St Michael’s and St Barnabas 16th March 2014
What do you want to thank God for this morning?
I suppose how you answer that question depends partly on your character and your circumstances. Some of us are natural-born Tiggers who will quite happily bounce around sharing reasons for praising God. Some of us tend to be rather more like Eeyore and usually see a cloud in every silver lining. So when I ask what we can thank God for, I usually find the Tiggers are eager to give as many reasons as possible, while the Eeyores perhaps struggle to think of even one or two. And that’s fine. God has made us all different, and it would be disastrous if the church was made up entirely of Tiggers or Eeyores.
Of course you may be here this morning with a particular answer to prayer, and so whatever your character, you are just grateful that God has blessed you. On the other hand, you may have had a particularly difficult week, and the whole idea of giving thanks is rather a painful subject right now. And again, that’s just how life is. As a church we are called to Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15) and each week we will always find in our midst those who are rejoicing and those who are mourning. It’s one reason why we have moved straight on from last week’s rather heavy subject of praying for others, to today’s topic of giving thanks. In most churches most of the time both will be happening side by side.
But I don’t want to give the impression that we can either pray or we can give thanks, as if there were some kind of choice between the two. Indeed, this morning I want to show that whatever we’re like, and whatever we’re facing, there are reasons why all of us can give thanks to God today. So without any further ado, let’s turn to our reading from 2 Samuel and see what we can learn from David’s great prayer of thanksgiving at the end of chapter 7.
Now when David prayed this prayer he was, as they say, in a good place in his life. After a brief civil war, he had been anointed as king over all Israel. He had captured Jerusalem and made it the new capital city of the country. He had defeated the pesky Philistines who had been attacking for many a long year. He and his people were at last enjoying a period of peace and calm, and the prospects for the next few years were looking fine.
But the thing you need to know about King David is that he hadn’t always been a king. In fact he wasn’t born with any particular privileges at all. He was the son of a man called Jesse in a certain town called Bethlehem. His first job involved spending time out in the fields looking after sheep. And being the youngest of seven, there didn’t seem much likelihood his life would ever change. When you have six older brothers, the chances are, they are the ones who are more likely to get on in life and leave you minding your father’s business back home.
But God had other ideas. If you were to read 1 Samuel 16, you will see how the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint David as king, because, quite frankly, the old king was no good. It’s quite a remarkable story – how a farmer’s boy and shepherd ended up as one of the greatest, if not the greatest ever king of Israel – the sort of rags to riches story that today would be turned into a bestseller or a full length feature film.
So it’s not surprising that as David begins to give thanks he asks: Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? He is completely overwhelmed by the grace and mercy of God and all he can do is rejoice at the marvellous and wonderful purposes of God at work in his life.
Of course, you may well be saying, I grew up unknown to the wider world and I’m still not exactly famous today. It may be all very well for David, but why should I give thanks for the purposes of God in my life?
Well, just because David was chosen to be lead the people of Israel, that didn’t mean his life became easier. Do you remember how I said just now that David was anointed king, because the old one was no good? That was true, but as you can imagine the old king – king Saul – wasn’t exactly pleased there was a new king on the block. In fact for several years David was forced to live as an outlaw, on the run, in constant danger for his life.
But even when he was at his lowest, he never lost sight of the fact God still cared for him and was still there to lead and to guide him. At one point he was hiding in the back of a cave with Saul and his army almost upon him. Yet even then he never stopped trusting God. Psalm 142 – which David apparently wrote right there and then – contains these remarkable words: When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. David always believed, always trusted, in the good times and the bad, because he knew that God’s mercy and grace were always available to Him.
So this morning, whether you are in a good place, or perhaps feel a little bit as if you are trapped at the back of a cave, I believe David’s example reminds us that whatever we are going through we can still give thanks for the purposes of God in our lives.
David gives thanks for the purposes of God.
Secondly, David gives thanks for the promises of God.
Let’s go back for a moment to the beginning of chapter. Here is David settled in his newly built palace. He is at long last enjoying a period of peace, and everything seems to be going so well. But at the same time, he is aware that the ark of the Lord is still housed in the same tent that was made for it way back when and it doesn’t seem right that he has a palace while the ark only has a tent. So quite naturally he begins to think about building some kind of permanent structure, a place which would be a fitting dwelling place for the Lord, as well as a place of worship for the whole nation.
Fortunately, David decides to consult before embarking on his big idea. And it’s just as well that he does, because the prophet Nathan receives a message from the Lord to tell him he isn’t going to be the one building the temple. Listen to what Nathan says in 2 Sam 7:12-13: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
That’s some promise, isn’t it!? After all those years of struggle and strife, there must have been times when David wondered just how secure was his throne, and whether in fact his royal line would continue. Well, the Lord not only promises that he will have offspring to succeed him, but that the Lord Himself would establish his kingdom, not just for a few generations or a few years, but permanently, and forever. What a message to receive from the Lord! To me, it’s a reminder that God can and often does do far more than we can ever ask or imagine. David was thinking about a building. God had in mind a royal kingdom that would last forever. No wonder we find David sitting before the Lord lost in adoration and wonder.
Verses 18-19: Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?
Of course, there’s a very simple answer to that last question. None of us here this morning have ever had a promise quite like the one the Lord gave David – although I would be surprised if there weren’t some people here today who aren’t living with some very specific promises that the Lord has made to them at some point in the past. But whether or not the Lord has promised something to you, please don’t think these verses don’t apply to you.
Because I just want to think for a moment about how the Lord’s promises to David actually came to pass. The Lord promised David offspring, a son whose kingdom would last forever. So the big question from this point on in the Bible is this: who is the Son of David who will have such a kingdom? For a little while, it looks like it might be David’s actual son, Solomon. But no, in his old age he is led astray by his many wives and because of his sin, the kingdom of Israel is divided. And most of the kings that follow aren’t that much better – in fact quite a lot of them are a whole lot worse. Indeed the history of Israel in the Old Testament ends up with the king taken into exile and the kingdom of Israel occupied by foreign power.
So what about God’s promise to Israel? Did God’s promise somehow fail? Or was it somehow wishful thinking on Nathan’s part? Well, let’s turn on into the New Testament. Who do find in the New Testament who is called the Son of David? Does anyone know? That’s right – it’s Jesus. And what about His kingdom? Is it an earthly kingdom that one day will be swept away by the forces of history? No, it’s an eternal kingdom, the kingdom of God. And for those of you who were here a couple of weeks ago, what is the temple that Jesus is building even today? That’s right – it’s the church. You and you and you and me are all part of the spiritual temple that God is building in His kingdom, and each one of us are a key building block in the structure.
That’s why – whoever you are, whatever situation you’re in this morning – all of us can one way or another give thanks for the promises of God because of all them have been met in Jesus Christ. We have a king over us who reigns forever and His name is Jesus. His kingdom is a kingdom of justice, mercy and peace. And through Jesus we can enter into the holy presence of God Himself, knowing that in Jesus’ name, God, the Sovereign Lord, will hear and answer our prayers. If you want any proof of what I’m saying, just read the New Testament where you’ll find verse after verse backing up my message. And please don’t think God’s promises are just for other people. These promises are for you to claim, to own and to believe. So for before I go any further, can I just ask: have you claimed the promises of God for yourself?
David gives thanks for the purposes of God as he looks back over his life.
He gives thanks for the promises of God and looks forward to the coming of Jesus.
And finally, he gives thanks for the people of God and all God has done for them.
There is no doubt – the story of the people of God is truly remarkable. As David himself says in verse 23: And who is like your people Israel – the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt?
Now you’ll be relieved I am not at this stage of the sermon about to launch into a full-blown account of the history of Israel. Rather, all I want to do is make the point that the history of the church today is equally remarkable. So can I just ask: how many people have recently, say in the past year, read a book or an article about what God is doing in another country?
That’s quite an interesting result. When I was growing up – in the days before the worldwide web – I used to devour stories about churches overseas. I still remember reading, for example, about Father Jerzy Popiełuszko who stood alongside the Solidarity movement in the Poland in the early 1980s and was murdered by the secret police, or Archbishop Janani Luwum who confronted Idi Amin in Uganda and was martyred for the gospel. Or again I remember reading about the church in China. It was thought the church would die out once the Communists came to power in the 1940s. In fact a huge movement of the Spirit began that continues to this day, and now up to a tenth of all Chinese people are Christians.
We ought to know what God is doing in the wider world because it helps to give us a bigger picture of how the Lord is at work, and indeed a bigger picture of the Lord Himself. If we only thank God for what He is doing in our own lives, then we can so often end up with such a limited understanding of all that He can achieve. We here at St Michael’s (bzw. St Barnabas) are only a small part of much, much wider movement that reaches to every continent and includes millions upon millions of people, and which in spite of everything is still growing, because, no matter how it seems to us, the Lord still reigns, and always will.
So to sum up: This morning I have wanted to show that there really is so much we can thank God for – no matter who we are, no matter what we are going through. Of course I realise that some of us – particularly those of us who are more like Eeyore – are perhaps still wondering why thanksgiving is so important. My answer would quite simply be that, when we stop and realise who God is, then it will change the way we pray.
Does God care for me? Yes, He does and His purposes are secure in every season of life.
Does God keep His promises? Yes, He does and His promises have all been met in Jesus.
Is God in control? Yes, He is – just look what He’s doing among His people today.
So I don’t know about you, but those seem to me like three pretty good reasons to pray…