- 1 Samuel 1:1-20
Intercessory Prayer (based on Psalm 94)
Loving Heavenly Father,
You are holy and just, and You deal rightly with those who oppose You. You hate the arrogant, who stands up against You as Sovereign Lord.
As we worship You now, the scenes of wicked men who terrorise your church and kill others without reason, burn vividly in our minds. Arrogant people blaspheme You. We bow before You to whom retribution belongs, and we ask: “How long?” How long will You allow them to crush your people and trample upon your church? The helpless fall under their atrocities as if You don’t take notice.
Yet, in your eyes they are dull fools. They think You, who fashioned the ear, cannot hear; they think You, who formed the eye cannot see.
Nations are under You; You are sovereign. Use the Gospel message to rebuke the evildoers. You know their thoughts, and You know that every man’s life is but a breath.
We don’t always see it that way, but your discipline is for our good. Your teachings are pure. From it we know that there will be a day of judgement for the wicked.
We praise You for not forsaking your church, because we are brought in the blood of Christ.
We take hands in unity against the wicked. With you people world-wide we join in prayer against the plans of evildoers. From You is our only help. Without You we are helpless and we would have long ago been wiped from the face of the earth.
We stumble, but your steadfast love keeps us from falling all together. The things of this world weigh heavily on our hearts, but your promises cheer our souls.
You stand against the wicked who pass laws to justify injustice. Your people who live by your will have become enemy; good is called evil, and evil has become good.
We take refuge in You, because You are steadfast and faithful; with You there is no shadow of turning. We long for the day of your return, Lord Jesus. Not only will we stand before the Father in your righteousness to behold your glory and holiness, but You will finally deal with evildoers. You will vindicate your church, but the arrogant and the godless, those whose names are not in the Book of Life, will be thrown into the pit of destruction, the eternal lake of fire.
And now we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, yes, come soon. Amen.”
My dear friends in Christ,
Last week we learnt about Israel in the time of the Judges. They turned their backs on God and became the scorn of the nations around them. Sex and sexuality, marriage, morality, and the very heart of the Bible became subject to human reinterpretation. The result was disastrous.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Then, a whole series of events led several people to once again search the Scriptures as the life-giving Word of God and challenged people to order their lives and churches on principles found only in the Bible. The result was astounding: although thousands paid with their lives for turning against the teachings of the Roman Church, many millions more came to worship Christ as the only Saviour. They were led out of the bondage of sin and tradition, out of fear into the freedom of grace in Christ alone.
Just recently I read about another reformation which is underway. It goes under the banner of “The Reformation Project”. Yes, there needs to ongoing reformation. But The Reformation Project which is happening in Orlando, Florida, might travel like a wild fire across the globe. What is it?
Its overt message is to “affirm” LGBTQ in and around Orlando, Florida. The pastor of Joy Metropolitan Church, who is in a same-sex relationship, and the founding pastor of The Impact Church of Orlando want Christians to discuss ways to make Orlando churches supportive of the LGBTQ lifestyle, regardless of their churches’ theological positions on marriage and sexuality.
We just cannot learn!
While all of this is happening, we cry out with Psalm 94, “How long, O Lord?” Why has the church of the Lord Jesus Christ become the scorn and ridicule of the world?
Maybe the parents of Samuel asked the same question. How would God turn around the hopeless state of his people in their time?
Solution in unexpected places
In the first few verses of 1 Samuel 1 there’s a rundown of the ancestry of Samuel. We read names (because the God people are important—and He knows our names, and even have the names of those who worship his Son, written up in the Book of Life), but the more we read the less we know about them. They lived in Ephraim and had earlier relations who came from Ephratha, which was near Bethlehem, the city of David. They were in the line of Levites who served the Lord. But that’s all we know. They were no influential family, and not connected with influential people. In fact, they were almost nobodies.
This fits the theme of the book of Samuel: God makes something out of nothing. Later we will meet the family of David, where David was the least of his brothers, but mightily used of God who chose him to be king. When the Philistines were camped against the people of God, it was not the mightiest soldier, but the least who would slay Goliath.
That’s how God works. He resists the proud, but calls the humble. He passed the people of fame and chose a humble girl and her carpenter fiancé, who no one knew anything about, to be the earthly parents of the Saviour of the world. He passed the learned of the day, but called unschooled fishers to be his disciples. It was the derided prophet who ate locusts and wore clothes of camel’s hair who announced the Messiah to the people. It was the apostle, who call himself the “untimely born”, the least of all sinners, who became the mouthpiece of God to the Roman Emperor.
This is God’s operational plan to restore his people who had become the scorn and derision of the world. And that principle is still at work. He passes the wise of this world, but uses the simple and poor to have them proclaim the Kingdom of Christ.
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21, NIV)
Today He knocks on your door. Don’t protest like Moses that you cannot talk; don’t protest like Gideon that you are the weakest and come from an insignificant family line. The Lord does not use those who are able, but He enables those whom He calls. He calls you to follow Him. Today is Pentecost Day: You will receive power when the Holy Spirt comes over you, our Lord promised his disciples. And his power they proclaimed the Word about Christ and God gave them thousands who were ordained to eternal life.
A barren church
Elkanah had two wives. Penninah was the one with sons and daughters; Hanna was barren. Penninah scorned Hannah and caused her much pain and grieve.
The writer of 1 Samuel informs us of a very sad fact even before the story of Hannah begins:
Now this man [Elkanah] used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. (1 Samuel 1:3, NRSV)
The verse speaks of the faithfulness of the parents of Samuel, but the term “year by year” also gives us a hint of a time in Israel when the worship of God was a drag. Why? The priests had no appreciation about the holiness of God. Chapter 2:2 tells us:
Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. (1 Samuel 2:12, NIV)
Dead, ritualistic religion had no impact on the people and therefore no impact on the world around them. No expectation, no hope. Just go through the drills. Barren theology, waterless clouds. What happened between Hannah and Penninah was a vivid description of the state of the Old Testament Church then.
When the church lose sight of the glory and holiness of God, of his worship and of his Word, scorn depends upon it from all corners, and it becomes barren, without any future. People don’t see the need to turn to the church because the life of Christians is no different from the life of those who don’t go to church. And in a planned ploy to silence the message of Christ, the cry of the world all along from is that the church becomes more worldly. “The Reformation Project”! The church is reaching so far out to the world, that the world found a way to reach into the church!
Hannah’s troubles were representative of the troubles of the church then. She was barren and she was a mockery. The world taunts the church, “We have the numbers, you are losing yours!”
And all along the church tries strategies not founded in the Word. It tries entertainment; it preaches a Gospel of prosperity; it even allows in its number the very people whom God disapproves and hates: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who have sex with men, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NIV).
It is so much different from the first Christian church in Jerusalem. About that church we read:
No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. (Acts 5:13–14, NIV)
Where do we stand? What is your expectation for your church? Was there any exception whatsoever when you woke this morning and got dressed to come to church? Or have you come go just go through the drills? But inside there is barrenness. We run from the ridicule of the world, but we don’t run to God in repentance.
It is only when the church of Christ corporately, and every member of it, begins to show spiritual fruit of a life planted in Christ, a life made new by the blood of Christ, a lifestyle drenched in the holiness of the Spirit of God, that it will become attractive again.
How can we be serious about being light and salt in the world if we only live in the shadow of what it means to be a Christian, and if we have lost our saltiness?
A new beginning
Hannah’s hurt drove her on her knees. Someone writes:
Certainly we are right to think that only God could bring something important out of the unimportance and “barrenness” of 1 Samuel 1:1, 2. (John Woodhouse)
Hannah’s action (to all appearances insignificant) will turn out to change not only her life but the life of the nation and, indeed, if we dare to see it, the history of the world.
The Bible records: “Hannah rose”. She became active while the others were still “sitting” – even the high priest, Eli. Hannah prayed. Hannah prayed to God. The prayer of Hannah should be the prayer of the church:
“Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11, NIV)
Remember Micah’s mother in Judges 18 who gave her son away to idols? Hannah is the opposite: she wished her son to serve Almighty God all the days of his life—the only son she ever had was the one she gave away!
“Hannah begged God to do for her what he had done for Israel in the days of Moses. She was asking God to do what God had shown to be his characteristic behavior toward his people.” (Woodhouse, J. (2008). 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader (p. 30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books)
The difference between Hannah as representative of the barren church of the Old Testament and us, is that God already gave us his Son. He is the Head of his church. He died for it; He shed his blood for it; He rescued it and sanctified it; HE overcame death for it; He rose and He intercedes for it and gave his Spirit to it.
That prayer of Hannah is answered. From Ephratah, through the line of David the Messiah has come! Our hope is in Him; He is our message—but He has be our life! He must be our mission!
Reformation always takes us back to Him, his Word, his salvation! An insignificant priest nailed his theses on a church door in Wittenberg in 1517, and the fire of the reformation was lit.
The Reformation 500 years ago stands as a beacon of light and testimony to the work of Almighty God who is building his church – even against the mighty powers of this world. And as we prayed in the words of Psalm 94:
For the Lord will not reject his people; He will never forsake his inheritance. The Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them. (Psalm 94:14, 22–23, NIV)
Let’s go home, face the world, and look up to Christ with joy in our hearts. He has overcome; He calls to Himself those the Father had given Him.
Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 4 June 2017