The angel of God stood over Jerusalem with the sword of divine and holy justice in his hands. With that sword he had been sent by God to destroy, just as on one night in Egypt when all the firstborn of the Egyptians were slain, that is, all those who were not covered by the blood of the Lamb, so also God had again sent forth His angel to destroy. And death was rampant.
But then the Lord halted him over Mount Moriah. And God told him to put his sword back up into its sheath.
Do you know why that angel was sent? Do you know what it means that the sword was sheathed? These are the questions we are going to answer from the Word of God today as it reveals to us the wonderful gospel of the grace of God in the death of Jesus Christ.
Open your Bibles now, to I Chronicles 21. We will be referring to this passage, so it will be good for you to keep your Bible open as you listen. In verse 15 we read about this angel. “And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.”
Why had God sent forth the angel, and why had He told him to unsheath the sword of justice and to bring it down upon Jerusalem. The answer to that question is because of David the king of Israel. Specifically, because of the pride of David.
David had commanded that Israel should be numbered. At this time, David was an old man. He had gone through many trials aimed at humbling and subduing him. Yet, against the warning of Joab his chief captain, he had commanded that his nation should be numbered and that he should know the number of its inhabitants. That was pride, that was stinking pride.
Pride was the very first sin that was committed. And it is the very last sin to go in our hearts.
God had given to David a kingdom and prosperity. God had taken David from being a shepherd – “out of the sheepfold,” says Psalm 72. And He had made him a great king and given him a great kingdom. But David, even though he was an old man and we would say he should have known better, could not resist stroking himself and musing to himself that he had done a great job. Now he wants to take the glory to himself. He simply has to know how large this kingdom is and how great he is.
In his pride, David robbed God. David took what belonged to God to himself. The glory is to God, for God has made a people for Himself. Yet David tried to take this to his own credit.
In Psalm 30, which was written at this time when David had gone through this experience and God had brought him to repentance, David acknowledged this. He said in verse 6: “And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.” He goes on to say in verse 7, “LORD, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.” And he says, The result of all of this, when I learned to humble my pride and to see that all is of God, all that I am, all that I have, and that salvation is of God, was this: “To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.”
Do you? For all things, do you acknowledge that it is all of God and none of yourself?
David’s sin was the sin of pride. And pride is the sin of a thief. Pride tries to rob from God. We have nothing of our own, and everything tells us this. Our body, our health, our looks, our intelligence, our possessions – nothing is ours. Nor do we deserve anything. We are dust, taken from the dust of the ground. We are sinners. We have rebelled against the living God. All is of God, given to us. And our failure is to glorify and thank Him. Rather, our sin is this: to take the honor, the credit, the praise to ourselves; to say, Look at me! I will do this. This is what I am. The terrible sin of pride.
Do you repent from that? Do you acknowledge it in yourself? It was for this sin that the wrath of God comes, for this sin is no slight infraction. It is nothing less than the attempt of the creature to push God from His throne. Pride is vile and despicable. It is worthy to be cut down by the avenging sword of God’s holy justice.
Do not think that when God sent the angel over Jerusalem and over the head of David himself, He has over-reacted and is now too severe and unreasonable in His judgment over what David had done. This sword is a sword of justice and righteousness.
This sword of God’s avenging wrath for many is still unsheathed. It still hangs over them. It hangs over many cities today. It hangs mid-air over many countries, over homes and villages. It hangs over any place and over anyone where the sin of pride abides unrepentant.
When David saw the sword of divine justice hanging over him he acknowledged and confessed his sin. “And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be on me, and on my father’s house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued” (I Chron. 21:17). David saw that sword of divine justice over him and confessed, by the grace of God, his worthiness to receive punishment for his sin.
It is the vision of the wrath of God which our sins deserve that is always the first work of God’s grace in the heart of His child. The work of God is first to humble and make us to see our need of mercy. Men will not come to God until they are given to see the angel with the drawn sword. Without a heartfelt knowledge of what your sin deserves because of the justice of God and because of the vileness of your sin, you will never humble yourself before Him.
Do you trifle and play with sin? Do you even so boldly ask the question whether or not God exists? Do you take it upon yourself to set the commandments of God on hold or to disregard them altogether? Why do you do this? You do this because you have never seen the sword which God holds in His hand and holds it not in vain or as an empty threat. You and I will never draw near to God in truth until, by the grace of God, we are given to see the sword drawn and pointed at our exposed breast. David sees clearly that his sin necessitates the punishment of God, that a holy God, being a holy God, cannot have fellowship with sin. And David sees that he is guilty of inexcusable and high treason.
Do you? Do you, by grace, place yourself in a truthful position before God? Not a proud position, saying, “Well, if God is there He had better prove Himself to me.” No, do you place yourself in a truthful position before God? You are a sinner. Of yourself, you deserve the wrath of God for your treason and vileness of pride.
David confessed that sin: “Is it not I that commanded this people to be numbered, even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed.” That was a very frank, a very full confession. He shuts his eyes to fellow men. He is not looking on anyone else. Is it not I? He sees himself as evil! His mouth is closed. He has no argument. He does not condemn God’s justice. He condemns himself.
My lips with shame my sins confess,
Against Thy law, against Thy grace,
Lord, should Thy judgment grow severe,
I am condemned, but Thou art clear.
That little verse goes on to say:
Should sudden vengeance seize my breath,
I must pronounce Thee just in death;
And if my soul were sent to hell,
Thy righteous law approves it well.
It was exactly the grace of God which brought David to see his sin and to see that he deserved punishment. It was that same grace of God that then gave David to see the most blessed truth that could possibly be known. He saw the sword of justice sheathed. Not only held still over his head, but sheathed, in a place where sacrifice was offered and received. The hand of the angel, we read in this chapter, was not only stayed, not only stopped, the sword was not only suspended over his head, but David saw the angel place that glittering sword back into its scabbard. The place where justice was satisfied. We read in verse 18, “Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.”
Ornan, a Jebusite, was a Gentile, that is, he was not a Jew. He was an original inhabitant of Jerusalem. David had been the one who had conquered Jerusalem. And Ornan had somehow been brought into the kingdom and covenant of God. He and his four sons had hid themselves from the angel, so terrified were they. And he says that he is willing to give the threshingfloor to David so that David can make this altar of atonement before God.
But we read in the chapter that David will not receive it as a gift. He will not offer to God that which was without cost to him. David’s heart is sincere. So, David takes the wood of the threshingfloor of Ornan (which he first purchases from Ornan), and he takes the oxen of Ornan and, we read in verses 26 and 27, “And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the LORD; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering. And the LORD commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof.”
Now understand this. At the place where sacrifice was offered to God and was accepted of God, there the sword of justice is sheathed. The sword of justice is sheathed over the place where atonement is given. Sacrifice and offerings that David gave that day pointed to the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. When an offering for sin is made which is acceptable to God, the sword of justice is satisfied. It is sheathed. That is Mount Calvary. That is the cross.
The gospel is this: At the place where the incarnate Son of God offered Himself up for the guilty, that is, the cross, there the justice of God is satisfied. There forgiveness is to be found. Understand that. Understand it well in your heart. Mount Calvary is the place where Jesus Christ represented all those whom the Father had given to Him out of mercy and grace. There He died in their place, and endured the wrath that they deserved so that the sword of God’s justice no longer hangs over them. Therefore they are forgiven.
The forgiveness of sins with God is not the postponement of justice. To be forgiven of your sin does not mean that perhaps later on God’s sword of justice is going to fall upon your head. The forgiveness of sins is not God’s forgetting about what your sin deserves and simply deciding that He will do nothing about it. But the forgiveness of sins is God’s bringing down the sword of His justice upon Jesus Christ who was given in the place of God’s people. It was Christ who exposed His breast to the sword of justice which was over us. He Himself said, Smite the shepherd! All that the offended holiness of God required as punishment upon us was brought down upon Him, our substitute. You must understand this. The wounds of Christ are made by the justice of God against our sins.
And that sacrifice that Christ gave upon the cross suffering in our place, in the place of God’s children, was accepted of God. The one great sacrifice of sin was made and over that sacrifice God said, This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. He accepts us (Eph. 1:7), in the blood of His beloved Son. And by that sacrifice, our sins are forever washed away.
As soon as David had seen the sacrifice accepted he saw something even more glorious. Above the threshingfloor stood the angel of Jehovah. And the sword which threatened death was thrust back into its scabbard. All was quiet. Not a soul covered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ shall ever die. Oh, the joy of this! This is the assurance of full pardon and communion with God. The cross of Jesus Christ, where He gave His Son to bear our sins. So that now God has nothing against us. He has blotted out our transgressions and He will remember them no more. He will never smite us. He will not condemn us. He does not condemn those for whom Christ has shed His blood. Why does He not condemn them? Because Jesus has died for them. Jehovah has a sword. He holds it for all those who continue impenitently in their sin, the ungodly and the wicked. But that sword is not for His children. That sword has been sheathed. The Lord has said, It is enough.
We read that this would now be the place where the temple would be built. Throughout his life, David had been seeking where the permanent place of the worship of God would be built. You may read of that in Psalm 132. Now it becomes plain to him that God Himself has revealed where that will be. It will be right here on Mount Moriah. It will be right here where formerly the threshingfloor of Ornan had stood. It will be right here where long ago, if you read your Bible, Genesis 22, Abraham had long ago been called to offer up his son to God and where God had provided a ram for the sacrifice. There Solomon’s temple shall be built.
That is a beautiful picture of the fact that through the cross of Jesus Christ we are brought nigh unto God. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we, who are unworthy and guilty and proud sinners of ourselves, are now brought to meet with our God and to worship Him.
Do you feel the guilt of your sins? Is sin heavy upon you? Do you see that you deserve to be struck down by the justice of God? Then you, by faith-the gift of God-must draw near to Mount Calvary. There God meets with His people who mourn over their sins. At the cross Christ called for the sword to be awakened against Himself, in order that we might be forever spared. The sword of justice is now sheathed over us. God swears that this is so. I do not hope that this is so. This is so, it is certain! Christ was punished for our sins. Therefore we shall never be punished for them.
Therefore we may meet with God, we may draw near to God. Let us render Him worship! Let us spend all of our days and all of our acts in holiness, love, and truth. Let your mornings and evenings and all that is in between be dedicated now to His fear and love. He died for the sins of His children in order that we might now reckon ourselves dead to sin, but alive unto Him. We are His to all eternity. We may come near to Him with boldness.
For God has turned away His wrath. He has sheathed His sword. We are justified in Jesus Christ. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We shall not come into condemnation. For the Lord Himself has provided a sacrifice – the Lamb of God who takes away this guilt, this terrible guilt which is ours. Now, through His blood, with confidence we may come to our God to worship and to adore.
May the Lord, then, bless you with this word now and forevermore.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the gospel of Thy grace. We thank Thee for the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We praise Thee, O Lord, for the truth of the holy gospel – that Thou hast given Him to stand in the place of all those whom Thou hast chosen in order that He might take away forever the wrath that their sins deserved and now may stand clear and forgiven before Thee. Bind this holy word to our hearts. Amen.