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Better Is One Day

Sermon passage: (Psalm 84:1-12) Spoken on: October 11, 2020
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms

Tags: Korah

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About Pastor Wilson Tan: Pastor Tan served as a youth executive at the Presbyterian Synod, and as a pastor in Jubilee Church. He continues to serve in church as a cell leader in zone ministry.

Title: Better is One Day
Date: October 2020
Preacher: Pastor Wilson Tan

1.Where is God’s dwelling place?
•the courts, your altars (temple), your house,, our hearts (modern context)
•Bonhoeffer: “What Mount Zion and the temple were for the Israelites is for us the church of God in all the world, where God always dwells with the people of God in word and sacrament.” 【1】
•My soul longs...faints...(conveys a a strong sense of desire and yearning)
2.Why is one day in God’s courts better than a thousand elsewhere?
•v. 10: For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere… (Matt Redman’s Better is One Day)
•joy (heart and flesh), rest (nest), comfort, solace, nourishment and protection (sun and shield)
3.Does God always bestow favor and honor to those who trust in him? (v. 11 and 12)
•A prominent theme in many churches that “God blesses those who trust in him”.
4.Does the opposite hold true? That God curses those who do not trust in him? Not necessarily.
•Trust in God and Blessing is not a formula for success or wealth (or health)
•Many faithful Christians are neither rich, nor successful nor healthy. Many well-known Christian leaders get cancer (some get healed, some do not, some get healed and get a relapse).
•Many years ago, Pastor Kong Hee once preached a sermon asking if Jesus was poor? He gave ten “evidences” on why Jesus was a rich man. Pastor Kong Hee was considered to be one of the most successful Christian leader in the world. On 7 April 2017, he was originally sentenced to 8 years in prison but it was reduced to 3.5 years, of which he only served 2 years and 4 months and was released on 22 August 2019. Is this a testimony of God’s blessing?
•Recent counter-examples: Ravi Zacharias died from cancer on 19 May 2020, Tim Keller diagnosed with second cancer on 6 June 2020, wife of a very well-known Methodist pastor (also my former teacher from TTC) in Singapore suffering from cancer for many years, a personal benefactor who is a faithful American-Singaporean father recently died from coronavirus, a Cameroonian pastor who claimed to have cured coronavirus through faith healing has died from complications from the virus on 23 May 2020.
5.Trust in God means to believe that God will comfort us in our time of need. To trust in God means to continue walking when the going gets tough.

Good morning, brothers and sisters of Jubilee Church. It is a great blessing to share God’s word with you today. Let us open with a word of prayer.


“How lovely is your dwelling place, Oh, Lord Almighty…my soul longs and even faints for you…Better is one day in your courts, Better is one day in your house… than a thousand elsewhere.” – Matt Redman’s Better is One Day

We are familiar with this song. We sing it often during worship .【2】 Better is One Day is a popular worship song written by Matt Redman, an English Christian song writer. Its inspiration is taken from Ps. 84 which is the sermon passage today. Let’s explore it together!

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

Right at its heading, we are told that the psalm was composed for the choirmaster, written by the sons of Korah with no specific names mentioned. Historically, the Korahites were one of the principal Levite families involved in worship at the Jerusalem temple (2 Chron. 20:19). The Korahites were musically oriented. They were basically the professional worship leaders, musicians and choir singers of their day. The Gittith is a musical string instrument, very much like the guitar today. Even their names sound alike!

The psalm begins with a proclamation of hope, a longing. A desire for a place that is better than the current. This place is the dwelling place of God, specifically, the temple in Jerusalem. The psalmist’s perspective is that of someone who is not there. Perhaps, he is on the road, at war in distant lands, far away from his home. He longs to be in the temple courts, in the presence of the loving God. He uses strong words to describe his desire for God. “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the Living God.” (v. 2). We feel his pain, his deepest desires, his agony of not being at home. Here is someone who misses being in the presence of God. Have we ever been in the same position as him? Maybe we left church for a long time and longs to return? Maybe we haven’t prayed for along time and don’t know what to say? If so, maybe we can identity with his longing for God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

The psalmist is envious of these simple birds who were able to lay their young under the protection of the temple. These are not birds that were offered as sacrifices at the altars but rather, birds who made their nests in the crevices in the walls of the temple. 【3】These birds found their sense of belonging in the comfort of the temple. This is made clear in v. 4, “blessed are those who dwell in your house.” “The birds are symbols of the life, freedom, and joy of those who dwell close to God.” 【4】

Jesus in Luke 9:58 also shares the psalmist’s lament, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”. Much like a missionary residing in distant lands for many years, the longing for home is constantly on their mind.

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.

Here he is like a pilgrim on his pilgrimage. For him, the destination is Zion, which is another name for Jerusalem. In the Bible, three names are often used interchangeably: Israel, Zion and Jerusalem. Israel is the masculine name, while Zion/Jerusalem are the feminine names used to denote the objects of God’s love. 【5】

A pilgrim is someone who is taking the next step in their faith journey. Sometimes the journey would take one month. Jews today continue to make their pilgrimage to pray at the wailing Wall at Jerusalem. For us Christians, there is no real necessity to make our pilgrimage because we believe that the temple is now replaced by Jesus Christ, whose body is the temple, broken down and resurrected in three days. But we do have our personal retreats where we spend time meditating and connecting with God.

What is the Valley of Baca? The location of this valley is uncertain. Technically, the Hebrew word bākāʾ means tree or specifically the balsam tree. But because this word sounds very much like the verb for weeping, most commentators would translate Baca Valley as the “valley of weeping”. This translation fits well with the journey of a pilgrim.

The imagery of the pilgrim making his way across a fearsome place of treacherous terrains. The sun is hot and the air is dry; and the pathway, rocky. There is no food or water in sight. Many pilgrims do not make it through and some lose their lives along the way, and thus, the weeping. However, if the pilgrims do make their way across, they will enter a place of joy and happiness, a valley of spring. The early rain creates pools of water for the pilgrims to take a bath.

We, in sunny Singapore, can appreciate how refreshing it is to have a cool rain shower after periods of hot and humid weather. The pilgrims will grow from strength to strength when they walk in the presence of God.

8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!

Here the psalmist offers his cry to God. He draws on the historical significant name of calling on the God of Jacob. A recollection of God’s faithfulness to Jacob and his descendants. He pleads with God to look upon his face. This is the Jewish way of asking God to bless him. We too recite a similar blessing from Num. 6:24-26.

Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

When God faces you, his blessings will flow from his face to yours. God is always watching over us. We rather God be looking at us than turn his back on us.

10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!

One day in the house of God is better than a thousand elsewhere. For the LORD God is the sun and shield. The sun that provides warmth and comfort during winter and the shield that offers protection from his enemies. The sun and shield only point to one thing, that is: The God who Provides and Protects.

The psalmist ends his prayer with “blessed it the one who trusts in you” (v. 12). It is common to hear Christians today eagerly asking for God’s favour and blessings too. Some churches call it “preaching grace.” Recently, I even noticed the label “GRACE” stuck on the trunk cover of some cars in Singapore. They think that grace is not preached enough in churches today. They want to turn things around. They want to remind us that God’s grace is abundant and is freely given as long as we asked for them. I agree with their intention but not with their methods. Sometimes, they use words like “claiming the promises of God” or “declaring God’s favour is upon us”. “Claiming” and “declaring” are strong words which I find rather disconcerting and self-empowered.

I want to offer one difference I see between what they are preaching today and what the psalmist is telling us. When Jesus was at the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed for his cup of “suffering” to be removed and God’s will be done (Matt. 26:39). It is God’s will for Jesus to suffer on the cross and to die for us.

And since Jesus has already overcome death, what remains is grace and there should not be any more suffering. Suffering and grace are polar opposites. They see pain and suffering as the absence of God’s grace. We must pray against every pain and suffering as they stand in contradiction to the grace of God. On the other hand, the psalmist believes that God’s grace exists in the midst of pain and suffering. Suffering and grace are not polar opposites but two sides of the same coin. Let me explain.

A famous 20th century Polish Catholic nun, known as St. Faustina wrote about suffering and grace in her diary. “Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystallised; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.” 【6】When we suffer, we participate in Jesus’ own suffering too.

As we read through Ps. 84, we discover that this psalm is actually “a song for the road - a song for those on the journey when the going gets tough.” 【7】The psalmist does not ask to walk another road. He knows he needs to walk through this valley of weeping. For he knows that there is a reward there after. But he also knows he may not make it through. We can all relate to his struggle. Each of us is like a pilgrim on our journey to faith, to God. Everyone of us walks a different path, yet, in every path, there will be periods of hardship and suffering, pain and even, death. This psalm speaks to me very deeply.

As some of you may know, my son, Ezra was diagnosed with stage 4 germ cell tumour in Dec last year. The first few months, when he was undergoing chemo, were the most difficult time of our lives. Often, we would cry ourselves to sleep. We prayed and asked, Why? Why does it have to be him? He was only 12 years old. Why not me? Take my life. Please, God, take me instead. There was no answer from God. I struggled to understand why this pain has come upon us?

Does God always bestow favor and honor to those who trust in him? Is the opposite also true? If we experienced pain, suffering and even death, does this mean that God’s favour is not upon us? When I recall of the martyrs in history and even of how Jesus’s own disciples died, I am reminded that more often than not, the most faithful of Christians suffer the greatest. St. Peter was crucified upside down, an even more painful death than Jesus’. St. Stephen was stoned to death. St. Lawrence was grilled, like on a BBQ! He was known to have said to his persecutor, “Turn me over; I’m cooked on that side.” 【8】

Maybe you think these examples are too ancient. Let’s look at some recent ones in 2020. Ravi Zacharias, a famous apologist, died from cancer on 19 May. Pastor Tim Keller was diagnosed with a second cancer on 6 June. A Cameroonian pastor who claimed to have cured coronavirus through faith healing has died from complications from the virus on 23 May. Some of us may even know the wife of a very well-known Methodist pastor in Singapore who has been suffering from cancer for many years. My dear friend and mentor, uncle Chor Long, also passed away from a relapse after being in remission for 10 years.

Just a few months ago, a dear friend’s father passed away from the coronavirus in America. He was a faithful Christian and a loving husband and father. He was a Singaporean man who had spent the last 30 years in America with his family building up his career. He was deeply involved in his local church ministry. He and his wife took care of Shih-Huei and I when we were in America many years ago. He was healthy as a bull and regularly goes fishing and plays the volleyball actively. His death was sudden and it makes no sense at all.

They were all faithful Christians. There is no doubt about this. Yet, each of them has experienced God’s grace and blessing in the midst of their own suffering and death.

What does it mean to truly trust in God? I think trusting in God is to live our lives knowing that God has a reason for everything even though we don’t fully understand it. Six millions Jews were murdered under the Nazi regime in WW2. Was God not the sun and shield for them? Yet, grace can still be found even in the concentration camps.

There is a story about how some Jews were able to celebrate their Passover (Pesach) meal in Auschwitz. 【9】The rabbis and Torah scholars at Auschwitz had secretly engraved the Jewish calendar on the barrack walls. With this, the inmates would know when Passover was coming. Passover was the most important of all Jewish celebrations. A group of Jewish inmates who were appointed as chefs in the kitchen kept aside enough flour over many months, and managed to bake five round matzos (unleavened flatbread). This allowed them to celebrate Passover even in Auschwitz. As they remember God’s miraculous deliverance of the Jews from Egyptian bondage in the past, they prayed that they too will soon be freed from the Nazi bondage.

In our Christian journey, God never promise that our walk with him with be without perils. Many faithful Christians have lost their lives for their faith and their loved ones, including young children and babies in their mother’s womb. Nothing makes sense. But to trust in God means to admit our helplessness and ask God to grant us strength to go through the most difficult periods of our lives.

To trust in God means to continue walking when the going gets tough. To trust in God is to continue living even when there seems to have no good reason to live. To trust in God is to place our hope in Him when all things seems hopeless.

Trusting in God is not a formula for success. It is not a guarantee against every sickness and diseases. It does not mean that no harm will come our way. More often than not, Christians are called to suffer for our faith. Trusting in God means to believe that even if we die, even if our loved ones leave us earlier than expected, God will comfort us in our time of need. God comforts us through the church community. Many church friends came to us and offered their prayers and support in so many ways. The church community is where we can truly experience God’s grace. This is why one day in the house of God is better than a thousand elsewhere. The church is where we meet our loving and Living God (v. 2), our sun and shield (v. 11), the Lord of Hosts (v. 1, 3, and 12), my King and my God (v. 3). 【10】Like the psalmist we yearn to return to church. May the restrictions be lifted soon and the whole church can rejoice together once again. Amen.

【1】 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, ed. Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Albrecht Schönherr, and Geffrey B. Kelly, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness, vol. 5, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 167.

【2】 Matt Redman - Better Is One Day.
【3】 Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51–100, vol. 20, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 358.
【4】 Ibid.
【5】 Schmitt, J. (1991). Israel and Zion—Two Gendered Images: Biblical Speech Traditions and Their Contemporary Neglect. Horizons, 18(1), 18-32. doi:10.1017/S0360966900024634.
【10】 One of the most interesting things from this psalm is the long list of names the psalmist uses to describe God. See John Goldingay, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Psalms 42–89, ed. Tremper Longman III, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 600.

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