The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart…..

26 07 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY TWO : 1 Kings 8 v. 22 – 9 v. 9; Acts 14 v. 8 – 28; Proverbs 15 v. 11 – 20

1 KINGS
Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication – Before all the people, Solomon prayed, stood in front of the altar, hands stretched out heavenwards :
‘O God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth below…You keep Your covenant of love…
You have kept Your promise…
He asks that the promise to have a man sit on Israel’s throne as long as David’s sons walk in God’s ways be fulfilled.
Solomon acknowledges that God is too great to confine to a temple – ‘The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!’
‘May Your eyes be open towards this temple night and day, this place of which You said, ‘My Name shall be there.”
Solomon asks that God will hear the prayers of His people offered in that place; he asks that God judge, condemning the guilty and declaring the innocent when cases are brought to the altar.
Solomon asks God to hear and forgive, when Israel has fallen and turns back to God repentant, or when drought, famine or enemy attack hits because the people have turned against God, but then turn from their sin and pray to Him.
‘Forgive and act; deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of all men)’
Solomon pleads for the foreigner who has come to Israel because of God’s renown, and who turns to God in prayer ‘hear from heaven…and do whatever the foreigner asks of You, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You…’
If God’s people are away in battle, but turn towards Jerusalem and the temple to pray, Solomon asks that God hears and‘upholds their cause’.
Solomon acknowledges that no-one is sinless, but that when the sinner has a change of heart, repents and pleads, maybe whilst in captivity, when the enemy has overtaken them, when ‘they turn back to You with all their heart and soul…and pray to You…towards the city You have chosen and the temple I have built for Your name’, again Solomon asks that God hear the plea and uphold their cause, forgiving them, and restoring right relationships with their captors etc…
There’s a reminder of the special place for which God has singled out Israel.
Then Solomon turns from the altar to the people, blessing the whole assembly of Israel :
He reminds the people of God’s faithfulness – ‘not one word has failed of all the good promises He gave through His servant Moses….’
‘May the Lord our God be with us….may He turn our hearts to Him…and may these words of mine be near to the Lord day and night…’
‘Your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God…’

Solomon’s prayer of dedication pleads with God to hear and answer the prayers offered in the temple, keeping His people in His will.

The Dedication of the Temple – Solomon’s prayer is followed by the king and all Israel offering sacrifices (22,000 cattle, 120,000 sheep and goats) as a way of dedicating the temple.
The middle of the courtyard is consecrated with burnt, grain and fat offerings (because the bronze altar was not big enough to take all those offerings!!).
The festival went on for fourteen days, a real community celebration, with vast numbers of people from all over. At the end of it all, Solomon sent the people away, and they blessed the king as they went, joyfully, thanking God for all He had done for them.

The Lord Appears to Solomon – After all this building and dedicating, God appears once more to Solomon (as He had at Gibeon), and says
‘I have heard the prayer and plea you have made…I have consecrated the temple…by putting my Name there for ever. My eyes and my heart will always be there…’
God reminds Solomon of the importance of walking ‘before Me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did’, if he wants to see the royal throne established and continuing for ever.
Failure to do this would result in a turning away from God, and God will cut Israel off from the land, reject the temple. Israel will become a laughing stock, an ‘object of ridicule’. Even the temple, itself, will become a symbol of Israel’s sinfulness and turning from God, as people scoff.

ACTS
In Lystra and Derbe – In Lystra, a crippled man listens to Paul speaking. He has never walked in all his life. Paul looked directly at him and shouted, ‘Stand up on your feet’. At once the man did, and he walked off.
This act is misunderstood by the crowd, who then see Paul and Barnabas as gods themselves (they call Paul Hermes, and Barnabas Zeus!!). They fetch for the priest of Zeus, and they prepare to offer many sacrifices.
Paul and Barnabas are horrified that they are being cast in the roles of gods! They tear their clothes and run into the crowd to stop them.
‘We too are only men, mere humans like you…we are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God…’
This outpouring, though, was not quite enough, and they had to try all the harder to stop them sacrificing to / for them.
Jews from Antioch and Iconium, by now, had arrived, and were stirring opposition against Paul – they stone Paul to a point of thinking he was dead, and drag him from the city – the disciples there gather round him, and when Paul gets up, they take him back into the city – only to the next day, when they left for Derbe. 

There are patterns in these stories of encounters in Acts, where miracles occur, the apostles are misunderstood, opposition and persecution is stirred up, and the apostles move on, having established a community of believers (disciples) there…

The Return to Antioch in Syria – In Derbe, when they preach, many become believers (they ‘won a large number of disciples’). They return to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, seeking to strengthen the disciple there, ‘and encouraging them to remain true to the faith’.
Hardship has to be endured as part of entering the Kingdom of God.
Elders are appointed in each church, by praying and fasting and committing them to the Lord.
They journey through Pisidia to Pamphylia, then preaching in Perga, and going down to Attalia; then they set sail to Antioch – they gather the church there and report all that God had been doing – particularly celebrating the way God was opening doors for the Gentiles to hear the good news.
‘They stayed there a long time with the disciples.’

Wesley described Paul’s surviving the stoning in Lystra as a miracle, almost like a resurrection, that Paul could get up and walk back into the city.
The opposition and persecution are growing all the time, and Paul and Barnabas prepare the new disciples for the ‘hardship’ which is part of entering the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, the hardship we experience is directly linked to being a citizen of the kingdom – Paul’s testimony is that it is so much better to identify with Christ’s suffering for the glory of knowing Him, and the power of His resurrection.
May the power of Christ’s resurrection equip and inspire us with the challenges we face today….

PROVERBS
‘Death and destruction lie open before the Lord – how much more the hearts of men!
A happy heart makes the face cheerful…a discerning heart seeks knowledge…the cheerful heart has a continual feast…
Better a little with the fear of the Lord, than great wealth with turmoil…’

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