Monday, June 2, 2014

"But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God!"

Day #157:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - June 3rd

Scripture Reading:  I Kings 5 - 9 …

For most people today "religion" is a matter of what you DO.  People "practice" their particular choice of religions.  Spirituality is viewed as a smorgasbord from which you may choose that which appeals to YOU.  It is YOUR choice and no one can or should make it for you.  It is an individual preference.  So most people today believe … but it has never been so, from the beginning.  God created mankind to worship HIM and any other worship is idolatry and will be punished with everlasting judgment.  "Religion" is a matter of the heart and it is only when your heart has been moved by God Himself to believe in Him, to trust Him, to live for Him, that you will find that devotion to the One true God, our Creator, trumps everything else in importance in your life.

As you read through the record of the kings of Israel, you will find over and over again the contrast between those whose hearts are committed to God and those whose hearts were committed to other things, and even other gods.  David had been "a man after God's own heart," yet he, too, had at times strayed from God's Word.  Now Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, became King of Israel and set his heart to building God's temple.  For seven years the people worked on the temple.  Solomon considered the temple site a holy place so "no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built" (I Kings 6:7).

When the temple and all of the interior was finished, Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant and the priests took it into the Most Holy Place.  Then, once again, as He had done with the tabernacle, God showed that He was present as a cloud covered the temple.  With all of Israel in assembly, Solomon blessed the people and then offered the prayer of dedication that is recorded for us in Chapter 8.  Notice that the focus of the prayer is on God … that this is HIS temple, that it existed for HIS glory and that HIS presence was needed in order to receive His forgiveness and His blessing.  Many then and now get all caught up in religious rituals and exercises, and God certainly outlined the sacrifices and ceremonies and everything connected to the temple … but all of that was to point them to their NEED for forgiveness and their NEED for a Savior!!

Listen to some of the testimony of Solomon as he prays:  "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth below … with Your mouth You have promised and with Your hand You have fulfilled it - at it is today" (8:23-24).  "But will God really dwell on earth?  The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You.  How much less this temple I have built!  Yet give attention to Your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God" (8:27-28).

Solomon was perhaps the greatest king ever with respect to his reign over Israel, yet here he was pleading for mercy and forgiveness for himself and the people he was governing.  He prayed, "May Your eyes be open toward this temple night and day" (8:29).  He knew that God in all of His glory and fullness was not contained in the temple.  Like his father, David, Solomon spoke of heaven as the dwelling-place of God, so he prays repeatedly:  "Hear from heaven, Your dwelling-place, and when You hear, forgive!"  (8:30 and other verses).  Forgiveness was required to draw near to God and Solomon apparently knew and believed that it was only God's mercy that would move Him to forgive, for no one is worthy to stand before HIM!

Such humility seems rare today, and yet God has His people all over the world who humbly bow before Him and seek His forgiveness through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  The uniqueness of true biblical Christianity is found in the cross and in God's willingness to forgive those who draw near to Him through faith in Jesus, trusting not in our own goodness, but in the perfect sacrifice and righteousness of Christ.  Solomon believed that God had chosen Israel as a people and that in spite of their sin and failures, God would keep His promises:  "For You singled them out from all the nations of the world to be Your own inheritance" (8:53).

Then, like Joshua before him, Solomon testified, "Not one word has failed of all the good promises He gave through His servant Moses.  May the LORD our God be with us as He was with our fathers; may He never leave us nor forsake us.  May He turn our hearts to Him …"  (8:56-58).  Solomon's desire was that "all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other!" (8:60).  And for that to happen, he said to the people, "Your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God!" (8:61).

As I read these chapters again I am overwhelmed by the truth that THIS God, the ONE TRUE GOD, the God who chose Abraham and made out of him a great nation through his son, Isaac, and his son, Jacob … THIS God is MY God!  As He revealed Himself in the days of Solomon through His temple and later through the prophets, so in the fulness of time He revealed Himself through Jesus in order to gather for Himself a people from all the nations.  The writer of Hebrews writes:

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful Word!" (Hebrews 1:1-3).

We may be amazed at what God did to reveal Himself in the days of Solomon, but we have even MORE knowledge of God and of His plan of salvation.  Solomon could not have known that God would send His Son to become man to be the perfect sacrifice who would die on the cross to bear God's wrath against sin.  How blessed are we to know these things??  Peter writes that "even angels long to look into these things!" (I Peter 1:12) … "but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit" (I Corinthians 2:10).

God appeared to Solomon again and warned him about worshiping other gods and what would happen if he or the people of Israel turned away from Him … if their hearts were not fully committed to the LORD, their God.  These things eventually happened to the nation and they were ruled by foreign nations for several hundred years before Jesus, the Messiah, was born.  All of this was part of God's plan to send the Gospel of Jesus Christ into all the world and this mission is nearing its completion.

The Old Testament forms the foundation for all that comes after it and all God was saying and doing then teaches us today that we, too, need God's mercy and that it is only by grace through faith in Jesus, the "Seed of Abraham," the "Son of David" that we can approach God in His temple, seeking His forgiveness and knowing that our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west.  Though we still give in to temptation at times, the heart of every true believer is committed to God, for we know that there are no other gods before Him and we love Him "because He first loved us!"  We want all the world to know that HE alone is God, and that one day He WILL dwell on a new earth with all who know Him and worship Him!

Pray continually that God would guide You by His Spirit to set your heart fully on Him.  When you do, the things of this world become less and less attractive until HE is all you desire.  Then one day, in heaven itself, and ultimately in the new heavens and the new earth, we will join with the angels and the saints who have gone before us in endless worship, praise and service, to the glory of OUR God!!

"My Father in heaven, You have shown mercy to me and have chosen me to be one of Your children.  By Your Spirit You have given me a new heart so that I may now love You and serve You with joy and peace all my days in this life, and then spend eternity with You in that place where YOU are the light and Your people give You what You alone are worthy of … true and endless praise and worship.  May I begin that even now, in this life, as I set my heart and mind on things above, where Jesus is seated at Your right hand!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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