Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, December 10, 2018
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Sovereign Grace

Sovereign Grace

John 18:33-37 and 2nd Samuel 7
           
          Second Samuel 7 begins by saying that God has brought peace, or rest to the land. The Hebrew word is SHALOM. David has settled into his new house, that is, his palace, in Jerusalem, and now it seems that it is time to build a house, that is a temple, for God. House, temple, and palace are all the same Hebrew word, BAYITH. 
            It seems to be the right thing to do. In that ancient Near East culture, God or the gods were responsible for victory in warfare. And a victorious king would often express his gratitude toward his god by building him a house, a temple. And these temples were first and foremost places of rest, SHALOM, for the gods. 
            So, culturally speaking, David is doing the right thing. He’s doing what kings were supposed to do after they had been victorious and achieved peace. But, of course, Scripture makes it clear that the one true God does not need to rest. 
            In David’s mind, it seems out of place that he is living in this beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of God, the visible representation of God’s presence, is in a tent. And for that matter, the Tabernacle, the tent for the Ark, is now over 400 years old. It’s been around a while. It must have been in pretty poor shape. It is as if David is living better than God. So now David sets out to “improve God’s standard of living.” 
            He calls in Nathan, the prophet. This is the first time we meet Nathan. Earlier in Israel’s history, the prophets were often the leaders of the nation. Moses and Samuel are the best examples. They were prophets who led the nation, each for a generation. But now that there is a king, the prophets have taken on a different role. Rather than leading the nation directly, they serve as advisors to the kings. Nathan is David’s spiritual advisor. Some people have compared him to being David’s pastor. 
            When Nathan hears of David’s plan, he is thrilled. Why wouldn’t he be? What pastor is not thrilled when someone in their congregation finally takes that step from always seeking of God and asking of God to wanting to give back to God, wanting to do something for God. “Oh, yes! By all means, do that! God is with you!” 
            But David doesn’t consult God on this matter, and neither does Nathan. Not a very swift move for a prophet! And something is amiss. David is in spiritual danger. He’s in a dangerous position, about to step over a line. He has stopped asking of God. 
            As the king, David is first and foremost to stand as a witness to God’s reign over the nation. More than ruling the nation himself, he is to remind everyone that God rules the nation. If he stops asking of God and simply begins to act on his own, what kind of king is he becoming? 
            The answer is a despot. Most societies in that ancient Near East world were ruled by despots. They believed that when a human being became king, then he also became divine. He became a god, or at least more than simply human. Is this what’s happening to David? Is David becoming more than human in his own mind? 
            That had to be a temptation. Considering all of his accomplishments, David had to be tempted to think of himself as more than merely human. I’m certain that other people thought of him that way. I think it’s difficult to put ourselves completely into the story and see everything exactly as it was, but David must have been a legend in the minds of the people of Israel. 
            What was David lacking? Nothing, it would seem. He was handsome. He was strong. He was intelligent. He was gifted in so many areas of life. He was a natural leader, a skilled warrior, a poet, a musician, a dancer. What was he lacking? When he was barely 15 years old, he killed Goliath, with nothing more than a sling and a stone. He led dozens of tremendously successful military campaigns. As near as we can tell, he never lost. He must have been brilliant. Twice he hid, right under the noses of the Philistines, and they never caught on. He survived 15 harsh years of hiding in the wilderness. Men flocked to him by the hundreds to follow him. He played music, composed poetry, women were enamored with him. What was this guy missing? Nothing it would seem. 
            The Bible tells us that David was successful in everything he did because God was with him. But don’t you think that it had to be just a little bit tempting for David to start thinking it was all about him? Don’t we all fall prey to one degree or another to the temptation to think it’s all about us? I am certain that David was tempted to think that he was more than just a man. And I’m just as certain that other people were tempted to think he was more than just a man. 
            All of his life, up till this moment, David has been full of God. Is he now becoming full of himself? Does he no longer need to ask anything of God? Has he outgrown his need for God? 
            That can be a temptation, especially, when we are in our prime. David is in his prime. He is about 40 years old. His body is strong from years of living in the wilderness and fighting battles. He is a great leader. He has numerous great accomplishments to his name. He has won great victories. He is spiritually strong. He has trusted God to bring him through so much. And now he is the king. He is the single most important person in Israel. 
            But this is the time to watch out. As the New Testament reminds us, be careful when you think you are standing strong. For you too may fall. If you think you are more than human, then watch out. 
            There are two stories from the Book of Acts about times when Jesus’ disciples were tempted to think of themselves as more than human, tempted to forget that it was about Jesus, and not themselves. One is in Acts chapter 10, when Cornelius, the Roman centurion, is told by an angel to send for Peter. When Peter arrives, Cornelius falls at his feet to worship him. Peter quickly pulls him up and says, “I’m a human, just like you!” The other story is in Acts 14, when Paul and Barnabas heal a man who had never been able to walk in the city of Lystra. And the crowd says, “These men are gods in human form.” And they bring oxen, meaning to sacrifice them to Paul and Barnabas. Instead, they tear their clothes and cry out, “Stop it! Why are you doing this? We are merely human beings, just like you!” I think David was experiencing the same kind of temptation.
            It is tempting, especially in our prime, when we feel our strongest, to stop asking of God.  But we never should. Consider the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus himself taught us how to pray, he taught us to ask of God: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Give us our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil.” Jesus taught us to ask of God. We never outgrow our need of God. 
            Some people think they do. One of the caricatures of the Christian faith is that it is for children and old folks. It’s for weak people, not strong people. Strong people can make it on their own. After all, just look at the adult population of our society. Look at those folks in their prime, people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. It’s obvious they can make it on their own! I mean, we certainly don’t have any problems with addiction or divorce or depression or financial woes among those folks in their prime in our society, right? Maybe we can’t quite make it on our own….
            David is in danger of thinking he can “outgrow” his need for God. But God sets him straight. God gives a message for David to his prophet Nathan. Notice that in the beginning of the chapter, when David speaks of God, he speaks of him in the third person. “I’ll make a temple for God.” But when God speaks to David, he speaks to him in the first person. David was in danger of thinking of God as an impersonal God, an object. But God reminds David that he is a personal God. 
            God says to David, “I have chosen you. I have been with you all along, every step of the way. I have put you in this place. You won’t build a house for me. I will build one for you.” House, that Hebrew word BAYITH, has one more meaning in this story. It also means dynasty. God will make an everlasting dynasty for David. 
            David does the best thing he can do. He sits down, and he prays, in the second person, mind you. He calls God “you” again. God has become personal to him again.
            Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing. Especially, if we are the kind of people who “need” to be busy. And I’m speaking of myself here. I have trouble doing nothing. And sometimes, that’s just what we need to do. Sometimes God’s direction for us is “Be still and know that I am God.” 
            David relinquishes control to God. He will not be a despot. He will be a witness that God is the King. 
            Sometimes our plans to “do something for God” are really just a distraction from what God is doing for us. And sometimes if God says “no” to our plans, it is because he has something far greater in mind. God’s greatest work ever was done through the “house”of David, a “son of David,” named Jesus, who reigns eternally. 
            David, having been overcome by his own pride, is suddenly turned away from pride, and he remembers that it’s God’s story, not his. 

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