This sermon is part of the sermon series "Remember Who We Are (Part 1)". See series.
Some years ago friends gave me this extraordinary book, Churches, about the architecture of great churches. I'm partial to country churches, but the beautiful churches in this book aren't just extraordinary; they are full of symbol and significance. The challenge is creating space for God that speaks of God and inspires people. The author writes, "Architecture, church architecture, describes visually the idea of the sacred, which is a fundamental need of man."
Building something great for God—a house of God—is something of a fundamental need, especially if you really love the Lord. Consider the beautiful places we've built for governments and museums and schools; surely God deserves a grand and beautiful place where his people can worship him. What could be more right?
King David, 1,000 years before Christ, brought a God-centered revival to the nation of Israel that climaxed when he brought the ark of the covenant of God into Jerusalem, his new capital city. "After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, 'Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.' Nathan replied to David, 'Whatever you have in mind, do it, for God is with you'" (1 Chronicles 17:1-2). Even a prophet of God doesn't need to check in with the Lord on a request like that! David's motives were pure and good. God was certainly deserving of something better than a tent.
But God spoke to Nathan, telling him that David should hold his horses. God sent a message to David about house building. That word house is at the center of this famous passage known as the Davidic Covenant.
Five hundred years later, the chronicler tells this story to God's people, who were but a remnant of what they had once been, a shadow of their former selves, and through Scripture, God tells this same story to us, because it is important that we think on these things. Before we can do great things for God, before we create wonderful worship places and experiences, God has something to say that shapes more than any temple or cathedral how we see him. These words from God to David are the very heart of the Chronicles, and they are a kind of temple in their own right. Here are words by God the architect in which we find a place to worship our great Lord.
God's message back to David was completely unexpected. He would welcome David's desire to build a temple, as we will see, but there was something more important on God's mind. He started with a bit of Israel's history that tells us this.
God has always been at home among his people.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, he directed them to Mt. Sinai in the wilderness. There he came down from heaven and met with them. It was an incredibly holy place, for God came there. But the Israelites had to move on, and they needed God to go with them. So God gave them specific instructions for building the tabernacle, with the ark of the covenant as its centerpiece. Wherever the Israelites went in the wilderness and on into the Promised Land, God's mobile Sinai went with them. God was at home among his people, even in a tent.
From beginning to end, the Bible tells us of God's grace in coming to us. We don't have to go find him, nor do we build him a lavish temple so he'll deign to live among us (which is how other religions conceive of their gods). In the very beginning, God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The entire Old Testament is the history of God dwelling among his people. Then something even more wonderful happened. John 1:14 says of Jesus, "The Word became flesh and lived"—tented—"for awhile among us." God came in person, in the flesh, to dwell among us. When Jesus departed, he promised, "I am with you always." And remember when Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Finally, at the end of time, Revelation 21:3 tells us that a loud voice will announce, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."
The temple which David envisioned was eventually built, and it fulfills a great purpose in the plan of God. But the danger in building a temple or a church building or a great worship service is that people begin to think that that is where God is. They may feel that he can only be found there, or on the other hand, people start to think that what they do somewhere else won't matter as long as they go to church.
Think of the humble places where you've found God. I have a particular memory of a prayer meeting in the hallway of a dorm at Trinity where we met God. I think of that modest little church where I preached in India one Sunday evening last November. God was there. And when Pastor Jared sang with a class of Zairian pastors, God was there. God is at home among his people, wherever they gather. He is here among us this morning. He is in that little group you prayed with and at your family prayer time. He would not be nearer, nor would you be dearer, if you were in the grandest temple on earth!
God promises a safe home for his people.
Now the chronicler continues his story: "Now then, tell my servant David, 'This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also subdue all your enemies.'"
God's priority has never been his own dwelling place. Think of the memories that went through David's mind as Nathan recounted God's summary of his life story. He remembered when his father Jesse summoned him in from the fields where he was a young shepherd. Samuel had come to anoint a king to replace Saul, and he worked his way down through all of David's six elder brothers before, to everyone's astonishment, God fixed his favor on David. He remembered when he fought Goliath and eluded the murderous Saul in the wild frontier of Judah, when he hid out among the Philistines, and when he finally rallied the 12 tribes to his side. David knew without a doubt that God had always been with him. He was the one who wrote the words we love in Psalm 23, "Even though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me." We know that God kept the promise to make David's name "like the names of the greatest men of the earth."
God raised up King David for the good of God's beloved people, "my people Israel." The Israelites had come into the land of Canaan long before David, but their history had so often been marked by war and trouble. David ushered in the greatest era in all of Israelite history to this day. "Wicked people were subdued, and God's people had a home of their own and were no longer disturbed."
Wait! Do you see what God is doing here? This is about building a house for God, but God has changed the subject again. First, it was that he had always been at home among them, and now it is that God raised up David to secure a safe and peaceful home for "my people Israel."
The chronicler's audience listened to this familiar story as the homesick listen for news of home. They were in their own land again after the years of exile (thank God for that!), much like the Israelites before David's reign, but they were pressured by wicked people all around them. They were vassals of a Persian king, and their future seemed tenuous. David's story, 500 years old, was hope for them, because God doesn't change. The past was prophecy: just as God raised up David to provide a safe land for his people, so God would do it again. That is the promise to us as well. Do you remember the promise God gave in Isaiah 65:17? "See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind." That is our home!
Now the chronicler reminds his people of one of the Bible's most momentous declarations: "I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you." God made six distinct covenants through the Old Testament—the defining promises of the Bible—and this one made with David was the last of them. It is a covenant with two meanings, one that addressed David's immediate concern to build a temple for God, and another meaning that goes to the deepest yearnings of God himself and of God's people:
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Israel,
his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.
He is the Lord our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
God's love-filled vow to David secures our hope of house and home.
God covenanted with David to build a house for him—not a temple or a palace—but a royal dynasty that would endure forever! It would begin with Solomon. God said, "He is the one who will build a house for me." Solomon would build the great temple of the Lord, which we'll look at more closely in upcoming weeks. It was a great joy to David to know God would allow his son to do such a great thing. I suspect as a parent that David delighted even more that his son would build a temple than if he built it himself.
God promised something else to David: "His throne will be established forever." A descendant of David would reign over God's kingdom forever! What a thrill! What an honor! No wonder God said earlier, "I will make your name like the names of the greatest men of the earth."
I wonder if the chronicler's audience, hearing this, shook their heads. They had kept careful track of David's descendants, but there was nary a king among them. And it certainly didn't look like there ever would be. "But God promised!" the preacher hammered home. "He promised! Trust him!" So they continued keeping track for 500 more years, till the day his descendants gathered for a census in David's hometown of Bethlehem and the king was born.
But there is another, greater meaning hidden here, for David would have a greater son than Solomon, and whatever God did through Solomon, he did exponentially more through Jesus Christ. Verse 12 says, "He is the one who will build a house for me." Under Solomon, that house was a great temple. But under Jesus Christ, it is a different kind of temple altogether. While God surely loved Solomon as a son, it was Jesus of whom God spoke from heaven, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
Verse 14 says, "I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever." What does that mean? What house does God mean? The temple? When the angel appeared to Mary to tell her of the birth of Jesus, he said, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32-33). Hebrews 3:6 says, "Christ is faithful as a Son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast." Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3 that "God's household" is "the church of the living God," and in Ephesians 2:19-22 he says,
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Think of the house that David's great Son, Jesus, has built. Jews and Gentiles—in fact, people from every nation, tribe, people, and language—robed in white and standing before his throne. People who were once nobodies, lonelier than orphans, now making up the people of God, a holy nation and a royal priesthood, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ himself. A household in which God himself is at home, a household so holy that it has become a temple, for "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?"
God kept his covenant with David, and it has changed our lives! Through Jesus Christ, David's greatest Son, we are God's house, "being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
Through Jesus Christ, David's greatest Son, we have the sure promise of a "home of our own where we will no longer be disturbed." God promises a home where "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." So now we soldier on; we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.
Through Jesus Christ, David's greatest Son, we have the King we so dearly want to follow. A king who shepherds us as the flock of God and leads us into battle as the army of the Lord, the King who will be the Everlasting Father of a God-blessed nation, born of blood and Spirit. Jesus is the King who has pioneered the way for us to our holy homeland and is there now preparing a place for us. He is the King and Elder Brother who is the Head of God's household, the Lord's own sons and daughters.
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.