The Place of Holy Habitation

N T Wright’s work on the Kingdom of God, and lately his book Simply Jesus, has given me a fresh look at the Temple. Wright’s view on “heaven” and “earth” have stirred up my thinking and I’m still processing the whole idea he keeps putting out in his writing.

The separation of “heaven” and “earth” is not a matter of how we think of “up” and “down.” (Like, “UP in heaven,” or “DOWN here on earth.”) It’s about two halves of the same “fruit” so to speak. The reign of the King is from his throne in heaven, but that doesn’t mean he is completely separate.

For Israel, the obvious meeting place was the tabernacle, then the temple. This was the sacred space where heaven and earth would join and in that place the King would come right into the presence of his people.

The dedication of the temple in 1 Kings 8 is magnificent. It is the coming of Yahweh to a holy habitation built for him, but by his instruction. David had wanted to build the temple earlier, but God would not allow it. The temple would be on his terms, not their terms.

Solomon knows that while this is as extravagant as he can make it, it is not even close to the glory Yahweh contains. Yet, the invitation is given: “Please come and take your rest here.”

 

David and the Temple

In 2 Samuel 7 David wanted to build the Lord a temple. He was living in a nice place, so he wanted to give God a worthy temple. You know, like every other god of every other nation. 

But Yahweh isn’t like every other God. He refused David’s request. He promised to allow David’s successor the opportunity, but he makes it clear all along this was not his request. God didn’t need the shrine.

In refusing David he makes something clear that serves as a reminder: We can’t make God’s name great.

We can boast in the Lord. We can praise the name of the Lord. We can tell others of his great name. But we can’t make his name great.

God alone makes HIS name great.

To demonstrate his power, and his utter lack of need for a national temple, he tells David to give up the idea, but Yahweh would instead make David’s name great. 

It is a good idea to remember WHO is God. We quite simply can NOT “do things” for God to make his name great. He doesn’t require us to make something extravagant for him so that “finally” his name is recognized. Then, in his wonderful power and mercy, he turns around and does something FOR US instead. 

This is the difference in our God. He does not demand what we need to do to “make him great.” He instead pours out his mercy and when our name is “made great,” we realize something very humbling: it’s not us. 

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

 15 They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, he threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. 16 He didn’t allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He taught them, “Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks. 18 The chief priests and legal experts heard this and tried to find a way to destroy him. They regarded him as dangerous because the whole crowd was enthralled at his teaching. (Mark 11:15-18, CEB)

We are far too easily distracted as a culture. There are too many things flying at us, screaming for our attention. The main thing of turning our attention toward God… prayer… is too easily set aside. The main thing of keeping the mission of God (not OUR “mission statements”) in front of us gets shoved to the side too easily. We create noise and motion and think it’s the same thing as serving God.

The temple leaders had created a culture of distraction. It was noise and motion but it wasn’t going anywhere. Everything was supposed to be for “worship” and “sacrifices,” but it was only weighing people down. They weren’t free. And the house of God wasn’t for all nations at that point. It was exclusively Jewish, and they were maniacal about that point.

“A house of prayer.” 

I was reflecting back to my years in high school when I really learned prayer from a couple of godly men. My pastor at the time was the greatest example. What he did, I did. He got up at 5 in the morning to pray. So did I. He paced when he prayed. So did I. He would call out boldly. So did I. He prayed the Scriptures. So did I.

The priority was prayer. There was nothing more precious than being in the place of prayer seeking the face of God.

“For all nations.”

We are to bring this good news to the world. We are to make sure this gospel isn’t so “ethnocentric” no one outside our culture can’t understand it. The great news of Jesus Christ is not shackled to one particular venue and one particular method.

But distractions come. To feel better about not praying “as much” we create motion and noise. And then we do things in such a way it makes sense to us… to make us feel good… and that’s about it. We get so easily distracted.

The call of Lent and the journey toward Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is the keep the main thing the main thing. We worship an incredible God and that news is to be shared with all nations.

This gospel isn’t to be consumed on ourselves alone. It’s too good!

I think of the great C.S. Lewis quote:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us,like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea. We are far to easily pleased.

We are so easily distracted. We are so easily pleased. There is so much more.