This sermon is part of the sermon series "Remembering Who We Are (part 2)". See series.
I'll never forget walking into the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., maybe 20 years ago. Just inside the door was an alcove, and there was this array of things called "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly." What in the world is this? I thought. I read that there were 180 pieces in that arrangement all made by a quiet, virtually unknown janitor from Washington, D.C., named James Hampton. This extraordinary collection was found in his garage after he died in 1964, crafted over some 20 years. All these things are made from cast-off items—old furniture, gold and aluminum foil from store displays, bottles, cigarette boxes, wine bottles, used light bulbs, cardboard, insulation board, construction paper, desk blotters, sheets of transparent plastic, all precariously held together with glue, tape, tacks, and pins. He evidently wanted to create a depiction of God's throne room in heaven. On his bulletin board he'd copied this verse, "Where There Is No Vision The People Perish." He believed people needed a vision of God's glory and he set out, singlehandedly, to give it to them. No one knows much about James Hampton, but we know this: what he imagined as God's throne room has become a national treasure.
We're nearing the end of our study in 1 Chronicles, a book written 500 years after its main hero, David, and 500 years before its greatest hope, Jesus Christ. A huge focus in this book is the temple conceived by David but built by his son Solomon in Jerusalem. You may not realize that the temple is one of the Bible's greatest themes. Understanding the temple helps us understand the whole Bible. Last week we studied chapter 21 and learned that the temple was built on that spot where a terrible plague of God's punishment was stopped, and the people experienced God's great mercy. (It was also the place where, 1,000 years earlier, Abraham had offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice, and where God intervened by providing a ram to die in Isaac's place.) The Chronicler invested many chapters in telling us about the temple, because if God's people are to remember who we are in the world, we need to understand his temple.
Our God must have a temple that displays his magnificence to the nations of the world.
If I asked you, "What was the temple for?" I think you'd say, "It was where Israel could worship God." That's true, of course, but what David said about the temple to Solomon was, "The house to be built for the Lord should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations." The temple was meant to display God to the world.
What would this temple that Solomon would build say to the nations? The stunning expenditure of gold, silver, and precious stones—too much to count—would say that God is Israel's treasure, that his value to his people is beyond counting. It spoke of God's beauty and of God's companionship with his people through his lamp-like Word, bread-filled tables, and through incense-filled prayers. It hinted at the beauties and mysteries of God's heaven. It spoke of blood shed for forgiveness of sin, and most of all, it said that God lived right there among his people, that God loved his people and dwelled among them.
The nations do not know these things about God. Your neighbors and classmates and coworkers do not know God is like this. John Piper has written, "People are starving for the greatness of God. But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is an unknown cure. There are far more popular prescriptions on the market, but the benefit of any other remedy is brief and shallow."
If the temple was meant to display God's magnificence to the world, then it seems God needed to take his show on the road. God needed a traveling temple, a way to display his splendor right where people live! He needed a mobile temple with cut-away sides so everyone could see what it was made of.
That, of course, is what God has done. He has made a temple out of people. "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). We as Christians display God's glory. We feed people who are "starving for the greatness of God" by preaching and demonstrating his fame and splendor. We house his salvation. We exemplify how sacrifice for sin and God's forgiveness works. We showcase the architecture of prayer and the hope of heaven. God himself lives now in us! As individuals coming together as the church, "We are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." We are God's mobile temple, and a temple (for all our personal ordinariness) more spectacular and compelling than that which David planned and Solomon built.
God has given us the perfect King to build the temple displaying his magnificence.
Only a particular kind of king could build God's temple. Listen to what David said to Solomon in verses 6-10:
Then he called for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel. David said to Solomon, "My son, I had it in my heart to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth. Behold, a son shall be born to you who shall be a man of rest. I will give him rest from all his surrounding enemies. For his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be my son, and I will be his father, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever.'
Solomon built that first temple, but ultimately God had a greater temple in mind, and Jesus Christ was the only King who could build it. God's temple is made perfect in Christ.
Jesus Christ is the "man of peace and rest." That's how Solomon is described in verse 9. One of these Hebrew words is familiar to us: "a man of shalom." Shalom—peace—means a kind of richly blessed contentment. The word for rest implies stability, a kind of at-home-ness. That's what Jesus brought to us when we trusted him: shalom, a blessed contentment, and a deep inner rest in God's presence. Now Jesus builds us into a temple of "peace and rest" people. At our best, the church is a place at peace with God and one another, rich in the enjoyment of his blessings. And when people come into a church like that, they meet Jesus there, the "man of peace and rest." "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest," Jesus said.
A few weeks ago we had a guest here in the service, a young woman from another country who had never been in a church in her life. After the service, I asked her what she thought. She didn't understand a lot because her English is still developing, and she knows nothing of the Bible. She had no idea who David was, for example. Did she comment on the singing or the preaching or our friendliness? No. She said simply, "I felt such peace here."
Look at verses 11-13 and what else was expected of Solomon:
"Now, my son, the Lord be with you, so that you may succeed in building the house of the Lord your God, as he has spoken concerning you. Only, may the Lord grant you discretion and understanding, that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the Lord your God. Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules that the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed."
There is a big "if" in verse 13: "if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules." Well, in the end Solomon wasn't careful and was a disappointment. But in Jesus Christ we have a king who obeyed God in all things and who brought extraordinary "discretion and understanding" to God's Word. Through his obedience to God, Jesus Christ channels God's blessing to us, the temple he has succeeded in building for God. Paul says that all God's promises to us get their yes—their Amen—from Christ. Everything we need in order to be God's temple in this world is available to us, thanks to Jesus. Whatever you need so you can live like a holy temple where you are is yours for the asking through Christ. Are you asking for what you need?
In verses 14-16, we see that David provided all that Solomon needed to build the first temple, but what was given to Jesus? Frankly, what Jesus started with was more like what James Hampton used in his garage—castoff materials—used furniture, old bottles and bulbs, aluminum foil. But to God the building materials of the church are far more precious than gold, for Jesus Christ builds this temple with the people the Lord loves and chose from before the creation of the world. Jesus takes people and redeems them from sin, Satan, and death. Our value to God was always great, so great that he sent his Son to save us. And now we are the gold and silver and precious stones that make up his rising temple.
Never take a church for granted! A church, no matter how ordinary we look, is a temple of inestimable value. The gold here in a church is our faith, purified in the crucibles of suffering and struggles, pounded into shape by the hammer of God. What makes a church beautiful—glimmering and golden—is the glory of God shining through what we have suffered, through how we love, through our prayers and worship. We are being "built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit!"
Now look at verse 17: "David also commanded all the leaders of Israel to help Solomon his son." That could be us. Not only are we the temple materials, we are also, like these people, challenged to help the King in building God's glorious temple.
We are the temple of God, but we are also its craftsmen.
David asked his leaders in verse 18, "Is not the Lord your God with you?" Indeed he is! The Lord is with us. Building a church—this new and greatest temple of God—is no easy task. It was far easier to craft the golden walls of that temple than it is to build the walls of this one. Being and building a church is hard sometimes, harder than anything else I know. It is sometimes incredibly difficult to love one another or to agree on how we should honor God or how to handle the outside pressures of finances or a changing community or persecution. But our King says to us, "Is not the Lord your God with you?" When two or three of us bow our heads and hearts to pray, the Lord our God is with us there. When a team or committee tries to sort out the best way to minister, the Lord our God is there. When we want to do better at winning lost people to Christ or at feeding hungry people and don't know how best to do it, the Lord our God is with us there.
The rest of verse 18 points to our King's reign: "Has he not given you peace on every side? For he has delivered the inhabitants of the land into my hand, and the land is subdued before the Lord and his people." Now, we do not live in a time of "rest on every side." There are enemies all about us, but as David wrote, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." Here there is sure and quiet fellowship with God, no matter what enemies look in at the windows. More importantly, Jesus Christ is the reigning King. "The land is subject to the Lord and to his people." We as the church seem so insignificant sometimes, but we are the outposts of the King of kings in this community. This town, your school, your office, your family may be in rebellion against God, but they are not more powerful than our King Jesus. And this temple he is building—just as the temple Solomon built—is the focal point of his reign here in this place. Here is where Jesus reigns. Here is where we bow happily before him. Here is where people wait to do his bidding.
Listen to verse 19: Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God, so that the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the Lord." Isn't it interesting that in rallying these leaders to help Solomon build the temple, God doesn't tell them to go get their tool belts? This was timeless counsel. To build God's temple, we must devote our hearts and souls to seeking the Lord our God. When God's people in a church really do that, the church is the temple it is meant to be. It is the place of God's peace and blessing; it is the place where Jesus Christ alone reigns. But when God's people do not give themselves heart and soul to seeking God—to studying the Bible, to praying together, to humbling ourselves before him and one another—then what is built is not made of gold, silver, and precious stones, but rather of wood, hay, and stubble, which are easily burned and buried.
One of the most important lessons of this whole book is how vitally important it is for God's people to seek him. Saul did not, and he was crushed and God's people with him. David did seek the Lord, and he and his people were exalted and blessed with peace and the temple of God.
God is temple building in your life right now, and in our church. Whatever you are facing, whether difficult or exciting, God has gold in mind. He has in mind doing something through you, and through us, that draws the attention of our neighbors to how magnificent the Lord is.
This past week one of our young men, facing a very difficult situation, fasted and prayed for a day. God was making gold. There are here among us some whose bodies hurt almost all the time, and yet they seek to trust God and persevere in faith. God is making gold. There are some here who are in situations in school and work that are absolutely overwhelming and far too hard for them, yet they seek to pray and trust the Lord and do what is right. God is making gold. And there are some on the beginning of some great new adventure—marriage or parenting or schooling or work—and they stop to seek God in that, to listen to him, and to give him back all they have. And God is making gold.
At the base and corner of this great temple is Jesus Christ, our cornerstone. His death and resurrection and reign are the source of all our strength. And next to him are the great foundation stones of the prophets and apostles, who laid down the truth and strength of God's temple. And then, starting with such unlikely stones as the thief on the cross, Mary Magdalene, a freed demoniac or Roman centurion, living stones have been added, one atop another, of a truer gold than anything on earth, refined in the fires of the holy God. And in this great, living temple the Lord Almighty lives. And we are that temple!
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.