2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


The God You Carry Within You

2 Samuel 7:4-13

I want to start this sermon with a scenario about old King David wanting to build a temple, and then move on to the question of what kind of temple you are providing for the God who dwells in your life.

Apparently, old King David did have a conscience. He wanted to right a wrong that he felt he had committed. Here he sat in a beautiful palace he had built for himself in Jerusalem, and the precious ark of the covenant was still housed in a mere tent.

The ark was the Hebrews' sacred chest made of acacia wood, richly overlaid with gold, and with a lid bearing two angels with outstretched wings. The Israelites carried it with them in all their wanderings as a portable sanctuary and the dwelling place of Jehovah.

In the ark, they placed the tablets of stone on which was inscribed the covenant between God and his chosen people.

King David's conscience suddenly smote him. He realized it just wasn't right that he have such a fine palace for himself when the holy of holies was still kept in a tent.

So, David called his career counselor and consultant-in-residence, the prophet Nathan. He said to him, in effect, "Nathan, I want to build a temple; I can't live in such opulence in all this expensive cedar paneling and know that the ark is sitting out there in only a tent." Nathan replied, "O.K., if that's what your heart says you must do, do it, and I'm sure the Lord is with you."

That last, "The Lord is with you," may have been said because that was his role—to be the interpreter of the Lord's wishes; to be the king's Yes man. It was part of his job description to say "The Lord is with you." That's how most of the king's prophets down through those ancient times kept their jobs, by staying on the good side of the monarch, by always saying, "Yes sir, O King, the Lord says, `That's fine, you're doing the right thing."'

But Nathan wasn't just another prophet. He was no sycophant who would always agree with the king to stay out of trouble. He didn't know it at that time, but later on he would really stand up to David and shame him over that business with Bathsheba.

But on the building of a temple for the ark, Nathan had sounded like a Yes man at first; but then he may have had some second thoughts. The Bible tells us, as you heard this morning, "But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan." And Nathan got a different answer.

Now what I'm wrestling with here is the question of exactly how Nathan got that message from the Lord. The Bible is very clear on this. So many times throughout its chapters are the words, "thus says the Lord," "Thus spake Jehovah," "And the Lord said to him...." This, of course, gives God an audible voice; a voice, if not heard through the ears from an outside source, then certainly heard through the inner ear of the conscience. We are given the distinct impression that the voice of God was clearly heard by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea and the rest.

The scholarly rationalization of this is that that is the type of culture they had. People heard voices; they said it was God speaking, and who was to doubt it? While the human conscience is not the most reliable vehicle for the conveyance of God's wishes (since it can be used demonically), I suggest that God expects us to use all our rational thinking, the best that our conscience can produce, to solve problems before we turn to God with a plea for answers.

I would much prefer to think that Nathan, upon hearing David's building plans, went back to his office, called in his staff of AMOPS—his Associate Ministers of Prophecy—and said, " the meeting will come to order; we'll dispense with the reading of the minutes—we've got a serious Nathan told me the Lord said that I wasn't to build a temple, the house of God, but that you were to do it."

But what if house of God meant only family of God?

I'm here to tell you this morning that you are indeed a member of the family of God. This glorious architecture that surrounds us is erected to God's glory. These magnificent Gothic arches, our tower thrusting upward, are testaments to the transcendence of God, the God who made the universe. But the cross on our communion table tells us clearly that the transcendent God has come to us through Jesus the Christ, who died on a Cross that we might sense the presence of a God who cares for us, not just as his collective family, but as individuals.

Another name for Jesus is Emmanuel, which means God with us—God with us—God with you and me and not in some hidden-away holy of holies as if God were some awesome flame that would singe us if we got too close. The God of wondrous creating is the same God who indwells our spirits; refreshes our conscience to help us to follow his pathway of love.

Now—you have a decision to make this morning. I want you to accept that God into your innermost being right now. You say you've heard this line before? But it never gets old. I find that I cannot be in that acceptance mode too often. Each and every Sunday I should call for such a decision that it be an ongoing acceptance, always refreshing, always renewing. There may be a hundred ways that you feel your life is self-sufficient, that you don't need this spiritual acknowledgment; your life is well under control, you are the master of your fate. But hidden within you, I would guess, may be just one small reason (with me, it's a big reason) that has your inner conscience crying out for the solace, the comfort, and, yes, the judgment, that your very soul needs for its fulfillment.

Don't let your life be unfulfilled with the prideful thought that you don't need to make a temple of your body and mind in which you carry the spirit of the God that has nurtured your life. The fulfilled life is one that carries the God-thought within.

God is not locked up in this place, or in any temple of cedar or mahogany, brick or concrete. God's glory is everywhere.

I can't think of any miracle on the face of the earth more profound or more exalted than the human body. There is no computer, no machine, nothing else in nature problem. The king just told me he wants to build a temple. He has an edifice complex we've got to deal with. He has an attack of conscience that says he shouldn't be living in this nice palace while the ark resides in a lowly tent. I said, `That's fine; the Lord is on your side, go right ahead.' But on thinking it over, I wonder if it is such a good idea. I thought I'd call this little staff meeting to discuss the ramifications of this. What do you think?"

There might have ensued considerable discussion about it, weighing the pros and cons. Well, the cons began to loom. They began to look at the history of the situation. Maybe they checked the price of cedar from Lebanon; maybe freight rates on camel caravans were out of line. They had to make a very human decision as to whether or not God would be pleased with such a temple-building venture.

After weighing all the data, I can imagine them praying about it very earnestly and sincerely. "Oh, God, what is the best answer here? What do you want us to do? What should our brother Nathan tell the King about this? He's already told the King to go ahead, that the project has your blessing, but after looking at it in the hot light of this day, we sense that maybe you wouldn't be so pleased with the idea. Help us in this decision, please." And you and I pray like that frequently, don't we, when we have a tough decision to make. I know I do.

Well, at some point, the decision was certainly made, and Nathan may indeed have felt that God had spoken to him, but not before they had examined all the data in a very human discussion on the matter.

So Nathan went back to David and said, "The Lord spoke to me and he said he didn't want a temple. The Lord said, `From the time I brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt up to the present, I have lived in no house; I have been traveling about in a tent for a dwelling. Yet, at any point in my journeying with the whole nation of Israel, did I ever say a word to any one of the tribes of Israel about building me a cedar temple?"'

In other words, Nathan hears the Lord telling him he doesn't need a temple. He's getting along fine, and, besides, a temple located in one place is not what our religion is all about.

Nathan heard God saying that the building of a temple would be a complete misunderstanding of God's nature and purpose. The significance of the tent or the tabernacle in the wilderness was that it symbolized God's presence with his people wherever they might be. To give God a local habitation, therefore, would be a lapse from the worship of the God who dwells not in houses made with hands but with those who put their trust in God.

We have placed great emphasis on the idea that God is with us wherever we go. As inspirational evidence, we point to that towering thought in Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

So Nathan says "no" to David. But I'm sure some of you have noted that, later in those verses, Nathan hears the Lord saying, "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you (who shall come forth from your body), and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house (note the word `house') for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever" (meaning David's son Solomon would build the temple, or house of the Lord).

But here is one of those great controversies over the meaning of a word. What does the word "house" mean? It has two meanings—it means a building, but it also means a family. It means a dwelling, but it also means a dynasty.

When we speak of the House of Rothschild, we don't mean the building the Rothschilds live in; we mean a family dynasty. By that definition, the House of the Lord need not mean a temple building in one place, but it could mean the family of God—the household of God's people wherever they may be.

There is a hymn which hindsight tells me I should have requested for this morning. It is "Jesus, where'er thy people meet, There they behold thy mercy seat; Where'er they seek thee, thou art found, And everywhere is hallowed ground."

All of this could lead to the conjecture that maybe there was never supposed to be a temple which localized the presence of God. When the Roman conqueror Pompey pushed his way into the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple, he was surprised to find there was nothing there. Of course, there is no way to capture the spirit of God, to be controlled like a genie in a bottle.

Maybe Solomon built that magnificent temple because he read the scripture that said that he, as David's offspring, was to do it, as the mandate of the Lord. There it was in their holy writings, and his father had pointed it out to him: "Son, my prophet that can touch it for its capacity to build its own destiny.

It is a walking, talking, thinking, loving, trusting, healing temple. God could not have conceived such a fabulous phenomenon without putting a great part of God's self within it.

Give your mind and heart the consummate joy of knowing that lifechanging truth. Let every thought you have, every decision you make, every care you perform come out of that powerful truth: That you are the temple of an immanent God. You make that decision now—to carry that humble glory within you now and forever more—a decision you renew every single day. And we, as a household of faith, will rejoice together.

Donald B. Ward (deceased)