January 2, 2019

Christmas 1 - 2 Samuel 7:1-16

Powerful Promises for Broken Plans

2 Samuel 7:1-16 Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2 the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent." 3 And Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you." 4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, 5 "Go and tell my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. 7 In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"' 8 Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall 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 to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.'" (ESV)

Dear fellow redeemed:

Now that Christmas is past us, the time of returns, exchanges, and refunds is upon us. Customer service lines around our nation will be filled for the next few weeks as people return the gifts they didn’t want or the ones that were duplicates. I suppose the busyness might extend well into the Spring with items that are under a 60- or 90-day warranty period. Some stores even have dedicated locations for refurbished or open-box items that were returned. The business of returns and exchanges has kind of become a season in and of itself.

Most of the time in these situations, the best you can hope for is an exact exchange or a complete refund. Sometimes, you may have to pay extra postage or a re-stocking fee, but if it’s between that and an item that you don’t want, it’s a pretty fair trade. Imagine if you returned an item and received double the credit back. Imagine if you took in a broken item in and received a newer, better model, and the money it cost in return. Imagine if you were past the return or warranty period and you still received the latest model in exchange for your broken one. We can’t do that with products because companies would lose money. But, the Lord does that and more with the plans we make in life.

Much more than a time for returns and exchanges, this is the season of the New Year. We all ponder about new plans, dreams, and ideas around the New Year. We want to improve. We want to start over in the areas where we made mistakes. But the harsh reality that lurks behind the freshness of the New Year is that in 365 days many of our hopes, dreams, and plans will come crashing down if not before. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a return policy on past mistakes? Wouldn’t it be nice to exchange faulty dreams for satisfying goals? Our portion of God’s Word directs us to that very blessing from our Savior, Jesus.

The story is about one of King David’s greatest dreams. He wanted to build a temple in Jerusalem. There was no doubt that David loved God and loved to worship God. Many of the psalms David wrote were originally worship hymns to the LORD. In those songs, David spoke of his great joy in coming to the Lord’s house regularly, of the hope of calling upon the Lord’s name in prayer, and of the comfort that David received in his heart from the Lord’s Word. David, like every believer, loved to worship God, and wanted to honor and glorify God’s name by building Him a temple.

David’s trusted prophet, Nathan, approved of this plan. He even said that the Lord would be pleased by it. Yet, that same night the LORD told Nathan that it wouldn’t come to pass. David, despite his good intentions and believer’s attitude, would not be the one to build the LORD’s temple. This lifelong goal of David would fail. Yet, through it the LORD would exchange this dream for an even greater promise. That’s what God does with our failed missions. He takes up the mantle with His power and love and provides an even greater promise for us that far supersedes our initial plans. It’s a truly miraculous exchange process but it doesn’t always seem like it.

If you put yourself in David’s position, you can sense some of the frustration he might have had. After all he had done for the LORD, after how faithful he had been, after all he had accomplished, he would not be allowed to fulfill one of his greatest desires to serve the LORD. To us, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, especially since David had good intentions. It’s not as if he was trying to pursue something contrary to God’s will. This is part of the miracle in the way God works. We see situations that seem fool-proof and we want God to rubber stamp His will to the matter and make it happen. And if it doesn’t, we start to doubt. Yet, that is the very process God uses to turn it into something much better.

The first reality we have to admit is that even our fool-proof plans are not perfect. Sometimes we’re so used to the way that life on earth works that we apply those same standards to God. It’s easy, after being let down so much in a sinful world, to take a cynical point of view toward righteousness. What we see in the world is that there is no truly perfect plan so it’s easy to think perfection can never happen. Yet, God still operates in the realm of total righteousness. All of His ways, plans, and actions are perfect! And so, good for us, and good for God are two different things sometimes.

David came face-to-face with that reality a few chapters after this as he fell into adultery with Bathsheba, planned and executed the betrayal and murder of her husband, and deceived the people of Israel about the matter. In just a few moments, the brutality of David’s sinful heart was laid bare. Like all matters of sinfulness, it was a reminder that his own ways, including his own plans and desires, were not always righteous. The same is obviously true in our lives. Each moment of unfaithfulness to the LORD and His Word is a harsh reminder that we are careless captains of our own destinies. The LORD beckons us to trust in Him as a better and surer Guide of our plans.

Within this answer of “no” from the LORD was also a test that was meant to strengthen David’s faith. The only reason David would have for getting upset at the LORD’s plan was if David was more concerned about himself. Remember, that building the temple would also be a legacy for David’s reign as King. Even today, the architect of the temple, David’s son, Solomon, still lays claim in name to that building. It will always be known as “Solomon’s temple” in that regard. There was a great temptation for David to make this project about his legacy first and foremost. It would have been easy for David to use the cover of the LORD’s honor to conceal his own inward, selfish goals. I’m not saying this was what David’s plan was, but the LORD’s test would reveal it if it was. The LORD was testing what was most important to David; honoring the LORD’s name, or David’s?

David’s response to the test showed that it indeed strengthened his faith. From verse 18 to the end of the chapter David spoke a message of praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, despite the LORD’s answer of no. David was truly most concerned about honoring God. It wasn’t about his own legacy.   

We, too, will receive the same test from the LORD when it comes to our plans of serving Him. Do we look at projects at church, such as the upcoming carpet replacement, as ways to serve God in humility or ways to put our mark on His house. Are we more concerned with the color or style, or the purpose it will serve to honor God in this place? It’s not just about carpet, either. The same test pertains to all functions of serving in the name of God. Church cleaning, committee work Sunday School teaching, homeless donations, outreach projects, worship style and procedure, budget considerations, and many more things. Take all the noble plans and goals we have to serve God in the coming year and ask whether you care more about getting your way in those matters, or doing everything you can to honor God’s name. That’s the same test God gave David and if you received a “no” answer in some of those areas would still react with praise and thanksgiving? Test your faith in that way for it will show whom you are truly serving.

The LORD works in mysterious ways, and at times we will certainly wonder what His method and plan is. However, one certainty we have is that no matter what the outcome or the answer is, there will always be a promise of hope. We see that as the last, and most important, takeaway from the LORD’s answer to David. The answer was no, and the plans fell apart, but God’s promise endured. When Solomon finally reached the point where he broke ground on the temple construction, it was due in large part to the financial gains that David had accumulated for the project. David would never see the temple building, but without his diligence there would have been no funds to cover the project. God promised that David’s line would endure and that the temple would be completed, just not in the way that David envisioned. The LORD allowed David to have indirect influence through His promise.  

I think you’ll find the same promise alive and well in your life. Even in plans and desires that God says no to, He often opens another door by which you can play a part. What decides whether or not you take this opportunity is often a matter of where your heart leads you. And I’m not talking about following your own desires and inclinations; I’m saying that what is in your heart will influence your actions. To trust in God’s righteous plan means to recognize and believe that His way is perfect. He knows best! James tells us that “every perfect gift” is given from God above, and that He shows no partiality or deception. That’s pretty clear in the way that God operates but so often we think that God is holding out on us or not being fair if He says no to us. Faith in Jesus, what is in your heart as a believer, trusts that God’s way is perfect, not just in His own mind, but in reality for our lives. And if we think and act by that faith, we also understand that God often gives, and gives much more, even at times when He says no.

Finally, the first promise given to David ultimately led to the second and greater promise. The eternal succession of David’s reign, the completion of the temple through his son, Solomon, were both micro-promises of the gift of eternal life. God was not promising David eternal earthly power, that gift would have meant nothing. God was promising David a place in heaven as a redeemed believer. The throne of David, as a picture of the Holy Christian Church, endures forever. And our own lives are fulfillments of that promise as we receive the same gift as citizens in that kingdom. You see, with God it is never just about our plan. Far greater than that is His promise. For David, the temple was a priority, but not what was most important in his life or in his faith. That’s why David could rejoice with Thanksgiving even though God said no to his plan. Likewise, let us not hang everything in our lives and in our faith upon the plans we make – even the best plans. We have a far greater treasure. A promise given and fulfilled through our Lord Jesus Christ – forgiveness of sins today and life eternal in heaven. That is truly an exchange worth having. Amen.

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