You have not loved (and cannot love) your neighbor enough to please God, therefore, in order to stand righteous before God, you must trust in and glorify the Righteous One who loves his neighbor perfectly.
Introduction – Have you heard the one about the fellow who finds himself in front of the Pearly Gates?
St. Peter explains that it’s not so easy to get in heaven. There are some criteria before entry is allowed. For example, was the man religious in life? Attend church? No? St. Peter told him that’s bad. Was he generous? Give money to the poor? Charities? No? St. Peter told him that that too was bad. Did he do any good deeds? Help his neighbor? Anything? No? St. Peter was becoming concerned. Exasperated, Peter says, “Look, everybody does something nice sometime. Work with me, I’m trying to help. Now think!” The man says, “There was this old lady. I came out of a store and found her surrounded by a dozen gang members. They had taken her purse and were shoving her around, taunting and abusing her. I got so mad I threw my bags down, fought through the crowd, and got her purse back. I then helped her to her feet. I then went up to the biggest, baddest gangster and told him how despicable, cowardly and mean he was and then spat in his face”. “Wow”, said Peter, “That’s impressive. When did this happen”? “Oh, about 10 minutes ago”, replied the man.
The nature of human pride and self-righteousness tends to believe that we can love others enough to stand righteous before the judgment seat of God. It is human nature to believe this. The human heart believes that standing before God in heaven is guaranteed if one is merely a “pretty good” person. Does this describe your religious belief? Let’s read what the Bible says about this eternal question.
A. The Eternal Question: Who may stand before God in heaven? (v. 1)
1. Old Testament language for an eternal question
The language of the OT is earthy. To stand before God in the OT era was expressed in terms of “dwelling in God’s sanctuary and living on God’s holy hill.” These earthly places refer to God’s tabernacle-temple-home and its location on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. In the NT era, these word-pictures refer to standing as one righteous before God on earth now and in heaven forever.
2. Psalm 15 in context
Notice the canonical ordering of Psalms 14 and 15. The question posed in Psalm 15 (esp. v1) is informed by the lack of a single righteous one in Psalm 14:2-3. The fact that Psalm 14 is placed directly before our text is meant to inform our question of who many stand before God. It cannot be a sinful man, woman, or child. In other words, it cannot be you or me.
B. The Eternal Answer: The Righteous One (vv. 2-5)
Notice the connection between Psalm 1 (the psalm of introduction to the rest of the psalms) and Psalm 15. These psalms both say that the righteous one keeps the torah/instruction of the LORD. Psalm 15 gives a tenfold answer (five positive and five negative) to the question of who is the righteous one. In summary, the righteous one always loves his neighbor as himself in conduct, conversation, and relationship.
1. Five Things He Does
He lives a blameless/righteous life (v. 2a). He tells the truth sincerely (v. 2b). He despises a vile man (v. 4a). He honors those who fear God (v. 4b). He keeps his oath steadfastly (v. 4c).
2. Five Things He Does Not Do
He does not slander others (v. 3a). He does no evil to his neighbor (v. 3b). He does not slur a friend (v. 3c). He does not lend money at interest (v. 5a). He does not take a bribe against the innocent (v. 5b).
C. The Righteous One is the King of Glory (Psalm 24)
Psalm 24 (which is very similar to Psalm 15) gives us another clue to the identity of the Righteous One—he is the King of glory.
1. Who is this king of glory?
Contrary to what we expect, the king of glory is not the returning glorious King David, who is the author of Psalm 15 and 24. Rather, the king of glory is the LORD (the covenant name of Israel’s God)! What is so glorious about this king? The LORD is strong and mighty in battle (Ps 24:8). He is LORD of hosts (armies) (Ps 24:10). He is creator of the earth and sovereign over its inhabitants (Ps 24:1), and the conqueror of the chaotic seas (Ps 24:2). The King of glory is ultimately the messianic king, the Righteous One, Jesus Christ (Pss 1; 2; 24; 1 Cor 2:8).
2. Such a King deserves to be glorified (24:3, 7-10)
How ought we to glorify such a king? By following, praising, worshiping, and imitating him. Follow King Jesus, the victorious divine warrior (Rev 19:11-21). Praise King Jesus for his glorious salvation (Jn 3:16-17). Worship King Jesus and dwell in his sanctuary (Rev 21-22). Imitate King Jesus, the Righteous One (Ps 15:2-5).
3. The reward for those who glorify King Jesus
What reward does Psalm 15 (and 24) promise to men and women who glorify King Jesus? Such a person will never be shaken or moved (Ps 15:5c); he will receive blessing from the LORD (Ps 24:5a); he will receive vindication from God his savior (Ps 24:5b).
Conclusion – Who may stand before God? Psalm 15 is clear: the one who keeps the greatest commandment by loving God will all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and who loves his neighbor as himself. That fellow who in the joke met St. Peter at the Pearly Gates discovered how hard it is to stand before God if we rely on our track record of loving our neighbor. Jokes like this are funny because we identify with his frustration in meeting God’s righteous requirements, and we think we are good enough to pass the test. But today we’ve discovered that standing before God is actually much harder than we think. It is much harder because none is righteous! But there is a better way. There is a Righteous One who stands before God in perfect righteousness. You have not loved (and cannot love) your neighbor enough to please God, therefore, in order to stand righteous before God, you must trust in and glorify the Righteous One who loves his neighbor perfectly. Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, stands before the Heavenly Father interceding for all those who trust in, glorify in, and seek to imitate him alone.
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