Sunday, July 19, 2009

The House That God Built

Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Matthew 7:13-29

I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’VE HEARD this before, but archaeologists have very likely found King David’s palace in Jerusalem. The discovery was actually made in 2005 by Dr. Eilat Mazar, the lead archaeologist on the dig. Since then, Dr. Mazar has taken a lot of heat for saying colossal stone structure was built by King David. Because believe it or not, there are even a lot of Jewish archaeologists who don’t believe David ever existed, or if he did, he was just some hill-country chieftain who would never have lived in a palace as massive and imposing as the structure Dr. Mazar has uncovered.

And what she uncovered is massive and imposing. It could only belong to a great king, the architectural evidence dates it to the time the Bible says David reigned, and what’s more, in the ruins were found a copper scroll, high-quality pottery, and some beautiful ivory spoons also datable to the 11th century BC. Dr. Mazar was asked why this important structure wasn’t found before. Her answer was that previous archaeologists weren’t looking in the right place. She believes that the Bible-- the Old Testament, at least, being Jewish and not a Christian-- is historical. So going by clues in God’s Word, she found the palace just where everyone should have been looking all along.

It’s a wonderful thing that King David’s palace in Jerusalem has been found. It’s wonderful any time archaeology confirms the historical nature of Scripture. Archaeology, when it’s been done by real scholars and not by sensationalist journalists, always does confirm Bible history, whether the archaeologists in charge believe in the Bible or not.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter if Dr. Mazar is right or if she turns out to be wrong about this particular ruin being King David’s palace. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter if all Bible history is just fables and our faith is based only on stories that people have made up in their heads. Just the opposite. Our God, the Creator of the world and everything in it, is a God who makes Himself known in human history. The Bible is the story of His interaction with real people in real places and real times. We should expect to find evidence of those people and places when an archaeologist in the Middle East takes up his pick and spade.

Nevertheless, as marvellous as this archaeological discovery is, our faith can never be based on the house King David built for himself. No, it must be based on the house the Lord God Almighty built for him-- and for us.

Our reading from 2 Samuel finds David when "he was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him." It grieved him that there he was living in a palace of cedar-- which is to say, a palace with its walls decorated with cedar panelling-- and the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant was still housed in a tent. If you go back to chapter 6, that tent wasn’t even the Tabernacle; it was, as we read in verse 17 of that chapter, "the tent that David had pitched for it." That didn’t seem right, and David began to think of building a proper house or temple to house the Presence of God.

Humanly-speaking, it was a good and noble idea. Nathan the prophet has no reason to assume differently; after all the Lord clearly was with David and would prosper him in this venture as well. But the Lord God had something else in mind. He gave Nathan a message for David, saying that it wasn’t for David to build Him a house; rather, He would build one for David. Not a physical palace of stone and cedar that would one day be destroyed by the Babylonians and buried for millennia. The Lord would build for David a house in the sense of life, greatness, and peace for him during his days on earth, of security for the people of Israel, and beyond all that, the Lord would build him the house of a family, a dynasty, a bloodline that after he was gone would be established forever in the sight of the Lord.

None of these things could David really achieve or guarantee for himself. Even the mightiest of warrior kings is at the mercy of external political and military forces. And the promise of an everlasting "house" for David could only be fulfilled after he died. It all depended upon the Lord his God. The Lord said He would build David a deathless house, and all David could do was to say Thank you and receive the promise God had made.

In our reading from St. Matthew, on the other hand, Jesus tells us that we must build the house of our own lives in the right way on the right foundation and that if we don’t, it won’t last forever, it will certainly be destroyed. How ironic! We think of the Old Testament as containing the message of the Law. That it’s all and only about what God’s people (including us) must do to please Him or else face His judgement. And the New Testament proclaims the Gospel, the good news of what God has done for us, which we receive by faith. But with our two readings, Law and Grace seem totally switched around!

We shouldn’t be confused or surprised, for the Old and New Testaments of God’s Word together make up the one story of Himself and how He saves us and restores us to Himself. Law and Gospel, judgement and grace run through the entirety of Scripture and God and His power is sovereign throughout. The Lord’s word to David is the promise of the Gospel. Out of His free grace He foretells the coming of the Son of David who would build the house for the Lord’s name and whose throne would be established forever. And Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (where our Matthew verses today come from) is in effect the final and most perfect declaration of the Law, which shows us how much we need God working in the promised Son of David to build the house of eternal life for us.

I once heard a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount where the preacher said it wasn’t written for Christians, but for Jews. This bothered me a great deal at the time, because it seemed she was saying that we as Christians didn’t have to listen to it. But in a way she was right. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes the Law of God to its ultimate level. Mere outward legalism will not do. It isn’t enough for God, He says, for us to just follow the rules. Our hearts and minds and spirits have to be totally obedient as well. Nor will mere profession of sound doctrine help us. We must do the will of our Father in heaven-- and His will is perfect holiness. We must hear Jesus’ words and act upon them perfectly, or the fall of our house will be great. But making our way into the kingdom of heaven by our own perfect obedience is the Old Covenant way. It didn’t work for the Jews, why should we gentiles want to try it for ourselves?

Matthew records that when Jesus was done preaching that day the crowds marvelled at how He taught. Jesus spoke as if He were the ultimate authority on God’s law. He didn’t cite other rabbis and previous cases the way the scribes very rightly and humbly did. But another valid response to this sermon would be, "Who then can be saved?"

A lot of people read the Sermon on the Mount and think "Yeah, I’m a nice person, I can do all that." If we think that way, we’re out of our blooming minds. How can we in our blindness and willfulness find the narrow gate Jesus speaks of in verse 13? How can we really discern between false and true prophets? By the fruit of their lives, Jesus says, but people are led astray by silver-tongued, miracle-working orators every day, and if they’re glib and impressive enough, no one cares how they treat their wives or if they kick the dog, or even if their ideas destroy millions of human lives.

In verse 23, the NIV translation says that when the kingdom of heaven comes, Jesus the Judge will say to the false prophets, "Away from me, you evildoers!" But the Greek literally calls them, "workers of lawlessness." In other words, no matter how holy or spiritually powerful someone might seem to be, he is a false prophet if he proclaims or practices anything against the revealed Law of God.

And here in verses 24 to 27, Jesus says we are to build the house of our lives upon these words of His. What words? His words confirming (as it says in 5:18) every jot and tittle of the Law and the Prophets.

Well, I don’t know about you, but that scares me silly. I want to build my life as a holy house for the Lord to live in, but I can hardly pitch a tent. And you’re in just the same situation. What hope is there for you or me or any of poor fallen humanity?

Our hope is in the King of the Lord’s kingdom, Jesus Christ, great David’s greater Son. The Lord says to David in 2 Samuel, "I will raise up your offspring to succeed you . . . and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." In the short run, this word pointed to David’s son King Solomon, who built the first Temple in Jerusalem. But it looks beyond Solomon to Jesus Christ, who is Himself the house of the Lord. In Him we meet with God, in Him the sacrifice for us was lifted up on the cross, in Him we find acceptance and forgiveness and holiness. Jesus is the King who will sit on the throne of God’s eternal kingdom, judging the nations and declaring His faithful ones not guilty before Him. Jesus is the one who, as it says in verse 14, is the true Son of God the Father; not by adoption, or by any human custom of calling kings sons of the gods, but truly and from all eternity, in His very substance and in everything He is.

The Lord told David that when the royal son promised to him does wrong, he will be punished by the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. We know that Solomon did go astray and God punished him for it through his enemies. Our Lord Jesus the Son of David never did any wrong, but God His Father laid on Him the wrongdoing of us all. He permitted Jesus to be punished and flogged by the hands of men, that we might escape the eternal punishment we deserved for breaking God’s holy Law. The love of the God the Father will never be taken away from Jesus Christ the Son of David, and so God’s love will never be taken away from us who trust in Him. We will live and prosper and please Him in the house He builds for us in His kingdom forever.
It is a good and noble thing to be like David and want to do things in this life to honor God.

Whether in great projects or in our everyday relationships, our striving to obey God’s Law is a way for us to build a house for His Name on this earth. But with the wrong foundation, that effort will fail and we will be left only with ruin. At best, we’ll end up glorifying only ourselves.

But God builds a house for us, which is Christ and His word alone. He is the eternal mansion house God builds for us to live in and the only solid Rock and sure foundation our lives can have. In gratitude and love we now make that house visible to the world, by our conduct, our obedience, and our trust.

It’s good news that the house of King David has been found in Jerusalem. It is even better news that King Jesus, Son of David and Son of God, died for your sins and rose again and has become a royal house where you can dwell for all eternity.

Accept the house that God has built for us, the house of His servant David, Jesus Christ our King. In Him we have rest, in Him we dwell in safety, in Him we perfectly keep the Law of God, in Him we are made great and forever endure.
Photo is of a capital from structure identified as the palace of King David.

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