I love the ministry of the gospel! If I were forced to give a one-word explanation for why I do, it would be, “baffling.” I love to participate in what God is doing in gospel-centered ministry because it baffles those on the outside looking in. God’s work, done God’s way confounds the logic of unbelief and stupefies those who try to deny Christ his glory.
This building is no exception and the name of this building, Ebenezer, for generations to come forces us to recall an Old Testament event in 1 Samuel 7 illustrating God’s delight in enabling his people to baffle those who do not yet believe.
First, a little context. The first four chapters of 1 Samuel indicate that God had allowed Israel to fall into the Philistines’ enemy hands because they had put their trust in other gods. While they had not entirely turned their backs on Yahweh, they had at least recruited supplemental gods and goddesses. God effectively said, “Ok, if you trust those idols let’s see what they can do for you!” Their idols let them down, resulting in their subjugation to the cruel Philistines who eventually slaughtered over thirty thousand Jewish men and captured the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence and the container for God’s laws and promises. It was one of the lowest points of Israel’s history, and she had brought it all on herself by her pride.
While 1 Samuel 4:2 contains the name Ebenezer it is anachronistic reference. It would not be named that until later. For now, it is a placeholder for future reference.
Chapter 7 explains why the place mentioned in chapter 4 was named Ebenezer, recording the miraculous restoration God provided Israel upon her repentance. The Lord initiated Israel’s salvation as he always does by bringing such misery on the Philistines that they were forced to return the Ark. In response to that redemption, the Israelites feverishly repented, destroying every vestige of idolatry (7:4-6).
God gathered them to worship because that is the most strategic and most powerful weapon in his arsenal against the devil’s kingdom.
But as they were worshiping, the Philistines attacked them, presumably in fear that Israel was assembling for battle. The Philistines were correct; God was gathering them for battle, but he was doing it in a way that would baffle. I’m sure the Israelites were baffled too at first. They probably thought, “This isn’t fair! We have finally repented and God lets the Philistines slaughter us like fish in a pond!” However, God gathered them to worship because that is the most strategic and most powerful weapon in his arsenal against the devil’s kingdom. Revelation indicates that when the earthly church gathers in corporate worship, she joins with those forces in heaven which are beating back the devil’s minions and fulfilling all of God’s plan to build his Kingdom. Worship is not passive; it is a loud war whoop and concentration of power which is unleashed weekly against the forces of darkness gaining more ground for Christ.
This story in 1 Samuel is a small picture of what happens week after week: we pray and praise and God answers with thunder, sending his enemies into a panic (7:10-11). We don’t come to worship in the delusion of our own merit. We come recognizing God’s precious Lamb was slain to make us his children and thus welcomes us into the family room and dignifies us by making us fellow generals in the conquest (7:7-9).
We sin, but he pursues us, restores us, and even blesses us beyond where we were before we sinned!
After God routs the Philistines, Samuel erects a monument as a generational reminder of God’s atonement and deliverance. He calls the stone Ebenezer, meaning literally, “Stone of Help.” Eventually, the town became known by that name as well. And where was that place? It was the place where they had first sinned. God restored their territory to that boundary stone and expanded it to the point that the whole town should be named for it. This is the way God baffles. We sin, but he pursues us, restores us, and even blesses us beyond where we were before we sinned!
When we first initiated Building GeneroCity, we came to an early crossroads. We had targeted $10 million worth of projects that needed to be done to both renovate and expand our campus for years to come. We initially raised $3.5 million, and as pastors and elders, we had to decide which project to pursue first. Conventional wisdom would say build the children’s ministry building first, that will add young families, and then you can raise money to renovate the sanctuary, a less “inspiring” project.
However, your elders decided that the sanctuary, the center of our ministry, needed to be renovated first. We needed a solid place in which we could gather for generations to come in fervent worshipful battle. God was so pleased with that choice he enabled us to start the children’s building, a 20,000 square-foot ministry center costing in excess of $6.5 million, all fully pledged and mostly paid for in cash. Out of our new sanctuary, God thundered in this city when the first sounds of construction were heard on this church property in over 40 years and on any church in a century.
Ebenezer! Thus far has the Lord helped us!
The massive scope of its footprint, its dedication to children unheard of in urban settings, its beauty, its reach toward the inner city, and its economic stewardship baffle onlookers. I have never had so much fun answering questions by skeptics about this building and showing them through it! And when they ask how we did it, I can stand on a granite marker and answer their questions without opening my mouth, “Ebenezer! Thus far has the Lord helped us!”
On this property we have sinned. We held slaves here. We founded a slave-sponsoring denomination here. We’ve been proud, selfish, unloving and blaspheming here. But here on this property God has pursued us again and again. He has granted us repentance and loosened our lips to praise him again. Week after week now he gathers us to join him in battle and has broadened our borders so that we are more blessed than we were before we sinned.
Thank you, First Pres, for being weapons coming so readily to God’s hand through your generosity and service! But let us especially thank our God by saying, “Come, Thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace. Streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise. . .Here I raise my Ebenezer! Hither by Thy help I’ve come.”
This Sermon in Short is a summary of the message preached by Dr. George Robertson in the evening service on April 23, 2017. Click here to see the full service and the sermon in its entirety.
 R. D. Bergen (1996). 1, 2 Samuel (Vol. 7, pp. 105–106). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.