- Revelation 5
- 1Samuel 7
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
What if someone gives you a certificate, stating that you are inheriting a very large estate. We are talking about share certificates, bullion, diamonds, contracts explaining your rights to boards, and stacks of cash. In the certificate there is mention of a key to a safety box in a bank in a big city.
The day arrived on which you are entitled to the inheritance. You take the certificate and other documents provided by your solicitor to the bank. Arriving at the bank the officer in charge takes you down to the vault and takes then key designed to open the deposit box, turned it, takes it out again, and then respectfully leaves you to yourself to unlock the box and, in privacy take possession what is legally yours.
You scramble in your briefcase for the your key, which has to match the one of the bank. But you can’t find it! You lost it! Your are technically rich, but practically not an inch further than before you heard the news about the inheritance.
Something in this scene takes us to the throne room of of in Revelation 5. The apostle John found himself in a vision before the throne of God. God held a scroll in his hand which was sealed with seven seal. This scroll, according to most commentators contained God’s unfolding plan of the history of the world, and his plan of redemption. But there was no one, not in heaven and earth able to open the scroll or to look in it. John wept loudly, until one of the elders pointed to the Lion of Judah, the Root of David who has conquered and is able to open the seals. John looked up and saw a Lamb, standing as if was slain; He took the scroll and opened the seals. A song of jubilation and praise broke out in heaven:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9–10, HCSB)
In our series “The king is dead; long live the King” we today cross a bridge from the hopelessness and darkness in which the people of God lived before Samuel was born, to a new beginning. In this chapter we will meet a new Priest, a new King and a new Sacrifice: victory is in and through Him! This is so because without Christ we have no victorious King who surely defeats his enemy; without Christ we have no true prophet who reveals to us who God is; and without Christ we have no priest, who sacrificed Himself for our sin, and who is now interceding for us at the Father.
The devastation of rebellious sin
The history of Israel tells the story of a life of stumbling, falling, repentance and restoration. The Philistines plundered them over and over again. Israel was worn-out by the Philistines. One city after the other fell in the hands of the enemy. Not a day went by or there would be reports of attacks. This was a far cry from the promise that every place they planted their footsteps would belong to them.
We have to understand this chapter from our perspective as Christians who have the promise of Christ that He is with us, and that we need to have our eyes focused on the ends of the earth with the Gospel. How are we faring? If it seems as we are stumbling and falling, and that our enemy is scoffing and laughing while they gain territory, what can we learn from 1 Samuel 7?
The people asked themselves: Did not God promise to give us this land? Has He forgotten us? What is wrong? Why can’t we just wipe the Philistines out and carry on with our lives?
Why? Because they turned away from God!
This is the story of the modern church also. Churches shrink under the attack of the world and the enemy, and people ask, “Why?” Some Christians give up and lose sight of God’s plan with and for the church, and even the victorious Lamb and Lion of Judah. They join the forces of the world and the Word is not preached and the members of the Church don’t study the Word and they do not live according to the commandments of the Lord. Such a church will not stand in the hour of temptation and trail, purely because it traded the basic principles of being church for what the world has to offer. A church where God is honoured with the lips but not with the heart has no future. Let’s learn that lesson from Israel. Let’s repent if such an attitude is found within our ranks.
A true prophet
So God send a prophet to preach the Word of God and bring the people to repentance:
If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve Him only, and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 7:3)
Samuel was fully aware of Israel’s rebellion. They traded the Living God who created the heavens and the earth for lifeless gods. They became like the nations around them. They acted as if they were not the people rescued by God to be his holy possession.
The prophet called and the Israelite male leaders gathered in Mizpah. They represented their families and their clans. That’s the way of the Covenant: God works in and through families.
They constantly looked over their shoulders for a possible attack of the Philistines who might interpret this gathering as a military operation. They were concerned about their wives and children; and their crops and animals. Their entire national life has become a disaster and misery! Their hearts now yearn for God to rescue them!
Thank God, they heeded his message through his prophet and repented. They got rid of the idols in their midst. The act of drawing water and pouring it out on the ground was a public symbol of their repentance and penitence. You could hear the cry of the people: “We have sinned against the Lord!”
Did God take the enemy away from them after this show of remorse and regret over sin? No! So it is today still with the church. Repentance does not safeguard the church against attacks from the enemy. Let’s be clear about this; it is even possible that the church will have more battles to fight as soon as it decides to fight on the Lord’s side. So, why repent? Let’s follow the story.
Victory through the Lamb – also the true Priest
This corporate act of repentance before God where Israel in its thousands lamented its transgressions before God was seen by the Philistines as an act of provocation and aggression. So, they mustered their ranks with the idea to overrun the troops of the army of the Lord. And the Israelites were terrified to death, imploring the man of God to intercede for them. “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines!”
The Philistines heard of this assembly. Did the Israelites gather to discuss military action against them? What a stupid move! We’ve got them right on top of the mountain, they’re trapped in.
Samuel looked up. With a firm voice he commanded, “Give me a suckling lamb.”
“What is this man doing?” someone asked. “We don’t have time for the rituals now. We can come back and to this later. We’ve got a war on our hands for the moment!”
Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it to the Lord. The enemy looked at this act as the moment in which God’s people would be at their weakest. Even today the world laughs at a church praying finding their strength in God. The act of humbling oneself before God is foolishness in the eyes of the world. In the eyes of God it is the only remedy for survival.
Samuel lit the fire and placed the lamb on it as a sacrifice to God, without cutting it up in peaces. This is a symbol of their total commitment to God. The smoke went up into the heavens. God accepted the sacrifice. The God of heaven and earth listened to the voice of his servant on behalf of his people.
Many years later God answered the need of his universal church in a very unusual way; and once again it was a very foolish act in the eyes of the world. On a cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem God had his Son die. He was the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. There they flogged Him, despised Him, spat on Him, they derided Him and mocked Him. And when He died, they put Him in a grave with a seal on it – and they thought they had the victory. But on the third day He conquered the grave and death and hell and sin. There on the cross and through the open grave God answered the prayer of Samuel, and He also answered the prayed of many martyrs through the ages. There He answers our prayers as we have to face hard times.
The Bible says God thundered with a loud thunder against the Philistines. Get the picture: God, to whom the thunder and the winds and the clouds are as servants, commanded them to join forces with Him. In the darkness of the cloud and the terrifying bolts of lightning and violent wind God confused the enemy. They had no idea what was going on. Maybe God sent some hail upon them as He did in the day of Gideon. Now they became their own enemy. This would happen over and over again in the history of God’s people. This happened after the resurrection of our Lord, the Lamb of God. The enemy was in a furore of confusion: “How is this possible?”
Ebenezer – the King is with his people
All of a sudden the Israelites realised that the roles were reversed: they were no longer the attacked, but the attacker. They pursued the fleeing Philistines and drove them back out of their territory. God provided a miraculous deliverance.
Such is the deliverance of the cross and the open grave. At first the apostles locked themselves up in the Upper Room out of fear for the Jews. But after the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, and after they were anointed with the Holy Spirit it was a different story. Now openly they proclaimed the Gospel, now openly they challenged the authorities: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
The very fact of the resurrection Christ changed the life of the apostle Paul. He, who persecuted the church, became an apostle of the Gospel of hope. It is this man who now gives every bit of strength to preach the message of Jesus Christ. Here we find him this morning on the ship, tossed about by the waves of the sea, facing danger and hunger. For what reason? For the victory of the Gospel. Today we hear him say: “Fear not, for I believe God.”
Samuel took a stone and set it up basically in the same place where the Israelites had previously been defeated by the Philistines, and he declared: “Ebenezer – thus far the Lord has helped us.”
With these words he acknowledged that the victory was because of God and not because of their own doing. But with these words he also wanted the Israelites to know that the battle is ongoing. There was no resting on their laurels. The battle against the enemy of the church is an ongoing battle. But the grace of these words is the anchor for the church in times of battle: as the Lord’s has helped in the past, so He will be our Helper in the future.
Conclusion: Christ—true Priest, true Prophet, true King
My fellow brethren, learn from the lessons of the past. There between Mizpah and Shen in Israel was a stone set up with the name Ebenezer written on it. God has helped his people. On Calvary’s hill a cross was planted. On it was written, “The King of the Jews”, and nailed to it was the Son of God.
Today, like a Samuel we say, “Ebenezer – thus far has God helped us”. The resurrection of our Lord spans all of history and it includes the future. Let’s involve ourselves in the battle. Let’s do it in the power of prayer at the feet of our Lord; let’s go forth under the banner of Christ who gave us the Great Commission:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
There is victory in the Lamb. History unfolds through Him, the true prophet, priest and King. The king is dead; long live the King! AMEN.
Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 30 July 2017