On July 23, the Canadian women’s eight rowing crew won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The team is made up of athletes ranging in age from 24 to 35. They’re from different hometowns, represent different sport clubs, have been shaped by different coaches, different families, different hobbies, and different preferences. How does a group of people that differ so significantly demonstrate such successful athletic unity? The answer is that what they have in common—a passion for sport, desire to win, commitment to train, and willingness to sacrifice—is more powerful than what they don’t.
That’s how unity works. It’s the realization of and commitment to shared realities that transcend diversity. And God’s people are to be marked by this type of unity; a togetherness that joins diverse people with the glue of the gospel and that fosters a community of love and belonging, security and sanctification, influence and power.
On July 23rd, the Canadian women’s eight rowing crew won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The team is made up of athletes ranging in age from 24 to 35. They’re from different hometowns, represent different sport clubs, have been shaped by different coaches, different families, have different hobbies and preferences.
How does a group of people that differ so significantly in so many ways come together in such successful athletic unity?
The answer is that what they have in common is far more powerful than their differences. They share a passion for sport, desire to win, commitment to train, and willingness to sacrifice. And all that they shared, at least on July 23rd, was more powerful than all they didn’t.
That’s how unity works. It’s not a call for uniformity, where all members are identical. Unity is a realization of, and commitment to, shared realities that transcend diversity.
God’s people are to be marked by, and revel in, this type of unity. A togetherness that joins a variety of people with gospel glue and that fosters a community of love and belonging, security and sanctification, influence and power. It’s what Jesus himself prayed for the night before he died (John 17:20–23).
This morning we’re going to be reminded of the gold-medal-worthy unity we share as God’s people and be encouraged to pursue its cultivation and protect its experience.
Turn to Psalm 133. This week and next I want us to look together at two back-to-back psalms. I’m calling this short series Two Views From the Mountaintop because, as you find Psalm 133 you’ll notice it’s labelled a song of ascent. In fact, Psalms 133 and 134 (the two we’ll be looking at) are the final two of fifteen psalms with that title.
These songs of ascent were likely sung by God’s people on their yearly pilgrimages to Jerusalem for Jewish feasts (see Ps 122:1–4). Scripture regularly describes travel to Jerusalem as “going up” and leaving Jerusalem as “going down.” So, these songsare sung as God’s people “go up,” ascend, to Jerusalem to worship as a nation on these special occasions.
Affirmation of Unity
And the beautiful view from the mountaintop we catch this morning from Psalm 133 is that of togetherness. In fact, verse 1 is simply an affirmation of unity.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!Psalm 133:1
Picture the scene: God’s people streaming into Jerusalem from all tribes and all corners of the land. They’re coming together for the single purpose of celebrating the greatness and faithfulness of their God. Some of the people they’ve not seen since the last festival. Others, they’ve never met before. But, as they approach the city, they sing about the goodness and pleasantness of being together.
We can relate a bit, can’t we? After months of seeing one another and then not seeing one another, of gathering to worship and then not gathering, there’s something deep inside us that sighs with relief as we see brothers and sisters coming back together. How good and how pleasant it is! It’s an affirmation of unity.
And I believe it’s an affirmation of both the reality of unity and the experience of the reality of unity. Because those two aren’t always the same thing, are they? There’s truth and then there’s the experience of that truth.
It’s one thing to be eternally saved through faith in Christ. It’s another to live in light of that liberty. It’s one thing to have God ever-present. It’s another to experience the peace his presence brings.
Likewise with the mountaintop unity described in Psalm 133. It is a reality for God’s people. It is good and pleasant. Now, our experience of that unity is another matter—it’s something to be pursued and protected (consider, for example, Eph 4:1–6, 11–13).
As God’s people, we are unified by realities that transcend our diversity but, at the same time, we are to pursue and protect that unity.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!Psalm 133:1
For David, it was true: They were one nation, God’s people, whether they acted like it or not, whether they were together all year or not. But he also longed for and enjoyed the experience of that unity as they came together to celebrate the God they had in common.
If you’re here and have trusted Christ for eternal life, you have more in common with a fellow Christian that’s a stranger than you do with an unsaved family member. We come from different families, different walks of life, have different personalities and different sin struggles. But we gather here in one place to worship the same God through the same Saviour by the power of the same Spirit. How good and how pleasant it is!
Illustrations of Unity
While the psalm opens with an affirmation of unity, David follows that up with two illustrations of unity. The first is that of dripping oil.
It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.Psalm 133:2
It’s a vivid word picture. Unity in God’s family is like oil being poured over the head of Aaron, running down his beard onto his clothes.
Now, who was Aaron? Aaron was Israel’s high priest, the one set apart to represent the people before God (see Ex 29:1–9). His head was anointed with oil, a picture of consecration to a holy task. We also know that he wore priestly garments including something called an ephod. Let’s see what that was:
They shall also make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen, the work of the skillful workman. It shall have two shoulder pieces joined to its two ends, that it may be joined. The skillfully woven band, which is on it, shall be like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen. You shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, according to their birth. As a jeweler engraves a signet, you shall engrave the two stones according to the names of the sons of Israel; you shall set them in filigree settings of gold. You shall put the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of memorial for the sons of Israel, and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for a memorial.Exodus 28:6–12
The anointing oil runs down Aarons head, setting him apart to deal with the sins of Israel before a holy God. It drips down his beard until it falls upon his clothing, clothing that includes a gem-studded vest that bears the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The people of God would watch this and say, I’m included in that consecration! He carries the name of my tribe. He’s going to deal with my sins. Our sins. Together!
What Psalm 133 is celebrating, you and I do as well. As Israel shared in consecration before God through their high priest, so we are all made holy because of the greater High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.Hebrews 4:14–16
What an illustration of unity, this dripping oil. We, collectively as God’s people, share a consecration, a declaration of holiness, not because we are holy, but because our High Priest is, and he’s gone into the very presence of God on our behalf. How good and how pleasant it is!
The second illustration of unity comes in verse 3 and it’s that of descending dew.
It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.Psalm 133:3
Another vivid word picture. The unity of God’s people is like the moisture flowing down from Herman, a mountain on Israel’s northern border, to the otherwise parched land.
This blessed unity being celebrated, ultimately coming from God’s hand, like dew, brings life. So, as God’s people, not only do we share in a vicarious consecration through a perfect High Priest, but we share eternal life from the hands of an eternal God [see Eph 2:1–10 and note that it is full of plural pronouns!). How good and how pleasant it is!
The Canadian women’s eight rowing crew were unified in their training, their racing, and ultimately, their celebration atop the Olympic podium. How much more should God’s people be unified, in spite of our diversity, in how we train ourselves for godliness, how we run the race set before us, and how we celebrate the gold medal of eternal life we’ve already secured through faith in Jesus Christ?
We want real unity, not the fake stuff. We want to pursue and protect the never-ending, life-giving, holiness-declaring unity David’s describing, not the flaccid and fleeting unity our world offers. We want to be able to say in concert with the psalmist, not only because we know it’s a reality but also because we’re experiencing the reality: How good and how pleasant it is!
To Enjoy Unity, Look Up!
This view from the mountaintop is reminding us that to enjoy unity, look up! In order for us to experience unity in the body of Christ, we need to look upward to the reality of the unity we already have in Christ. To enjoy unity, look up!
I sense that, as a church family, we are sitting on a powder keg of potential disunity. One wrong move and boom! (This isn’t unique to Oakridge, but Oakridge is all I’m concerned about.) There are so many issues today that, if handled gracelessly, threaten, not the reality of our unity, but the experience of it.
Personal convictions on masks, vaccines, and gathering protocols, political ideology, and understandings of and reactions to racial tensions, sexual ethics, and environmental stewardship. And these are simply added to the usual suspects in the church that haven’t gone away but are now playing second fiddle to those more pressing issues; things like music preferences, theological differences, and personality clashes.
The Enemy of our souls, Satan, is a liar. The father of lies. He can’t tough the reality of our unity. But it would please him greatly to destroy the experience—the goodness and pleasantness—of our unity. And, if we are going to endure this powder keg of danger, if we’re going to enjoy the unity we have in Christ as God’s people, we have to look up and remember the unity we already have and how it transcends and is more powerful than all that potentially divides us.
If you’re here today and you feel the pinch of divisiveness toward a brother or sister in Christ, look up. Remember what unites you to them.
If you’re here today and you feel slighted, wronged by someone in the church, look up. Remember the consecration you share before going to deal with the sin if you need to do that.
If you’re here today and you feel insignificant, lonely, or that you don’t belong, look up. Soak your mind in the reality of the gospel, the reality of the body of Christ. Find joy in its goodness and pleasantness.
If you’re here today and you feel none of those things, you feel united, you celebrate unity in Christ. To you, keep looking up. Share that conviction with those around you. We need you.
I’m convinced that if we, as Oakridge Bible Chapel, are going to experience the type of unity that God wants us to experience—to become a place that is a true community where we encourage, love, build up, challenge, and grow—it must start with an understanding of the unity we already share. When churches lose sight of the unity we already have, they sacrifice experiencing real unity and, best case scenario, settle for pseudo-unity. May it never be here. Please, Lord, may it never be!