Everyone loves a party, don’t they? Almost everyone likes a good excuse for a good time. Whether it’s to celebrate someone’s birthday, mark an engagement, or rejoice at a graduation, most people enjoy a party. But a party can never really get underway until the key people come through the door. Without the birthday boy, the happy couple or the successful student, a party falls flat.
Our Bible passage today begins with a party! If you have been here over recent weeks you will know that all is going well for David and the nation of Israel. David has become king, the nation has been united, and a capital city has been conquered. But the party could only begin once the honoured guest had arrived. Only when the hero of the hour arrived could celebrations enter full swing.
As we’ve looked at David’s life over recent weeks I hope you’ve realised God is the real hero of the story. It was God who had chosen David to become king, who had kept him from harm and who’d brought him safely to the throne. And it was God’s guidance that had helped David conquer Jerusalem and defeat the Philistines. God, not David, had been the true hero of the hour.
David was wise enough to recognise that God was the secret of his success, and he knew that he needed God close at hand for the rest of his reign. So he sought God’s presence.
To get closer to God, David wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his capital city. Because David believed that the Ark was a powerful symbol of God’s presence. That’s why we read in verse 1 today that David and his men set out to bring the Ark to Jerusalem.
If you’ve ever watched the Indiana Jones film, you will know what the Ark of the Covenant looked like. It was a wooden box about three-foot square, and covered with gold. It had two cherubim (angels) on its lid, and hoops on its side so that it could be carried on poles. Inside it contained the Ten Commandments.
The ark was constructed way back in the time of Moses and the exodus from Egypt. God had given detailed instructions to the Israelites on how the Ark was to be made and how it was to be used.
Above all, the ark was given to symbolise God’s presence with his people. As the Israelites travelled to the Promised Land, they were to take the Ark with them as a visible reminder that their God was close by. The Ark was considered God’s throne on earth, the place from which he ruled, and the place from which God had spoken to Moses in days gone by.
In more recent years the Ark had resided in the house of Abinadab, in Judah. But the time had come for King David to take it to his capital. So it was put on a cart and set on the road to Jerusalem. And that’s when the party started! Verse 5 of our passage today tells us that: “David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.”
For David, the route to an on-going relationship with God was clear. He needed to bring the Ark into his capital city. But what about us? Where can we seek God’s presence? Where can God be seen and heard?
The answer is that the Ark is a signpost to Jesus Christ. All the functions that the Ark performed for David, Christ can do for us. So if we want to encounter God we don’t need stand before an Ark, we should just come to Christ. As we pray to Jesus, as we read his words in the Bible, God comes fully into focus. The Ark of the Covenant was called God’s throne. But Jesus Christ is the king on God’s throne.
David and the Israelites got excited that God came close to them with the Ark. But as Christians we should be absolutely overjoyed that God has come even closer to us in the person of his Son.
Unfortunately, in the midst of David’s party there was a tragedy. During the festivities on the road to Jerusalem, a life was lost. Here’s a reminder of what happened, from verses 6 to 10:
“When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah. David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite.”
The death of Uzzah is a challenging reminder that we all need to revere God and respect his words. God invites us all to a relationship with him – but only on his terms. As David discovered, there is such a thing as a healthy fear of God.
God is totally holy, always just, and perfectly good. But we are far from perfect ourselves. The whole Bible is clear that sinful human beings can’t approach God on our own terms. Man-made religion won’t wash. Wishful thinking and good intentions can’t get us into a right relationship with God.
We can only approach our Creator in the way he has commanded, in the way he has described for us in Scripture. True reverence for God requires careful obedience to his words.
In the case of Uzzah and the Israelites, they had disobeyed God’s commands about how the Ark was to be treated. God had said clearly in the past that it must be carried on poles by priests, not transported about on a cart. And as the holy symbol of God’s presence, the Ark was not to be touched by anyone apart from a priest. Uzzah and the Israelites knew all this, but tragically chose to ignore it.
So how do we avoid making the same mistake as them? How can we sinners safely approach a holy God? Once again, the answer is Jesus. If we respect God’s word in the New Testament, we will approach him through Christ alone. As Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me”. The only way anyone can enjoy God’s forgiveness and friendship is by faith in Christ. Faith in the one who sacrificed his life for our sins and rose again for our redemption.
One of my duties as a Dad is to read my children their bedtime stories – and one of the best things about children’s stories is that they typically have a happy ending. The main characters usually live ‘happily ever after’!
Thankfully, todays Bible reading also has a happy ending. Because the Ark does eventually arrive in Jerusalem, and it brings God’s blessing with it. Look with me at verses 11 and 12: “The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household. Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.”
You see, God delights to bless those who enter a right relationship with him. God gives amazing grace to those who know and love him. Obed-Edom treated God’s Ark with the respect it deserved, and his whole household benefited as a result.
It seems that as soon as David heard the news, he resurrected his original plan to bring the Ark to his capital. He was reassured that it is a wonderful thing to be in a relationship with the living God. And so he and his entourage carried the Ark into Jerusalem with much rejoicing, shouts and the sound of trumpets. The celebrations could really get going!
If we are Christians here this morning, I hope we want to rejoice in the relationship with God we have through Christ. Think how the crowds celebrated on the first Palm Sunday, when Jesus, rather than the Ark, arrived in Jerusalem. If we have faith in Christ we can enjoy God’s friendship and forgiveness for eternity. And that’s something well worth celebrating!
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