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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Who Can Stand in the Presence of This Holy God?
Text:2 Samuel 6:1-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Holy, Holy, Holy    
The Earth and the Fullness with Which It Is Stored
God Himself Is with Us                
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“Who Can Stand in the Presence
This Holy God?”
2 Samuel 6:1-23; text: 1 Samuel 6:19, 20
The background of this chapter is found in 1 Samuel chapters 4 to 7. You remember, perhaps, how Israel was at war with the Philistines. They were incurring heavy losses so they brought the ark of the covenant, where God dwelled between the cherubim, into the fray of the battle.
The Philistines were terrified. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “We’re in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert.  Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!” (1 Sam. 4:7-9)
They did indeed fight, and they fought hard. They defeated Israel. The biblical record says, “the slaughter was very great” and describes how 30,000 Israelites lost their lives in that battle. 
But in addition to the casualties, the Philistines captured the ark. The ark was not very big, about the size of the communion table. The ark contained Aaron’s rod that budded, the tables of the law, and a jar of manna, as described in Hebrews 9:4. The cover of the ark was graced with cherubim, one on each side, their wings stretched over what was known as the mercy seat. God symbolically dwelled between the outstretched arms of the cherubim, and it was on the mercy seat where the high priest, once per year, on the Day of Atonement, would sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed animal.
Because of its small size, it was easy for the Philistines to capture the ark and they took it to the temple of their god, Dagon. However, the next day, when the Philistines went to their temple, there was Dagon, fallen down before the ark. They stood him back up, but the next morning, there he was again, fallen down before the ark of God, but this time his head and hands had broken off.    
Meanwhile, the Philistines were being afflicted with tumors and they realized between the tumors and the broken statute of their god, Dagon, that the hand of the God of Israel was on them. It was the hand of judgment, so they sent the ark of the covenant back to Israel, on a cart, drawn by two cows that had calved but never been yoked. 
The cows pulled the cart with the ark of the covenant on it to Beth Shemesh, where people were harvesting their wheat. They were overjoyed to see the ark again! God’s presence was in Israel! The people slaughtered the cows and burned the wood of the cart as an offering to the Lord. 
The Levites then took charge of the ark of the covenant, but seventy men of Beth Shemesh were put to death because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. The people were terrified and exclaimed, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?” Then they asked the men of Kiriath Jearim to take the ark, and it stayed there at the house of Abinadab, guarded by one of his sons, Eleazar.
The Ark Returned to Jerusalem
We move ahead in time. Many years have passed. David is the king of Israel. He has established himself in Jerusalem and desires to have the ark of the covenant there as well. Having the ark in Jerusalem would show that his kingship was blessed by God, that God Himself was there, through His presence over the outstretched wings of the cherubim.
But as the ark was being taken from Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem, the oxen drawing the cart stumbled. Uzzah instinctively reached out his hand to steady the ark. He didn’t want it to slip off the cart. And then, to everyone’s great surprise and shock, Uzzah was struck dead. Verse 7 recounts how “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.”
But it wasn’t just the Israelites back in David’s day who were shocked and surprised. I think most people today, even Christian people, are somewhat shocked and surprised that God put Uzzah to death. Uzzah was trying to be helpful. He was looking out for the Lord’s best interest, it seems. So why would God call that an irreverent act and strike him dead? What can we possibly learn from such a story?
What this incident teaches us is that because God is perfectly holy it is crucial that we obey and worship Him according to His Word. God’s holiness is something that we take way too lightly. We cannot begin to fathom the greatness of God’s holiness – that He is altogether separate from sin and that He is perfectly righteous in every way. Nor do we really comprehend how unholy we are, that all that we do – even our best works, those before ordained for us to do – are tainted and stained by our sin.
Because He is holy and we are sinners, God has given specific ways for us to approach Him. We come into His presence only by saving faith in the sacrificial blood of Christ, and that sacrifice was prefigured in the sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat of the ark, once per year on the Day of Atonement.
The ark itself was so holy that it was kept in the inner most part of the tabernacle and temple.  There was the outer court, the holy place, and the holy of holies – the Most Holy Place, “the Holy of Holies” – where the ark was kept. Only the high priest could enter that sacred place and he entered only one time per year, on the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed animal on the mercy seat.
In the event that the ark was moved, specific rules as to how it would be moved were given by God to the people. In Exodus 25:12-14 the Lord commanded Moses, Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the chest to carry it.”
And in Numbers 4:15 the Lord instructed Moses and Aaron, “…When the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die.”
But the Israelites were not following any of these commands. When the Philistines had the ark on a wagon pulled by cows, they didn’t know any better. But the Israelites had received specific instructions from the Lord, yet did not follow them. 
Consequently, the passage is a graphic reminder that if we do not obey and worship God according to his Word, there will be judgment. God is perfectly holy. The unholy hand of Uzzah touched the ark where God dwelt. The judgment of death was pronounced on Uzzah.
Incidentally, because Scripture commands us to worship only in the way that God has commanded us, in our church we worship according to what is known as “The Regulative Order of Worship.” We only worship in ways described in Scripture and we eschew worship that is done with human wisdom and not from the divine revelation of the Bible. While Scripture describes many ways to worship the Lord, we must always worship in reverence and awe. In the words of Hebrews 12:28, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (Heb. 12:28, 29)
Entering God’s Presence Through Christ
What else does this passage teach us?  How else are we to apply this passage to our lives?
A key application is that sinners like ourselves can only come into the presence of the holy God through saving faith in Christ. Back in 1 Samuel 6:20 – when seventy men were struck dead by the Lord because they looked into the ark – the question was asked Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?”
In a real sense, that question permeates the entire Bible. It was the question in the back of Adam’s mind and Eve’s mind when they sinned against the Lord and then hid in the garden when He came looking for them.  They had covered themselves with fig leaves. Why did they do that? They tried to cover their nakedness because the question pounding in their mind must have been this question: Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?”
And ever since, Old Testament and New, that question is asked in different ways by convicted sinners who see their sinfulness and God’s holiness. Certainly such a question formed in Isaiah’s mind. He wrote:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of
his robe filled the temple.  Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered
their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one
        “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
             the whole earth is full of his glory.”
 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple  was filled with smoke.
 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean
  lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:1-5)
It was on David’s mind, as he cried out of the depths, in Psalm 130, and exclaimed, If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psa. 130:3)
The question must have been on Peter’s mind. After seeing the power of Jesus and realizing something of His awesome holiness, Peter exclaimed, Away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  (Luke 5:8)
Even the famous question of the Philippian jailor, What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) is a variant of this question, Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”
The answer, of course, is found in Christ and Christ alone. The mercy seat of the ark has a direct relationship to Jesus Christ. The word “propitiation” comes directly from the concept of the mercy seat. The high priest would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat, and that act was foreshadowing the shed blood of Jesus, who by His sacrifice on the cross propitiates – that is, covers, satisfies, and appeases – the proper and just wrath of our triune God against sin.
We read of that truth repeatedly in the New Testament. For instance, after making the case clearly and bluntly that there is no one righteous, no not one, and that the works of the law can never save us or give us a righteousness of our own, Paul writes, in Romans 3:21-25a: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement‘as a propitiation’ (ESV) through faith in his blood.”
You see, the question of the men of Beth Shemesh, Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” is answered in all its completeness at the cross, with the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Only those who have true saving faith in Him can stand before the holy triune God. And then, those of us who stand before Him stand confident and unashamed” in the words of 1 John 2:28, because as we stand in the presence of the holy God, we stand not on our merits, but on the merits of Christ which are imputed to us.
The Danger of Familiarity
The shed blood of Jesus, the cross of Calvary, the open tomb – the entire gospel – is very familiar to most of us. Many of us grew up in Christian families, we were raised in the church, went to Sunday School, catechism, and many went to Christian schools as well. And that can be a dangerous thing. It can, and is, a great blessing on the one hand, but it can be so very dangerous on the other hand. It can be dangerous because familiarity can cause us to lose sight of God’s holiness.
Did you notice in verse 3 that Uzzah was one of Abinadab’s sons?  In 1 Samuel 7:1 we read that the ark was at Abinadab’s house. After the Philistines returned the ark and the people of Beth Shemesh saw seventy of their men die for looking into the ark it was brought to Abinadab’s house. It stayed there for twenty years.
For twenty years Uzzah and his brothers saw this ark of acacia wood, overlaid with gold. They saw the cherubim; they realized that God dwelt symbolically between the outstretched wings.  They knew that within the ark were the two tablets of the law, the jar of manna, Aaron’s staff which had budded, as described in Hebrews 9:4.
It was all so familiar that it no longer impressed them as being holy. Uzzah was so familiar with the ark that when it started to slide, as the oxen stumbled, he didn’t stop to consider the question, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?”  He didn’t stop to consider that his hands were unholy. He didn’t reflect back on the command of God that the ark was to be carried by poles only by the Kohathites. He took lightly the holiness of God because he was so familiar with the ark. And instead of the familiarity drawing him closer to the Lord in reverent worship and obedient living, it caused him to be casual in his approach to God. It cost him his life.
As we see this unusual scene unfold before us, we need to ask, “Do I take for granted the blessings of God in my life?  Am I so familiar with the things of the Lord that I have become careless in my prayer life? My devotional life? Am I so familiar with the things of God that church is just a ritual?  When it comes to my faith in Jesus, am I just going through the motions? Has my familiarity with the truths of Christ led me into a careless ritualism instead of a vibrant living relationship with God the Father through saving faith in His only begotten Son?”
The Joy of Salvation
A third application for those who have true saving faith in Christ alone is that a proper relationship with the Lord enabled David – and enables us – to go from anger and fear to joy. In verse 8 we read that David was angry. Some commentators believe his anger was directed toward God. How could God do such a cruel thing to Uzzah since Uzzah tried to be helpful? 
Other commentators believe he was angry at himself. He knew the Scriptures, he knew how the ark was to be carried, only by the Kohathites, only on the poles slipped into the gold rings on the sides of the ark. 
The anger, perhaps with himself, perhaps with the Lord, or a mixture of both, led to fear. This fear isn’t the awe and wonder, praise and adoration definition of fear. This is the definition of fear that springs from examples of God’s punishment on those who take Him lightly: People like Uzzah, or Nadab and Abihu who were put to death for bringing unauthorized fire into the worship of the Lord (Lev. 10:1-3), or Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit and were struck down as swiftly as Uzzah (Acts 5:1-11). It is the fear that the author of Hebrews instills in those who take lightly the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He reminds them, and reminds us all, It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31) And apart from saving faith in Christ alone, it is indeed a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But by God’s grace, through a right relationship with Him, David got past anger and fear and was filled with joy. In verses 13 to 19 we read how when the ark finally came into Jerusalem the proper way with Levites – the Kohathites – carrying it on the poles, David was so grateful that he danced with joy.
These verses aren’t teaching, incidentally, that we should have liturgical dance, that pastors should dance down the aisle as they approach the pulpit or that women should gracefully do a liturgical dance on stage before the congregation. The verses are simply an expression of the joy that David had when he realized God’s presence was with him, as the ark, where God “is enthroned between the cherubim” (2), had been returned to Jerusalem.
His wife, Micah, Saul’s daughter, could not understand the reason for David’s joy. She held him in disdain because he was so joyful at the arrival of the ark into Jerusalem.  By doing so, she was disdaining God Himself. It is only those who have a relationship with the Lord through faith in the Messiah, the Christ, who have the joy of the Lord.
And that joy of salvation only comes by knowing Christ and rejoicing in the redemption He has procured for His people. His work of redemption includes both His humiliation and His exaltation. It includes His birth, life, death, resurrection, and His ascension into glory. From Psalm 24 we understand that when the ark was returned to Jerusalem this exclamation was joyfully made:
Lift up your heads, O you gates;
    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord strong and mighty,
    the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates;
    lift them up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
 Who is he, this King of glory?
    The Lord Almighty—
    he is the King of glory. 
(Psa. 24:7-10)
Those verses are fulfilled in Christ. The Psalm is looking ahead to Christ and His victory over sin, Satan, and death in all its forms. It is looking ahead to His ascension into heaven where He intercedes on our behalf and where he rules and reigns at the Father’s right hand. The Psalm is looking ahead to the joy of the victorious King, Christ Jesus, returning to heaven. Through saving faith in Him we share in that joy and look forward to the complete fulfillment of it in the life yet to be revealed.
May that joy be yours and mine! By God’s grace may each one of us know the answer to the question raised by the men of Beth Shemesh so long ago: Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” And standing in faith on the solid Rock of Christ, we will know true joy in this life, and we will experience that joy perfectly and eternally in the life to come! Amen.
sermon outline:
But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy
of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. The
people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them, and
the men of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the
Lord, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?”1 Samuel 6:19-20
                          “Who Can Stand in the Presence
                                        This Holy God?”
                                         2 Samuel 6:1-23
I.  The Background: The ark of the covenant, where the Lord is enthroned
     between the Cherubim” (2), had been captured by the Philistines and then
     returned to Kiriath Jearim (1 Samuel 4:1b-7:1)
II.  The surprise: As the ark is returned to Jerusalem, Uzzah reaches out to steady it
      and is struck dead (2 Samuel 6:6-7)
III. What it teaches: Because God is perfectly holy it is crucial that we obey and
     worship Him according to His Word (Exodus 25:12-15; Numbers 4:15)
IV. Further applications:
      1) We can only come into the presence of the holy God through saving faith in
           Christ (1 Samuel 6:20; Romans 3:21-25a)
      2) Familiarity can cause us to lose sight of God’s holiness (3; 2 Samuel 6:3;
          1 Samuel 7:1)
      3) A proper relationship with the Lord enabled David (and enables us) to go
          from anger (8) and fear (9) to joy (13-19)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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