I had to clean up a big mess the other day. Someone had spilt maple syrup in the fridge. The bottle had tipped over, and it poured out everywhere. It ran along the top shelf, then down the back of the fridge, across the other shelves, and then down into the vegetable drawer at the bottom. It went everywhere. And since I found it, I had to clean it up. It took a long time.
A mess isn’t good. A mess isn’t pleasant. But that’s how Psalm 133 describes a mess. Oil poured all over the head of Aaron the high priest flows through his hair, and down his beard, and then down onto his clothes. He’d be scrubbing it away for a long time! But according to this Psalm it’s a GOOD THING. See it there from v1?*
When God’s people live together in UNITY. When they AGREE. When they work together FOR A COMMON PURPOSE. That’s GOOD And PLEASANT. Just like oil pouring on Aaron’s head that runs down his beard and onto his robes.
It’s probably not the way WE would choose to describe something good and pleasant. WE might say, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. It’s like a refreshing swim in the ocean on a hot summer day. Or it’s like a wonderful Yum Cha meal with friends. Or it’s like a tasty Bulgogi Korean BBQ with family.But for the Jewish people who sang this song 3000 years ago, living together in unity was a pleasant thing – just like precious oil dripping everywhere on the High Priest. Let’s find out WHY.
The Psalm is one of a collection of songs that the Jewish people would sing as they travelled to Jerusalem. As they came to the temple for the different feasts, like Passover. They’re TRAVELLING songs. Simple songs about the everyday things of life. Of families and enemies and danger and trusting God for the things we need. And THIS one is about brothers living together in UNITY. All living AS ONE.
You can imagine the scene. Faithful Jews meeting on the road as they travel. All of them joyful and thankful for God’s provision. They’re all looking forward to the festival – to the food and the celebration. And they SING as they walk. It’s a good thing for people from different areas of life to join together to celebrate something. It’s TRUE AND RIGHT to praise GOD because he’s the One who’s given us everything. And that’s what we’re doing THIS MORNING.
But it’s not just unity AT FESTIVALS and CELEBRATIONS. V1 says God’s people LIVING together in unity is good and pleasant. That’s ALL OF LIFE. All the time. And that’s what we are trying to do here at Ashfield Presbyterian Church. Many different groups working together to serve God. In all the different things that we do. That’s the best thing we can united together FOR.
And this Psalm says that when God’s people work together for a common purpose. Then EVERYONE benefits. From the TOP of society to the BOTTOM. From the LEADERS to the FOLLOWERS. From the head to the feet. That’s the meaning of the oil dripping everywhere. When the high priest Aaron was ordained, he was anointed with oil. It was poured on his HEAD. That’s where it STARTED. But it didn’t STAY there. After that, it begins to flow down his face, and drip through his beard. And after that it would drip onto his clothes. From top to bottom covered with precious oil.
And the OIL is a sign of God’s HOLY SPIRIT. Poured out on the priest to help him with his task. Blessing him. Completely soaking him, from top to bottom.
And then in v3,* there’s ANOTHER picture that makes the same point. Brothers living together in unity: 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Mt Hermon is a high mountain in the far north of Israel. 2800m high. It was SO high that dew would fall THERE when everywhere else was dry. On the other hand, Mt Zion is in Jerusalem. Where the temple is. And it’s hardly a mountain at all. A bit like Dulwich HILL, or MOUNT Druitt. And the point is the same as v2. Dew falls on the TOP, and flows all the way to THE BOTTOM. When brothers live together in unity, God blesses EVERYONE. The refreshing dew of his blessing falls on the TOP of society. Mt Hermon, and then it flows all the way down to the LOWLY. Mt Zion, refreshing EVERYTHING.
And that’s how UNITY affects God’s people. God thoroughly saturates them with his blessing. Everyone is affected. From the leaders to the followers.
And notice that it’s unity AROUND GOD that he blesses. Focussed on HIM. That’s what makes it so GOOD. Look at how the Psalm FINISHES. (Mount Zion) For THERE the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. Mt Zion wasn’t just ANY little hill. It was in Jerusalem. And on top of Mt Zion was where God had chosen to build his temple. The focus of Jewish society. Where God’s THRONE was. Where the people would gather to MEET WITH GOD. God pours out his blessings. Like oil, or like dew. When HIS people gather AROUND HIM. Focussed on HIM. That’s what the Psalm is saying.
So HOW does unity around God / bring his blessings? This is how it worked for Israel. When the LEADERS start LIVING GOD’S WAY. When they emphasise justice and mercy. When they make God’s laws the basis for society. Then those principles flow down to bless every part of society. Like oil down Aaron’s beard. Or dew down from Mt Hermon.
When everyone chooses to trust and obey God, rather than looking for revenge or dishonest gain, society as a whole benefits. It’s more stable. There’s more trust and contentment and peace and justice.
But not just PEOPLE. God blesses the WHOLE LAND. All the covenant blessings of God begin to flow as people obey him. Every area of life. Health and crops and children and peace. Wine and grass and flocks and herds. All flowing down from top to bottom as brothers and sisters live together in unity. Dew falling everywhere. Oil running everywhere. Good and pleasant.
That was the wonderful picture for Israel as a nation about 3000 years ago. No wonder they SANG about it. But what about US? Is it STILL true that brothers united around God are blessed? Many things have changed. We don’t pour oil over the head of the high priest, for starters. And we’re not in Israel. In lots of ways, it’s much HARDER to be united these days. We’re made up of many different sorts of people. With different languages and culture. We think differently, and do things differently. But there’s one way in which we CAN be one. The very BEST sort of unity. And it’s been God’s plan for the whole world since the very start. That EVERYONE follow his Son Jesus. That’s the MOST IMPORTANT unity. Every nationality. Every age. Every job and income. Every culture and personality and class. All honouring and loving and serving Jesus. It’s God’s plan for his Universe. Listen to Ephesians 1 v9 and 10.*
9 And God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-TO BRING ALL things in heaven and on earth TOGETHER UNDER ONE HEAD, EVEN CHRIST.
What’s the meaning of life? Why do we exist? Where’s the world headed? To live TOGETHER/ with Jesus as our head. Our king. Our ruler. Obeying and serving him as our top priority. All humanity UNITED by the common purpose of seeing Jesus HONOURED and EXALTED and RECOGNISED and LOVED. That’s God’s great plan. And the whole world is headed towards a day when everything will come together underneath Jesus’ RULE. When everything bows before his throne. When everything will be JUDGED by God on the basis of how they treated his Son Jesus.
We’re not there yet, but that’s the final destination. Complete unity. A common focus and purpose that goes beyond language and culture and class and colour. Revelation 7* gives us a vision of what that future will be like. Revelation 7:9. Here’s what John saw: “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (that’s Jesus). They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Everything together under one head. Jesus. Just like Ephesians 1 said.
And, since that’s God’s PLAN, our job as Christians is to MOVE PEOPLE TOWARDS THAT. To LIVE OUT TODAY what that future LOOKS LIKE. To show what it means to have Jesus as our number one priority. Our king. And Jesus wants us WORKING TOGETHER to do that. To be UNITED. He even PRAYED that we’d be ONE. John 17, V20 20 …I pray for those who will believe in me … 21 that ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. Out of all the things Jesus could pray about for his followers. ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT was UNITY. And then he describes what the FOUNDATION for that unity is. V22. HOW Christians are united together. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that THEY may be ONE as WE are one: 23 I IN THEM and you in me.
Our unity is because we’re ALL JOINED TO JESUS. He’s the LORD OF US ALL. So we’re all joined to each other.
And if Jesus is everyone’s LORD, that means we’ll all be united for the same PURPOSE. Letting people know how glorious Jesus is. Look at v23. May they be brought to COMPLETE UNITY / TO LET THE WORLD KNOW THAT YOU SENT ME AND HAVE LOVED THEM even as you have loved me.
Our single united purpose is that the world will see who Jesus is. Which means we’re not to get distracted with OTHER things. Less IMPORTANT things. We’re not to let trivial things DIVIDE us. Like what sort of music to sing. Or when people should get baptised. Or what version of the Bible to read. We’re not to let things like money, or ordination, or untidy kitchens, or double-bookings for the hall distract us from our single united purpose.
It doesn’t mean we all need to do things THE SAME WAY. But that we all do our different jobs FOR THE SAME GOAL. All working in different ways, reaching different sorts of people. And it means SUPPORTING and ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER as we do it. Our unity and oneness will be shown in PRACTICAL WAYS as we LIVE with each other. As we LOVE each other. That’s when it really WILL be good and pleasant when brothers dwell together in unity.
Let’s think about one last passage to do with UNITY. Philippians chapter 2.* It describes a group of people who are ALL UNITED WITH CHRIST. Which means something PRACTICAL about HOW THEY RELATE TO EACH OTHER. 2:1 If you have any encouragement from BEING UNITED WITH CHRIST, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having THE SAME LOVE, being ONE IN SPIRIT AND PURPOSE.
It’s our relationship with JESUS that motivates our relationships with HIS PEOPLE. As we grow more like Jesus, that SHOWS ITSELF in UNITY. In THINKING about the same things as his people. In LOVING the same things they do. Having the same PURPOSE and the same MOTIVATION as them. And that unity will show itself in OTHER WAYS, TOO. V3 continues.* 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than (or ahead of) yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
That’s what UNITY looks like. Selflessly and humbly putting the needs of others before your own needs. Because of the love that Jesus has shown you. Because you want to see Jesus HONOURED. That’s why it’s good and pleasant when brothers live in together in unity like that. How are we DOING at that? Be honest. As a church. As THREE churches. How do we measure up to that? And how are YOU helping to do that INDIVIDUALLY? How are you, practically, putting the needs of others before yourself? Let’s commit to WORKING at that. To being ONE IN SPIRIT and PURPOSE. To living our lives together AROUND Jesus AS OUR KING. Having the same mind. The same LOVE. To see Jesus HONOURED.
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity… For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”