May 30, 2016

May 29, 2016 - 1 Kings 8:26-34

Theme: Words of Grace Come from our Father
1) They come through the Father’s house.
2) They come to the unworthy sinner.

Dear fellow members of God’s household:

It’s estimated that the average person spends one-fifth of his or her life talking. Based on that proportion, if all of our words were put into print, the result would be that a single day's words would fill a 50-page book, while in a year's time the average person's words would fill 132 books of 200 pages each! That’s a lot of words. Among them all there are bound to be some spoken in anger, carelessness, or haste. We see the necessity of God’s command before us today. It seems that the greater the gift we have from God the more damage it can do through carelessness and sin. That certainly rings true for the way we speak.

Even though the eighth commandment focuses on bearing false witness to one another, or essentially lying, it really comes down to any mode of speech that is sinful – anything that we say which falls short of God’s righteousness. When we think about it like that, compared with how often we speak, that’s a lot of heartache and problems just from the way we use our voices. Add to this the things we now write each day too, through email, social media, texting, etc. As our communication increases so does the potential for sin against our neighbor.

This is one reason why we must daily refresh ourselves with what our heavenly Father speaks to us. God instructs us to take regular time away from the daily matters of life to hear His Words. It’s tempting to think that we reach a certain point in life when God’s Words lose their value. Perhaps it’s because we know them so well. Growing up in a Christian home, learning Bible instruction in Sunday School and Catechism class, coming to Bible Class and Church each week will surely increase your knowledge of the Word. But, thinking that you can reach a point where you know so much that the value is lost misses the point. The Words of God are much more than random pieces of information to be assembled in the human mind. They are literally power to salvation. They are the mode of the Holy Spirit’s work; the way we keep on being renewed in God’s will.

Others feel like God’s Words are outdated or irrelevant. Most never take the time to actually learn what the Bible says. That’s folly too, for it assumes that the healing solution for our sinful words is the the very thing that created the problem, something from humans. Those who suffer from sin need help from something or someone outside of themselves. At the height of Israel’s power in the Old Testament, they suffered from the same problems. Problems of sin from human words. As Solomon finished the construction of God’s temple, he was reminded of the importance this building would have because of words. Words which bore false witness, and words of grace from God.  

1 Kings 8:26-34 "And now I pray, O God of Israel, let Your word come true, which You have spoken to Your servant David my father. 27 "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! 28 "Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O LORD my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today: 29 "that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, `My name shall be there,' that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. 30 "And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive. 31 "When anyone sins against his neighbor, and is forced to take an oath, and comes and takes an oath before Your altar in this temple, 32 "then hear in heaven, and act, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, bringing his way on his head, and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness. 33 "When Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You, and when they turn back to You and confess Your name, and pray and make supplication to You in this temple, 34 "then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to their fathers.

Part 1 - They come through the Father’s house.

We’re told that Solomon took 7 years to build the temple (1 King 6:38). The structure was made of cedar wood. The inner sanctuary and altar were made with pure gold. Certain fixtures were carved out of olive wood. It was a magnificent structure (an artist’s depiction is printed in your bulletin). But despite all its aesthetic allure, when it came to the dedication, Solomon focused on the words that would be spoken in it. These were the words of grace from God.

These would be words that remembered God’s promises to His people. Solomon prayed that God would remain faithful to everything that He promised his father, David. Certainly one of the promises to David was that his son would construct God’s house. It had been a lifelong goal of David’s to build the temple but it was accomplished by Solomon. On this day of dedication Solomon, no doubt, remember his earthly father. But there was an even greater promise that God gave David, and this temple would be a testament to that as well. This greater promise was the covenant, given to many of God’s servants throughout the Old Testament. David, in particular, had a unique relationship to this promise because the Messiah would be his descendent. God promised this to David by telling him that his son’s kingdom would endure forever.

2 Samuel 7:12-16 "When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 "I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15 "But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 "And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever."'"

Certainly Solomon is mentioned here as the son of David who would build the temple. But Solomon didn’t reign forever. Upon his death, the kingdom of Israel fell into disarray and rebellion. Assassinations took place. People were betrayed by family members. The kingdom became divided. And eventually it stayed that way until both the northern and the southern tribes were taken into captivity. From Solomon on, the history of Israel was definitely not glorious and definitely not eternal.

But God was promising more to David than earthly fame. He was also picturing the coming of Jesus, David’s greater son, who would establish the eternal reign of spiritual Israel, God’s Church. And in place of a temple made with cedar and gold, Jesus would offer up His own body to secure God’s eternal reign in the hearts of believers. Remember how He said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days.” 

It’s important to understand this about God’s promise to David just for the sake of getting it right. But it also shows us the value that God’s temple served at the time. Solomon was right that it was about God’s healing Word in the place of Israel’s sinful words. That eternal Son of David needed to come because of the wickedness of our sin. When Israel worshipped in God’s house, the number one reason was to receive assurance that God forgave them in His mercy. It was about His Words of Grace.

We should think of the same when we enter God’s house. Solomon’s words of dedication are just as true for our sanctuary as they were for his. The importance is not in the scenery. We don’t have the beauty of Solomon’s temple on the outside, but the Words of Grace from our heavenly Father remain the same. Focusing on those Words and learning from them is the main reason why we gather each week. Sin threatens our lives just as much as it threatened the kingdom of Israel. Without knowing that God also remembers His promises to us and responds in His mercy, we, too, would be lost and divided; led to captivity to sin and Satan.

Part 2 - They come to the unworthy sinner.

Another striking point of this dedication is Solomon’s humility. Here was a man with great power and wisdom. He had just completed the greatest temple in the history of the world, for any religion. He also had just spent 13 years building his own house and the civil buildings of Israel. This was a moment of triumph for Solomon and an opportunity to display his power. And yet his tone is completely lowly and focused on the Lord. This is yet another reminder that the intent of this ceremony was spiritual.

No matter how powerful and wealthy Israel would get, they would never lack for need of God’s forgiveness. They would always be unworthy sinners when compared to the Lord’s power and holiness, and that’s precisely why God gave them the opportunity to construct His house. Lest we think too highly of Solomon too, we should remember that he would later have his moments of failure as he turned to false religions and was led away by riches and pleasures. But in this moment his focus was appropriate.

He mentions in vv. 31-32 that the temple would fulfill the need to take oaths before one another as a way of justifying wrongdoing. In a way that mirrored God’s covenant of forgiveness, He commanded His people under Moses (Exodus 22) to make their own covenant before one another concerning certain sins. Now that the temple was complete, it would serve as the appropriate place for these promises. The people were supposed to promise forgiveness and the setting of things right through these oaths. It was a picture of the way God forgave His people, through Words; by a promise taken to remain faithful at all costs. 

Surely, throughout the use of this temple, there were many times when these oaths would be taken. But, as we have reminded ourselves today about human speech, there were surely many times, as well, when these very oaths, meant to take sin away, would themselves be broken. Human forgiveness, though noble in intent, is also flawed by sin. Even when we make promises to right the wrongs that have been committed, we often turn that reconciliation itself into a further wrong by breaking our promises. Israel was no different. Their oaths before the Lord, in His temple, were reminders of His promise to them. But there was one huge difference. God keeps His Word and we often don’t.    

Israel would take their oaths to practice the Lord’s forgiveness, but it didn’t mean anything without a holy sacrifice for sins. They would give words of encouragement and hope to one another but it wouldn’t mean anything without words of Grace from their heavenly Father. That should sound familiar to our lives because we do the same today. We make promises to one another in God’s name. God-willing, next week we will see the greatest example of that through the vows of Confirmation to God’s Word and teaching. We also promise one another forgiveness for sins in God’s name. We use words of confession and absolution. Yet, without the Lord’s promise to accompany it through the Gospel, we would be left with bearing false witness against one another. 

We are unworthy, humble sinners, and we should be reminded of that each time we enter God’s house. He is the almighty, eternal God who cannot be contained even by the heavens, let alone a tiny structure like our church. But, He chooses to come to us. He wills to be part of your life. He shows us mercy and forgiveness even when we are careless with His Word and in our promises. And because of that mercy, shown to us directly by Christ, the Son of David and eternal temple of God, we have the same hope in our words as Solomon did. The Lord will hear us. He will respond to our sins in mercy. He will forgive. He will bring us to the eternal Promised Land. He has taken an oath to confirm this – His covenant of grace.

It’s amazing how many words we speak each day. A 50 page’s worth! There’s a lot of failure, heartache, and pain in that book each day. To help us, to save us, God gives us His own book of His Words. Let us use it in proportion to our words. If we are always speaking, we’ll never be listening. Listen and learn from your heavenly Father’s grace. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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