Each year on New Year’s Eve, an estimated one million people gather to watch “the ball” drop to ring in the new year. In addition, millions more in America, and many more around the world watch on television to celebrate the passing of one year and the arrival of another. It is the start of something new and the excitement is intense.
Now imagine a gathering that is not an annual event, but one that has been planned for years, and in some way anticipated by generation after generation for nearly 500 years (see 1 Kings 6:1). The event does is not shown on television, not posted to social media, and will be forgotten by most over time. However, this singular event, which occurred nearly 3000 years ago still influences religion, politics, and daily life to this very day. The event is the day the ark of the Lord entered the temple.
Today, we celebrate a much lesser significance, but one that has been expected for 18 months, and began as a conversation some six years ago. While the celebration of our sanctuary renovations being complete – platform, carpet, and pews all completed – it is a new day for us and we do share some commonalities with the people of Israel who gathered on that great day so long ago.
A couple of weeks ago, we reviewed 2 Samuel 24. The census of Israel violated the glory of God. The punishment was harsh, but David knew God’s mercy was great and believed God would ultimately spare His people. When the three days of pestilence passed, David honored God by building an alter and making sacrifices on the location where the temple would be built (1 Chron 22:1). It was at this location several years later where God made His glory manifest among the people.
1. The People Were Gathered Together (1 Kings 8:1-2)
A celebration can take place with few or with many people. While the dedication of the temple and the placing of the ark was truly an observance, the people gathered expecting something great to happen. After months and years of preparation, the day arrived with everyone ready to do their part.
A. Solomon made certain that the preparations were complete. (1 Kings 7:51)
B. The leaders were prepared to serve before the people.
C. All the men of Israel waited (their anticipation almost certainly at a peak).
They waited. The expectations had to be running high. Consider the stories that had been passed down for generations of how God had rescued this people from Egypt. Stories of how God parted the Red Sea and led the Israelites into the Promised Land where He gave them such great victories. But now, a new generation waited with expectation to see what God would do on this day!
What are your expectations of God? Is He still worth celebrating? Today is an easy day to celebrate as we look at the changes in this sanctuary and we consider how God has made this possible in such a short period of time with no debt. We have been waiting for this day for a few months, but will we still be waiting for God to do something great next week, next month, next year?
As the people waited, the next part of the story set the stage for God’s glory to be on full display!
2. The Ark Was Put in Place (1 Kings 8:3-9)
The ark represented the presence of the Lord. The tent of meeting was its temporary home although it had existed from the time of Moses. Now, with a permanent structure, the presence of God could have a permanent home. What could be more deserving of a celebration? The people could not take their eyes off the process (note the poles being seen from the Holy Place – v. 8).
A. The leaders brought the ark and holy vessels to the temple.
B. The people offered innumerable sacrifices showing how important this day truly was.
C. The ark was placed in the Most Holy Place with everyone as a witness.
Imagine the anticipation as each leader brought another object into the temple. Piece by piece the temple was being filled with items the Lord commanded be present. It must have been like a parade with these leaders carrying pieces of gold one by one past the people who watched with eagerness. Small children up on their father’s shoulders. Infants being held by their mothers. They may not remember being there, but the stories their parents would share of the greatness of God would be remembered for decades and told to the next generation as well.
What about us? Do we get excited enough to tell others what God has done? Many get bored listening to stories from the Bible. “Well, the pastor is preaching about that again today. I have already heard that so no need to pay attention.” Yet, interestingly, the two most attended days of the year usually involved the most well-known of stories among church-goers – the story of Jesus birth at Christmas and of His overcoming death on Resurrection Sunday.
But Isaiah reminds us that God is doing a new thing (Is 43.19). If we do not expect it, He will still do something new, we just will not realize it. But if we are ready, and if we are expectant, we may experience something we have never experienced before. And that is what happened on that glorious day in Jerusalem some 3000 year ago.
3. The Lord Responded! (1 Kings 8:10-11)
The people of Israel did not need an unplanned surprise to gather for this holy day. However, unexpected outcomes often lead to great times of celebration. The people planned for the ark to be put in its proper place, but when would the Lord make His presence known? What happened next is truly awe-inspiring.
A. The cloud filled the temple.
B. The priests were unable to serve.
C. The glory of the Lord was fully present with the people.
If we had not been allowed in this building to celebrate today, would you have been disappointed? We still could have sang songs, had a message, had our dinner following the meal and celebrated all that God has done, it just would not have been while sitting on these new pews. But pews don’t make the worship. And carpet doesn’t make the worship. And an updated platform doesn’t make the worship – the worship is made by God, it is offered by us, and it is made to God. But the pews, carpet, and platform are just a few new reasons that we can worship God on this, and every day.
Imagine standing among the people that day and witnessing the glory of God in an almost unimaginable way. These descendants knew of God and how amazing He was, but how many had first-hand knowledge of God’s glory? For all that showed up for the dedication of the temple, that question was no longer relevant.
Do we celebrate the acts of God? Do we have expectations that God will show Himself in a mighty way? Even when gathering together to worship God, do we expect to encounter Him corporately? Personally? God may not need us to celebrate Him, but we should desire to celebrate who He is and what He has done.
The JOURNEY letter for today is: JOURNEY.
I am using the whole word today because this is a new day for Fairfax Baptist Church. In a conversation with Rodney Harrison in March 2011, he charged me to help the people of Fairfax Baptist Church to see the manifest glory of God. 7 ½ years ago, I chose this same passage to preach because it is one of the most extraordinary glimpses of God’s glory that is shared by so many people. God giving the commandments to the people from Mount Sinai is, perhaps, the only other time when we know so many people were gathered and witnessed God in all of His glory.
In both of those settings, God brought about something new for His people. In Exodus 20, He established a new type of relationship with His people. In 1 Kings 8, He established a new type of presence among His people. In both situations, the people responded favorably – at least, initially. But before long, the people would turn to their wicked ways (building a golden calf in Exodus, and dividing the country in 1 Kings), both of which led to a downward spiral away from God.
Fairfax Baptist Church, today is a new day for us. We can mark this day as new because we have a new place to meet even if the general surroundings are the same. Personally, I am excited about what I have seen in this building, and it has renewed me. It is a new start for me because I have had a chance to make significant changes to my office – even if most of you may not see those changes. So, as I said, I preached from 1 Kings 8 over 7 years ago as we began our JOURNEY together. It set a course for the past, but now as we celebrate what God has done among us now, we need to set a course for the future that will not lead us astray and allow us to continue all that God is doing and what He wants to do through Fairfax Baptist Church in the future.
The question is: Who is with me?
NEXT STEP(S): LOVE
Take time this week to love God. Celebrate all that He has done in your life. Literally, count your blessings – name them one by one. Write them down. See how many pages you can fill. I promise if you will take 5 minutes each day to reflect on all that God has done in your past, you will be ready to celebrate all that He is ready to do with your future.
Will you do that? Will you take 5 minutes each day this week to write down all that God has done. Just write. Don’t evaluate. We can evaluate later. If we write now, others will know later – and like we have been able to celebrate with the Israelites across the centuries through the story we have heard today, perhaps others will celebrate with us as we share all that God has done for us on this day, in this place.