You may know the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers – a couple of verses of which go like this:
"Like a mighty army
Moves the Church of God:
Brothers [and sisters], we are treading
Where the saints have trod;
We are not divided,
All one Body we—
One in faith and Spirit,
Crowns and thrones may perish,
Kingdoms rise and wane;
But the Church of Jesus
Constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never
'Gainst the Church prevail;
We have Christ's own promise,
Which can never fail."
And I wonder: is that how the church in this country – and this church – looks to you? Strong, invulnerable, united, confident in Jesus? Or is this take-off of that hymn more like it:
"Like a mighty tortoise
Moves the church of God.
Brothers we are treading,
Where we've always trod.
We are much divided,
Many bodies we,
Having different doctrines, but
Not much charity.
Crowns and thrones may perish,
Kingdoms rise and wane,
But the cross of Jesus
Hidden does remain.
Gates of hell should never
'Gainst the Church prevail,
We do have Christ's own promise,
But we think that it might fail."
(attributed to George Verwer)
Isn't that more how the church we know looks? Vulnerable, divided and unsure of Jesus. Because, if we're honest, we do at least sometimes think that it doesn't look like he's King of everything; or like he's in control; or like his plan to bring more people worldwide to trust in him is working out as smoothly as we'd like it to. After all, why would he let his church be so weak, and infected by false teaching, and even persecuted in many parts of the world? And why would he let other forces like secularism and other religions be so strong?
Well, the first people who read the Bible books of Samuel and Kings were asking the same kind of thing. So let me remind you who they were. If you go back 2,000 years from today, you get to when Jesus lived, died for our forgiveness, rose from the dead, and returned to heaven as King over everyone and everything. Go back another 1,000 years before Jesus and you get to David, king of God's Old Testament people Israel. And 1 & 2 Samuel (which we've just finished) are all about David. And then 1 & 2 Kings, next in the Bible, are about the kings after David – starting with his son, Solomon. But that line of kings became so unfaithful to God that he allowed their kingdom to be invaded and brought to and end in what the Bible calls 'the exile'.
And 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings were written for people after the exile who were asking, 'Why has this happened? Why would God let his people be so weak? Is he really in control and keeping his promises… or not?' And in tonight's passage, the writer takes them (and us) back to another time (the succession from David to Solomon) when God's kingdom looked vulnerable – but when events showed that he was in fact fully in control, and keeping his promises. So would you turn in the Bible to 1 Kings 1. And my first heading is:
1. God's Kingdom Looking Vulnerable (vv.1-4)
Look down to verses 1-4:
"Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, "Let a young woman be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king and be in his service. Let her lie in your arms, that my lord the king may be warm." So they sought for a beautiful young woman throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The young woman was very beautiful, and she was of service to the king and attended to him, but the king knew her not."
And 'knew her' was a euphemism back then for sexual intercourse. So verse 4 is saying: nothing sexually dodgy was happening. She was to be part nurse, part human electric blanket. And that kind of thing is actually mentioned in ancient medical writings. But the point is: God's kingdom is looking vulnerable because David is in decline, he's nearing the end of his life, and it's not clear who will succeed him. And God's church and the cause of the gospel has often looked vulnerable and will often look vulnerable. And we need to learn at times like that to trust that he is in control and keeping his promises – even when it doesn't look like it – and to wait for events to reveal that he is. So onto heading 2:
2. The Self-Appointed King (vv.5-10)
Look on to verse 5:
"Now Adonijah [who was David's oldest surviving son] the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, "I will be king.""
They say in these parts that 'shy bairns get nowt'. And Adonijah was not shy. He wanted to be king, and for him that was a good enough reason for him to be king. Read on:
"And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him [in other words, the military muscle to make his campaign for the throne happen]."
And then you get three intriguing asides about Adonijah. The first is that (v.6):
"His father [David] had never at any time displeased him [in other words, stood up to him] by asking, "Why have you done thus and so?""
So there in passing is a word to parents. If we don't help our children learn to submit to our wills when they don't want to, they'll not only become self-willed; but most importantly, we won't have helped prepare them to submit to a heavenly Father's will, either. Read on for two more asides about Adonijah:
"He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom."
So on the one hand, he looked the part – he'd have done well in today's celebrity culture when having an Oscar gives you the right to pronounce on any and every moral issue. And he was also next in line to the throne – so didn't he have a right to it?
And it doesn't say in brackets, 'This is the last person you want leading God's people.' Because you're expected to work that out for yourself from the way that Adonijah is self-promoting, self-willed and stands on his rights. And if we lead anything in church, or aspire to, we need to beware of 'Adonijah syndrome'. We need to say to ourselves, 'I'm not doing this for myself, but to serve others.' And we need to remember that it's a privilege to be doing whatever ministry we're doing – not a right. We don't have a right to be asked to lead something, or sing or play in something, or go on a mission trip, or whatever it is. So with those signals that Adonijah is the wrong man for the job, look how he tries to snatch the job. Verses 7-10:
"He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah [he's the military muscle man] and with Abiathar the priest [he's the religious man]. And they followed Adonijah and helped him. But Zadok the priest and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada [another key military muscle man] and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and David's mighty men were not with Adonijah. Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent's Stone, which is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king's sons, and all the royal officials of Judah [and by going to this party they would be siding with him], but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother."
And I take it that's because he knew Solomon was actually the favoured successor to the throne, and that he couldn't woo Solomon onto his side and that, instead, he'd need to eliminate him and his key allies. And you don't invite people to your party if you're planning to bump them off. So with God's kingdom now looking even more vulnerable, onto heading 3:
3. The God-Chosen King (vv.11-53)
Now this is too long to cover completely, so you'll have to trust me to skim it responsibly. So look on to verses 11-14:
"Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, "Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in at once to King David, and say to him, 'Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying, "Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne"? Why then is Adonijah king?' Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words."
Now Nathan was the prophet who spoke God's Word into David's life at crucial moments. So whereas Adonijah forgot God and reckoned he could control events, Nathan brought the key players back to God's Word and back to the truth that God rules events, that God announces his plan and then makes it happen. And Nathan would have had in mind God's promise to David in 2 Samuel 7. So would you turn back to 2 Samuel 7. I made you do this last time, but along with God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, it is the most important promise in the Bible (or rather, they are the one main promise of the Bible in two instalments). So I don't apologise for turning you there again. So in 2 Samuel 7.11-13, Nathan is speaking to David and says:
"the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house [as in a dynasty, a line of kings]. When 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. He shall build a house [as in a temple] for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever"
Now that doesn't explicitly mention Solomon, does it? But in the Old Testament, there's another account of David and the kings after him – in 1 & 2 Chronicles. So just like the Gospels give you four accounts of Jesus, the Old Testament gives you two accounts of these kings. And Chronicles does explicitly say that God told David that the first of those promised offspring would be Solomon. So with all that in mind, turn back to 1 Kings 1.11 – where Nathan reminds Bathsheba that God's plan is for Solomon to succeed David, and that they need to act in line with that plan. So Bathsheba goes in to David and says what Nathan told her to. And then Nathan comes in and backs her up. So skip to verses 28-31:
"Then King David answered, "Call Bathsheba to me." So she came into the king's presence and stood before the king. And the king swore, saying, "As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my soul out of every adversity, as I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel, saying, 'Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place', even so will I do this day." Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground and paid homage to the king and said, "May my lord King David live for ever!""
Which, given his condition, was an exceptionally optimistic comment – she was clearly a glass half-full type (and some!) Verses 32-35:
"King David said, "Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada." So they came before the king. And the king said to them, "Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. [So the mule or donkey was considered to be royal transport – like the Queen's Rolls. And that's why Jesus was making such a statement when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.] And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, 'Long live King Solomon!' You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, for he shall be king in my place. And I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah.""
And that's what they do. And all that inspired Handel's wonderful coronation anthem 'Zadok the priest.' And one thing to learn from all that is that God uses means. God uses people, acting in obedience to his Word, to bring about his plan. So Nathan didn't just appear and say, 'Hey, everyone, don't worry about Adonijah. God has a plan, and it's for Solomon to be king, so let's just sit back and wait for the Lord to make it happen.' No, God uses means. So Nathan said, 'Let's remember the plan and act in line with it.'
So take, for example, God's plan to bring more people worldwide to trust in Jesus. When I was leading my university Christian Union, we had some very 'reformed church' types in the CU who said, 'We don't need to share the gospel like you're encouraging us to do at special events. We don't need things like Life Explored and Christianity Explored courses. Because God has a plan for more people to come to trust in Jesus, and he'll make it happen, and he doesn't need your help.' But they were forgetting that God uses means. So he uses the means of you and I getting alongside people, praying for people, looking for opportunities to point them to Jesus. He uses the means of things like Life Explored and Christianity Explored, and invitation services and all services. So, yes he has a plan, yes he's in control. But our response shouldn't be to sit back and do nothing and just wait for him to get on with it. Our response should be to act responsibly in line with his plan. And that includes praying as we act. So look at verse 36:
"And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada answered the king, "Amen! May the LORD, the God of my lord the king, say so.""
So even though Benaiah believed that making Solomon king was God's plan, and even though he was the military muscle man who might have been tempted to think, 'Hey, we can make this happen', he still submitted it to God's over-ruling and prayed, 'May the Lord make this happen.'
So we may be pushing a door – like a job application. And we may have reason to believe it's a good door to push – for example, the job would leave us more time for family, which is high on God's scale of values. But we still need to say to the Lord, 'May this happen if you want it to. But you're wiser than me, so if I've got my guidance wrong, if this wouldn't be best, please close the door.' And it's a real comfort to know that, because he's in control, he can open or close the door, depending on what's best for us. So, Solomon is made king and there's a noisy celebration. Skip on to verses 41-43:
"Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished feasting. And when Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, "What does this uproar in the city mean?" While he was still speaking, behold, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest came. And Adonijah said, "Come in, for you are a worthy man and bring good news." Jonathan answered Adonijah, "No, for our lord King David has made Solomon king""
Ouch! Skip to verses 49-53:
"Then all the guests of Adonijah trembled and rose, and each went his own way. [And you can just imagine it, can't you – 'Gosh, is that the time? Must be going…' – because most of them can still save their own skins by dissociating themselves from Adonijah. Contrast verse 50:] And Adonijah feared Solomon. So he arose and went and took hold of the horns of the altar. [Which was a way of claiming sanctuary – because he thought that, having planned to eliminate Solomon, Solomon might now do the same to him.] Then it was told Solomon, "Behold, Adonijah fears King Solomon, for behold, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, 'Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.'" And Solomon said, "If he will show himself a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the earth, but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die." So King Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and paid homage to King Solomon, and Solomon said to him, "Go to your house."
The customary, warm, parting greeting was 'Go in peace.' So 'Go to your house' reflects the fact that although Adonijah was pacified, there was no real peace between these two – as we'll see next week. But the point for now is that Adonijah doesn't get what he deserves. He gets mercy. And then my last, quick heading is:
4. The King That All This Points To
The Lord Jesus once said that the Old Testament testified to him (John 5.39). So we need to ask: how does this passage point us to Jesus?
Well, think back to when God made his 2 Samuel 7 promise – that he would establish David's kingdom forever. And, for that, either you need option 1 – a succession of kings that goes on forever – or option 2 – one of the successors has to live forever. And we know from the rest of the Old Testament that it wasn't option 1, because God brought that line of merely human, sinful kings to an end. Because they were part of the sin-problem, just like us. They were never going to be the solution. But they did point forward to it.
So what happened to the 2 Samuel 7 promise after the exile? Had God forgotten it? No: like the Metro in central Newcastle, it went underground. So it wasn't visible in a continuing line of kings. But it was still heading towards its final destination station – in Jesus. And he died so that we could be forgiven back into relationship with him as King. And he then rose from the dead and returned to heaven, where he is now that successor to David who lives forever. And we will one day all meet him when he comes again at the end of time and when there will be a final division between those who accepted him as King and those who didn't.
And 1 Kings 1 is a picture of all that. Because just think for a moment: who do you think you should identify with in 1 Kings 1? I suggest we should identify with Adoniajh. Because there's an Adonijah spirit within each of us which says, like in verse 5, "I will be king." In other words, 'I'll run my own life my own way without reference to God.' That's what we're like by nature.
But the truth is that, just like God made Solomon king of Israel, he has now made Jesus King of everyone by raising him from the dead and sitting him on the throne of heaven. So just like Adonijah had to face up to the reality that Solomon had been made king, we have to face up to the far bigger reality that Jesus has been made King. And if we've done that, we need to help others face up to it, too, by trying to share the Christian message.
And I know our culture says our beliefs are just private, subjective opinions. I know people say to us, 'Look, I'm glad if you find them helpful, but please don't talk about them as if they're true for everyone and as if I should do something about them.' But Jesus' life, death and resurrection from the dead are not private, subjective opinions, are they? They're public, objective events. And if they're true, they're true for everyone – because that's how it is with things that have happened in history.
So the Bible's claim is that God has made Jesus King of everyone and everything. Which means that the only wise thing to do is to face up to that, and let him be our king – to say to the risen Jesus, 'I'm sorry I've been living as if you weren't king; please forgive me, and take over the running of my life from now on.' And if we pray like that, we'll get the same response that Adonijah got from Solomon – namely mercy. Only mercy on a completely different scale. Because Jesus died on the cross to pay for all the mercy, all the forgiveness, we'll ever need – not just for all our past sins, but for all our future sins as well.
And so 1 Kings 1 isn't just about how God is in control, and how he is keeping his promises, and how he is making his plans happen – even when it doesn't look like it. 1 Kings 1 is ultimately about Jesus, and it's saying, 'God has made him King. Now, is he King of you?'