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not the Baptism of our Lord

1 Kings 8:6-13

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Epiphany 1
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Jan 10, 2021 

We see in our Old Testament Reading the Temple as it was nearing its completion.  The Levites and priests were poised and ready to begin their duties in the Temple.  It was an exciting day.  Seven years of King Solomon’s building project culminated in the glorious House of God, the Lord of Israel.

People in America sometimes have trouble with that phrase, “House of God”.  How can there be a house of God when He is a spirit who is everywhere?  The Lord cannot be contained in a building made by human hands.

According to this tempting point of view, God is a kind of amorphous spirit out there, but His existence does not intrude into my life very much.  This allows you to have God be whatever you want Him to be.  Uncomfortable with some of His teachings?  Just ignore them.  Why not?  He won’t suddenly show up in your life and tell you that you are doing wrong, will He?  So yes, you can have your house of God if you want, but it is not really God’s house in any specific, definite way, they say.

There is a little truth here.  The Lord should not be able to be contained.  Old Testament prophets rightly mocked idol worshipers who made statues out of blocks of wood and gold and silver and said, “Here is my god!” Human manufacturing does not establish the true God’s dwelling place.  We cannot make Him live where we want Him to.

Were some Israelites thinking this way when Solomon’s Temple was nearing completion?  Perhaps.  If there were, then imagine their shock when the events of our Old Testament Reading unfold.

The Ark of the Covenant is brought in by priests who reverently carry it by its poles.  They dare not touch the Ark because the Lord has instructed them not to.  On at least one occasion, He has struck dead a man who touched the Ark.  He struck the Philistines with severe plagues when they dared to look into the Ark.

The priests carry the Ark by its poles to the Most Holy Place, also called the Holy of Holies.  They place it under the wings of the massive golden cherubim.  Then they draw the curtain, so that the Ark is hidden from view, with only a couple of poles poking out from the curtain.  And nobody would see that Ark again except the high priest, once a year, on the Day of Atonement.  It would remain hidden for centuries.

The opening proceedings, including priestly services and Solomon’s dedication prayer, were scheduled to come next.  But the Lord God of Israel interrupts and distracts everything by showing up in glory.  A bright cloud fills the Temple, so that the majestic presence of God makes the priests unable to go in and do their services.  They could not do the liturgy, it says in the Greek version of this text.

Imagine God’s glory overshadowing this sanctuary so that I and everyone here are forced to discontinue the Divine Service.  Why doesn’t He?  He did it then.  He is also surely here in our Service.  But He does not manifest Himself that way.

He did it once to make a point.  We may miss the point, but He does not repeat it for every thick head that does not grasp His divine works.  We get it or we don’t.

So what is the point?  God cannot be contained in a small space.  He cannot be bound to a house.  But He can voluntarily bind Himself to a location.  He does not cease to fill all things.  Yet He does make Himself more present, if you will.  He makes Himself more present for our salvation.

God promised that He would dwell in a house made by Solomon, the son of David.  He would dwell there for the sake of Israel and their forgiveness.

Forgiveness in the Old Testament covenant included blood sacrifices, particularly the Day of Atonement, when all of Israel’s sins were propitiated by blood.  Propitiation means that wrath is satisfied by a payment that is made.  The cover of the Ark was called the mercy seat, or the place of propitiation.  On the Day of Atonement, lamb’s blood was sprinkled on the golden cover of the Ark so that God would see the blood and not be angry at Israel’s sin.

Of course, this all requires faith.  If the empty rituals were done without actually trusting God’s promises, then God’s wrath would remain.  When Israel went astray and worshiped false gods and performed all kinds of unrighteous acts without repentance, then all the lambs in the world would not atone for their sins.  Or to say it even better, the lamb atoned for their sins, but they refused to receive the gift because of their lack of faith.

King Solomon, the Son of David, says to the Lord, “I have surely built You an exalted house for you to dwell in forever.” Indeed, God came and lived among Israel so that He could forgive their sins, even though many rejected Him.

Let us not miss the greater point of the glory of God.  It is easier for us to see it in our privileged point of time much later in history.

“Privileged point of time!” you might think.  “Don’t you watch the news, Pastor?  Don’t you see the mess out there?” Of course.  But I would not trade it in and lose the overwhelming blessing of seeing Christ and Him crucified clearly displayed for our eyes.

Christ is the meaning of Scripture.  He is the greater reality of the Temple, and the greater reality of the glory of God.

When the Temple was filled with the glory of God, we can remember that the entire fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ Jesus.  We can remember that Christ said that His body is the Temple.

When Solomon says that he was building a house for God, we can remember that from his descendants Christ was born.  The most majestic House of God, even more wondrously beautiful than the amazing Temple built by Solomon, is the Child born of the Blessed Virgin.  The true and ultimate Son of David is Christ.

Someone may object, “But the glory of God did not shine out from Christ!” It did on the Mount of Transfiguration, so that Saints Peter, James, and John could see, radiating from the Lord, the same glory that shone from the Temple of Solomon.  But ordinarily, yes, Christ concealed the glory.  He kept it hidden because He did not come to dazzle and overwhelm humans.

The glory, after all, is not simply a bright light.  God used the light to show us thick heads what His glory is.  It is not the big and beautiful house all by itself.  It is what He did there, and what He planned to do in the House which was His human flesh, born of Mary.  His glory is forgiveness, bought with Blood.  His glory is keeping His promises to David, that his Son would sit on an eternal throne, a throne purchased with His own suffering.  God’s glory is His forgiveness in Christ and Him crucified.

But whereas the priests could not approach the glorious cloud, Christ made Himself approachable for us.  Whereas the curtain hid the Ark of the Covenant where atonement was made, Christ gave His Body into death, and the curtain was torn, and atonement was completed and fulfilled so that no lamb ever had to bleed and die again.  The Son of David bled and died, and it is enough forever.

Over the past year we have seen riots.  We have seen disease run through our country.  We are troubled by many events and many fears.  Much more that will appall us is perhaps yet to come.

Yet the Lord opens our lips to confess, “The whole earth is full of His glory.” That is what the seraphim say, under whose wings His throne is.  “How can the earth be full of His glory when it looks like THIS?” we ask.  Because the Lord of glory fills all things for the sake of His Church, and because this same majestic King gives sinners His grace.  In spite of all the chaos and destruction that sinful man can create, including us, the Lord has made propitiation for our sins.  Although many will reject it, He has covered all the world’s sins with His Blood.  THAT is what God considers glory.  And He is always right.

Let us repent of our sinfulness.  We have been rebellious in our transgressions and iniquities.  Let us not say, “Oh, those OTHER people have been rotten sinners, not us.” No, we have been as unworthy to receive Him as anyone.  We should not be able to enter His presence any more than the priests who were forced to stay outside the Temple.  As our Lord tenderly invites us to draw near, we have not deserved it.  In humility, let us receive His glory as He shines forth His mercy upon us.

In His Name and to His glory.  Amen.

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