God Is With Us
Sermon 1713 1 Kings 5-6 September 20, 2020
God is with us! You can get that message across in a number of ways. If you are a girl, maybe you could remind yourself that God is with us by wearing a cross necklace. Maybe a grandma or grandpa has a special place in their home where they keep their Bible and a prayer book, maybe by their favorite reading chair. Many times Christians show God is with us by building a church. We even call churches houses of God. People driving by can see it is a church. God is with the people who gather to worship in that building. Certainly when we live as children of God, our lives show God is with us. All these are great ways to remind ourselves and tell others that God is with us.
In a very special way God wanted to show that he was with his people, the nation of Israel, in the days of King Solomon, almost a thousand years before Jesus was born. God had instructed King Solomon to build a temple for him in Jerusalem. That Temple spoke a message to the world. God is with his people. The Temple spoke a message to Solomon and his subjects: God is with us.
We don’t have a temple today, but God is still with us in an even more wonderful way.
God Is With Us
Unapproachable because of sin.
Approachable because of the Savior.
Right from the start, God’s Temple in Jerusalem sent a message to all people. In spite of all the gold and silver the warrior king, David, had set aside for the construction of the Temple, they did not have the raw materials for the construction of the Temple. There were no trees tall and straight enough in Israel! They didn’t have the expertise to perform all the technical art work! But the people of King Hiram’s Tyre did!
“Solomon sent this message to Hiram: Give orders that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. My men will work with yours, and I will pay you for your men whatever wages you set. You know that we have no one so skilled in felling timber as the Sidonians (1 Kings 5.6).” And not only the timber! “The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and the men of Gebal cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple (5.18).”
I won’t even mention that King Hiram sent the greatest craftsman of the day, Huram, to Israel to make all the bronze and copper in the Temple, from the huge pillars and Great Altar to all the pans and skewers and tables. The greatest talent for the greatest project—that’s what it took to build the Temple of the Lord.
Take a look at the Temple’s description. It was ninety feet long and thirty feet wide. That’s only 2700 square feet. Our storefront church from 1989 to 1993 was 2400 square feet. That storefront church was big enough to hold 114 people our first Sunday, but it sure would not have been big enough to be the worship center for an entire nation. What is going on here? There was no way the people could fit in there. And you don’t make sidewalks out of gold. It is clear the Temple was not built for a lot of foot traffic. Now let’s add to the mystery. The Temple had imposing height—45 feet tall—taller than it was wide! Up until about 1850 that would have been among the tallest buildings in New York City!
Consider the interior! Finished cedar wood paneling and flooring and roofing overlaid with pure gold! The back third of the Temple was a smaller room, thirty by thirty by thirty feet. It must have been on a platform elevated above the main floor. All gold. The Ark of the Covenant, God’s symbol of his loving forgiveness, was in that smaller room—they called it the Most Holy Place—along with imposing statues of angels whose wings stretched the entire width of the room. But you couldn’t see them, because a curtain covered that room up. Solomon even made a golden chain to go in front of that curtain. The message was clear—“God is with us, but STAY OUT!”
The size, the imposing height, the gold overlay of floor, walls and ceiling, the smaller, curtained off Most Holy Place, all these features spoke of the holiness of God. He would not get old and tarnish, like say, silver. If you don’t know that silver tarnishes, just ask your mom or grandma to see “her silver.” She may get some fancy silverware out of a wooden box or show you a candlestick or platter and it looks so dark! “Oh, I haven’t polished it for a long time,” she may say. “That’s why it looks so tarnished.” Yes, silver gets ugly when it gets old. You have to keep polishing it to make it look nice. But gold never tarnishes. It never gets ugly. You never have to polish gold to make it look nice. That’s why gold is so precious.
God is with us. The holy God is with us. That’s what the Temple said. But because it was so small, it was also saying the people had to stay away. God was unapproachable because of their sin.
There are two “Aha” moments in today’s sermon. Here’s the first one. Sin separates us from God. The Temple proclaimed a holy God. His golden walls and floors and ceilings did not tarnish. The Temple proclaimed a holy God hidden from sinners. The Bible pictures sin as dirt. “Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” the Lord accuses his fallen people through the prophet Jeremiah (2.22).” “All our righteousness is as filthy rags,” Isaiah laments. You wouldn’t go to a fancy party with soiled clothes. You wouldn’t sit down to a Thanksgiving meal at Grandma’s with dirty hands. There’s no place in polite society for dirt.
Sin separates us from God. It was wonderful to have the Temple. It proclaimed, “God is with us.” But most people spent all their lives without ever going inside it.
At this point we might be scratching our heads. What’s the use of building something that says “you aren’t good enough to come in”? Even us boys when we were young and built our treehouses and made our “girls keep out” clubhouses, we could go in. We could be members. Hardly anyone could go into the Temple and as for the Most Holy Place, only one person out of the entire nation, the High Priest, could go into that little room at the back of the Temple, and then, only once a year. Sin separates us from God.
But we don’t want to be separated from God. Believers want to turn to God for strength and guidance. Believers want to sing songs to Jesus. Believers want to pray to our God the Father in heaven. Believers want to be moved to live glorious lives of faith through God the Holy Spirit. And believers want their sins to be forgiven. Where was that in the Temple?
The only statues in the Temple were the two mighty cherubs, angelic warriors, not those chubby, diapered toddlers with wings in Italian paintings. They guarded the one thing Solomon did not have to make, the Ark of the Covenant. While the Ark of the Covenant was rather small, the cherubs were huge, almost billboards directing you somewhere. They directed your attention (if you could have seen it) to the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant was a golden box with two golden angels kneeling on it, faces down in worship, their wings touching. The Ark of the Covenant represented God’s forgiving love in the midst of his people. That is where the High Priest went every year. He took a bowl of blood from a special animal sacrifice to sprinkle on the Ark of the Covenant. He walked into the Holy Place. He walked up the stairs to the Most Holy Place. He parted the curtain separating (and hiding) the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place. Then he entered the Most Holy Place with the blood of a sacrificial animal to cover the sins of the people in God’s sight. He would sprinkle the blood upon the Ark of the Covenant, covering it with blood. In fact, that was another name the people used for the Ark of the Covenant, the Covering. Because of the death of another, their sins were covered. With sins covered, with sins forgiven, they could worship God, listen to what he told them and carry out God’s holy will in their lives.
The Ark of the Covenant was hard to miss (if you could see it) because of the giant cherubs standing guard over it. The Ark of the Covenant was the sign that this holy and unapproachable God was a forgiving and loving God who asked his people to draw near to him in faith.
The Temple Solomon would build would stay that way for the next four hundred years. After seventy years of destruction, the second temple would have the same floor plan for the next five hundred years. That’s the Temple Jesus knew. Oh, King Herod would greatly expand the courtyard and dress up the surroundings, but even he didn’t change the floor plan of the Temple itself. The curtain hid a God who forgave sins because of the death of another.
Now the Children of God knew that the blood of a cow or sheep did not and could not take away sin. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10.4).” All those animal sacrifices reminded the people that they were sinners and also reminded them that God would send the Savior. The Savior would take away their sins once for all. One of their own prophets had predicted this about the Savior, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 52.5).”
Interesting. When Jesus appeared on the scene the first thing John the Baptist said about him was, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29).” A lamb was one of those sacrificial animals offered to God in the Temple. Interesting. The moment Jesu died on the cross and took away the sins of the world, the curtain dividing the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place was torn in two, from top to bottom. Was God using his Temple to tell us something? Was the God who is with us telling us he was approachable because of the Savior, Jesus?
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” the writer to the Hebrews (4.6) says. And he says this right after he compared Jesus to all the high priests who served in the Temple, but called Jesus the Great High Priest!
That is exactly the message God was telling everyone through the Temple. He was approachable because of the Savior. The Covering, the Ark of the Covenant, at the heart of the Temple proclaimed it. When the curtain tore, the way to God was open.
Now here’s that second “Aha” moment I promised you. We always approach God through our Savior, Jesus Christ. Only through Jesus do we have our sins taken away. Only through Jesus’ holy life do we have the courage to come before God. That’s why we often end our prayers, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” That’s why we always have a cross in church, to remind us of how Jesus won us a place before God.
Now for my last point, the one I promised at the start of this sermon. God is with us in an even more wonderful way today. Look around this church. You don’t see any place for animal sacrifices. You don’t see any place that is hidden from view. Everybody comes in for worship, young and old, men and women, members and people who are not members. We don’t even ask people if they believe when they enter the church. In fact, I sort of hope we have some people who don’t believe in church every Sunday so they can come to faith by hearing the message and be saved, just like we are saved!
Since Jesus took away our sins on the cross, God comes to us himself through his Word, the Gospel of our forgiveness. He doesn’t speak through symbolic actions or rituals. He speaks to us himself through his Word. He pronounces his forgiveness over us himself whenever a baby is baptized, whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, whenever I, a called servant of the word, by Christ’s authority, tell you your sins are forgiven. That’s not me speaking. That’s as valid and certain as if Jesus were right there in front of us. And the Lord’s Supper is not just bread and wine. It is bread and wine together with Jesus’ true body and blood, as his words promise and proclaim. And that water of baptism isn’t just plain water. It is water used by the command of Jesus as he and the Father pour out the Holy Spirit into our hearts through the Gospel in the water. It is like the people of God who worshipped him in the days of the Temple were watching a movie about a family whose father deeply, deeply loved them. But now, since Jesus died for our sins and rose again to prove we are forgiven, it’s like we are the ones making that movie of God the Father’s love for us which is deeper every day.
God Is With Us
Unapproachable because of sin.
Approachable because of the Savior.
God is with us. God gets that message across in many ways. Back in the days of Solomon right up to through the days of Jesus, he got that message across through the building plan of his Temple. Nowadays, God openly shows he is with us as he speaks to us through his Son, Jesus, as we have his Gospel in word and sacrament.