“Zion, the Mountain of God”Categories: Sermons
I have to say, there are few better ways to vary up the content of your preaching than to solicit sermon suggestions from the congregation! Frankly, the suggestions I get show me how narrow my perspective is. Even if I never got another sermon request, I wouldn’t have any trouble coming up with two sermons a week indefinitely, but almost invariably, the requests that I do get are on subjects that I never would have thought to preach on.
This evening’s sermon is a case in point. Its inspiration came from Landon, who noted that in our hymns, we sing a great deal about Zion, but we don’t necessarily understand as much about Zion as we think we do when we’re singing. Once I started studying for the sermon, I realized, somewhat to my dismay, that Landon was right. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I sure didn’t know as much about Zion as I thought I did! In fact, there are some pretty important things that I learned that may well not be common knowledge. With this in mind, then, let’s consider Zion, the mountain of God.
Let’s begin by considering ITS OLD-TESTAMENT SIGNIFICANCE. Mt. Zion appears in the Bible for the first time in 2 Samuel 5:6-7. I have to say, this was an eye-opener for me. I had always associated Mt. Zion with the Temple Mount, but it isn’t. Instead, Mt. Zion is the eminence directly to the south of the Temple Mount. It’s the location of the Jebusite citadel that David conquered and made his capital. Mt. Zion held the oldest, earliest parts of the city of Jerusalem, which is why “Jerusalem” and “Zion” are used interchangeably in the Bible.
Here’s why this matters. It means that whenever we read or hear “Zion”, we should not think “temple”. We should not think “priest”. Instead, we should think “fortress”, and we should think “king”. It’s a whole different set of imagery than the temple-priest-sacrifice imagery of the Temple Mount.
Instead of all those things, Zion was significant in three main ways. First, it was the dwelling place of God. Look at Psalm 76:1-2. I find this surprising for a couple of reasons. First, once I figured out the actual location of Zion, I expected the Bible to make a big deal about the kings of Israel and Judah living there. That doesn’t happen. It’s mentioned a time or two, but the main inhabitant of Zion is the great King, God.
This is disorienting for another reason. Typically, when we think of God’s dwelling place in the Old Testament, we think specifically of the temple. However, the Scriptures point out over and over again that Zion is His dwelling. To put things another way, even though there was a sense in which God lived in the temple, apart from His people, He lived in their midst, in Zion, too. Even today, it should matter deeply to us that God dwells in our midst!
Second, Zion also features prominently as a place of safety. Here, look at Psalm 125:1-2. This makes perfect sense. In a purely physical sense, Zion was a mountain in the middle of a bunch of other mountains. It was hard for invading armies to get to. Additionally, it was heavily fortified. There’s even a psalm, Psalm 60, that’s about the Israelites asking for God’s help after the walls of Jerusalem were destroyed in an earthquake. When you are surrounded by homicidal neighbors, walls are important!
However, what made Zion truly secure was that it was God’s dwelling place. Notice that in Psalm 125, the true source of protection isn’t the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, but the Lord surrounding His people. This is still important to us today. The hymn-savvy among you will already have noticed that the words to our hymn “Surround Us, Lord”, come from v. 2. Even now, as the inhabitants of a spiritual Zion, we look to God for protection.
Finally, in an Old-Testament sense, Zion was the source of salvation. Consider Psalm 14:7. Once again, this is something that I can only connect back to Zion as God’s dwelling place. Because only God could save, salvation had to come out of Zion.
This theme continues even in the books of the prophets. Isaiah, for instance, talks about Zion a great deal, though his focus was on post-exilic Judah returning to Zion. When the exiles re-entered the city, that was when they could rejoice in God’s salvation.
Today, of course, this subject is even more meaningful to us. We don’t regard the dwelling place of God as the source of our salvation from earthly enemies or earthly captivity. Instead, we rejoice because our spiritual deliverance has come out of Zion!
Shifting forward in time, we see that Zion is also a concept with MESSIANIC SIGNIFICANCE. To capture this, I think we need to read the entirety of Matthew’s account of the Triumphal Entry, Matthew 21:1-11. Notice how prominently the prophecy of Zechariah 9 features in this text. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey in order to fulfill a prediction made hundreds of years before.
However, there’s more to the idea of the king entering Zion than merely that. As we have seen, yes, Zion was the dwelling place of the Davidic kings, but it was really the dwelling place of God. As a result, all the people who were hailing the return of the king to Zion weren’t just hailing the son of David, though they thought they were. They were hailing the Son of God. Only when the great King is in Zion can His people be restored.
Today, restoration is still THE MEANING OF ZION FOR US. Let’s wrap up our reading for the evening with Hebrews 12:18-24. There are plenty of people out there who insist that the physical Mt. Zion and the earthly Jerusalem still have spiritual significance. As this text makes clear, they could not be more wrong. Today, it is the spiritual Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, to which we have come.
However, even though the location may have changed, its symbolic significance remains the same. Zion, partially in the church and fully in heaven, is still the place where God dwells with the assembly of His people. It is where we come into contact with the blood that purifies us instead of condemning us. Most of all, Zion is the place where we can be perfected through our covenant with Jesus. Zion has been meaningful to the people of God for 3000 years, and even after the earth is destroyed, its significance will continue.