Bible, Jesus, sermon

When All Is Lost, Look to the Cross!

There is perhaps no better known verse in all the Bible than John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (NIV).  Tim Tebow wore this scripture reference on his eye black during the 2009 National Championship.  During the game, Google reported over 90 million searches for the verse!  Even though the verse is well-known even by non-Christians, however, many Christians read the verse in isolation and do not consider its context within John’s gospel.  In particular, the two verses that precede it state, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15, NIV).

The story of the snake Moses lifted in the wilderness is in Numbers 21:4-9.  Jesus says that he himself must be lifted up as the snake, so it is important to understand what this snake was and how it functioned in the story of Moses to understand better the love of God for the world and why he would send his Son.

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The Snake Lifted Up in the Wilderness

First, we find that the people rebelled against God.  They grew impatient and questioned God’s ways.  They said he brought them to the desert to die, when in reality he was leading them through the desert to a land promised to their ancestors.  They complained there was no water, even though, by this point in the narrative, God had provided water on two occasions when it was desperately needed.  The people even asserted there was no bread, even though each morning they found a miraculous substance on the ground, a gift from God, which they could harvest, grind, and bake into bread.  But instead of being thankful for this bread from heaven, they despised it and called it “miserable” and “detestable.” 

What the people don’t seem to understand is that God was providing the best for them in the midst of a very bad situation.  They began to romanticize their old life in Egypt.  It isn’t stated in this story, but we read elsewhere how they reminisced about the diversity of food back in Egypt—forgetting they had been suffered as slaves there.  They also ignore the reality that the only reason they are even in the wilderness at this point was their lack of faith.  God had taken them rather quickly to the very edge of the Promised Land of Canaan, but instead of trusting God would help them conquer the land, they rebelled in their fear, so God cursed them to wander for forty years in the wilderness.  Yet despite their complaints and rebellion, God remained with them, guiding them and providing for them daily.

Even today we often think we know better than God and so we go our own way.  Sometimes we make destructive decisions for short-term moments of pleasure.  Other times, we act on what we think is a great opportunity only to discover many hidden traps.  Perhaps worst of all are the times we act like the these Israelites, following God half-heartedly but grumbling the entire time.  We neglect to see how our choices lead to slavery, lifelong consequences, hardened and embittered hearts, and/or even death.  This, however, is what the Israelites soon discovered.

Second, God judges the people’s sin.  Snakes came among the people and began to bite them.  Many of the affected people died.  If they thought God’s gift of Manna was miserable, just imagine how they felt now!  While some see the story as the act of a vengeful or vindictive God, the bigger picture emphasizes God is with the people through both good and bad times.  He is judging them not to punish so much as to discipline them.  Like a parent, he sees the direction their immediate choices will have on their future and the future of their children.  God hopes to correct them now so that they will mature in their faith and enjoy a better in the future.  He want to make them aware of their sinful state and its impact on their relationship with him and with each other.

Third, the people repent of their sins.  They agree with God that their actions are wrong (“we sinned against God”) and they ask Moses to pray for them.  Asking Moses to pray doesn’t mean they need a “professional” to whom they confess their sins.  Rather, it is a recognition that their sin wasn’t just against God but also against Moses’ leadership (“and we sinned against you”).  Asking Moses to pray for them was an act of repentance and reconciliation, acknowledging him as their appointed leader.  What is far more significant than who should pray, however, is what they ask him to pray: “take the snakes away”!

Finally, the Lord provided deliverance.  Moses is told to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole.  What God does is take the object of their suffering and affliction—the snakes—and turn it into the source of their healing and deliverance.  Death, in the shadow of the bronze snake, is transformed into life.  Chaos is given order.  Despair gives way to hope as one looks in faith upon the very image of despair.

Notice God says anyone “can look.”  When someone was bitten, they didn’t have to look.  If they did so, it was an act of trusting God, an act of faith. . . . but they didn’t have to.  In fact, what sense did it make?  There was a far more obvious solution: kill the snakes!  Don’t wait to get bitten.  But if you were bitten, there was a a more sensible action: take steps to remove the poison before it filtered through your body!  Imagine if a man showed up in Mariupol, Ukraine holding a staff with a bronze artillery shell on it.  If he told the people there, whenever you hear the whistle of an incoming shell, you’ll be fine if you just look at this bronze shell and trust God, they would think he was mad!  There are far better options!  Find an evacuation route to get out of the city.  Why stay in harm’s way?  Flee to a bunker to ride out the shelling.  Why remain in the open?  But this is just how ludicrous Moses probably sounded to the people back then.  Yet salvation doesn’t come through our own actions.  It comes from God and we need to trust him to provide for us in our times of need.

Also notice that God didn’t take the snakes away as the people requested.  Instead, God gave the people a bronze snake.  We are told that “when anyone was bitten,” if they looked at the symbol, they lived.  But God didn’t remove the snakes, at least not right away.  He provided a way through the situation, a way to bear up under it.  When someone becomes a Christian, they aren’t immediately translated into the Kingdom of God.  Rather, they remain here in this world of suffering, pain, and death.  But now they have been reconciled to God and he promises to provide them a way through the suffering, a way that leads towards healing and hope.  For the Israelites, they endured the snakes for a time.  They endured the wilderness for even longer.  But their story didn’t end there.  The goal was the Promised Land, the Land of Canaan that became the Land of Israel.  So we look to a future full of healing, joy, and life in the Kingdom of God, a hope made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Son of Man Lifted Up on Calvary

Here is the meaning of John 3.  Just as the snake was lifted up, so the Son of Man would be hung on a cross.  In the first century world, the cross was the most humiliating form of execution.  It was purposefully torturous to emphasize why no one should consider rebelling against the Roman Empire.  It was a symbol of rebellion, futility, and death.  Yet today, Christians see the cross as a symbol of forgiveness, hope, and life.  Many wear it as jewelry or hang it as art in their homes.  The snake and the cross were both objects of suffering and death that were transformed by the creative work of God into sources of healing and life.  Both were means of his salvation.  Christians hope for new life because the cross wasn’t the final word.  The cross was followed by the empty tomb, Jesus raised from the dead now seated in heaven.  Jesus suffered and died for us that we might live for him as we look to him in faith.

Just as in the wilderness, God doesn’t want to condemn the world.  He sent his Son to be lifted up so he could draw all people to himself.  But we have a choice, just as the dying Israelites did when bitten by the snakes.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (Jn 3:17-18).  Just as the snakes were already destroying the people because of their rebellion, so we are already separated from God and dying on account of our own sinful actions and choices.  There is only one choice that can heal.  When all is lost, look to the cross!

Father Brian Jordan ministered to the workers at Ground Zero during the months of cleanup after September 11, 2001.  One day after mass, one of the construction workers, Frank Silecchia, approached him and asked, “Do you want to see God’s house?”  Soon, Father Jordan found himself descending with Mr. Silecchia into the rubble of the fallen towers.  After a while, they reached the lowest-most level where the foundation had been lain.  Eventually, they stood in front of a steel column that had survived the destruction.  Attached to the column that rose from the ground was a steel girder, a crossbeam, which held fast despite the weight of the building’s collapse.  As the priest looked into the eyes of the workers there, he saw hope rising within them from this remnant.  In the midst of the rubble and chaos of death and destruction all around them, these two steel beams stood in the shape of a cross.  These beams weren’t not simply part of the wreckage.  They were something far more significant.  These beams were a symbol of hope and endurance.  All was not lost in the shadow of the cross.

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When All Is Lost, Look to the Cross!
John 3:14-18 / Numbers 21:4-9

Bible, sermon, Stories That Shape Our Life

Crossing the Jordan

(Taken from a sermon at the end of an interim pastorate a few weeks before the new pastor would arrive on the field.) These are some of the memes the week after the winter 2021 storms that wreaked havoc on Texas:

  • 2021? Feels more like 2020 and a half
  • 2020: the year from hell / 2021: the year hell froze over
  • 2020: learn to stay home / 2021: same, but now let’s test your survival skills
  • Shame on all of you who made fun of Bernie Sanders. Now look at you sitting on your couch in the same outfit!

Like many of you, my wife and I conserved electricity and wore extra layers of clothes to help keep the power grid up in our area. I think Lucy stayed in the living room by the fire most of the week! Friends and family went without power or had water damage from frozen pipes or leaking roofs. And many had to conserve or boil water as a by-product.

It may have felt like a winter wilderness, but it only lasted for a week. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Their daily lives were a marginal existence for an entire generation. Finally, however, it was time for them to cross over into the land promised by God to their ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is the focus of the biblical passage in Deuteronomy 31:1-8. The story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan is one of the stories that shapes our lives.

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It Is Time to Leave the Wilderness

The interim period between pastors is like a wilderness experience. It is a time when you have left the familiarity of the old pastorate and you walk by faith with the interim minister in anticipation of the new minister who will soon come to the field. Many times at the beginning or in the middle of the interim, you are not sure what lies in the future. Frequently, it is a marginal existence, like the wilderness, with the interim minister only on the field on weekends or certain ministries suspended for a season. Even churches not in an interim situation felt this margin living In 2020, as the pandemic forced worship online or delayed or canceled a number of “normal” ministry opportunities.

But as an interim ends (or for us in 2021, as we may be nearing a turning point with the pandemic in the U.S.), a new day dawns. Like Moses, the interim minister cannot follow the congregation into the new pastorate but he can provide some words of wisdom. With the end of the interim, the journey ends for the minister but it is just the start for the congregation. It is for this reason that Moses says repeatedly in this passage, “Be strong and courageous” and “do not fear.

As rough as the wilderness was, some had become comfortable in it. For some, it was all they had ever known. Often, Christians are comfortable with the way church has been done (sometimes for decades). Some might become familiar with the leadership or worship style of the interim pastor or liked the reduced meeting times of the interim period or pandemic restrictions. In the wilderness, there were times the people wanted to return to Egypt. So as they crossed into the new land promised by God, some would continue to look backward toward the wilderness or beyond.

Moses tells the people not to be terrified because of “them.” Whether with the start of a new pastorate or the end of a pandemic, there are new problems coming and new issues to address. Perhaps new ministries need to be started. Other ministries need to be revived or restarted. This can be just as scary as conquering a land. Don’t be terrified by the unknown or the new, for God will be with you.

God Crosses the Jordan Ahead of You

The blessed news is that we are not alone. We do not have to go it alone. God is with us. He says in the passage that he will never leave us nor forsake us. This is a blessed hope and comfort. What is more, God crosses before us and enters the new land, the new phase of ministry, the new situation we cannot fully understand, ahead of us. He will fight the battles for us, if we will only trust in him. We are called to be obedient, but he himself is our strength and our shield.

Whether in the interim period or through the pandemic, we have seen God at work even in the wilderness. He helps those who trust in him to grow closer to one another as they grow closer to him. He uses the wilderness time to resolve and heal various issues lingering since we have left Egypt as he prepares us to enter the new land of Canaan. He has helped us learn to adapt to new situations and to seek his guidance when times seem dark. As we have trusted him through the wilderness, we find over and again that he proves himself faithful. God knows the future to which he is calling us. We can trust him and rest in him.

Follow Your Leader Into the Promised Land

Before Moses died in the wilderness, God called Joshua to be the new leader. This leader would go with them into the promised land. Like God, Moses says Joshua will go ahead of the people into the new land and will lead the people. Yet he was just as scared and unaware of the future as the Israelites. Moses gives Joshua the same words of comfort to be strong and courageous and not to be afraid. For churches beginning a new pastorate, the new pastor enters into the unknown with the congregation. He will lead and the congregation will follow, but he and the congregation both truly follow God who promises to go before them. On the other side of the Jordan is the promised land. It is a land of new opportunities and new ministries. It is the place of hope and new life.

For all the hope that lies beyond, however, the promised land is scary. Change is scary! For the Israelites, they were moving from the barren wilderness to beautiful farmland. They knew how to be nomads. That was comfortable. What did they know about farming? What did they know about living in settled villages and permanent homes? So church life now or even in the past may not be what it will be in the future. We always need to be ready for change, but especially in times of transition.

An interesting feature of the wilderness story is Joshua himself. He was one of the twelve spies originally sent into the land for forty days just a few months after the people left Mount Sinai. Ten spies returned saying there was no way they could enter the land. Joshua and Caleb said, there is a way–with God! The Israelites listened to the ten, however, and so they were condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years because they refused to face change. They refused to trust God for fear of the unknown. Yet during those forty years in the wilderness, as the current generation gave way to a new generation, the legend of Joshua–the man who trusted God–grew. Joshua trusted God so we can trust him to guide us.

During the interim period, the congregation has prayed for a new leader and prepared themselves for the next phase of life together. They have trusted God that he would guide them to the right person to take them into the next years of ministry. When that man is called, you must trust God and trust him.

Notice one key difference in Moses’ encouragement to Joshua than to the Israelites. Moses adds to his admonition to Joshua, “do not be discouraged.” For forty years, Moses bore the brunt of complaints about the wilderness and the struggles and needs ever wore down on him. Moses understood that ministry could have periods of discouragement. The new pastor will make mistakes. Joshua made mistakes. The role of the congregation is to encourage the minister, pray for him, trust him to lead, and forgive the mistakes that are made. Certainly, this doesn’t mean to forgive moral lapses or ignore ungodly actions, but we are called to trust in the leader as he trusts in God. He will lead the congregation into the promised land.

Soon after this, God let Moses ascend to Mount Nebo. Moses was able to look over and see the promised land even though he wasn’t able to enter in with the people. And then Moses died. In some ways, the role of the interim minister is similar. He has the opportunity to see the potential within the congregation as he helps the congregation believe in that possibility as well. So be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Trust God who is going on before you. Trust your new leader and give him grace to fail. Help him conquer giants as you enter into the land of promise.

Crossing the Jordan (Deut 31:1-8)

Chronicles, sermon

Where Heaven and Earth Meet

In the South American country of Bolivia, there is a place called Salar de Uyuni. It is a 4,086 square mile salt flat set at an elevation of 11,995 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. During the rainy season, a few inches of water will stand on the flats creating a huge reflecting pool for the “low” hanging clouds. Photographers love the location, for it is where heaven and earth appear to meet. In 2 Chronicles 6:12-7:3, we read about Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the newly built temple in Jerusalem. To the ancient Israelites, as with many civilizations throughout history, the temple was regarded as the place where heaven and earth met.

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One thing we find in Solomon’s dedication of the temple is that the Father in heaven watches over us. Verse 14 tells us there is no one like him in heaven or on earth. Why? Because he keeps his covenant of loyal love with his servants. (Hesed could also be translated as “covenant love,” so the text could be read as, “you who keep your covenant of covenant love . . .”) God had kept his promise to his servant David (v. 15). Solomon says, “With your mouth you have promised” (that is, that David’s son would build the temple) “and with your hand you have fulfilled it” (today the temple stands complete and I am not dedicating it to you). In verse 16, Solomon essentially prays, “Now, LORD, do it again!” That is, God promised that David would never fail to have a successor on the throne (an everlasting kingdom), so Solomon asks that what God had previously said with his mouth would come to pass through God’s own guiding hand.

In verse 20, Solomon prays that God’s eyes would be open day and night on the temple so that he would hear the prayers directed there. Why would he say “eyes” for hearing instead of “ears”, especially when there is the eightfold repetition as part of each case example within Solomon’s prayer that God should “hear from heaven” and respond to the prayer? In fact, it is not until near the end of the prayer that Solomon finally says, “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (v. 40; italics mine). Possibly the reason the emphasis is upon the eyes of God when he hears from heaven is to be found in verse 30. “Deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know the human heart.” God alone can see the innermost intention and most secret thought. This is an action of the eyes, though certainly his ears are attentive as well.

What type of God is revealed by Solomon’s long list of case examples for the types of prayers that might be brought to this new temple? He is a God of loyal love (hesed, vv. 14, ), which is repeated three times in this passage (vv. 6:14, 42; 7:3). God is faithful because he is loyal to his covenant promises and those who keep his covenant. He forgives those who repent (v. 21). He judges justly the wicked and the innocent (v. 23). He rights injustice and releases the suffering from their sorrows (v. 25). He renews life (v. 27). He defeats illness and death (v. 29). He accepts all who seek him regardless of who they are or where they come from (v. 33). He upholds the righteous in their cause (v. 35). And he returns and restores the repentant wayward soul (vv. 37-38). In all these things, God cares for both the individual and the community.

A second thing we see in the text is that when we pray on earth, God hears us. Solomon sets the example for his people as well as for us. He is on a podium set up in the midst of his people, who he addresses prior to the passage we are considering. Solomon then turns toward the altar (towards the temple) and he humbles himself in front of all of his people by kneeling down and spreading out his hands to the heavens (vv. 12-13). Again, we will not look in depth at the various case examples Solomon gives in his prayer, but we will consider what they say about our actions when we pray to God. We are to confess our sins (v. 21). We should have integrity in our promises (vv. 22-23). (As Jesus told us, we should let our yes and no mean what we say, Matt 5:37.) We should learn from God the right ways to live (v. 27). We should pray for our nation and our community (vv. 28-29). We should fear God and walk in obedience to his commands (v. 31). We should expand the knowledge of the name of YHWH to all nations (v. 33). We should fight only when we are certain it is God who has called us to the fight and has ordained it (vv. 34-35). (There are lots of times, especially in today’s political climate, that we can claim to fight for God when he is sadly shaking his head at our behavior.)

Even in the midst of the dedication of the temple, we can see that Solomon demonstrates by example the need to confess our sins in prayer. Before the passage we are looking at (2 Chron 6:1-2), Solomon thinks to himself, “I have built a magnificent temple for [the LORD], a place for [him] to dwell forever.” He appears boastful and proud of his prowess in the great structure before him. Yet during his prayer (v. 18), Solomon has a notable change of heart. “But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” This is a confession that his temple is nothing in comparison to the grandeur of God himself. His temple is nothing more than a footstool at best for the great and powerful YHWH.

This leads us to the final idea in the text. The temple is the place that joins heaven and earth. Regardless of the culture or time, high places are often seen as the place where heaven and earth meet. Whether you look at Mount Sinai, where the people of Israel first met with God in the Exodus, the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, the Buddhist temples of Tibet, or even the various worship sites described as “high places” in the Old Testament. Mount Moriah (or Zion) was viewed in the same way. Such high places were where the earth rose up to meet the heavens. The temple Solomon was dedicating was the place on earth where God would “hear from heaven” the cries of people directing their prayers toward the temple. Though Solomon said God could not be contained in the temple, still the end of his prayer is an invocation calling upon God to inhabit the temple. YHWH is called upon to “arise” and come to this “resting place” (v. 41). This language was used in the ancient world for inviting gods to inhabit the images made for them in pagan temples. The invitation in 2 Chronicles, however, is not to an image but to the ark as the resting place, the footstool for God. When a monarch would ascend to his throne, he would arise to it and then rest upon it. So YHWH, the king of heaven and earth, is invited to reign through the temple.

In 2 Chronicles 7:1-3, we see the response of YHWH to this prayerful invitation to inhabit the temple. Fire falls from heaven and consumes the sacrifices on the altar. A dark cloud (5:13-6:1) or the glory of the LORD (7:1-2) fills the temple. This is imagery from the time of Moses and the wilderness. To look at but two examples, in Deuteronomy 5:22-24, we read of the first and dark cloud being upon Mount Sinai, which was called the glory of YHWH. In Leviticus 9:23-24, When Moses and Aaron leave the tent of meeting, the glory of YHWH appeared and fire came down to consume the altar sacrifice. God accepted the temple of Solomon the same way we established the covenant with Israel at Sinai and revealed himself to Moses at the tabernacle. But whereas the priests in Solomon’s day were not able to enter the temple because of the dark cloud of YHWH’s glory, Moses entered the darkness ascending Sinai (Exod 20:21) and Moses and Aaron were in the tabernacle before exiting with the appearance of God’s glory (Lev 9:23), thus the Chronicler seems to show either the greater holiness of Moses and Aaron compared to the temple priests or the greater the presence of YHWH in his temple than at Sinai and in the tabernacle. One thing that is the same between 2 Chron 7:3 and Lev 9:24 is that the people, upon seeing the glory of YHWH, fall face down and worship.

For Christians, Jesus Christ is the true temple and his Spirit in us makes us part of the temple of Christ. He is where heaven and earth met, for God reconciled heaven and earth through Christ (Col 1:20), for “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Col 2:9). John 1:14 tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt (literally, “tabernacled”) with us and that we have “seen his glory.” On the Mount of the Transfiguration, a cloud descended upon Jesus and his disciples as the voice from heaven spoke to the disciples with Jesus (Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34). Interestingly, where the cloud at Sinai and the temple was “dark,” Matthew describes the cloud of the transfiguration as “bright.” The dark mystery of God has been revealed in the glorious countenance of Jesus the Messiah. At Pentecost, tongues of fire fall upon each of the Apostles’ heads (for they are now the sacrifices) and they are “filled” with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3-4). And Paul tells us to be ever filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18), for it is the glory of YHWH filling his temple! We are to be the meeting of heaven and earth, bringing God’s presence into the dark corners of our world.

Look back at 2 Chronicles 6:41-42. Solomon prays that God will remember his great loyal love that was promised to his servant David and that God would not reject his anointed ones. (The noun is plural even though most English translators assume it is a typo and so translate it as singular, for Solomon.) But what if Solomon doesn’t mean just himself but the promise for sons of David to sit upon the throne to reign over the kingdom of God for all time? The New Testament on several occasions refers to Christians as “Sons of God” (e.g. Matt 5:9, though the NIV translates it as “children of God” to be inclusive, rather than the probably more appropriate “Sons and Daughters of God”), so we are all the anointed of God because we are members of the body of Christ. Not only are we part of this concluding prayer as the anointed ones, but we are also the priests “clothed in salvation” (and we are to clothe others in the salvation of Christ). We are also “those of loyal love” who rejoice in the goodness of God (singing praises to him and serving others in his name). One way we can be the temple of God and priests of his salvation is to pray for our community and our nation during this time of pandemic and electoral confusion. We should be healing the nations, not enflaming the masses.

We find in 2 Chronicles 6:29 that God will hear the prayer “of anyone among your people Israel.” We should be the voices raised up for healing and unity in our land. It says “anyone.” It doesn’t have to be religious leaders. It doesn’t have to be political leaders. You can be the instigator for a great revival of repentance and healing. This promise is specifically in connection with plague (v. 28). And so James tells us, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (Jas 5:13-16). Pray for members of your community who are affected by COVID-19. Pray for local, state, national, and world leaders to know how to govern in the midst of this pandemic. Pray for healthcare workers who are stretched to the limits with their obligations. Pray for the scientists who are working to develop multiple vaccines to bring an end to this struggle. Anyone can pray. Will you?

“Where Heaven and Earth Meet” (2 Chron 6:12-7:3)

Chronicles, sermon

In Times of Transition

As David neared the end of his life, he knew he would not be the person to build the temple. He could have been like King Hezekiah, who, when told that a later generation would be conquered by the Babylonians, simply replied, “Well, at least there will be peace during my reign!” (2 Kings 20:19). So David could have thought, “Well, I will leave all those issues to Solomon.” Instead, we read in 1 Chronicles 22:5, “David said, ‘My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the Lord should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it.’ So David made extensive preparations before his death.”

David was like any father of an 8 year old boy who needed to build a pinewood derby race car. When the son shows up at the races, he has a sleek, well-lubricated, and properly weighted car because dad “showed” the son how to do it. Or the 12 year old girl whose entry into the science fair looks like a graduate research project (but she struggles to explain the project or the data without dad’s help). The Chronicler in chapter 22 tells us of David’s private instructions about Solomon. The focus of our devotional today, however, will be on David’s public presentation of Solomon to the Israelites as the next king (ch. 28). The two chapters contain much of the same information, though there are slight differences. David in chapter 28 is preparing the people for their new king. He is also preparing Solomon to build the temple for YHWH. A church in transition between pastorates can learn several lessons about how to prepare themselves for the coming of the new pastor.

First, we see that in times of transition, we should be faithful. David chose to be faithful even though he had been told “no.” In verses 2-3, he says the reason God told him he couldn’t build the temple was that he was a man of war and bloodshed. David goes on to recount his history as king (vv. 2-7) and gives a charge to the gathered Israelites (v. 8) and to Solomon(vv. 9-10). The Chronicler presents David as Moses in the book of Deuteronomy, giving speeches on God’s faithfulness during the Exodus and wilderness wanderings. Moses, though he was told he would not enter into the “good land” (v. 8 cf. Deut. 1:25, 35; 3:25; 4:21-22; 6:18; 8:7, 10; 9:6; 11:17), prepared the Israelites through his speeches and leadership in the book of Deuteronomy. So David had prepared for the building of the temple and was not explaining the future through a speech. Solomon is also presented as Joshua in this passage, for David and Moses both commission them before all Israel (v. 20 cf. Deut 31:7). Yet when David emphasizes the need to be faithful and obey the commands in order to remain in the good land, the Chronicler’s true audience to hear this injunction are his fellow returning exiles, who understood what it was to live in exile.

David was essentially saying, I am passing away. Do not place your hope in me. Hope instead in God. For it was God who chose the house of David (v. 4); God who chose Solomon to build the temple (vv. 5-7); God who gave the commandments that would lead to life and peace (v. 8); God who would remain when David was gone (v. 20). And it is God who is still at work today! Not that in verse 7, God says, “I will . . . if . . .” God is always faithful. Are we? But it is not just the leader who is to be faithful. All must be faithful. Verse 8, if it were written in Texan, would say, “I charge y’all . . .” (not “you” singular) “in the sight of all Israel.” The people were to keep the commands so they could possess the good land and give it as an inheritance to their descendants. This again is imagery from Deuteronomy.

While verse 8 was to all Israel, verses 9-10 are directed to Solomon, but they still apply to all. Solomon is to serve God with a whole heart and a willing mind, for God knows the intent and motives of each person. This should give us hope, for he knows if we meant well even if we fail in our acts. It should also be a warning, however, that God knows if our motives are selfish, even if we succeed and/or seem to take action for others. Therefore, we are to seek him, for he will be found by us. But, David warns, if we forsake God, he will reject us. This seeking and forsaking is not a reference to a single act or moment in time. David is speaking about lifelong trajectories, but each act can be a step in one direction or the other.

A second thing David notes is that we should be prepared. David was prepared. He gave Solomon detailed plans. Plans for the temple. Plans for the courts. Plans for the priests and the Levites. And David had already set aside funds for the project. In verse 19, David says he has written all of this because the Lord’s hand had been upon him. David is presented as Moses on Mt. Sinai in the Exodus story (Exod 25-30; esp. Exod 25:9). God gave Moses the plans for the tabernacle. So now God has given David the plans for the temple. Many members of the congregation have invested in the church for years. All of their work has been a preparation for the years to come. The Transition Team has led the congregation to prepare itself for the immediate future. The Pastor Search Committee is now at work preparing for the next pastorate. Some of us might not see the completion of the current work, but we must be faithful in the preparation, as David (who made all the plans but didn’t see the completion of the project).

The third thing David says is to be confident. In verses 5-6 and in verse 10, David tells Solomon that he is God’s choice for the one to build the temple. In verse 10, David tells Solomon to “be strong and do the work.” Later, in verse 20, David says to “be strong and courageous and do the work.” Solomon, like Joshua, is to be the next leader of the people. Both led the people into a new era (Joshua into the land; Solomon into a time of peace and temple-building). So David tells Solomon, like Moses told Joshua, to be strong and courageous (Deut 31:7). Again like Moses to Joshua, David told Solomon to not be afraid or to be discouraged (verse 20; cf. Deut 31:8). But Solomon is not simply like Joshua in this text. He is also like Bezalel, the builder of the tabernacle in Exodus. Moses gave the plans to Bezalel to build the tabernacle (Exod 38:22). So David has given Solomon the plans for the temple. Both Bezalel and Solomon are told to “do the work” (verses 10 and 20; cf. Exod 36:1-2).

Why does David tell Solomon to be strong and courageous, and especially who should he not be afraid or discourages? Because the LORD God would be with him. Not just any god, but YHWH, the God of the covenant promises would be with Solomon (v. 20). Not only is he the God of the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not only is he the God who made a covenant with Israel through Moses at Sinai. He is “my God” (i.e., David’s God). David says, the God who made a covenant with me that you, Solomon, will build the temple and reign after my death–it is that covenant God who will be with you. If he promised you would build the temple, what have you to fear? And so it is the same covenant God who is with us. And we have the sure promise from him of a new covenant through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Note that the Joshua language of verse 20 (be strong and courageous; do not fear or be discouraged) is modified with the promise “he will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished.” To us, that sounds like God will only be with Solomon for a while. But if we look more closely, we find that this is Bezalel language. Just as Bezalel led the workers to complete the tabernacle (Exod 36:1; 39:32), so Solomon’s priests, Levites, and skilled professionals (v. 21) will help him to accomplish the work of building the temple.

In many ways, David and Solomon (Moses and Bezalel, and Moses and Joshua) are like runners in a relay race. A relay team will only be successful if the runners are faithful to do their part in the leg of the race that they run; if the runners are prepared to give and to receive the exchange; and if they are confident that each member will do his or her part in running the race. The intent of the Chronicler is the same for us today as for his audience in his day. In the days ahead, we are called to be faithful, to be prepared, and to be confident, for God is not finished with us yet.

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“In Times of Transition” 1 Chronicles 28


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