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Heart of the Kingdom

Date: Oct. 19, 2014

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

1 Kings 8:1-9:9

Key Verse: 1 Kings 8:39

then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart)”

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing from Mike and Bob that the great temple of the Lord is now is our bodies, and that God’s throne is our hearts. His kingdom resides within us. That makes our bodies extremely important and as Bob mentioned last week, we really have to look at the condition of our hearts to see how good of a temple we have prepared for God. Our hearts are remarkable. It is a wonderfully designed organ. Did you know that even if you severed all the nerves, the heart would keep on beating? And think about that beat. The heart beats an average of 75 times a minute, forty million times a year, or two-and-a-half billion times in a life of 70 years. With each beat, the average adult heart discharges about four ounces of blood. This amounts to three thousand gallons a day or 650,000 gallons a year—enough to fill more than 81 tank cars of 8,000 gallons each. And the heart is powerful, too. The heart does enough work in one hour to lift a 150-pound man to the top of a three-story building, enough energy in twelve hours to lift a 65-ton tank car one foot off the ground, or enough power in seventy years to lift the largest battleship afloat completely out of the water. That is just the average heart. Each and every one of us has that capability. Hearts can be good and bad. So what does a good heart look like? How can our hearts be prepared to be a temple? We’re going to find that out today.

Our passage picks up after the construction of the temple was complete. In order to make the temple that Solomon built into a true and useful temple, the sacred artifacts that God gave his people needed to be brought into it. So, Solomon had the ark, tent of meeting and other sacred furnishings brought into the temple. Our passage begins, “Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David. All the Israelites came together to King Solomon at the time of the festival in the month of Ethanim, the seventh month.” (8:1-2) Solomon brought all the leaders of Israel, the elders and the heads of the tribes and the heads of each of the families in each tribe. All the people came in the seventh month of the year for the Feast of Booths or tabernacles. This is interesting because in chapter 6, it is written that the temple was finished in the eighth month, but the dedication was in the seventh month. This either meant that the temple was dedicated a month before it was completed or they waited eleven months to dedicate it. The first idea is probably wrong since the previous chapter mentioned that after the temple was completed, the sacred articles were brought. This means that Solomon waited eleven months for the Feast to dedicate the temple.

When everyone arrived in Jerusalem, the priests took the ark and all the furnishings and carried them to the temple. While this was going on Solomon and the people gathered sacrificed so many sheep and cattle that they couldn’t be counted. Then they took the ark and placed it in the Most Holy Place in the temple, underneath the wings of the cherubim. The author makes a point to note that the only things in the ark were the two stone tablets that God wrote on and gave to Moses in the desert. These were the original stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. It was a sign of God’s covenant with his people. The most holy artifact from God was his law and the promise that God made with this people. In other words, the stone tablets contained the two definitions of God’s word: his physical word and his promise.

When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the temple filled with a cloud. The cloud came down so much that it was interrupting the worship service. The priests were unable to do anything. God was in the cloud like he was when the Israelites came out of Egypt. It was God coming down to give approval to the temple that Solomon made. It gave proof that the temple wasn’t just some sort of glory project for Solomon. Solomon didn’t build the temple to make his own name great. He created the temple as a place for God’s name to be glorified, and after the cloud descended on to the temple, Solomon noted, “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. 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.” (20-21) Solomon marveled at how God keeps his promises. He kept his promise to David and put Solomon on the throne, and Solomon built the temple to provide a place for the ark. Solomon recognized that that he gave a home to God’s word.

After saying these words in response to the cloud descending on the temple, Solomon begins a prayer of dedication to God. He prays from verses 23 to 53 and I will only give a summary of his prayer. Solomon’s prayer begins with thanking God for keeping his promises to his father David and continues by urging God to continue keeping his promises. The prayer, then, comes to the temple. Solomon prays that God may keep his eyes open to the temple day and night, and when people pray towards the temple, that God hear them and forgive them. It is a prayer for God to give his grace to those who cry out to him. From here, the prayer goes into specific instances of how people would cry out to God and requests on how God would respond. There are seven different examples in this passage: a person being wronged, being defeated by an enemy, no rain, general disaster or disease, the foreigner, going off to war and sin in general. For each of these reasons to cry out to God, there is a “when” and a “then”. These aren’t ifs. Solomon assumes that these reasons will happen and when they do, and the people cry out to God in the temple, then Solomon asks God to hear and forgive, and then to take care of the physical need, like rain or being brought back from captivity. This is all a way of praying to God to hear the prayers of his people no matter their condition. The end of the prayer summarizes it, “May your eyes be open to your servant’s plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you.” (52)

After the prayer, Solomon gives some words of praise to God and a blessing to the people. Again, it is praise that God has fulfilled all his promises from Moses to that day. It is also a call for the people to remain faithful to God. Solomon says at the end of the blessing, “And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.” (61) It is not enough to have a faithful God; his people must also be faithful to him. In fact, how can a person say that he belongs to God, if they are not faithful to him? I mean, think about a marriage. A husband and wife belong to one another and show it by being faithful to the other. If one breaks that faith and has an affair with another, that person does not feel that they belong to their spouse. If they did, then why disrespect them by sleeping with someone else. A marriage is sanctified through sex. It brings a husband and wife closer by having nothing stand between them and being vulnerable to each other. By taking that piece and putting it somewhere else, the closeness is broken, along with trust. They don’t belong to each other. Being partially committed to God is like having a spiritual affair. Your divided energies will divide you from God.

After Solomon’s blessing, the physical dedication begins. The temple was dedicated with twenty-two thousand cattle and one hundred twenty thousand sheep and goats being sacrificed. It was a great day for the Lord, but a bad day to be livestock. To dedicate the courtyards of the temple, they sacrificed burnt offerings, grain offerings and the fat from the fellowship offerings. It was so great, that the normal altar was too small to handle it all. It was great scene that showed Solomon’s own dedication to the Lord, as well as all the people. They loved God so much that they celebrated the completion of the temple by giving everything that they had.

After the temple and Solomon’s palace were built, God spoke to Solomon. Now this was about twelve or thirteen years later after the dedication of the temple. God told Solomon that he heard the prayer and plea and confirmed that his eyes and heart will always be there. These words of comfort were not long delayed. It didn’t take God twelve years to answer the prayer. Remember, his presence filling the temple was acknowledgement that he approved of the temple. When God talked to Solomon this time, he reaffirmed his commitment to the temple, but he also had more words. “As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have 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.’” (6:4-9) This was a warning that even though the temple was magnificent and God approved of it, but if the king and his descendant’s hearts wandered, then the temple would be destroyed. It would be a object of ridicule and a constant reminder of the people’s unfaithfulness. It is a harsh reminder of what would happen if they walked away from God.

The temple is God’s dwelling place on earth, but it is not guaranteed. There are conditions. If those conditions are not met, then God said that he would destroy the temple. Like we heard last week that is exactly what happened. The temple in this passage was destroyed four hundred years later. The temple was rebuilt but that temple too was destroyed. God replaced those temples with Jesus and by extension us. We are now the temple of God. Last week, Bob told us to take a look at our temples to see what condition they are in, but he didn’t mention what condition they should be in. How do we prepare our hearts and our bodies for God? Do we have to do days of meditation to raise our spiritual energy? Do we have to offer hundreds and thousands of sacrifices? Perhaps we do a little dance that purifies us or eat some sacred food. Maybe reading the Bible and praying more will make us a better dwelling place. How do we get right with God?

Well there is not really much that we can do. A wise man wrote, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) Because of the sin that we hold in our hearts, even our best acts end up being full of filth. Sin is a part of life because we are sinners. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. For our hearts to be prepared for God, the sin has to be forgiven. When you look at the long prayer in this passage from verses 23-53, you can see a call for God to forgive the sins of those who did wrong. God alone can forgive sins, but we have to turn to God to do so. That idea is written in the passage a few times. When the people sin and turn back to God. We have to acknowledge our sin and turn back to God. We have to put our focus on God. That is what God wants from us. Our hearts are full of sin, but God doesn’t want for us to clear them out before he comes to us. He wants for us to open our hearts to him fully so that he can purify us. Solomon’s father David cried out to God after committing great sin, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) and “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

What God wants most from us is that our hearts be humble to accept God’s cleaning. We prepare our hearts by giving fully it to God. We must love the Lord our God with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5). It can be tempting to give only part of our heart to God or even none of it. We are very used to multitasking. We are not very good at it, but we are used to it. There are so many things that vie for our attention. Our great little helpers called smartphones are constantly sending us little reminders that need our attentions. Here is another email that needs your attention. Never mind that it is just spam, you must look at it now. Here comes a group text about grabbing dinner. There is a Facebook reminder that someone commented on your photo. Look someone retweeted your post. Now your battery is at 20%. Here’s a great video on YouTube that you should see. It’s got cats getting their heads stuck in boxes. Now it is time to do some binge watching on Netflix. Our time and our hearts have never been more divided, but we can’t do that with God. We can’t let our hearts become cluttered with junk. If that little reminder ding goes off and you feel strongly compelled to look at it, it may be an idol. We have become conditioned to respond like shaking a box of treats for a dog. It has control over you and you are giving your devotion to it.

What does that get you? Don’t you feel a little overwhelmed at the bombardment of information? Isn’t it just habitual and make you weary? A number of people just have to disconnect from time to time to be refreshed. The technologies that we have are tools to help us but often they take a controlling role in our lives. We have to constantly take a look at our hearts to make sure that we aren’t letting something take control it. Physically the heart is a marvel. It pumps blood to our whole bodies and keeps us alive. Our metaphorical heart is just as much of a marvel. The heart is the seat and the entryway to who we are. It is a throne that guides us and is the source of our emotion and desires. Anger and frustration are born in the heart, as are love and grace. Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45) Whatever is in our hearts comes out when we speak. If we are sharp with our words, then it is bitterness in our hearts that is the source. If something were to get into our hearts, then it would control our mouths and our entire selves. It is important to guard our hearts because our hearts are the foundation of belief. Paul wrote, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Romans 10:10)

Our hearts are important. Just like the marriage example I mentioned earlier, if we are divided in our hearts in our devotion to God, then it really isn’t a relationship. Halfhearted devotion to God is no devotion to God, because of the power that the heart has. God wants and needs all of our heart. He wants all of us because if he cuts you in half, you are dead. You don’t become half alive. You are fully dead. Now, there are many people who do try to live halfheartedly or less before God. We think that can have God and have another life. If we give extra to God, then we can take a little free time for ourselves, but our hearts are still divided and we can’t hide it from God. Solomon said in this passage, “deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart)” (8:39) God knows every human heart. He knows what lies inside. He knows every deep and dark secret that lurks within. You can’t hide anything from him, but the wonderful thing is that you don’t have to. God never tells you to clean up your act before coming to him. Instead, he wants for you to come to him to clean up your act. God accepts you in your sin if you give your heart to him.

This is something that I am learning again. I’ve been battling some issues lately, a bit of an identity crisis. When I was in school, I was one of the brightest and smartest people you could find. I was in the top of my class in everything. Learning and understanding came easy. Standardized tests were a breeze. I barely prepped for the ACT and GRE but got high marks nonetheless. I was the first one in class to understand compressible flow, and as harder the classes got, the better I became. I was very proud of my intelligence, but in the end it amounts to so little. My identity was in my intelligence, but then God pulled me out of school by my failing the qualifying exam many times. I got a job that didn’t use my intelligence and I lost that job two years later. I now design and build web applications for Northwestern University. Many times I feel that my brain has atrophied because I have stopped using it to its potential. In my head I know this to be true, but my heart is still holding on to my old identity even though it is completely useless. When I hold on to it, it saddens me and breaks me. I have to let go of this identity in my heart and give my heart fully to God. It is holding me back from so much.

We don’t have to do many great things to come to God. It is the same in the Old Testament and the New Testament, with the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. God doesn’t want for us to follow a set of rules to come to him. He wants our hearts first and our obedience will come from that. God said, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33) God is the one who will show us how to obey. Our lack of obedience doesn’t preclude our coming to God. It is our coming to God that helps us obey. We can’t live divided. We will be pulled left and right. We only have one heart; if it is split then it will be torn in two. We will become a heap of rubble like the warning of the physical temple, but if we give our whole heart to God, then we will be lifted higher than we could ever know.

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