Other sermons in this series
Sometimes people, or things… Aren’t quite as impressive as they seem. We’ve got proverbs to prove it. Like the one that says beauty is only skin deep. Or don’t judge a book by its cover. Or all that glitters is not gold.
Because the point is, outward appearances can be deceptive. And so the beautiful woman has a spiteful heart. Or the dream house is actually riddled with termites. Or the smooth talking presidential candidate. Is really just a real estate agent with ambition.
We learn after a while, or we should, that something that looks impressive on the outside isn’t always quite as impressive under the hood.
It can be true spiritually as well. That the person who looks like they’ve got it all together with God is just doing it for show.
It’s certainly the risk when it comes to king Solomon.
If you’ve missed the last few weeks let me bring you up to speed. Solomon. Son of the famous King David. He’s finally made it to his dad’s throne. At the expense of a whole lot of others.
Solomon’s so smart that he’s won all the TV quiz shows. He can tell you about animals, he can tell you about plant life, he’s a walking encyclopaedia. Well, we don’t actually have encyclopaedias any more, do we. He’s a walking Google.
Solomon’s the king with the golden touch.
But we’ve been reminded a number of times, God doesn’t just look at the surface. God’s looking for a King who’s a man after his own heart. Is he wise? Or is he ultimately a fool?
It’s the hanging question.
And so as King David hands on the throne to his son Solomon, we saw his words. David says, remember God’s promise to me.
If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you’ll never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.
As long as they’re not just impressive on the outside. As long as their commitment to their God runs right to the heart. The Kingdom of the line of David will have no end.
Now we got a hint of where Solomon’s heart lay last week. And if you’re in a growth group, you drew even drew a picture of it.
That little hint that the temple Solomon built for God was just a fraction of the size of the palace he built for himself.
That when it comes to the size of the box God actually occupies in his heart, maybe it’s very much smaller… than the place he’s got for his own ambitions and desires.
I was listening to a podcast the other day about McMansions. The architectural trend over the last 20 years or so to build houses so big they’ve got no practical use. To build huge fake columns at the front that are holding up nothing more substantial than the owners ego.
Solomon’s the builder of the temple that we’ve watched coming together in glorious detail in 1 Kings chapters 5 to 7. But his own Mcmansion is more glorious still.
Hold that niggling thought. As we come to the dedication of the temple. By a King, it seems, who’s got the support of all the people.
Notice as we get started this morning that there’s a great show of unity going on. As there should be.
It’s no accident we’re told in verse 1 you’ve got the elders and all the heads of the tribes and chiefs. Verse 2, all the Israelites come together to King Solomon. All the elders in verse 3. Verse 5, it’s the entire assembly; gathered around their King. Celebrating. Sacrificing so many sheep and cattle you can’t even count them. Celebrating the grand opening of their new building.
What a scene.
And the glory of the Lord fills the temple in a cloud; just like it used to in their meeting tent in the old days in the wilderness.
And Solomon says in verse 13, “I’ve done it!” “I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you. A place for you to dwell forever.”
And the whole assembly of Israel is there in verse 14. And King Solomon turns around, and he blesses them.
What a scene.
And Solomon, you’ll notice from verse 15, reminds them of the way God has brought these people up from Egypt; and chosen David’s line to lead them.
My father David. Who he mentions in all twelve times. So they don’t forget. This is all part of God’s promise. The covenant. There’s a good summary there in verse 20 and 21.
But look, all that glitters isn’t gold. So just as you look at those words in verse 20 and 21, you might pause and wonder for a minute. If it’s not more about Solomon. Than it is about God and his promises. I mean he’s paying lip service well enough. But just hold the thought. The slight suspicion. That there’s maybe a little ego involved.
Read his words.
20 “The Lord has kept the promise he made: I have succeeded David my father and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the Lord promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 21 I have provided a place there for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of Egypt.”
Words right at home on the lips of Donald Trump. “I have done a very good job.”
Now that suspicion might be a little bit pessimistic. Though the fact is, statistically, pessimists are almost always right. Here we are at the celebration of this magnificent temple and the people of Israel are magnificently united around their magnificent king.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, it’s interesting. Because in the way the story’s being told, it all hinges on one two letter word.
In the wind last Monday, our bedroom window blew open. And the wind was so strong that it completely bent back on its hinges. And ripped one hinge right out of the wall.
There’s a lot of weight on a hinge. A lot turns on it.
And the little word if is one of the most basic, one of the most important hinge words of them all. Because around the word if, things can turn one way. Or they can’t turn exactly the other way.
It comes in verse 25.
Here’s his prayer.
25 Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said,‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel… If only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’
Now God’s not going to break covenant. He’s said that already. God’s not going to break his contract.
He’s as reliable as the wall the bedroom window was attached to. But everything hinges on whether Solomon, the son of David and Solomon’s sons after him are going too be careful to be faithful.
Whether the people of Israel. Will keep going wholeheartedly. In serving the Lord their God.
It’s a big if. But on this day of celebration, as they dedicate their temple… they’re full of optimism.
Except; and this is interesting – except for Solomon in his prayer of dedication.
Do you notice? Because it changes from if to when.
The start of every section. Verse 31.
When anyone wrongs their neighbour.
Verse 33. When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy.
Verse 35. When it stops raining because your people have sinned against you.
When, verse 37, famine or plague or blight or mildew come on the land.
When, verse 44; not if but when; verse 46. When you become angry to them and give them over to their enemies who take them captive to their own lands…
You’ll notice, when you look at the growth group study this week, that every one of those worst case scenarios, they’ve been spelt out already by Moses, right back at the beginning. The very start of the covenant. The consequences. If Israel’s unfaithful.
Solomon says, not it. But when. He knows, you’ll see at the start of his prayer, that God doesn’t actually live in the temple. He knows. The temple’s just a symbol of God’s name dwelling with his people. He knows God’s way bigger than a temple.
But what he’s asking is that the temple will be the place that’s always got God’s attention. And so in a sense a focal point for the prayers of his people.
Like the emergency contact point on a railway stations. Stand here at night. And the CCTV will watch you; and if you press the button they’ll hear your cry for help and save you. Solomon prays that the temple will be like that.
And point after point, he prays that when the worst comes to the worst, God will still be listening.
And will hear. The genuine prayer of repentance.
It’s a very Middle Eastern kind of concept. We used to live in Western Sydney; and I remember one day some Muslims came past our place at 3pm. The time for prayer. And they came and set up their prayer mats in our front garden. Very carefully facing Mecca.
Like Israelites with Jerusalem. And the temple.
Have you ever wondered why we Christians don’t do that? Have you ever wondered where we’re meant to pray towards?
Hold that thought. As you look at what they’ll need to do. Verse 29.
29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place
Same phrase in verse 30. “Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place.”
And it’s there again in verse 38. And again in verse 42. When they come and pray toward this temple.
But it’s not about the temple. It’s not just about the direction of their noses. It’s about the direction of their hearts.
Take a look at verse 35.
It’s in verse 35.
Again in verse 37:
This is going to take genuine self reflection. Each one. Aware of the afflictions of his own heart.
This won’t be skin deep. This isn’t about keeping up appearances. This is heart.
Take a look at Verse 47. When all the worst has happened. To the land of Israel. Here’s Solomon’s prayer…
And if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, ‘we have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name… Then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offences they have committed against you, and cause their conquerors to show them mercy.
That’s Solomon’s prayer. Would you please always keep an eye on the temple. And when we stuff up and turn back… Forgive us.
To which God replies in chapter 9. “Yes I will. And No I won’t.”
Yes, chapter 9 verse 3, my eyes and my heart will always be there.
But here’s the if again.
Chapter 9, verse 4. As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity and righteousness of heart, you’ll never fail to have a succession on the throne of Israel. If.
Chapter 9 verse 6. But if you or your descendants turn away from me and ignore my commands and go off to serve other Gods and worship them… Then, it’s all going to be trashed.
Verse 8; This temple… will become a heap of rubble.
And everyone will walk by and they’ll scoff and they’ll say, “Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and this temple. And people will answer, “Because they’ve forsaken the Lord their God who brought their ancestors out of Egypt and have embraced other Gods, worshiping and serving them-that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.'”
Optimist? Or pessimist? How’s it going to go?
Like I said, pessimists are almost always right.
So let me come back to the question. Where do we fit. In a passage like this one? Where are we meant to face. If we want forgiveness of sins? And what is there to learn? From these two chapters of 1 Kings?
Here’s the first thing.
God doesn’t deal in perfection. But mercy. And it was always that way. That’s what the temple was for. It’s when and not if. The people sin. Here’s the red emergency button. The temple was always about finding God’s mercy. Because they needed it. Who doesn’t?
Solomon nails it in verse 46… When they sin against you, for there’s no one who does not sin…
Unless maybe you? Do you think?
The question is, will these Israelites ever find it in their hearts to repent? To humble themselves enough to turn back?
And if Israel had that problem, how much more people like us?
Let me tell you, it’s getting harder and harder. We live in a self esteem culture that’s desperately trying to make everyone feel good when the problem is there’s nothing to anchor on. Where it’s not only intolerant but it’s wrong to try to even correct your kids, or to talk about sin; much less talk about repentance. Because when you get rid of the sin category, what’s there to turn back from? Everything’s fine. Pick up a girl on Tinder, take her home, do what you like with her. And then act surprised when it all goes horribly wrong.
We so desperately want to feel good about ourselves. That there’s no space as a culture to stop and reflect and even consider… if you might be out of step with God.
And so it’s virtually considered child abuse in a school RI class to say there’s no-one who does not sin like Solomon says. That we’re all of us somehow broken. Because that’s potentially damaging you see, to their self esteem.
And so we grow up that way. Unchallenged. Uncorrectable. And so we’re stuck pretending. No wonder we’re so good at it. Pretending we’ve got it together. Pretending we’re impressive. Looking good on the outside. The fact is, God doesn’t deal with the outside. He deals with the heart.
But here’s the question. If you do somehow get to the point of honesty; and you’re not an Israelite. Where do you turn. To find forgiveness?
It’s a big question. And one the New Testament picks up as a major theme.
Because a few generations after Solomon’s time, the if turned to when and the when turned to then.
And it was all ripped down. Stone by stone. And the whole nation was dragged off to Babylon.
70 years later they come back. They start again. Their hearts. As we’re going to see in Malachi in a few week’s time. No different.
By the time Jesus comes, the great son of David, the temple’s bigger. Rome’s helped rebuild it. But the rot’s even deeper.
And Jesus says, he says to people like the pharisees who were so full of rules, you look perfect on the outside. But on the inside, you’re like whitewashed tombs. Dead bones.
So you need. To repent. With all your hearts.
No matter who you are.
Jesus says to them, this temple’s going to come down too. No longer needed. And from this point on, you’ll come to me instead.
Matthew 12 verse 6. Curious words. He says, “I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.”
He’s talking about himself.
He says it again in John 2.
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (2:19).
John says, we didn’t understand it at the time… Why would they? “But he was talking about his body.”
Because see, he’s the place to come to. For forgiveness of sins. he’s where to turn to. When you realise you’re totally clueless and you’ve stuffed up and you need to start again with God.
Solomon says, turn to the temple, where-ever you’ve been scattered. Pray with a humble heart. And he’ll hear you.
Jesus says, no more temples. Just turn to me.
Where-ever. When-ever. Who-ever. Not just the Israelites, but anyone.
Which is meant to change your whole thinking really about holy buildings where God is. Because now there isn’t one. All the incense in the world, all the stained glass windows, all the gothic architecture; might create a spooky atmosphere; but be clear. Solomon was right. God doesn’t dwell in temples built by human hands. Nothing in all creation; note even the highest heavens; can contain him.
And yet in flesh. He came among us. And made himself the sacrifice for us. And opened up the way to free forgiveness.
I don’t know how you’re tempted to look better than you really are. Or pretend you don’t have problems. Social media maybe? So easy to do the veneer thing, isn’t it? I started watching Black Mirror on Netflix the other night. Scary. Have you seen it? The episode where everyone’s rating one another, and it’s like your currency. Your respect with your friends actually carries a number. So you’re always pretending.
You don’t have to. And if you’re not persuaded anymore when the world says everything’s right and nothing’s ever wrong; if you’re tired of just keeping up appearances; maybe it’s not a self esteem problem. Maybe it’s God trying to attract your attention. Because it’s only when you realise from the heart that you’re not as impressive as you’re trying to seem on the outside… that you get to the good news.
And there is somewhere to turn. A person. Not a place.
The promised King in the line of David, who doesn’t need to build a temple as a meeting place for God and man, because he is the meeting place between God and man.
Turn. Face him. And just say your’re sorry.
And you won’t be disappointed.