You ever had one of those great ideas that would advance the kingdom of God? “Honey, I’m going to set aside $300 dollars each month for PowerBall tickets and, when we win, we’ll be able to donate to the church bigly.” No? You’re right, that’s a terrible idea. How about this instead…
King David and his pastor, the prophet Nathan, looked out over the City of David, orange with light. After a long day of meetings, they were known to enjoy a cup of wine on the palace rooftop under the night sky – friends. David’s eyes wandered the vastness of space, the dusty cloud of the Milky Way, the dazzling stars and the enormity of things and his own smallness within it… “From the fields of Bethlehem and the flocks of my father…to this,” he whispered. David waved his hand over the star-strewn night, addressed the heavens and said, “Just like this! Just like this I have been blessed. Yahweh has turned away my enemies, all of them. He has planted me in this palace – the walls are lined with cedar! I have riches and power and blessing!” The words rang out into the night. He turned to his pastor in earnest, “It is my turn to bless back!” Nathan cocked his ear, raised an eyebrow. David went on, “Here I am in this palace… the ark of God is in Jerusalem now… but it’s still in a tent!” David could almost hear Nathan’s pastoral calculation, theological cogitation: it was a good plan – reasoned, righteous… “Do it! Do what you’re planning! It’s obvious the Lord is with you!” the prophet said. David nodded. Sighed back into his chair. A promising and settled resolution. This is how it would be. He raised his cup to the prophet and, with a smile, they toasted the future…
It was a good plan. Compared to that Powerball Offering Ploy, this one was really, actually great. Build a temple for the LORD. Out of thanks for all David had received – turn back to the LORD from his great wealth. Provide a house for God. Who could argue with that thing? It was promising… Just like it is for you now and again. Maybe even in 2020 you say, “I eat and am satisfied, have a fine house in which to dwell, my herds and flocks…and my silver and gold…and all I have is multiplied…” And from that blessed place you make good plans; righteous things; promising… Once again, I think it’s worth it to note how likewise promising it is for us congregationally. God only knows how 2020 will end, but though this year has been crazy, at CTL we have been very blessed. Our finances are stable, our spending is under budget, our school is running, our outlook for year end is pretty good – at least as we estimate it. We’re planning to build a church. We’re talking about using all of our space for a growing school and church ministry in the coming years. We’re thinking through even more things than these! And we should! It’s promising! Just like it was with David. But, perhaps, when things are promising it’s just the time to look at where the promise really lies.
But in this section from Samuel tonight, notice how God redirects us with King David. Notice how his Scriptures present real promise when they reveal God himself. For that night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?” David’s plan was good, but it wasn’t God’s. We may make great, godly plans, but God’s wisdom and knowledge is higher than ours. His knowing what to do is better. Unsearchable and inscrutable his ways, St. Paul will later say. “Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom of God!” (Romans 11:33)
Why? How does God’s wisdom work? Look what he reveals about himself as we walk through these verses. vv.6-7 – “I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.” And he never asked their leaders to build him a house. Why? Because he is the God who travels with his people in all their journeys and wanderings. Do his people live in tents? So does he? Are they a pilgrim people on their way to the land of promise? He will share the rigors of the journey with them – a pilgrim God. So with Israel of old and still today. This God has also worked to make a secure and safe place for you, his people. Later, in the promised one Jesus, we’ll see it clearly… John’s gospel tells it as we’ll hear on Christmas day, “And the Word, entering a new mode of existence, became flesh, and lived in a tent [His physical body] among us.” (1:14) Now that’s a roundabout way to say it, but God was here with us in the flesh, long-promised at Christmas fulfilled, walking with us, promising the greatest good for us. For all our plans, God reveals himself in his wisdom as with us in humility. And that’s truly promising.
Indeed, the really promising stuff isn’t in what we can accomplish. It comes in what God freely gives. And that’s what he emphasizes about himself with David and us: he is a God of grace. Surely, as you look at vv.8-9, you could identify with David – as a receiver of what God has given. Consider all his gifts – he lists them to David; you know your own. Perhaps not to be ruler of America or to live in a palace, but surely blessed, gifted in countless ways. Because God does not work on a pay-to-play system. He gives and gives and gives. And in v.11, he clarifies and assures it, “The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you…” The God of grace supplied for David a house to supply David as a king who would care for God’s people. So they would be in “a home of their own and no longer be disturbed,” free from wicked people and able to rest. God’s grace kept his people and he does the same for us. God is the giver, which we know because this Scripture reveals God as one last thing: constant.
Look at the promise to David in vv.12-16. Notice three things… When he supplies for David, in vv.12-13, notice that death does not annul his promises. We tend to put trust in rulers we like, ones we can see, be down when they die. But these promises will outlast David, the king; stretch on after his “days are over”. After our own days are over. Death does not annul the promise. What’s more, in vv.14-15, notice that sin cannot destroy these promises either. When kings come after David, God will chastise and rebuke them for sins. And, if you trace the line of David (and in David himself), you’ll find plenty of sin… And I know you see it in your lives and this world too. “[B]ut my love will never be taken away…” God says. And finally, time won’t exhaust these promises. God says in v.16, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before meb; your throne will be established forever.” And we could say much more about all the words, specific things in these verses. So, just take them in and mark the inevitability, the indefectible nature, the constancy of God’s promises to David.
But most of all, mark it like this. God isn’t just making promises for David’s house. It’s so much more promising than that. God’s kingdom plan through David is unstoppable and universal. It marches through history – intent on overwhelming death, sin, and time to bring it about. Through many years and wicked kings and ruin and exile and subjugation to foreign powers God works. Until that Gabriel came with word… And a child, a Davidic child, is born, a Son is given. In him is no sin. He trampled all over death and put our sins away. And he has begun his endless reign in supreme power and authority. Nothing is left to be done but to show the world what is already true behind all that we see. God’s kingdom is unstoppable. His promises sure. And if this big promise to David is so sure, can’t God’s people trust all his smaller promises too? Indeed, through them, he “equip[s] you with everything good for doing his will, and he work[s] in us what is pleasing to him,” (Hebrews 13:21) so that we have “everything we need for a godly life” as we get to know his glory and goodness better and better.
God, in his wisdom, comes in humility with grace in a constant, unchanging way. This is his promise. Do you get the picture? We may know many promising things. But we have a truly Promising Advent when Scripture reveals God. For it is in getting to know this promising God that we will find our needs most adequately met.