Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (3)

Bible Readings

  • Matthew 10:34-39
  • Judges 15:1-20

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Many might look at the story of Samson and remember his strength, his long hair and bad choices of women.  Some might think of Samson in the same way as what is told of a Spanish patriot soldier who, in his dying moments responded to his chaplain, asking him whether he had forgiven all his enemies. “I have no enemies, I have killed them all.

If we take Samson’s story out of the context for which it was included in the Bible, that’s what he is:  a vengeful, pig-headed man with a larger-than-life ego who had no social skills and became responsible for his own death.

It is only in the context of his calling as God’s chosen instrument at that specific time that we will understand his mission. We to see both 

  • why his people needed deliverance, and 
  • why the Bible calls him a faithful deliverer

Last week we learned how Samson could not, and maybe would not see that God did not intend him to set his people free by trying to win them over as friends. He disregarded the advice of his parents, and could not interpret the Holy Spirit’s leading by giving him the power to kill a lion with bare hands—this was a sign that he could only deliver his people from the enemy by the ability which comes from God.  We saw him getting married to a Philistine girl, and him only slightly upsetting the enemy.  He left the wedding in rage, without his wife, and need up back in his father’s house where it all began. Then he tried again to win the enemy’s heart.

About three or four months later we find Samson again in the house of his Philistine wife.  He had a young goat, probably meant as a gift to restore peace.

Keep in mind that there was still a legally binding contract between the two families, but that marriage was still not consummated.  Samson and his wife were not, so to speak, one flesh.  This was of God who prohibited such a marriage. 

Things took another direction from this point on in the story.  All along we need to keep this line in mind:  

… this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel. (Judges 14:4, NIV)

Samson’s wife became the wife of his master of ceremonies because her father thought the deal was over.  He could take the younger, more beautiful sister instead.  But at this point, Samson began to understand his mission:  God called him to set his people free from oppression.  God did not call him to be part of the enemy, but to oppose them.

If we don’t get this point, we will miss most of the teaching of the Old Testament.  In fact, we will misunderstand the mission of Christ by limiting his mission to only setting to us an example of how we should love regardless of truth.

This is indeed the weakness of the Christian church today.  If we saw it our calling to love outside the boundaries of the truth as expressed in the Scriptures, we end up loving the world.  The message of Christ in Matthew 10:34 still stands: 

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34, NIV)

But did the angels not proclaim peace on earth when they announced the birth of Christ:  

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14, NIV)

Did you hear the second part of the verse, “peace to those on whom his favour rests”?

He who loves the world has become an enemy of God (James 4:4).  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1John 2:15)  Paul writes:  

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV)

Paul also writes:

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:21, NIV)

Even David prays:

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21–22, NIV)

Yes, Christ demands of us to love our enemies, but a true disciple of Christ loves his Saviour about all.  When it comes to the glory of his Name, the purity of the Gospel and the advancement of the church, we get our marching orders not from the world, but from Him who conquered the world and their deceitful master.

God led Samson to understand this valuable lesson.  He never consummated his marriage or did not take another Philistine wife the day.  The little goat he brought as a peace offering never served a purpose.

Confrontation

Samson’s mission would be fulfilled in battle.  How he discharged of his calling to us a manifestation of faithful obedience to the Lord, but not a norm of obedience. I’ll explain:  we are not called to catch foxes and burn the wheat of the world.  What we are called to is to faithfully obey the Lord for and in what He calls us as people who live in the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ.  He enables us by the Holy Spirit we sow the seed of the Gospel wherever He calls us and whenever He calls us.  In this calling we confront the world with the Gospel of Christ, we stand on the truth of God revealed in Him, and in his Name, we become a church who subdues the enemy of Christ with his Word by his Spirit.  In other words, what drove Samson to deliver his people from the enemy, will drive us; but the method was forever changed after the finished work of Christ.

Confusion

Samson was not directly responsible for what happened next, but his definite change of attack shows the weakness of the enemy of God.  

Samson refuses to take the younger sisters wife.  He was done with the Philistines.  He chose the road of confrontation to achieve God’s purpose of deliverance.  

He chose to destroy the wheat fields.  Instead of Israel occupying the land and receiving corps they did not plant, their spiritual slavery to the gods of the surrounding nations caused the reverse. What happened?  

Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. (Judges 6:2–4, NIV)

The people of God hiding in mountain clefts while their crops were ruined. Is this a picture of property and blessing?  God sent his people Samson, the deliverer.

He would ruin the financial prosperity of the Philistines.  In the Sorek Valley with its fertile soils and mountain streams, the Philistines had vineyards, around which they erected walls to protect them from wild animals.  Foxes was a significant pest which got through holes in the walls and destroyed the crops.  We read about this in Song of Songs 2:15.  Samson most probably just blocked the holes through which the foxes would escape and so trap them.  Soon he had 300.  Tying their tales together with dry flax between every pair and setting it alight cause havoc.  The wheat, ready for harvest, burnt down, also causing extensive damage to the vineyard and olive groves.

This is amusing.  The Philistines then turned against one another.  They killed both Samson’s “wife” and her father. And when they took to Samson, we read, “…he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” (Judges 15:8, NKJV) This is an expression meaning they suffered huge losses.  

Conflict

Samson then took a break and sought respite in the rock of Etam.  The cleft or chasm in the rock is a long, narrow cavern about 75m long, 15m wide and 1.5m high.

What happens is tragic beyond words.  Samson’s own people became so used to be slaves in their own land, that they slavishly obeyed the Philistines to betray God’s deliverer.  The Philistines did not have the gumption to face Samson themselves unless he was bound.  The men of Judah did not see confrontation with the enemy as their duty to reclaim their Promised Land.  Instead, they delivered Samson to them.  Samson trusted his own people to protect him from their enemy, yet they regarded him as their enemy.

One would need much more time to explain what is hidden in these few verses.  But just in short:

  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ become so worldly that they turn against those who proclaim the Kingdom of God in all sincerity.  They did it with Moses too.  And they did it with Jesus Christ.  Worldly Christians can quickly become the footmen of the world doing their dirty work for them.  
  • It is possible that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ can become spiritually so blind that they see the enemy of Christ is their liberators.
  • It is more than just a possibility that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ would disown Him purely to protect their own interests and peace.

Think about it.  Consider your personal attitude in this.

Like a slave with hands tied up, Samson was delivered into the hands of the Philistines.  His own people did not kill him, but they would hand him over to others who would.  

But God’s servants are not powerless.  The Spirit of God rushed on Samson, and he broke the ropes which bound him.  What followed was something I would not mind seeing on video.  Samson picked up the jaw bone of a donkey and started to fling it around.  Jawbones are not really smooth, and anyone who dared to come close got knocked over.  Did he really kill a thousand of them?  The word in the Bible can also be understood as a military company.  In any case, they did not have a chance.  Samson made donkeys of them; in other words, they became like salve animals under God’s power through him.  Later on, they named the place Jawbone Hill.  There’s something of this which echoes into the future to Golgotha, Place of the Skull where our Saviour, after He was handed over by his own people to be hanged, being thirsty, had victory over Satan, death, sin and hell.

Contentment

Samson, exhausted in victory, cried out to the Lord to sustain him.  God opened a hollow place, and a fountain sprang open.  His strength returned, and he revived. God enabled his appointed deliverer to have victory, and God sustained his appointed deliver.

And we read the last statement in this chapter:  

And he judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines. (Judges 15:20, NKJV)

Conclusion

Anyone who knows about the Gospel of Christ will understand how Samson as deliverer was a precursor to Christ, born in Bethlehem many years later.  When we celebrate the birth of Christ, we hear the message:

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10–11, NKJV)

He is your Deliverer, He is your rock, He is the living water.  He is your Saviour.  Take up your cross and follow Him.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Red D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 December 2018

 

Advertisements

Our heavenly home, and the way there

Scripture Readings:

  • Deuteronomy 1:19-33
  • John 14:1-14

Main points:

  1. Faith replaces confusion and anxiety
  2. The eternal home is being prepared
  3. Only one way to God
  4. Between now and eternity: work and pray

Introduction

My dear fellow believer in the Lord Jesus Christ,

I remember sitting in the funeral parlour.  The funeral director asked me all the questions about my brother’s impending funeral, and I had to think hard to be coherent.  Usually, I would sit on the other side of the table and ask about the same questions to families who lost loved ones in death.  To experience losing someone close made me trip over my words, not thinking clearly.

Our world can sometimes become undone when people around fail and disappoint us.  Applied to the church, it is usually not what happens in the world which disturbs us; it is usually what happens within the church that brings confusion. We have our disappointments, people get their noses into other people’s business, they gossip, slander, but what really gets us is when someone openly disowns the Lord through public sin.  We then just want to give up and walk away.

Faith replaces confusion and anxiety

Jesus had announced to his disciples that He would leave them.

Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. (John 13:33, NKJV)

Judas had left them to betray Jesus, and then there was the sad prediction of our Lord that another would deny Him.  But Jesus comforted them with these words:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (John 14:1, NKJV)

They were sobering words.

The disciples faced disappointment, confusion and loneliness:  one of their leaders would deny that he ever knew Christ, and their Lord would be dragged before the courts, falsely charged, bitterly beaten and scoffed, only to be nailed to a cross along with two criminals.

But He had prepared them even before Judas walked out into the darkness of the night.

Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. (John 13:19, NKJV)

So now, on their way to the Garden of Olives, He instructs them again:

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. (John 14:1, NKJV)

To the troubled means to be confused and as a result to go in some panic.  That’s what shock does to one.  It leads one to lose direction and hope.  When Jesus comforted them in their hour of confusion, He gave them the antidote to uncertainty.  “Believe in God, believe in Me also.

This is infinitely more than us trying to comforting one another with words like, “Things will get better, just hang in there.”  What our Lord said was to put our their trust in God, the One who created the universe, the One who had been faithful to his people up to that point in time by making all his promises come true in his Son Jesus Christ – the very same God who would carry them through precisely on account of what his Son accomplished in his rescue mission.

Faith is absolute trust that God will and can do as He promised because He is God.  When Moses led the people out of Egypt through the terrifying desert on their way to the Promised Land, he had to remind them of the One who made their rescue possible.  They too, like the disciples in John 14, were on their way to their Promised Land.  So Moses said to them:

Look, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged.’ (Deuteronomy 1:21)

They decided to send a reconnaissance group to find out more about the land.  Only two of the twelve men who returned had faith in God; the others wavered in unbelief.  Moses then said:

The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ (Deuteronomy 1:30–31, NKJV)

They, despite of this assurance, did not believe in God, and wanted to return to Egypt.

I think something of this was in the mind of our Lord when He spoke to his disciples in John 14.  We will surely face difficulties and opposition in this world for the sake of Christ, but the antidote is faith – not blind faith, faith without any content, which is nothing less than so-called positive thinking – it takes one nowhere.

Believe in God, believe in Me.  If they would keep their eyes on Christ, they would see Him suffer, crucified, but they would see Him overcome death, hell, sin and Satan.  And this is exactly what happened.  After his resurrection and his intensive teaching in the course of forty days before He went to the Father, and after the outpouring of the Holy Spirt, these men feared nothing.  All but one eventually died a brutal death. but they kept faith in God the Father and his Son.

Our eternal home is being prepared

The people of Israel was on their way to the Promised Land, but that was still a temporary stop.  Jesus prepared his disciples for the good news that they would inherit a heavenly home.  It is not a home built by human hands with bricks and mortar.  It is not a home where thieves and break in and steal, or a place where moth and rust destroy.  The Apostle Peter writes about it:

… an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:4–5, NKJV)

Oh, we need to talk about heaven more!  We are too anchored to this world.  John writes about this:

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4, NKJV)

He writes more about this city:

The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). (Revelation 21:23–25, NKJV)

Our Lord assured his disciples:

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2–3, NKJV)

Christians don’t have a permanent address in this word.  Our address is the city of God.  When all around us seem unstable and insecure, yes, even after we have lost everything we have, our eternal home stands firm.  As a matter of fact, what we accumulate here can stand in our way to serve our Lord unencumbered.  It is really only when we turn our backs on what is dear to us now, that we can truely look forward to the home now being prepared for us by our Lord who opens the door to more than paradise for us.

Do you have your heart in that place?  Are you longing to be in your eternal home?  Are you looking forward to be with Him who saved you from eternal destruction?  Or are you confused and anxious?  May I then show you the way to Christ who said, “Believe in in God, believe in Me also”?

Only one way to God

When Thomas protested about not knowing where Jesus was  and not knowing the way, Jesus said:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6, NKJV)

Jesus said so because He came from the Father; He said so because He came to take away the sin of the world; He said so because his Father loved the world and gave Him so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life; He said so because He laid down his life for those whom the Father gave Him; He said so because He is the bread of life and those who eat of his flesh and drink of his blood He will raise up in the last day.  But He also said so because only his life was the righteousness which satisfy his Father’s wrath upon sin.

Let no one ever confuse you to think that all religions are the same, and that some will get in heaven through Allah or his prophet Mohammed, or through Buddha, or through reincarnation, or through any earthly deity or human representative.  Jesus said:  No one comes to the Father but through Me.

So, how do we get to heaven?  Good works, effort, trying harder, having a good reputation?  No, it’s only through Christ.  He paid the price to rescue us from God’s wrath, He conquered death, He ascended to the Father, He intercedes for us, and He will return one day for those who loved Him, but He will also condemn to eternal torment those who did not love Him and followed other gods.

Between now and eternity: work and pray 

Christ taught the disciples that they, between his going to the Father and his return to take home those who love Him, have work to do.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (John 14:12, NKJV)

How do we understand this verse? Three things:

First.  We’ve got work to do.  Let’s not marvel in how spectacular the works should be, before we started doing some work in the Kingdom of Christ.

Second.  Also, Jesus said that a servant is not greater than his master (13:16, 15:20). The idea that believers will outdo their Master does not come from the Bible.

What this verse teaches us is that not all of the revealed plan of salvation in Christ was revealed up to that point in time.  He still had to die, raise again, return to the Father, and the Holy Spirit had to be poured out.  Christ would use his church do go beyond the boundaries of Israel into all the world and bring in the nations.  In this sense then what Christ began will be completed by his Church.  In this sense their works would be greater, but it would surely not have more impact than what has been accomplished by Christ.  To understand the “greater” in this verse as “more spectacular” is just not what it says.

Listen carefully what Jesus said: “and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father”.  The success of the mission of the church rests upon the completed salvation of Christ.

Third.  What our Lord added to this statement is also defined in the rest:  “Whatever you ask in My Name, this I will do”.  Can we do great things on our own?  No, we need to pray, and to pray is to acknowledge that we stand with empty hands before our Lord.  Further, who does what we pray for?  Christ!  It is never us; there is never any room for boasting other than to know that Christ is doing his work through his church on there knees before his throne.

Conclusion

We do not only need to have faith in the Lord, not only look forward to our eternal home, not only know that Christ is the only One through whom we can go to the Father, but we also need to be busy, doing his work in humble submission to Him who provides for us to work for his Kingdom to come.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 February 2017