This is the Sermon Preached on the First Sunday after Epiphany -- January 11, 2015 at

Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Laurie, Missouri

1 Kings 8:6-13

Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, into the inner sanctuary of the house, to the most holy place, under the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark, and the cherubim made a covering over the ark and its poles from above. But the poles were so long that the ends of the poles could be seen from the holy place before the inner sanctuary, but they could not be seen outside; they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the sons of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And it came about when the priests came from the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that He would dwell in the thick cloud. I have surely built Thee a lofty house, A place for Thy dwelling forever.”

Sermon for the First Sunday after The Epiphany                                                                                                                                                                                                           1/11/15

Hidden, and Yet Revealed

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The Ark of the Covenant. It has fascinated man for millennia. It was the chief prop in an Indiana Jones movie. It is the source of constant speculation in certain circles today. People wonder where it is, and wonder what powers in really possesses. They wonder because they want to get all ooky-spooky about it, all superstitious and weave all the webs of intrigue and conspiracy about it that they can. They say it has been hidden in a Jewish enclave in Ethiopia for centuries. They say that it is coming back to the temple mount in Jerusalem and that they will sacrifice the “Red Heifer” on it ushering in the Armageddon and the Millennium and the Rapture and all of that mythical stuff.

They wonder about the Ark because they do not read the Bible with faith. They assume that the Ark possess power, when, in fact, it was nothing but a box. It contained very little, just as our text tells us. It served just one simple, but important purpose. It was the symbol of the Covenant of Ancient Israel with El-Shaddai, Almighty God, I Am Who I Am. It was a symbol of the presence and of the goodness of God. And it was rarely seen by anyone, and never seen by most people. This morning we consider this snippet of text from the dedication of the Temple of Israel in Jerusalem under the theme, Hidden, and Yet Revealed.

The focus of the text is the Ark. The Ark had been built on the Exodus. It had traveled with the Tabernacle for about 400 years, including the time when it had been captured by the Philistines and God had so afflicted them for having it that they sent it back with the golden mice and the golden tumors -- actually golden hemorrhoids. Finally, in our text, it is brought to the temple, it is placed in the holy of holies.

Now, the Temple had an outer court where the Altar of Sacrifice stood. All of Israel could enter there. It was not open to the public, but the children of Israel could enter there to observe their sacrifice being offered. Then there was a smaller court called “the holy place.” Only the priests could enter the holy place, and only in the special robes of service. This was the place of the shewbread and the altar of incense and of the candles. This where Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, went and met Gabriel as he announced the coming pregnancy of Elizabeth. Only the priests performing sacred duty could enter the holy place. Inside the holy place was the most holy place, also known as the Holy of Holies.

The most holy place was a smaller court marked off by heavy drapery which kept all eyes from seeing into the Holy of Holies. You remember that this is the drapery that was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died for our sins on the cross. As He said, “It is Finished!”, the curtain - the veil - tore from top to bottom.

The High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies only once each year. In the Holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant, covered with the “Mercy Seat ”, which was a large gold lid, with golden angels standing on either end, with their wings touching over the mercy seat. It was a symbolic throne for God – and it was on this Mercy Seat that the blood of the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – was poured by the High Priest. The pouring the blood on the mercy seat symbolized the covering of the sins of the people, so that God could not see them (as though He looked out at them from the Mercy Seat) and so the people were forgiven – their sins atoned for by the shedding of the blood of the Day of Atonement.

The point is that the Ark was first placed into the Holy of Holies at the events reported in our text. And God drove everyone out of the Temple with the thick cloud, and His glory filled the temple, purifying everything for sacred service. God inspired the author of 1 Kings to include in the description of the events of that day the singular fact that one could see the poles of the Ark of the Covenant sticking out of the Holy of Holies into the holy place through the drapes on either side. No one but the priests would ever see that sight. Most of the priests would never see the Ark, but they would all eventually see the poles sticking out. But God reports this fact in Scripture for us, and for the readers way back then so they knew.

All of this History and Temple and Ark stuff is important because it is the way God preached the Gospel in the days of the Old Testament people. It also helps us understand why God did the things that He did in the days of Jesus, and what they meant. It also gives us a picture of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The Temple is heaven – it is the dwelling place of God. They built the earthly temple to very specific specifications to be an earthly model of the heavenly. They sacrificed lambs to point forward to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The pouring of the blood of the Day of Atonement on the Mercy Seat was pointing the hearts of the people forward to the day when God would pour out the blood of His own Son to cover the sins of all mankind. And when that was done, God tore open the Holy of Holies on earth to signify that the heavenly Holy of Holies was now open to all men, through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Your sins have been forgiven.

Jesus rose from the dead on Easter like the High Priest coming out of the Most Holy Place, to tell us that our sacrifice was complete, and had been accepted by God the Father. Our sins were covered. We are forgiven. Jesus also demonstrated in His resurrection precisely what He had won for us – a resurrection from the grave, the end of death as death for those who believe. He showed us that He could do it, and what awaited those who were the faithful people of God. You will rise from your graves. It will be you, and you will know one another and rejoice in that day of reunion with tremendous joy!

My mind keeps going back, however, to the poles of the Ark sticking out of the Holy of Holies. God kept the Ark hidden from sight. Once, when a man named Uzzah touched the Ark because he thought it was going to fall off the cart that carried it, God struck him dead instantly. That was how seriously God wanted the people to consider the Ark. It was the symbol of His presence and His covenant with them. Now, in the Temple, the Ark was never to be seen again by most of Israel, even the priests. God was hidden – and yet He kept the poles visible to remind the people through their priests, that the Ark was there, and so He was also still there, still with them, still keeping covenant with them.

Jesus is like that today. Hidden, and yet revealed. We don’t see Him. We don’t feel forgiveness. If you feel something, it is feeling about forgiveness. It is feeling in response to the promises of God and your trust that He is doing what He proclaims to us. That feeling is good – treasure it. But don’t trust it, because it isn’t always there, but God is always faithful, and keeps His promise, and forgives us every time we hear those wonderful words of Absolution. When you need that feeling it most is when you are liable to feel it least, but God’s grace and promise of forgiveness in Jesus Christ is always Yes! And Amen!

Jesus Christ is hidden from our view, just like the ark. It isn’t the veil of the Temple, but the veil of our sense that hides him. But God has not left Himself without witness. He reveals Himself to us in His Word each time you hear it proclaimed. God wants you to hear that Word and hear it as though He Himself were speaking it to you. That is why He said to His disciples, and to all who faithfully proclaim His Word following them, "The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me."

The Word you hear is God’s, whenever I preach faithfully. It is your task to be certain that I preach faithfully by carefully studying the Word, like the Bereans of Paul’s day. But when I do preach faithfully, the voice you hear is God’s voice– the voice He has called to speak His Word in this place. The Word proclaimed, as it is every Lord’s Day here, is like of those poles of the Ark of the Covenant which reveal that which is hidden from sight.

And if we accept the analogy, then the second pole is this Sacrament before you this morning. Here we receive the true body and blood of Jesus. Here you can actually handle, and see, and taste, and touch and know that as surely as God’s Word is true and powerful, you have all that He has promised here, and God is doing what he has promised that he would do. The body of Christ is hidden beneath the form of the bread for you to eat, and the blood of Christ, which He shed for your salvation, is hidden beneath the form of the wine, for you to drink in faith. The heavenly elements are really there, in and with and under the form of the bread and wine. But do not doubt their reality or their presence, because Jesus has spoken that they are here. I don’t make it happen, the Word of God does. That is why we call it the Lord’s Supper – He is here through His Word to deliver to you what He spoke so long ago in the presence of His disciples, and speaks in your presence through the man He has called to speak His Word.

He distributes the treasures of salvation to you though my hands. With His body and blood comes also all that He purchased for us with His suffering and death – forgiveness of sins, and therefore resurrection from the grave, eternal life in glory, and salvation. By these precious gifts He means also to strengthen us in faith, that we may walk in newness of life, and offer Him the service of Worship named in our Epistle lesson this morning, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

That renewing comes by hearing the Word, and taking God at His Word. That renewing comes by eating and drinking and knowing what it is that you receive, and trusting God to do all that He has promised to do through these precious gifts. That renewing consists in the transformation of your life from serving sin and self, to serving God, and living as though every promise of God is true and trustworthy – and you expect things to be just as God has spoken. Then your lives prove what the Will of God is, and that it is good, and acceptable and perfect. Then your lives become like the poles of the Ark of the Covenant for those around you, showing the presence of God and reflecting His Covenant with His people, even though such things are, in reality, hidden from their sight.

The poles show us the presence of the Ark – hidden, and yet revealed! The Word of God and the Sacraments show us Jesus and forgiveness and salvation – hidden, and yet revealed! And your lives, lived in faith and acting out your confidence in God and all that He has promised to do in you and for you and through you reveals God’s love and grace, and reality to everyone around you – hidden from sight, and yet revealed by your life of faithfulness and holiness. Hidden, and yet revealed!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

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