Theme: The Monument-al Way that God Dwells with Humans.
Dear friends in Christ,
What is the most important place you have ever seen? What parcel of land have you stood upon that is most historically significant? As a student of history, the meaning of certain places resonates with me. I enjoy witnessing historical sites and putting myself in the shoes of those who made those places significant. When I wonder, what is most significant place I have ever seen – I have a hard time answering.
Having just come off Memorial Day weekend I think about the many sacred sites dedicated to the fallen warriors of our nation. Arlington cemetery in Virginia. The various monuments in our nation’s capital. Pearl Harbor. And even many sites in overseas on foreign soil.
Two very significant hallowed-ground sites that I have been to are both in Pennsylvania – Gettysburg and the Flight 93 memorial. There’s a certain aura of respect that comes over a person when you contemplate the monumental events that took place at sites like these. It gives you an appreciation of the people who made them famous and also an importance of remembering the significance of their memory.
Outside of our nation, I’ve haven’t seen much around the world. From a Christian standpoint, I haven’t been to the great cathedrals of Germany, the catacombs or shrines of the early Church in Rome, or the various sacred sites in the holy land. One such monument of the Christian faith is mentioned in our text today –which has since succumbed to the sands of time and is now lost for people today: The Temple of Solomon. Listen to Solomon’s words before us today, as He dedicates the Temple he built to the LORD almighty:
2 Chronicles 6:17-20 And now, LORD, the God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David come true. 18 "But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 19 Yet, LORD my God, give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. 20 May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.
Immediately in these words we are struck with the awesome significance that God would dwell with mankind. For generations this fact has fascinated people and led them to wonder where they could connect with the Divine. Human nature provides multiple answers to those questions and they all seem to make sense. It tells us that God’s dwelling place must be magnificent. It must be awe-inspiring. It must have a supernatural element to it. It must truly feel spiritual. One can hardly argue with these thoughts even when you look at the Biblical testimony. The many ways that God did reveal Himself in times past were often through miraculous ways. We think of the burning bush, the pillar of fire and cloud, and even the Ark of the Covenant which Solomon would mention later in our text. Solomon’s temple itself was a wonder of the world in its time. Adorned with precious cedars and gold plating, it was the envy of other nations. One would certainly feel that God was present when they entered such a magnificent place.
But as Solomon stands before the LORD and the people of Israel he doesn’t emphasize the magnificence of the temple, in fact, he points away from it. Solomon realizes that there’s nothing about the building or location that brings God to dwell with the people. In faith Solomon confesses that not even the beauty of the heavens can contain God. And yet, in full view of his own unworthiness, Solomon has the audacity to call upon God to dwell in their temple and to trust that God would do so.
The question we ask ourselves is what reason God would have for dwelling with sinful men and women. By definition, it literally and figurately is beneath God to do so. In fact, God can’t do that because by His holiness He cannot intermingle with sinfulness. What is it that Solomon knows about God, that not only allows God to be with us but assures that God will be with us?
The answer is not all that elusive for it’s the very thing we continue to know and trust about our own worship. It’s not about where but what. God’s dwelling with men has nothing to do with how magnificent or sacred the ground is. It’s about what God has done for us, wherever we may be, that makes the difference.
Take a pause here from Solomon’s speech, and consider a few things Jesus said about this. During a conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (which was a pretty significant Jewish historical site) the woman was confused about what the believe because she was hung up on location. She told Jesus, John 4:20 "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (in Samaria), and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship." Jesus explained to her that what was more important than location was worshipping God in “spirit and truth.”
Think also of Matthew 18:20, when Jesus gave His disciples the office of the keys and the steps of church discipline. There Jesus reminded them that His Work, and the location of His presence, is often going to simple and rudimentary from a human perspective. Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered around His Word, He is with them. The miracle of God’s presence with people is not in where it happens but in what takes place there.
How do we know WHAT is significant then? It seems that even churches today struggled to answer this question. What should we be doing? What does it take to be with God, for Him to come to us? Is it about community impact? Things like helping those in need, collaborating with civil leaders, improving the world in which we live? Is it about lineage? Must our church be traced back to the apostles to have authority in reaching God? Some would say so. Does it matter what we say? Can’t we leave the purpose of church up to each individual, let them find God on their own terms and in their own way?
For us the answer, as with all questions about God, is found in the Word of God. In His Word, God emphasizes repentance and forgiveness of sins. That’s the WHAT that should be taking place. Without that, God does not dwell with us. Those other things are important, but emphasizing them as the way to God at the Word’s expense is like putting more stock in the look of your building and the beauty of your property than in what Jesus has accomplished for us.
In our text, Solomon pleads with God to dwell among the people – but not because of the magnificence of the Temple. The rest of the chapter shows us exactly WHAT Solomon was concerned about. He went on to say,
2 Chronicles 6:24 "Or if Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You, and return and confess Your name, and pray and make supplication before You in this temple, 25 "then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of Your people Israel, and bring them back to the land which You gave to them and their fathers.
2 Chronicles 6:26 "When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You, when they pray toward this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin because You afflict them, 27 "then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, Your people Israel, that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people as an inheritance.
2 Chronicles 6:36 "When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to a land far or near; 37 "yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity, saying,`We have sinned, we have done wrong, and have committed wickedness'; 38 "and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, where they have been carried captive, and pray toward their land which You gave to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and toward the temple which I have built for Your name: 39 "then hear from heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You.
Notice the theme? Solomon’s hope was that when the people sinned, they would be ready to repent and God would be ready to forgive. That was what gave Solomon confidence that God would dwell with His people. It was, and still is today, all about God’s mercy for people. And it’s no different in the rest of the Bible, either. We saw what Jesus said on the matter. He came to us, as the literally Immanuel (God with us) to help us in our sin. He is with those who repent no matter how many they are or how ornate their dwelling is.
Isaiah said also, For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
The apostle Paul stated, Acts 17:24 "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 "Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 17:30 "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,
Throughout the Bible, this stunning miracle that the Triune God would dwell with mankind is not so stunning after all. It’s readily accepted by believers because of WHAT our God says and WHAT He has done. Repent of sin and receive forgiveness in Christ. That is the effect of God’s work for us. That is what it means to unite with God through faith and to have Him in your life.
Let us never discount the sacredness of God’s Word – wherever it is used. It could be here in our beautiful, yet humble sanctuary. It could be in the Sunday School room. It could be at your dinner table. It could be in a park by yourself. It could be at the hospital bed, or the death bed. It could be anywhere. It’s not the location that makes something beautiful to God, or sacred to us. It’s what happens there. Each place where the Holy Spirit is working through Christians using the Word, a monument to Christ’s grace and mercy is in place.
That God would dwell with sinful mankind is a miracle, solely because God in His mercy through Christ, has forgiven us and established a way to be with us. This is truly unbelievable from a human sense perceptive but it’s what takes place here each day.