leading him out he disappears. Should Peter find this angel on this festive occasion and worship him for having saved him on this occasion? No. Notice what Luke says in Acts 12:11, “When Peter came to himself, he said, ‘Now I am sure that the LORD has sent His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’” (11)
Oh, how grateful we ought to be that the LORD uses these mighty angels to do His bidding concerning you and I, but it is the LORD alone who is to be praised, adored, worshiped and glorified. God did not send an angel to save us from our sins, His wrath and from the fires of Hell. To redeem us from these things God sent His Son (12:24).
As the London Baptist Confession states in 2.1 concerning God and the Holy Trinity, “...He (the LORD) is most loving, (most) gracious, (most) merciful, (most) long-suffering, (most) abundant in goodness and truth, (most) forgiving of iniquity, transgression and sin…”. Then in LBC 2.2 we read, “...to Him is due from angels and men, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience, as creatures they owe unto the Creator, and whatever He is further pleased to require of them.”
In scripture we see that angels have three broad functions. First, angels were messengers of divine revelation. Secondly, they have guarded against access to God. Thirdly, angels worship in the presence of God.
These three things regarding angels can help us draw three applications to consider about this part of the text. First, angels, which the very word means ‘messengers’, were often used by God to bring a message to His people. We just celebrated Christmas and were reminded of the important role that the angels played in announcing the birth of Jesus.
Now, after the coming of Jesus Christ, angels do not bring us any new messages that we are to hear. It is through Christ alone that God has now spoken (Hebrews 1:1-2- “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things...”).
We have now come to the angels (12:22) in heaven and they are no longer coming to us with any new messages and proclamations. There is now no need for any other further revelations from them. There is no need for a new message to tell us how to have access to God. Now ‘Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant and we have come to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.’ (12:24) If anyone says that they received a message from an angel we can be sure that they are deceived and that their message is false.
Paul said to the Galatians in Galatians 1:6-9, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one your received, let him be accursed.”
Second, angels guarded access to the LORD. Angels are first mentioned when they placed in the garden of Eden to keep Adam and Eve from returning to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24). We also see angels in this role as the Tabernacle was constructed. Depictions of the Cherubim were woven into the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (Ex. 26:31). Even inside of the Most Holy Place there were the two Cherubim who were looking over the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat. They guarded it and kept sinners from coming before the LORD.
Therefore, when we see that we have come to this innumerable company of angels in festal clothing we are reminded that we now have access to God just like these angels who did not sin like Satan and the other angels. We are no longer kept out of God’s presence but we now have access and the angels are wearing festal clothing and not armor to block our way.
Thirdly, we see in Scripture that angels are worshipers of God (Is. 6). The nearest attendants to God in the Throne room are these angels. Therefore, when we read that we have come to this great company of angels in festal clothing we can know that we are accepted before God and can worship Him. When the Psalmist said, “When shall I come and appear before God?” The author of Hebrews would say, “Through Christ we can now appear before God because of His blood that speaks a better word than Able.” We have not come to earthly Jerusalem; rather, we have now come to heavenly Zion and to innumerable angels in festal gathering.
I said previously. "As we come into a new year perhaps we can determine to lead ourselves and others to live joyful lives of true worship of God ‘with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.’" Let us then consider the words of Hebrews 12:22-24 so that we can endure strong until the end. Let us say with the Psalmist, "I will hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God."