The Dedication of the Temple audio (6MB with Cantonese translation)
We were living in Canberra in 1988 when the new Parliament house was opened. What an occasion that was! The Queen was there to open the building. People came to Canberra from all over Australia. There was a huge march and rally by Christians from all over the country who came to march around Parliament House and pray for the government of our country. The highlight for Di and me was when our daughter Katherine walked out from the crowd to give the Queen a rose that some friends who were staying with us had given her and the Queen actually stopped and talked to her.
Well, today we’re thinking about another great occasion: the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem; as Bill pointed out last week, not a particularly large building; nothing by comparison with our Parliament house, but the thing is, its significance derived not from its size but from what it represented. The Temple was the sign that God was dwelling in the midst of his people. Up until then the presence of God had been represented by the Ark of the Covenant which had been housed in a tent. But now Solomon had built this permanent structure as a focus of the nation’s worship of the living God.
And look how they celebrate. First the whole nation assembles in Jerusalem, around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, the feast that recalled how Israel had wandered for forty years in the desert. Perhaps they chose this festival because now the period of wandering is over. Now they’ve come into God’s rest. The land is theirs and will remain theirs as long as they remain faithful to God.
As they gather, the elders and priests come bringing the Ark with them, along with all the holy vessels from the Tabernacle. And they begin to sacrifice. They sacrifice so many animals they can’t be counted. Well I guess there’s always an accountant or two hanging around, because later in the passage we’re told there were 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats sacrificed by the time the celebrations were over.
They take the Ark into the Holy of Holies, the Inner Sanctuary and suddenly God appears. Well, he doesn’t actually appear does he? But there’s no doubt that he’s there. A thick cloud comes down and fills the temple as a sign that God is there. So God’s presence can be seen, yet at the same time the face of God is hidden.
Do you see what we discover here about God? God is a God who graciously reveals himself to human beings, yet he is always hidden from us; we can never fully comprehend him. Now we see in a mirror, dimly; not until the last day will we see him face-to-face.
And look at v9 where the Ark is mentioned. The Ark represents the presence of God, but do you see what’s inside it? All it contains, we’re told, are the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, or Sinai. What were these two tablets of Stone and why are they mentioned? They were the tablets that contained the ten commandments.
Again, God is a God who reveals himself to us by letting us know what his will for us is. Do you know what God’s will for your life is? Too often today we interpret that question as referring to the specific day to day circumstances of our life. Should I catch the train or the bus? Should I go out with that person or the next? Should I study economics or engineering? Should I move house or stay where I am? But in fact can I suggest that God is far less worried about whether we study economics or engineering than we are. He’s much more interested in whether we live lives that are modeled on his character; whether we lie or steal, commit adultery, kill, keep the Sabbath holy, worship other Gods, make idols for ourselves. The commandments written on those stone tablets make it crystal clear how we can model his character, live according to his will.
So the cloud points to God’s obscurity, his mystery, while the Ark points to his clarity.
But then Solomon stands to pray and look at what he prays. He says “23O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand.”
He praises God because there is no God like our God. God is incomparable. But can you see how he’s incomparable? Not because he’s bigger and better than the rest. You might conclude that after you read about Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel in a few month’s time. But no. Not because of his great power. Not even because he’s the one who created the world and all that’s in it.
No, he’s incomparable because he’s a God who keeps covenant with his servants, who shows covenant love to those who walk before him. He’s incomparable that is, because he always keeps his promises: in this case, his promise to David that his son would build a temple.
But then Solomon takes this praise of God a step further. He takes God’s promise and he calls on God to remain faithful to his promise; to continue to bless David’s descendants, to make sure that there will always be one of his offspring to sit upon the throne of Israel. He says; “25Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, 'There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.' 26Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.” Solomon treats God’s fidelity in the past as the basis for expecting that he’ll do it in the future.
I wonder is that how you think about God’s promises? Do you trust that God will do what he says he’ll do? When he says that he’ll be with you and nothing will overcome you, do you believe it? When he says “My power is made great in weakness” do you believe it? When he says “bring the full tithe into the storehouse ... and see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing”, do you believe it? Do you believe that there is no God like our God because he always keeps his promises?
You know, when Di and I first felt God telling me to move from my well-paid secular job into Christian ministry, it didn’t even cross my mind to worry about whether we’d be OK financially. I think I just assumed that God would look after us if this were the right thing to do. And God hasn’t let us down. We’ve had everything we’ve needed and more. But we’ll come back to that in a moment.
First let’s look at the next few verses. In vs 27 & 28 Solomon thinks about the amazing mystery of God interacting with his people despite being the God of the universe. He says: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even ... the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” How ridiculous to think that the God of the universe could be contained in a building, even one lined with gold. Yet here’s the amazing truth of the gospel. God lowers himself to connect with us, his humble creatures. And so Solomon prays: “28Regard your servant's prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today.” Solomon knows that God is a God who answers prayer, who takes us seriously; so seriously that he tells us we’re to bring all our concerns, our needs, our fears to him.
There’s a song we sing regularly at our 10am service that expresses something of the wonder of this. These are the words: “Indescribable, uncontainable, You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name. You are amazing God
All powerful, untamable, Awestruck we fall to our knees
as we humbly proclaim: You are amazing God.” We worship a God who is indescribable, uncontainable, yet a God who comes to us, reveals himself to us and loves us with a covenant love. That is, a love that depends on his promise to us, not on our performance or our obedience to his laws.
He’s the all-powerful creator of the universe and yet he calls us to carry out his work in the world.
If you were here last week as Bill described the Temple I wonder did it strike you just how magnificent it all was? How over-the-top opulent it was? Built of dressed stone, walls lined with cedar then plated with gold. Every surface in fact covered with gold. How did they do it? Where did the gold come from. How could a small state like Israel fund that sort of expense? Did God just give it to them? Well no. They had to get it for themselves.
We were talking about this at the Rainbow fellowship last week when we studied Joshua 1. God promised Joshua that he’d go with him, that no-one would be able to stand against him, but then he told Joshua to get his army ready to march into the land and fight battle after battle in order to take the land. God calls us to do his work for him. He gives us the gifts we need but then we have to exercise them. He gives us money to use, but we have to decide what to use it for.
If you’ve got your Bibles open I’d like you to jump forward to 1 Chronicles 29. There David is getting ready for the building of the Temple. He knows that he isn’t the one who’ll build it, but he wants to do as much as he can to get ready for it. So what’s the first thing you do when you have a large building project? You start a building fund. And that’s what David does. He starts it off by giving a substantial amount from his own treasury, both the King’s treasury and his own personal savings. But then he invites the people to give a freewill offering. And first the leaders of the 12 tribes then the elders and officials and everyone else give their offerings. And we read: “7They gave for the service of the house of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze, and one hundred thousand talents of iron.” A talent, by the way, was about 30kg so that’s an enormous amount of gold and silver. But here’s the amazing thing: although they’d just given away a large part of their life savings, we read: “9Then the people rejoiced because these had given willingly, for with single mind they had offered freely to the LORD; King David also rejoiced greatly.” And the passage ends with David’s well-known prayer of thanksgiving: “"But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill offering? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” There it is again, do you see? God provides every good and perfect gift but he gives them to us so we can give them back, so we can use them for his service and his glory. At the end of the service today we’re going to hear about the plans for our own building. Not a temple where God will dwell. As Bill reminded us last week, we, individually and especially as a church, are now the temple of God, in which God dwells by his Holy Spirit. That’s the whole point of this Pentecost Sunday celebration. No, what we’re building is a structure that will become the centre of our Christian community; a centre for God’s work in this part of Melbourne; a place where God’s word is proclaimed as the clear revelation of the invisible God. But it won’t be built unless we all contribute. And can I just say that that contribution should be in proportion to the way God has blessed each one of us. That means that some of us will give large amounts, others will give only small amounts but both offerings will be of equal value in God’s sight.
Can I also say that those people who might question whether it’s spiritual to talk about money need to read their Bible a bit more, because the Bible talks about money all the time, both in the Old and the New Testament. This passage is just one of the many places where money is central to people’s obedience to God.
I look forward to the day when we’ll stand in this place to open our new facilities, to praise God for the generosity of so many people who have given small and large amounts to ensure God’s work continues here for many years to come. I look forward to us looking back and seeing how God has gone before us to smooth the way, to overcome the hurdles that I daresay we’ll encounter. And I look forward to the many occasions when we’ll hear people telling us how they came to know Christ because of the ministry of the gospel that’s taken place in this centre of ministry.