In his book Leaving Home, Garrison Keillor tells a fictional story about a family from Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Grace Tollefson married Alex Campbell, who turned out to be a ne'er-do-well. They had three kids: Earl, Marlys, and Walter. Then he left her, took all the money, and she was forced to move back home and live off the kindness of folks there, enduring the relentless I-told-you-so's of her mother. It was humiliating. Then, "One day they got a letter from a man in Philadelphia doing research on Scottish nobility who asked who their ancestors were, so he could look it up." Grace wrote back, and a few days later another letter came.
She opened the envelope. It was addressed to Mrs. Grace Campbell, but the letter began with "Your Royal Highness." He wrote: "Today is the happiest day of my life as I greet my one true Sovereign Queen," and went on to say that their branch of the Campbell family was first in the line of succession of the House of Steward, the Royal Family of Scotland.
Another letter soon came with a complicated genealogical chart with a line in the corner leading right straight to them: Earl, Marlys, and Walter. The Royal Family of Scotland living in Lake Wobegon in a green mobile home, furniture donated by the Lutheran church. They were astounded beyond words. Disbelieving at first, afraid to put their weight on something so beautiful, afraid it was too good to be true, and then it took hold—this was grace, pure grace that God offered them. Not their will but his. Grace. Here they were in the same dismal place, but everything had changed. They were different people. Their surroundings were the same, but they were different.
Ultimately, years later, the youngest son, Walter, finds out the whole business was a fraud, but he never tells his mother or siblings, because thinking you are royalty, whether anyone else knows it or not, changes a person. At the end of the story, Grace is old, and she says to her son, "Oh, Walter, what would I do without you? You're so strong. You're so good to me. You're a prince, you know. They can put a crown on a dog and call it a prince, but you are a prince through and through. They may not know it now, but they'll know it soon. Next year we'll be in Edinburgh with the bands playing and the flags flying and the crowds cheering."
I stand among unrecognized royalty here this morning, and it is no pipe dream. Your neighbors would never suspect it of course, nor the folks in the other cubicles at work, but we can trace our lineage back to a great King, and we have it on the best authority that one day we will ourselves reign with him. Once we know this, like the story said, our surroundings will be the same, but we will be different.
The Book of Chronicles was like that letter to the Campbell family. It was like the Jews in 500 BC were living in a green mobile home with used furniture, feeling like nobodies, and then the Chronicler reminded them of their royal heritage and God's promise of a regal future. The Chronicles took them back 500 years to the glory days of David.
Last week, in 1 Chronicles 17, we were reminded how King David wanted to build a temple for the Lord, but instead God came and promised him—made a solemn covenant with him—that God would build a house for him, a great and everlasting dynasty, and that his son would build the temple for God. David's son Solomon built a great temple, but David's greater Son, Jesus, built a people who are a living temple in which God dwells.
We return to 1 Chronicles 17:16-27 today to look at David's awed response to God's covenant. Here is King David, sitting before the Lord. I assume he is alone in the tent he had erected in Jerusalem to shelter the ark of God's covenant. He is very nearly dumbfounded with wonder at what God has promised to him. Here we step into David's prayer and praise, and when we do we find that what he praises God for resonates within us. "Yes!" we exclaim, "I know that feeling!" In this passage we step into David's praise and realize how royally rich we are! Listen to verses 16-20:
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant's house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O Lord God! And what more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant. For your servant's sake, O Lord, and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things. There is none like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.
We rejoice with David in the exalted privilege of being God's servants.
David bows and whispers, "Who am I, O Lord God?" God's lavish grace has a way of bringing out a response like that. We are liable to think that God chose David because David was the cream of the crop, a young man of extraordinary devotion and promise. But that is not why God chose him, and David knew it. He knew—as you must know of yourself—that there is no good reason for God to shower us with his favor except, simply, that he loves us. We can read David's words and think, I know exactly what you mean, David! I look at where God found me, and then at the future he has promised me, and I say with you, "Who am I, O Lord God, that you should choose to so bless me?"
David speaks of himself as "your servant" ten times in this prayer! He wasn't just being polite! But the strange thing is that actually, God was the servant. He had done all the heavy lifting in this relationship. God had said, "I will build a house for you!" But God's grace has the effect of turning those who receive it into God's loving servants. How can I not serve such a loving God with all my heart?
What's more, to be God's servant is the most exalted position a person can hold. David was not great because he was a king. There are thousands of forgotten kings. He was great because he was the servant of Almighty God. Serving God elevates a person—exalts a person—to a place higher than any other duty or office on earth. Why? Because as he says in verse 20, "There is none like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears."
I read this week about Emma Daniel Gray, who died June 8th at age 95. For 24 years she was the woman who dusted the office of the President of the United States. She served six presidents. Her official title? Charwoman. I thought, Wow, I wish I could have met her! To my mind, the President's charwoman is very important! Then I read that she was a devout Christian and that she would stand and pray over the President's chair each time she dusted it. More important than being the servant of the President is that she was the servant of God. Which do you think mattered more to Mrs. Gray? Do you relish the privilege of being God's servant?
So we pray with David, "Who am I, O Lord, that you have brought me this far and promised me a great future? I am so glad you have exalted me to the great honor of being your servant!"
We rejoice with David that God redeemed us for himself.
Now David's awed praise takes him back into his nation's history. He had started with "Who am I, and what is my family?" Now he asks, "And who is like your people Israel?" We might think that what makes the Jews distinctive is their culture or their achievements or their land, but that is not what David thought. What set Israel apart was that they were "the one nation on earth whose God went out to redeem a people for himself." The story of the Exodus was on his mind—how God saw the suffering of his people in slavery in Egypt and brought them out, free and clear, and gave them the land he had promised them. God redeemed them, he bought them out of slavery.
What struck David here was that the Lord had made him king over this redeemed people of God. For him, it wasn't about power or riches; it was the holy honor of leading God's redeemed and precious people for God's glory.
We step into David's praise here, making it our own, because we are the spiritual descendants of that people redeemed from Egypt. But, of course, God did not only redeem us from the grind of slavery to another nation, but from a slavery to the sinning we could not stop and from guilt which we could never escape. What's more, we were chained to the millstone of death, not only the inescapable death of our bodies, but of our very souls. And this same God redeemed us, bought us out of this hopeless slavery by the blood of his own Son—and David's own Son, too.
If David was a steward over God's people, how much more has Jesus been our Good Shepherd, our Guardian and Guide, leading us to green pastures and still waters, even through the valley of the shadow of death? Our King Jesus has served us, like a slave washing our feet. He and he alone has made us a great people. He has given us new life, changed hearts, hope, and a future.
So we pray with David, "O Lord, who is like your people, your church, for you have drawn us from every people and language into your redeemed Israel. You have made us your very own, and you, O Lord, have become our God! Through what you have done to redeem us, you have made a great name for yourself, Lord Jesus! And we are glad to be your people!"
With David, we are utterly committed to God's promise.
The rest of David's prayer is a kind of great Amen:
And now, O Lord, let the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house be established forever, and do as you have spoken, and your name will be established and magnified forever, saying, "The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, is Israel's God," and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build a house for him. Therefore your servant has found courage to pray before you. And now, O Lord, you are God, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever before you, for it is you, O Lord, who have blessed, and it is blessed forever.
David considers in astonishment the great covenant that God has made with him and, in effect, says, "I'll take it! Count me in!" Did you notice the repeated use of the word established? My study buddy Doug Becker tells me that the sense of this word is something like "let it be trusted." "Lord, let this promise be trusted forever." Our trust is what activates God's promises in our own lives. God's promise is sure, regardless of what we do, but when we trust his promise, that promise becomes our spiritual birthright; it gets into our spiritual genes. It shapes us and defines us. If we must wait, we will wait. If it seems like the Lord has forgotten us, we will trust him nonetheless. We don't have a back-up plan. We won't consider our options.
Remember Mrs. Gray, the Presidents' charwoman? After she died, her pastor said, "'She saw life through the eyes of promise' is the way I'd put it." He added, "You can always look around and find reasons to be [unhappy] … but you couldn't be around her and not know what she believed." That is exactly what God's people do: see life through the eyes of promise.
There's another thing here in that line in verse 24: "that your name will be great forever. Then men will say, 'The Lord Almighty, the God over Israel, is Israel's God.'" When it gets into our heads and hearts what God has done for us—where he found us and where he is bringing us, that he has exalted us to the high status of being his servants—this is what we want, too. We want God's name to be great in this world. We want people to look at us—at what God has done for us, at how he sustains us and loves us, at the people he has made us to be, and at the hope he has given us—and we want them to say, "The Lord Almighty is their God! And Jesus Christ is their King!" Is that what you want?
See in verse 25 where he says, "Your servant has found courage to pray to you"? What gave David courage to come into the holy presence of God and pray, even in praise? Because, as verse 26 says, "O Lord, you are God! You have promised these good things to your servant." Our trust in God's promise is what gives us courage to pray. Look again at verse 27. There are ten thousand confident prayers that may spring from that promise. God has promised to bless the house—the dwelling, the people—that Christ has built as a temple to God. Every spiritual blessing in Christ rises from that promise. And thus every confident, promise-based prayer is tethered to it. Open your Bible. Read the promises of God expressed there; read of the privileges of your royal rank. We are, the Bible says, "a royal priesthood," "a kingdom and priests." Romans 8:31-32 asks, "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Pray as though you believe that!
Let me take you back in our royal history to John Newton, the slave trader turned pastor and hymn writer. He would receive some almost unbelievable answers to his prayers because he believed in what he called, "large asking." He would often tell the story of a man who asked Alexander the Great to give him a huge sum of money in exchange for his daughter's hand in marriage. Alexander agreed, and told him to request of his treasurer whatever he wanted. So the father of the bride went and asked for an enormous amount. The treasurer was startled and said he couldn't give out that kind of money without a direct order. Going to Alexander, the treasurer argued that even a small fraction of the money requested would more than serve the purpose. "No," replied Alexander, "let him have it all. I like that fellow. He does me honor. He treats me like a king and proves by what he asks that he believes me to be both rich and generous." Newton would conclude: "In the same way, we should go to the throne of God's grace and present petitions that express honorable views of the love, riches, and bounty of our King."
God has reminded us again this morning that we are unrecognized royalty in this world. And for that great privilege we should be full of thanks, we should be eager servants of God, and we should "see life through the eyes of promise." That fiction of Garrison Keillor's is actually our truth:
They were astounded beyond words. Disbelieving at first, afraid to put their weight on something so beautiful, afraid it was too good to be true, and then it took hold—this was grace, pure grace that God offered them. Not their will but his. Grace. Here they were in their same dismal place but everything had changed. They were different people. Their surroundings were the same, but they were different.
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.