God's Story, Our Story: My Name Shall Be There

Preaching: Brian Keepers
Text: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 8:14-30

Introduction

The house was difficult to find.  I stepped off the bus and followed the winding street as it led back into a wooded area.  And there it was tucked among blossoming flower gardens and carefully manicured shrubs.  A quaint, brick cottage home.  I knew it was the right house because there was a blue plaque by the front door that read:

 C.S. Lewis
1898-1963
Scholar and Author lived here
1930-1963 

Michael, the man I had talked with on the phone, greeted me.  He was an American doing a Ph.D. at Oxford on the life and writings of Lewis.  Michael gave me a tour of the house, stopping in each room to point things out and talk about Lewis.  My favorite room was the study.  It was exactly as I had imagined it.  Walls crawling with books.  A desk perched by the window with Lewis’ round spectacles and his pipe and ashtray—where he sat and did his writing.  Next to the desk--Lewis’favorite reading chair, where he spent hours devouring books and puffing away on his pipe.

Of course C.S. Lewis had long since died and this home was now a tourist site.  Still, even though Lewis was absent, there was an eerie sense of his presence.  It was like I could feel his presence in that place, through the furniture and artifacts and books scattered around.  Since he is one of the people who has most influenced my own faith, it was a kind of holy moment to be standing in the place where C.S. Lewis once lived and worked.

Have you ever had an experience like that?  Have you ever visited a place where someone famous once lived, and you had that eerie sense of their presence even in their absence? 

This is something like what God’s people, the nation of Israel, experienced in reference to the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Temple was the “house of God,” so to speak.  It was the place where God’s presence dwelled here on earth in a special way, a physical symbol of how God was with his people.

When God delivered his people from Egyptian slavery, he instructed them to build a tabernacle as a symbol of his presence with them.  The tabernacle was a portable sanctuary, the place where they stored the Ark of the Covenant.  It was a constant reminder of God’s covenant relationship with them—that he was their God and they were his people.

When God’s people arrived in the Promise Land and King David eventually captured Jerusalem and made it the center of his kingdom, the first thing David does is have the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem.  Instead of a portable tent, David wants to build a permanent “house for God”—a Temple.  This would honor God and remind Israel (and all the surrounding nations) that God is the sovereign King of the whole world, all the nations.

God affirms David’s intent, but tells David that God has not chosen him to be the one to do this.  It would be David’s son, Solomon, who would be charged with this task.  Solomon, who asked God not for riches or fame but for one thing:  wisdom to discern right from wrong and govern God’s people with understanding.    God grants Solomon wisdom and also blesses him with wealth and power.  And Solomon uses this wealth and power to build a beautiful Temple “for God’s name.”

In the part of the story we heard from 1 Kings chapter 8, the Temple has been completed and Solomon is leading God’s people in a ceremony of dedication.   Solomon makes a speech in the assembly of the worshipping community, and then he leads them in prayer.

God Puts His Name on the Temple

One of the most striking things about Solomon’s speech and prayer is how many times this curious phrase “building a house for God’s name” shows up.  It is mentioned at least seven times in these verses (and as the prayer goes on, it comes up a total of 14 times!).  “My father David had it in mind to build a house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel.  But the LORD said to my father, David, ‘You did well to consider building a house for my name; nevertheless you shall not build the house, but your son shall build the house for my name.’  And God himself talks about how, in reference to the Temple, “my name shall be there.”

What does it mean that God’s name shall be on the Temple?  Think about what it means when a name is put on a house or building today.  Let’s go back to my opening story about C.S. Lewis’s home.  I knew it was his house because his name was on it—literally marked with a plaque.  To put a name on a house indicates who lived there or who lives there now.  It also indicates that this place, this home, belongs to that person; it is their property.  Well this is exactly what God is saying (through Solomon) about God’s name being upon the Temple.  It indicates that God lives there—this is God’s residence.  And this home belongs to God.  

Now let’s just be clear.  Solomon and the Israelites didn’t believe that God was confined to the Temple.  Solomon himself says, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”(8:27).    No, the Scriptures are clear that God is sovereign and that the heavens and the earth are God’s Temple, God’s sanctuary.  It’s not just the Temple in Jerusalem that belongs to God, but the whole world belongs to God.  However, the Temple provided a physical place, a holy place, for God’s people to encounter God in a special way. 

The Temple was the place that God revealed himself to his people and his eyes and ears were open to their prayers.  That’s also what it means when God says, “My name shall be there.”  In the ancient world, when a deity gave his/her name, they were inviting people to call out to them in prayer and they would answer.  And so Israel is instructed to “pray toward” the temple because God would hear and answer their prayers.  The Temple became known as “a house of prayer.”

But let’s take all of this one step further.  Think about a building that has the name of a major donor on it (like the “Jack Miller Music Hall” on Hope College’s campus).  What does that mean?  It means that through this person’s generosity, the construction of that building was made possible.  It is a way of honoring that person, of showing them respect and gratitude.

And this, too, is what it means that God’s name was put on the Temple.  Even though Solomon led the construction of the Temple, and Solomon was the wisest and wealthiest king in the history of Israel, Solomon does not get the credit for the Temple.  Even Solomon had to acknowledge that the purpose of the Temple was to give God honor—to revere and worship God.  And that it was really God who made it possible for the Temple to be built. 

Even more, it is God whose steadfast love and mercy made it possible for Israel to be in covenant relationship with God—which is what the Temple symbolized.   It was God who rescued his people from Egypt and brought them to the Promise Land and established David’s dynasty.  But here’s something remarkable about Solomon’s prayer.  God puts his name on the Temple not just so he will be glorified among Israel but so Gentiles, too, will be drawn to the Temple and might come to know God’s name!  There is a strong missional thrust to the whole purpose of the Temple. 

God Puts His Name on Jesus

But if we follow the storyline of the Bible, there is a problem.  Eventually the Temple will be destroyed.  It will be destroyed because God’s kings (including Solomon) fall into sin and God’s people break covenant with God and live selfish, unjust lives.  They will be carted off into exile.  Eventually, they’d return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (although it would not be near as glamorous as Solomon’s Temple).  But when Jesus arrives on scene, he says something that is puzzling and gets him in trouble.  He says that the Temple will be destroyed again (and it would in AD 70), but then it will be built up again in three days (John 2).

What?  The Temple would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days?  How can that be?  What is he talking about?  Well Jesus goes on to say that he is God’s Temple—God’s Temple in the flesh—and he was referring to his own death and resurrection.

If the heart of the biblical storyline is that God is determined to be with his people and restore the entire creation to his design, then it’s going to take more than constructing a Temple of bricks and mortar.  It’s going to take more than the Law and the sacrificial system.  It would take more than the leadership of an earthly king as wise and wealthy as Solomon.  This is only possible if God himself enters into the mess of humanity, and draws his people back to himself through his own sacrificial love.

So God puts his name on a man from Nazareth named Jesus.  God takes up residence in the person of Jesus!  John’s famous prologue declares this beautiful mystery: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled  among us…and we have seen his glory!” (Jn. 1:14).  And it is through Jesus death on the cross that we are cleansed of our sin and forgiven—the veil is torn, and we are ushered into the holy of holies through a new and living way (Hebrews 10).  God puts his name on Jesus, dwells with us in Christ, and all who call upon his name are forgiven, healed, restored, set free.    “Therefore God highly exalted him, “ St. Paul declares in Philippians 2:9, “and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

God puts His Name Upon Us

But God goes further.  Jesus is the beginning of God’s living Temple—the cornerstone that the builders rejected.  And when we put our faith in him, he dwells in us by the Spirit and we now become living stones—God is building us up into his living Temple.  Paul put it this way in Ephesians 2:19-22:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together in a spiritual house.”

1 Peter picks up on this same theme: “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you might proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:5,9).

Isn’t this remarkable?! God who put his name on the Temple, then decisively puts his name on Jesus, now through Jesus puts his name on us!  God takes up residence in us, and sends us into the world to bear witness to his life and light.  To make his name known among others—“so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you…” (1 Kings 8:43).

God is Building Us Up into A Missional People

This is such a fitting story for us today as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of our capital campaign and continue to move forward with a building project.  David wanted to build a house for God.  But God says something striking. God says, “David, I’m going to build a house for you.  Even as your son will build a house with my name on it, through that building and through your obedience to my law, I’m really going to be the one doing the building—building you into a holy people who will bear may name upon your hearts and who will make my name famous in all the earth.”

I believe this is a season of preparation for us as a church, as we wait and watch our new building being constructed.  This is a season in which God desires to be building us up into a spiritual house, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.  A people who are being conformed more and more to the image of Jesus, and who are being drawn more deeply into God’s mission of compassion and justice in the world.  A people whom God has put his name on and who are learning to live all of life as those who belong to Christ.

Perhaps the most important way that we can enter into this season of preparation is to be a people of prayer.  Praying not only for ourselves and the building project; even more, praying for our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, community, nation and world.  This is what it means to be both a spiritual house and a priestly people—we pray with and for the world in the power of Jesus name.  So I’m asking you to join me in this in a very intentional way over the next 9 months.  Let these green wristbands be a reminder of this important work to which we’ve been called.  I’m going to ask you, once again, to set your alarms for 3:20pm each day and commit to praying for at least one minute —for God’s will to be done in and through us and for God’s name to be known in our community, nation and world.

Why 3:20?  In reference to Ephesians 3:20—that important Scripture passage that we’ve dwelt in over the past year.  Let me close with it this morning, only I’m going to read the passage in its entirety because it really does capture the heart of all that we’ve talked today:

For this reason I bow my knees before my Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we ask or imagine, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

End with singing “Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary” (acapella)

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