We often view the "good life" as the "significant life." We want to prove to ourselves and to others that our life counts for something, but this week through a close reading of 2 Samuel 7, we discover we simply cannot find the “good life” without grace.

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    I would like to suggest a unique feature of living in a secular age that perhaps you have not thought of before that might help explain why so many of us approach life the way that we do. I could put it like this: If there is no "here-after," then we desperately seek to find some kind of eternal life "here and now." I think that's why so many are desirous of finding fame. Increasingly within our society, we find people becoming famous for being famous. Barbara Walters, back in 2011, interviewed a number of people who fell in this category, and she said, 

    “You are all often described as 'famous for being famous'. You don't really act; you don't sing; you don't dance. You don't have any—forgive me—any talent.”

    To which they, of course, responded by saying, “Actually, it takes quite a bit of talent to become famous for doing nothing.” But here is the point: If you're not sure that there is a God, or if there is anything beyond the world that we can see and that we can touch, if this is all there is and you only have one life to live, then you have to find whatever meaning, whatever value, whatever purpose you can in what this world alone has to offer. 

    That's why so many think that they have to do everything they can to prove that they are significant, that they are important, that they matter, that their life counts for something. I would suggest that explains why so many of us are so driven and ambitious. We want to make a name for ourselves, and we don't necessarily care what sacrifices we have to make or who gets hurt along the way. This might also explain why we are plagued with envy, probably more so than in previous generations. We simply find it very difficult to celebrate the successes of others because another person's success seems to point to the inadequacy of my own life. For many of us, the thing that we fear the most is being insignificant. 

    We are engaged in a series in which we are focused on the question: What is the good life? But I would suggest that for many of us, as modern people, we tend to view ”the good life” as merely ”a significant life.” We're attempting to discover a deeper, richer understanding of the good life through a close reading of the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel. What we see here is that we simply cannot find the good life without grace. There is no good life without grace. 

    In the passage that is before us, we get a glimpse into David's own ambition and God's response. David wants to do a great thing. He wants to build a house for the Lord. He wants to build a temple for God, but God says, “No.” At first glance, this might seem like a somewhat trivial or inconsequential episode in the life of David. But I would argue that this might be the high watermark in 1 and 2 Samuel. In fact, this might be the most important chapter in the entire Old Testament, and let me show you why. As we turn to 2 Samuel 7, I'd like us to consider what it tells us about God's house, David's house and yours. Let me invite you to open up a Bible to 2 Samuel 7. I'll be reading verses 1-17. 

    1Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” 3And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”

    4But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. 7In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ 

    8Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” 

    17In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

    This is God's word. It's trustworthy and it's true and it's given to us in love. 

    God’s House

    At this point in the story, David can finally rest. Several decades have now passed since the Lord took him from the pasture from following the sheep in order to make him prince over his people, Israel. Goliath has been defeated. David has put down all the opposition. He has united the southern and the northern tribes of Israel. He has set up a new capital. He has brought up the Ark of the Covenant out of storage, and he has brought it to Jerusalem, which will be the seat not only of his throne, but of God’s throne. This will be the place not only where David rules, but where God will be worshiped. 

    Finally, after all those years, David can finally relax. As he does, he starts thinking about the fact that he is quite comfortable. He's living in a luxurious house with paneled walls made out of fine cedar. He realizes that by contrast, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where God said that he would dwell in the midst of his people, is being kept in a tent. It suddenly dawns on him that he is housed better than God. He has reached a standard of living that is higher than God himself. He understandably wants to do something for God. He begins to think that he can do God a favor. He has a nice home. Why shouldn't God have a nice home, too? So he lands on the idea that he is going to build a house, a permanent home, for God. 

    At first, when David shares this thinking with Nathan the prophet, Nathan approves of the plan. I understand that initial enthusiasm. Let me give you a little window into the soul of a pastor like Nathan. I've often said that pastors are a little bit like horses. They spook easily. In the same way that you shouldn't startle a horse, don't startle a pastor! Why are pastors spooked easily? Because we often wonder when the next shoe is going to fall. Many people come to pastors like Nathan, trying to enlist their help in order to get something from God for themselves. That's why it often comes as a breath of fresh air when someone comes to a pastor like Nathan not looking to enlist their help to get something from God for themselves, but to give of themselves to God

    At first, Nathan says in verse 3, “‘Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.’” How could he not be? But here's another important lesson: Even great prophets and pastors like Nathan, get it wrong sometimes. Your pastor may sometimes get it wrong. That very same night the Word of the Lord came to Nathan in a vision. He says, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘when did I ever ask you to build a house for me? Ever since I brought my people out of their bondage in Egypt, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where I will dwell, has lived in a tent. And that's been good enough for me.’” 

    It might have sounded like a good plan at first, but perhaps God detects a little self-assertion on the part of David behind this little scheme. Are you really doing this for me in order to make my name great or are you really doing this for you in order to make your name great? That, of course, is the question that we all need to ask ourselves—whether we're building a school, or building a hospital, or building a company, or building a brand, or building a church, or building a ministry—am I doing it for God to make his name great or am I really doing it for me in order to make my name great? Why do I do the things I do? Do I do it in order to demonstrate my gratitude to God or am I just trying to get leverage over God? Do I do it in order to show my love to God or am I just trying to prove myself

    This is what separates Christianity from every other religion. A religious person will repent, renounce, the bad things that they do. But only a Christian will repent not only of the bad things that they do, but even the good things that they do for all the wrong reasons. That's why in an old hymn, it's put like this,

    “Cast your deadly ‘doing’ [those things we do for all the wrong reasons,] down-

    Down at Jesus' feet;

    Stand in Him, in Him alone,

    Gloriously complete.”

    This passage is a cautionary tale for us when we venture to do something for God, seemingly for all the right reasons, but at the core, it might really be merely for ourselves. That's consistent with the rest of the Scriptures. Psalm 127, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Or Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

    David’s House

    Nathan delivers the message to David. He is not allowed to build a temple for the Lord. I wonder if you have someone like Nathan in your life. Nathan stops David dead in his tracks with godly guidance, which just goes to show that even the best of intentions can get you into a heap of trouble sometimes if you run out in front of God, rather than following after him. Nathan is willing to speak the truth in love. He is willing to deliver that hard news: God is revoking the building permit. 

    But nothing could have prepared David for what happens next. God says to David, “You are not going to build a house for me, but I am going to make a house of you.” There is an intricate play on words taking place throughout this passage, which centers around the word “house.” It's just one word in Hebrew. And yet that one word is used in a variety of different ways, and that word means a variety of different things depending on the context. David is resting in a lavish house, meaning a palace, and therefore he decides that he's going to build a house for the Lord, meaning a temple. But then check out verse 11. God declares that he will establish a house, meaning a dynasty for David. “You want to build a house, a temple, for me? I'm going to make a dynasty out of you, the house of David.” 

    God makes an unconditional promise to David. It is not because of any merit on David's part. It is out of sheer grace, and nothing, not even David's deepest, darkest sin will ever be able to cancel it. That's how God works with all of us. He relates to us, not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of grace. Like David, we might want to go out there and do something great for God. We say, “I'm going to go build a house for God.” That way we can prove our worth to God or win the respect and the admiration of others, but God says, “No. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. My grace always precedes your work.” God always makes the first move. God always takes the initiative. Our life is simply a response to his love. His grace comes first. 

    God showers his love upon us not because of what we have done or what we will do or because of what potential he may or may not see within us. No, he simply loves us because he loves us, because he loves us. It is grace all the way down. That is actually what gives us absolute utter security. If you did not do anything to win God's love, there's nothing that you could ever do to lose it either. Grace means that there's nothing that you could ever do to make God love you more, and there's nothing that you could ever do to make God love you less. His love for you is fixed. It's perfect. It's infinite. It cannot fluctuate or change. That's what enables you to go out into the world in strength. That's the difference between Christianity and every other religion. Religion says, “Obey, and you will be accepted.” But Christianity says, “You are accepted, despite all your faults and failures in and through Jesus Christ, and now obey, not in order to try to win God's love because you already have it, not out of obligation, but out of gratitude. This is how God always works. 

    Think about the order of events in the original Exodus story. Think about what God could have done. God could have gone to his people while they were living in bondage in Egypt, and given them the law right then and there. He could have given them the Ten Commandments and said, “If you follow the law, if you keep these Ten Commandments perfectly, if you make yourself acceptable to me, if you prove yourself to me, then maybe, if you're lucky, I'll rescue you.” But that’s not what God does. He rescues his people first. And when he delivers them from their bondage, then he gives them the law, then he gives them the Ten Commandments, then he shows them how to live their lives in response to his love. It's not law, then grace. It's grace, then gratitude. That's what happens here with David. God doesn't say, “If you build a house, a temple for me, then I will transform you into a dynasty, the house of David.” No! He says, “I will make you a dynasty, and then your son will build a house for me out of gratitude." Grace, then gratitude. 

    I would suggest that grace is the most powerful force in the world. And yet, at the very same time, it is the most difficult thing in the world for us to accept because grace says that there's nothing that you can do to make yourself acceptable. You cannot lift a finger to save yourself. That is why grace is an affront. It's an affront to our pride and our self-sufficiency. I recall a conversation that I had with a college student years ago. She told me, “I hate grace. I hate the very concept of grace because I want God to love me for me. I want God to love me for the things I do for him because then I know what I'm worth. Then I know that I'm valuable.” I tried to help her see that grace is far better. Consider the words of Victor Hugo, the person who wrote Les Misérables. He says,

    “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved—loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”

    That's grace. A common definition of grace is “unmerited favor.” The grace we receive, the favor we receive is something that we do not deserve. That's good, but that doesn't go quite far enough because grace is not merely unmerited favor, grace is demerited favor. The love that you are shown in and through Jesus Christ is the exact opposite of what you deserve. God's love is not conditional. He doesn't love you because of who you are or what you do. But his love is even better than unconditional love. He doesn't merely love you as you are. No, in Jesus Christ, his love is contra-conditional. He loves you despite who you are, despite what you've done. That is what changes everything. 

    That's why the Pastor Jack Miller used to say, “Cheer up! You're worse than you think.” You might wonder, “Why would that be good news?” Because without even losing a breath, he would go on to say, “Cheer up! You're worse than you think, but in Jesus Christ, you are more loved than you could ever imagine.” That is the gospel of free grace. This is how God works. 

    God tells David, “You're not going to build a house for me. I'm going to make a house of you.” What God is doing here is establishing his covenant with David. You've heard me say before that a covenant is a relationship based on promises. We're all familiar with the idea that God might serve as a witness to an agreement between two people. That's why we would say, “as God is my witness,” or “I swear to God, I will do such and such.” God could serve as a witness to an agreement between human beings. No one, though ancient, or modern, was ever expecting the God of the universe to enter into a covenant with human beings himself. And yet, that's what God has done. God makes a covenant with Abraham. He expands it under Moses. And now he lifts it to new heights with David. The original promise to Abraham was that God would make him a great name, that he would give him a land—a place to live—and that Abraham's descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. 

    Now God doubles down on those promises. He tells David that he will give him a great name, that he will give David's people a place to live. And then he goes on to say that “your offspring, your descendants, will form a dynasty that I will create, the house of David.” Beginning in verse 12, he says, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name.” 1 Chronicles 22, sheds a little more light on the situation. David is not allowed to build a house for the Lord. Why? Because he had waged too many wars. He had shed too much blood. David's reign was filled with conflict. But one of his descendants will be a man of rest, a king of peace. And God declares that he is the one who will build a house for me. In other words, Solomon, David's son, will be the one who builds God's house. That's sure enough what he does. He builds the temple. Beginning in verse 14, God says, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him…but my steadfast love will not depart from him.” In Hebrew that's one word: “steadfast love,” "covenant faithfulness." That is the love that stands behind God's covenant, his promise. It's his grace. And the throne shall never depart from the house of David as it did depart from the house of Saul. 

    Your House

    God promises to build a house of David, to turn the house of David into a dynasty, and David's son, in gratitude, will be the one who builds a house for the Lord. The Lord's work of grace always precedes our work. You might say, “Thank you very much for the history lesson. What does this have to do with me?” My answer is: Everything. Absolutely everything and that is what makes this chapter perhaps the most important one in the entire Old Testament. 

    This passage shows us that God isn't just building a house for David, he's building a kingdom for you. The passage provides us with a primer on how to read the Bible, and how to read the Old Testament, in particular. The Word of God carries multiple layers of meaning. As we read the Scriptures, we have to look for both the near interpretation as well as the far interpretation. 

    What's the near interpretation? David's son, Solomon, will be the one who becomes king and builds a temple for the Lord. But that cannot be the only interpretation because God's promises here are far too extravagant to be completely fulfilled by the coming of Solomon. There has to be an even greater fulfillment. And therefore we have to look not only for that near interpretation, but also the far interpretation. Look at verse 12, God says, “I will establish his kingdom.” Then listen to what he goes on to say in verse 13, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” Or verse 16, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”

    All you have to do is keep reading the Bible, and you know that the house of David eventually comes crashing down. The kingdom is plagued by civil war. It splits into two, and centuries later, the Babylonians conquer David's kingdom. They destroy Jerusalem. They set fire to the temple that Solomon builds. And the last kings in the line of David are carried away into exile. And yet, centuries before that ever happened, the prophet Isaiah promised that one day a child will be born. One day a son will be given, and he will establish and uphold the throne of David with justice and righteousness forever. 

    Solomon could not be an everlasting king because he was a mere mortal. The promise made to David here, that he will establish his throne forever, points us forward to Christ, the true son of God, who knows God as Father and who is called Son. That is why when Jesus arrives on the scene, he is repeatedly referred to as what? —The son of David. And he establishes his public ministry by proclaiming what? Get ready. The time is fulfilled. The moment has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news. When Jesus establishes the kingdom of God, he says that he will build a temple. He will build a house for the Lord, but not a temple made out of human hands. No, he will make his people and the entire earth one day the house where God will dwell in the midst of his people. And the moment that you and I put our faith in Jesus, we both individually and corporately become a temple of the Holy Spirit. God makes his home within us. Jesus is the true king who establishes that house.

    We don't build a house for God. No, he builds a kingdom for us. After becoming a Christian, like David, we might think, “God has done so much for me. I want to do something for him.” As a result, we might start talking about bringing the kingdom, building the kingdom, advancing the kingdom, expanding the kingdom. Have you used those expressions before? Have you heard other Christians use them? It's a lovely thought. It's a fine sentiment. It's a good idea. But as we've seen, the best of intentions can get us in a heap of trouble because bringing the kingdom is precisely the one thing that we can't do. 

    If you read the New Testament a little bit more closely, you'll realize that we're never told to bring the kingdom, to build the kingdom, to advance the kingdom, or to expand the kingdom. What are we called to do? We're called to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. We’re called to proclaim the good news of the kingdom, to testify to the kingdom, to inherit the kingdom. How do you inherit the kingdom? The kingdom is not something that you achieve through your own effort. It is something you receive. It is a gift of grace. We don't build the kingdom of God. We cannot create the new Jerusalem. Revelation tells us that the New Jerusalem will come down to us as a gift. We can't create it. All we can do is seek it. We seek the city that is to come. We're never told to build the kingdom because only Jesus can do that. 

    But that doesn't mean that we're supposed to sit back and await the coming of the kingdom in its fullness, in a passive way, as we just twiddle our thumbs. No, there is something that we're supposed to do, but what is it? I like the way that N.T. Wright puts it. He says that we cannot build the kingdom of God, but we can and we must build for the kingdom of God. He writes,

    “The final coming together of heaven and earth is, of course, God’s supreme act of new creation, for which the only real prototype—other than the first creation itself—was the resurrection of Jesus. God alone will sum up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. He alone will make the ‘new heavens and new earth.’ It would be the height of folly to think that we could assist in that great work.

    But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom…You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. 

    Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. That is the logic of the mission of God.”

    The kingdom of God is here. It is at hand. Jesus has told us that it is present now. It is confronting us as a present reality because the kingdom, the kingship of God, is present in King Jesus. The question then is: How do we get in on it? How do we enter the kingdom? How do we become a part of it? It is a kingdom of grace, which means that there is nothing that you could ever do to make yourself acceptable to this kingdom. You can't lift a finger to save yourself. This kingdom cannot be achieved. It can only be received. You cannot win it. You can only receive it. 

    That's why Jesus said, “‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’” He went on to say that only those who receive the kingdom like a child will ever enter it. How does a child receive the kingdom? With empty hands. Our faith does not add or contribute anything to our rescue. Faith is simply empty hands, which receives what Jesus gives. And what Jesus gives us is himself. Wherever Jesus is, there is the kingdom. 

    A number of years ago, there was a student who got involved in our ministry because she was invited by friends, and she heard me deliver many sermons like this. After a while it finally sunk in and clicked. I remember we met and she told me that she had grown up in the church, but it was a church that offered religion rather than the free gospel of grace. And she said, “If this is actually the heart of Christianity, if this is the core of the gospel message: not "law, then grace," but "grace, then gratitude," why didn't anyone ever tell me this before?” I remember saying, “I don't know, but I have dedicated my life to making sure that you and others hear it now.” If the message has sunk in, if you understand what it means to be a Christian, that you repent and believe, you believe the good news that Jesus really is God's promised king and you repent—then that means that you renounce not only the bad things that you've done, but you also renounce the good things that you've done for all the wrong reasons. “Cast your deadly "doing" down—down at Jesus' feet; stand in Him, in Him alone. Gloriously complete.” There's nothing that you need to add or contribute to his rescue. It is gloriously complete through his finished work on the cross. She had never prayed out loud before, but I asked her that if she wanted to commit herself to Jesus. She could offer a very simple prayer. And she did. She only prayed three words. “Jesus, thank you.” That's exactly right. Grace, then gratitude. 

    Let me pray for us. 

    Father, we acknowledge that far too much of the time, we might say that we're doing something for you in order to make your name great, but we're really just doing it for ourselves to make our name great. We pray that you would help us to receive this gospel of grace that you love us because you love us, because you love us, and that through your love we receive the ultimate kingdom that you have promised in and through your Son who was building us into a house where you will dwell forever. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.