Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

The Long Road to Bethlehem (2)

Scripture Reading 

  • Judges 13:24-14:20

Introduction

All Sunday school children will encounter the story of Samson.  About all children’s Bibles will have a full-colour page of Samson tearing the lion to bits.  

What do you remember of Samson?  How should we understand the story of Samson? 

The official synopsis of the 1951 film reads: When strongman Samson rejects the love of the beautiful Philistine woman Delilah, she seeks vengeance that brings horrible consequences they both regret. In that movie, Samson won his bride after a contest of strength.  The woman he married then betrays him and fell in love with another man.  Samson went after them and killed them.  Her sister Delilah who had loved Samson in secret, seduces Samson into a relationship, in an attempt to avenge the death of her sister. She succeeded, and Samson dies a blind man.

That’s it! That’s the plot! It that we need to know about Samson?

The story of Samson was not included into the Scriptures to provide the script for a movie or even a large colour page in a children’s Bible. Samson was not a precursor to Superman.

One of the keys to understanding the Bible is to compare the Bible with itself.  Whit this in mind we need to bring into account what the Bible centuries later said about him:  

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions… And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (Hebrews 11:32-22, 39, ESV)

 If the name of Samson is mentioned along with the heroes of old for his faith and he is commended for it, then surely we have to try to understand why Samson’s story is included into the Scriptures.

In my research for this sermon, I found precious little theology about Samson.  Not a lot of sermons are recorded, and the commentaries are at best skimpy.  So, it is with fear end trembling that I preach this morning.  Think with me, and test the word of today against the Scriptures. May God’s Spirit give us understanding.  

Prayer:  That the Holy Spirit gives us understanding

God gave Samson to perform a specific task

Samson’s birth was unexpected and humanly impossible. His mother had been barren.  His birth was because of God’s direct intervention.

Both Samson’s parents would play an active role in his birth and upbringing.  They had to raise Samson as a Nazirite—a child dedicated to the service of God.  Even before his birth, they had to treat him as God’s chosen instrument.  Manoah knew that Samson would be unique when he asked what his son’s mission would be (13:12).  From birth, Samson would be set apart to “begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (13:5)

The encounter of the parents with the Angel of the Lord has all the marks of a covenant between God and them.  It was sealed with a sacrifice, which God accepted. 

Samson grew up as a specially consecrated instrument in the hands of God.  His name was carefully selected:  “Sunshine” as if his mother saw the mission of her son as God giving light to his people.

Through his diet, appearance and everyday activity his parents would imprint on him God’s calling for his life.  One can be sure that his extended family and neighbourhood knew about God’s mission with the young man. God affirmed his intentions with Samson; we read,  

And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:25, ESV)

 Samson’s misguided program to of attack

Timnah was a Philistine town only a few miles away from where his parents raised Samson, on the other side of the border. He probably went there often.  In the back of his mind the words of his parents echoed:  You must deliver the people of God from Philistine oppression.   

In his mid-twenties, he met a girl and fell in love with her.  Maybe he thought he could overcome the enemy by first becoming part of them, he would thus gain a platform to execute his mission.  All along we read: the Lord was seeking an occasion [the right moment/time] to confront the Philistines.  Samson knew this fact very well, but his personal strategy went along a different path.  

His patents protested because they disagreed with his strategy.  Samson insisted, “She’s the right one for me.” (Or: “She’s right in my eyes”.) This was probably not the action of a man only blindly in love.  He understood his mission, and all along he probably still thought God will bless him through his marriage to get a foothold on the oppressors.  

So, the parents went along to make arrangements for the marriage.  They had to negotiate the dowry.  This made the betrothal to be married binding.  (So by the way, in this word betroth, the word for truth is buried.  This, of course, leads us to understand marriage between man and wife as a relationship based on truthfulness.) 

But on the way to Timnah, something extraordinary happened.  In the Sorak valley of vineyards, God’s Spirit came upon Samson.  When a lion attacked him, God gave him the strength to rip it apart as if was a young goat.  This must have impacted Samson to know getting married to the Philistine woman was not in God’s plan. Keep in mind, the Bible gives us no indication that Samson was physically stronger than any other person of his age.  He most probably never was, but God enabled him with exceptional strength when only he needed it. 

Samson suppressed God’s plan, but even subconsciously he must have known it was the right thing to do.  Contrary to what one might expect, he hid the episode with the lion from his parents,.  Would you not tell your parents that God empowered you and you just killed a lion with your bare hands? He was probably afraid that they might see it as a sign of God to not go ahead with the marriage.

If it was my mother, she would be quick to tell me that God wanted me to listen to God’s voice!

But his heart was set:  if he had to deliver the enemy, he would do it his way!  He did not abandon his mission, he just went about it in his own strength, thereby rejecting the power by which God wanted him to go about it. 

On his way for the actual wedding day, he diverted into the vineyard and had a look to see if the carcass of the lion was still there.  Yes!, and this time it had bees and honey in it.  He took the honey and gave it to his parents—but did not tell them where he got it from?  Why?  

Once again he missed the message.  He probably saw it as a sign that God would bless his marriage, but he lost the picture as a followup of him killing the beast:  if he could kill a roaring lion by the strength God provided, he would lead the people to restore the Promised Land to a place of milk and honey.

Samson did not overcome the enemy; he only somewhat distressed them

From what we gather from the Scriptures, unlike the custom of the day, the wedding feast did not take place in the house of the groom’s father.  That was in some sense humiliating for Manoah:  having a wedding feast in the house of your oppressors. If his relatives were present, those who had been told that God gave Samson to deliver Israel from the hand of their oppressors, this wedding celebration was instead a sign of defeat and further oppression.  It would be a riddle to the Israelites who attended it.

But maybe God can still hit a straight blow with a crooked stick.  Samson, as God’s special consecrated man, might have other insights regular folk did not have!

It lasted a full week. The guests were intrigued by Samson’s riddle:  Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” If only Samson’s heart were receptive to understand his own riddle, he would have followed God’s plan: he would have assumed that the eater, the Philistines, would be defeated and God would restore his people in the land of milk and honey.

Instead, Samson, the consecrated Nazirite, frivolously squandered the opportunity amongst the enemy known for their wallowing in drunkenness and hedonistic self-gratification. Does it remind you of the lost son in the parable of our Lord? 

Surely, Samson did infiltrate the enemy, but only thirty Philistines lost their lives, and that because the Spirit of God enabled him.  It was hardly a comprehensive victory!  Even more so when this episode in Samson’s life ended up where his ministry started: in his father’s house:  he lost his wife and went back to live with his parents.

Application

There are other examples in the Bible of men of God who made the same mistake as Samson.  

  • Abraham:  instead of staying in the land God promised to him and his descendants, he went down to Egypt, gave up his wife, only to return humiliated.  He misunderstood the promises of God, and he wanted it to come true as he saw it. Through the school of faith, Abraham learnt to fully trust and obey God, even if it were needed to sacrifice his only son.
  • Lot:  He thought he could gain something by living in Sodom.  He chose wrongly.  Yes, the Bible calls him a righteous man (2Peter 2:7), but his witness became weak, and none in Sodom believed him when he told them to flee the city ahead of God’s judgment.  By the grace of God, he was saved.
  • Samson: Samson had it wrong and initially squandered the opportunities God gave him because of his own stubborn understanding of God’s purposes.  Pigheadedly, he insisted on being the leading player in his life drama, instead of being like clay in the hand of the Holy Spirit.

Borrowing from Spurgeon’s sermon, we have to say that the secret of Samson’s strength only lied in his consecration as God’s instrument. Never should we think that we have any power and understanding of our own.

We have to guard our consecration; it must be sincere; we must mean it, and then look up to the Holy Spirit, relying on Him to give us daily grace.  It is not by any grace or insight, or power we have in us, but by the grace that is in Christ, and that must be given to us hour by hour, or we will fall.  Then, when we have done all required of us, we will be crowned last as a faithful one, who has endured unto the end.

Just one last thought:  Samson, and all human deliverers before and after him, was born of a man; they were sinners.  They were born on the long road to Bethlehem.  It was only then that the Messiah, not born of a man, but of the Holy Spirit, was born.  Being sinless, being one with the Father, His mission succeeded.  He totally destroyed the enemy.  For his wedding feast we, his bride, are waiting.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 December 2018

 

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There is none holy as the Lord

Scripture Readings

  • Mark 5;
  • 1Samuel 6:1-21

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord,

We will learn about the holy God today.  In the words of Hannah uttered in her pryer in chapter 2, we will learn, “There is none holy as the Lord.

To this we add Hebrews 11:6

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV)

So, the penetrating, life determining questions we need to ask, are:

  • Do you believe that God is?
  • If you don’t believe, why not?
  • If you do believe, why?
  • If you do believe how do you believe?

Timely lesson

In time before Samuel was born when Israel was in constant defeat before the Philistines They sought a solution to their problems in having a king like the surrounding nations. But in reality, everyone did which was good in his own eyes. Just do as you see fit.

Yet, through Hannah’s prayer and the ministry of the son God gave her, they were taken to another solution to live as a people of God:  they had to once again learn that God is holy, and that He called them to holiness. For this reason God had to remove those who despised Him from temple service and replace them with someone He specially called to lead the people, Samuel.

I believe, but I keep God on my side for a rainy day

What did their faith look like then?

What we looked at last week and the week before—the defeat of Israel before the Philistines—was one way through which God would teach them to worship Him rightly.  Their security and survival did not lie in them using God as a talisman or lucky charm—He is the holy God.

Let’s go back to the question about faith?  Do you think they believed that God is?  Why, why not? How did they believe? There Christians who fall in the category of Hophni and Phinehas—to them them God was a means of existence, a sort of a talisman, a lucky charm.  They wear crosses around their necks, of even tattoo of a cross on their bodies, they say prayers, they even attend church—but all along it is about what they can get out of God.  He is not holy and sovereign.  They got Him in their pockets for the rainy day; He’s there only as a spare wheel in case the enemy shows up.

Does sort of faith describe you?

I think God is there, but who knows?

Before we go further, we need to make we know what exactly the Ark of the Covenant was?

It was a chest made of acacia wood that contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and, Aaron’s budding rod and a golden urn filled with manna.  It was not big:  it measured 45 inches x 27 inches x 27 inches.

The ark represented God’s presence with the people. The ark was referred to as“the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts who is enthroned upon the cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:5;  2 Samuel 6:2). What seems to be imagined here is a throne whereby the God sat invisibly above the ark, on the outstretched wings of the golden cherubim, with the ark itself serving as God’s footstool.

God was not in the Ark, but was invisibly attached to the Ark only.  The Law was the agreement, or covenant, or contract, between God and the people, as such God was faithful to be with his people as He promised.  The people, on the other hand, had to be kept to their covenant promises too be a holy nation of priests before God.

The Philistines had to understand that they could not deal with God as they did with their dumb and deaf god. To them the Ark was Israel’s God.  So, they locked the ark of God up in the place where their god Dagon was kept. Not only did God mock them by having had their god’s neck and arm broken, but He also tormented the people with a plague.  What was this plague? Researchers are sure it was nothing short of a bubonic plague, also called the Black Plague or Black Death which caused the death of an estimate of up to 200 million people from Asia right through Europe in the 14th century.

The Bible gives us an indication that the episode mentioned in 1 Samuel 6 happened during the harvest.  Rodents demolished the crops.  With the rats came tiny pests in the form of fleas, which could live on the rats or mice without harming them.  Somehow some of these fleas sometimes found a home in the groin area of a human being, and then it released a parasite into the bloodstream.  It caused massive infection of the lymph glands, resulting in tumours the size of apples, and attacked, amongst other things, the reproductive organs of especially males, making life difficult, and—left untreated—it started to bleed, which made it spread even to other parts of the body, and a painful death set in quick and fast.

You have to get a picture of the way in which God humiliated the Philistines who dare treat Him like and idol.  Keep in mind the Philistines worshipped a fertility gods.  About any form of sex to them was a form of worship, and now they found themselves unable to worship!

See, God controls the rats and the fleas!  He is almighty, wise, sovereign over all He made.  Psalm 78:56-66, as translated by the KJV, most probably refers to this episode.  Listen:

And He smote his enemies in the hinder parts: He put them to a perpetual reproach. (Psalm 78:65–66, KJV 1900)

He smote them in the hinder parts.  And if you want to chuckle about this you’re in good company; those who oppose God will stand in a never-ending reproach.

But some thought it might perhaps be the work of the living God!

Their diviners came up with the idea that they should mould out of gold representations of the mice—and of the swellings of their backsides!  One commentator thought just the idea of someone posing for the sculpture who casted the image was humiliating and hilarious. You have to agree.

Is it really the God of Israel?  Let’s put the whole idea to the test. To make sure, they ordered fresh cows with new-born calves to draw a newly-made cart with the Ark of the Covenant and the golden representations of the swellings (or tumours, or haemorrhoids—pick you choice!) in a box beside the Ark to take to Beth-Shemesh just within Israelite territory.  If He is really God, this will give glory to the God of Israel (verse 5). This would be a sign that they were not hardening their hearts like the Egyptians. Really? Can you worship the holy God of Israel with gifts of man-made images? Can any man buy the favour of God while one’s heart is not really in it?

Well, they thought they’d give it chance. So they put God to the test.

If it [the cart with the cows] goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.” (1 Samuel 6:9, NIV)

The cows went straight up the road followed by the lords of the Philistines, who witnessed it.  It was indeed the God of Israel!  Listen:

So when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day. (1 Samuel 6:16, NKJV)

They most probably went straight back to their people and told them everything they saw. Did they believe?  Well, sorry, we sent Him away.  Let’s carry on with our lives.

They were humbled, they experienced devastation, they witnessed, they knew—but they did not worship God! Well the crisis is averted, who needs God now? Maybe it was just a fluke.  I once did pray for someone who was sick and he got better, but it might have been the doctors and the medication.  So, I’m not going to put my life on hold for God.  There might be another day on which He will show Him more clearly to me personally; maybe then. For the moment I’m agnostic—which means I’m not willing to commit to anything—but I might change my mind.

Does this perhaps describes your faith?

I believe in God, but I’ve got my own way of worshipping Him

The cows arrive in Beth Shemesh and the people were overjoyed to have it back.  They immediately sacrificed to the Lord the cows and the cart.  But some of them went further that what they were supposed to.  They pried into the Ark, which was forbidden, and God struck them dead.

There are some places we just should not find ourselves.  More so should we refrain from assuming privilege into things which God forbids us.   Deuteronomy 29:29 teaches us:

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29, NKJV)

It is forbidden for sinful man to trample on the holiness of the eternal holy God.  He who does not honour the Lord God through Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, being forgiven by grace, does exactly that—no sinner can approach the holy God on his or her own. Only the High Priest, once a year, after he made sacrifice for himself and the people in the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial animal could enter into the Most Holy; and that’s precisely why the curtin of the temple tore when Christ paid the price and died on the cross for our sins—we now have entrance to the throne of God in his Name.

You ask, “How do I worship God?” I worship God, but in my own way. After all, He knows my heart, and He knows I try my best.  Is God holy? Maybe He is, but one should not take Him too seriously! If He really wants more of me, then He is simply too holy for me.  The people in Beth Shemesh said the same thing: And the men of Beth Shemesh said,

Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And to whom shall it go up from us? (1 Samuel 6:20, NKJV)

And they, so to speak sent God on.  They could not bear his holiness; and they did not repent either. The same thing happened  when Jesus healed the demon possessed man.  People saw the miracle of the man completely healed and the demons cast into the herd of pigs.  Now listen:

And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. (Mark 5:16, NKJV)

Just there they could beg for forgiveness and peace with God.  But what did they do instead?

Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. (Mark 5:17, NKJV)

Is God too holy for you?  Do you think yourself too sinful for Him?  Or do you God to just move one and leave you alone with your own life?

I this maybe you?

I worship Him because He is

The first statement in Hebrew 11:6 stops abruptly:

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is.

So, the starting point in worshipping God is nowhere else to be found but bowing before the holy and sovereign God of all creation.  Before a sinner does not understand who and that God is, to such a person He will evade their search and peace will not enter their lives.

True worship is not connected to what we can expect from Him, or what we can gain from Him.  Worshipping God on our own terms, is not worship at all.  True living faith is to say, “I believe, because He is—the holy God, and I am a poor sinner saved by grace through Jesus Christ!”

Is this a picture of your faith?

Conclusion

How do you believe, why?  Let’s complete Hebrew 11:6

…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 July 2017

 

Whose God is it anyway?

Bible Readings

  • Exodus 20:1-17
  • 1 Samauel 4:1-11; 5:1-12

Introduction

My dear fellow believers, during a stop-over flight I had the privilege to do a bit of sight-seeing in Malaysia.  They took us to a limestone mountain, Mount Batu.  Within caves in this mountain is a Hindu temple, to the honour of Muruga, of which a 140 feet statue stands outside the caves.   There is a steep staircase leading up into the caves. Priests and worshippers of this god climb the steps more than once a day with special containers of food to set it up at shrines within the cave.

As I observed the ritual a saw a woman bringing fresh food, which was only put there after the earlier food was removed—all untouched, of course.  The face of the idol was expressionless, the body cold and lifeless, and of course it could not utter a word.  Yet, day after day this ritual took place at least twice a day.  And I wondered in amazement, “Why?”

True worship

Earlier in the service we read the Ten Commandments. The Second Commandment reads:

“You must not make for yourselves an idol that looks like anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the water below the land. You must not worship or serve any idol, because I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. If you hate me, I will punish your children, and even your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (Exodus 20:4–5, NCV)

The Larger Catechism defines the the duties required in the second commandment “… observing, and keeping pure all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his word; and the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and removing it and all monuments of idolatry.”

There are perhaps three main reasons why making idols is forbidden. Let’s list them

  • Manipulation
  • Localisation
  • Participation

Once a man has made an idol, one can manipulate it; one becomes its boss; you can even feed it or withhold food at will.  Once man has made an idol, one can localise it – you put it where you want it—you can even lock it away for later use, or put it where it can become the centre of your existence.  Once you have made an idol, you make it do what for what you want done—you make it participate in your activities, and you can participate in its activities.  These three things are closely related.

This is the sort of worship we come across in the first few chapters of 1 Samuel.  The prayer of Hanna, of course, puts everything in perspective gain:  she worshipped the most holy, most powerful, most wise and most sovereign God, the creator of heaven and earth. The sons of Eli did not know God and therefore they invented their own god—one they could manipulate, one they assign a locality to, and one they could use for their own purposes.

One verse which stands out is:

“So the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I promised that your family and your ancestor’s family would serve me always.’ But now the Lord says: ‘This must stop! I will honour those who honour Me, but I will dishonour those who ignore me. (1 Samuel 2:30, NCV)

When God called Samuel He revealed Himself as the most holy, most wise, most powerful God who sovereignly decided to dispose of Eli and his sons. The Creator God, who, according to Hannah’s prayer “… protects those who are loyal to Him, but evil people will be silenced in darkness. The Lord destroys his enemies; He will thunder in heaven against them. The Lord will judge all the earth.” (1 Samuel 2:9–10), announce to Samuel that He is going to “… do something in Israel that will male the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle” (1Samuel 3:11)—this something was directly connected to the judgement on Eli and his family.

It seems this was the message Samuel was preaching, and all Israel heard and understood it to be the word of God (1Samuel 3:19-4:1).  Did all hear it?  Apparently not.  It made no change to the hearts of the sons of Eli.

Is God with us?

The next we read about is the conflict between Israel and their arch-enemy, the Philistines.  It took place at Ebenezer—which means, God is with us.  But in the first part of the battle Israel was defeated and four thousand men fell.  The reaction of the elders was astounding.

“Why did the Lord let the Philistines defeat us? Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant with the Lord here from Shiloh and take it with us into battle. Then God will save us from our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3)

The reason for their defeat was God!  Nothing of what Samuel was telling them even came into their minds.  Is God honouring those who honour Him, or is He despising them who despise Him?

For them the solution was to make an idol out of God.  By bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the camp, they fist of all manipulate God, they also localise Him, and of course they wanted Him to participate in their activities, not for his glory, but for themselves!

The outcome was disastrous. Not only did they fall before the enemies, but their defeat was indeed the word of God to Samuel which came true:  Hophni and Phinehas both died, old Eli fell off his chair and died, and Phinehas’s wife died in childbirth—all on the same day.  On top of this, the Ark of the Covenant was captured and ended up in the temple of Dagon.

What humiliation!  More so in the face of an enemy who actually seemed to acknowledge the greatness of God.  Hear them in their own words:

We’re in big trouble! Who can save us from these powerful gods? They’re the same gods who made all those horrible things happen to the Egyptians in the desert. (1 Samuel 4:8, CEV)

The topic of the sermon today is, “Whose God is it anyway?” On which side was God that day at Ebenezer?  Did He forsake this own covenant people and did He side with the Philistines?  Is there something we have missed here?  Or is there something we should learn today?

Where has the glory of God gone?

One way to translate the word “Ichabod” is to translate it as a question, “Where has the glory of God gone?”  God is never without glory.  If his people don’t glorify Him, He is not without glory.  If we give Him less glory, we do not make his less glorious!  In Isaiah God declares:

I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images. (Isaiah 42:8, NKJV)

He who denies God, his existence, his glory, holiness and power, does not make God disappear, just in the same way as one who might deny the sun shining just because he can’t see it in the night sky.  I might say I don’t believe in electricity because I can’t see it, but I will sing another tune once I touched a live wire.  Unbelief does not make God less real—one day we will all stands before his throne of judgement, and no detail of who He is will make Him go away even then.

So, where has the glory of God gone?  Well, first of all, the dead bodies on the side of Israel’s forces were testimony to his glory.  Ask Hannah, she worship the real God of heaven.

“Talk no more so very proudly; let no arrogance come from your mouth, for the Lord is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty men are broken, And those who stumbled are girded with strength.” (1 Samuel 2:3–4, NKJV)

But let’s follow the Ark of the Covenant.  Just be clear at this point:  they did not carry God into the temple of Dagon—God is not captured in anything man’s hand can made, or He would be an idol.  However, they treated Him as if He was an idol, just as Israel thought of God.

Now we see his glory.  Dagon fell over flat on his face before the Ark of God (1Samuel 5:2).  Powerless the lump of rock just couldn’t move.  They picked him up “and put his back in his place”—that’s how you deal with an idol: you put him where you want him (localisation!)  He fell over again, and his head and arms broke off.  The translation is somewhat comical:  only the bit that was Dagon was still in tact!

With Dagon’s hand missing we read:

But the hand of the Lord was heavy on the people of Ashdod, and He ravaged them and struck them with tumours, both Ashdod and its territory. (1 Samuel 5:6, NKJV)

His glory was displayed in places not expected, even in the temple of idols.  The Philistines were terrified—their biggest nightmare played out before them: the God who terrorised the Egyptians and all other nations during the journey and the settlement of Israel has come to visit them!  The Ark was moved from one city to the next as they tried to escape the plagues of tumours and mice, and in the end they returned it to Israel.  However, they did not worship God; they only feared Him!

Miracles do not make people worship—it’s only the Spirit of God who applies the Word of God concerning Jesus Christ to the heart of man which brings life.

So, where has the glory of God gone?  Whose God is it anyway?  Someone writes:

It is a story about people playing a game we all know too well: the Israelites were presuming on, and the Philistines were defying, the power of God. The Israelites’ presumption turned to desperation as they suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of their enemies. What is to be said about the Philistines’ defiance? (Woodhouse, J. (2008). 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

When God becomes an idol

From this episode in the history of Israel we need to learn that there is a real possibility for even Christians to turn God into an idol.  It is indeed possible to try to manipulate God:  God is there for me, and when I pray God has to do as I ask.  This is not to worship a sovereign God.  I cringe when I hear people demand God to do certain things; the new trend is to pronounce a claim of blessing—God is not my servant; quite the opposite is true.

We can indeed make an idol of God if we think that we can localise God.  God is not on our side just because we put Him where we want Him to be; quite the opposite.  And if God does not answer us from where and when we expect Him to answer, we worship an idol, not the living sovereign God.  When we think we can lock God up in the church between Sundays and carry on they way we want during the week, only to call on Him when we are in some need, is to make an idol of Him.  When we expect God to come down to our level to participate in my dreams, ideals, wants and desires, I have made an idol of Him.

Such a God will certainly disappoint, because He is not the God of the Bible.  More than that, such a God will deal with me according to his holiness, justice, knowledge, and unchangeable sovereignty.  Such a God does not answer prayer, but metes out judgement purely He is being treated like an idol.

Whose God is it anyway? Is God with us?

God does not belong to anyone!  We don’t own God, if anything, He owns us!

Can we say Ebenezer, God with us?

The Ark was never meant to be showcase of who God is.  No, it was the meeting point between a holy and gracious God on one hand, and a rebellious people who was called to act and live like people saved by grace.

Let’s turn it all around: our life must show the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Our meeting point is the cross of Christ.  It can never be a point of boasting, never a showcase of what we achieved, but always a showcase of God’s mercy who gave us his Son—perfect in holiness, and perfect in saving grace—and not before I have met the living God at this point to receive mercy and forgiveness, He will just remain an idol which I control, I manipulate, and I want to become part of me.  And life will remain one big struggle of unresolved battles against the enemy.

I proclaim a Gospel to you today of the living, sovereign God who calls you to repentance at the feet of Christ, and live in his peace, completely sacrificed to his service.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 July 2017

The Devastation of Disobedience

Lessons from Joshua

Scripture Readings

  • 2Corinthians 6:14-7:1
  • Joshua 23:1-16

Introduction

There was a man who sold his house. The buyer was somewhat surprised when the owner had one last request:  he wanted to have the hook behind the bathroom door.  “No problem”, the buyer said, “let’s go and get it for you.”  “No,” the owner said, “could you just leave it there.  I just want it there.”

It all sounded a bit strange, but the buyer was happy with the arrangement.  They signed the paper work and the previous owner got into his car, drove off, and for the next few years they did not hear from o him.

Then one day, he knocked, having a paper bag in his hand.  “I just thought I’d use my hook for a while.”  He was allowed into the bathroom where he pulled a piece of meat out of the bag and hung it over the hook. He then left.

He was not back for days.  The meat started to smell.  They rang him up and asked that he would remove the meat.  “It is my hook by arrangement.  I checked very carefully that the meat does not touch the paintwork on the door.  Thanks very much!”

Now, this is only an illustration – such thing will not stand up in court.  But it teaches us something we will learn from the Scriptures today.

Inheritance received

In chapter 23 Joshua called all the leaders of Israel, God’s covenant people, together. He was an old man at the time.  Joshua pointed three things out to the leaders:

The battle belongs to the Lord

You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. (Joshua 23:3, NIV)

The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you. (Joshua 23:5, NIV)

Yes, they were involved in it, they had to take up the armour and the arms and be there on the ground where the battles took place; they had to face the enemy and see the blood; they had to advance into the new territory, and they had to physically take possession of it.  But, before them the Lord went, behind them He followed, and when they rested of their campaigns He was above them, blessing them all the way.  He did so, because He promised the land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He did so for his glory.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors… (Deuteronomy 7:7–8, NIV)

Ultimately those who believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him as his disciples will inherit a new heaven and a new earth. The Israelites who believed in God and loved Him with all their hearts were saved by grace and they will also be in heaven.  But between heaven and being saved, God has a plan for us:  we need to conquer this world in the Name of Jesus.  We have his promise that He will be with us till the very end of this age.  He gave us his Sprit to empower us for our task.  Not all of us will have to do all things, but all of us need to do some things in this world-wide task of evangelism and mission.  We are not saved for the sake of being saved; we are saved for the glory of God.  In this task God says, “I am with you; I will give them in your hands.”

Be courageous and faithful

Joshua had something else to say to the elders and leaders:

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. (Joshua 23:6, NIV)

This is an echo of the words God spoke to Moses earlier while they were still in the wilderness:

You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt… The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear… Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. (Deuteronomy 7:17–21, NIV)

When Caleb saw the giants of the Anakites, he first of all saw this awesome God.  When Anakites saw Goliath, he first saw this awesome God.  When Jonathan and his armour-bearer faced the Philistines, he said, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, wether by many of by few.” (1Samuel 14:6)  It is because the disciples believed in this awesome God, revealed in Jesus Christ, that they could face the Jewish Council, kings and caesars.  And God helped them out and protected them miraculously.  If He didn’t, his Name was always glorified – and that is the point.

To be faithful and to be courageous is what the Lord still demand of his church today.  There is one verse in the Scriptures that really scares me.  In Revelation 21 John saw the new heaven and the new earth. And then this verse:

Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:7–8, NIV)

There is another:

Whoever is ashamed of Me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26, NIV)

Be holy

 “… be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. (Joshua 23:6, NIV)

These were the same words the Lord gave to Joshua at the beginning of his leadership. Now, in the evening of his life, most probably about 100 years of age, he could say as the apostle said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2Timothy 4:7)

King Saul was disobedient to the command of the Lord and spared the life of the king of the Amelikites.  Samuel said to him:

For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22–23, NIV)

Valiant acts of courage are not as useful in the eyes of God as obedience in the first place.  To “be careful to obey all that is written in the Book” equals holiness.  God delights in obedience and accomplishes his purposes through obedient holiness.

There is something else the Lord commanded his people.  Add to this the command to not intermarry and associate with the nations.  Why?

But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you. (Joshua 23:12–13, NIV)

The blessing of the Lord will disappear and the enemy will become more arrogant.  The same thing happened in the time of Ezekiel.  The people said:

You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.” But what you have in mind will never happen. (Ezekiel 20:32, NIV)

They thought if they would become like the nations they had a better chance on survival.  There are Christians and even churches who think that way too.  Becoming like this world is not a recipe for survival, but a sure formula for destruction.

John writes, “Do not love this world.”  Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2, NIV)  Worldliness is the death nail to the life of the Christian and a cyanide capsule to the church.  It makes us powerless, not becasue we follow the world in the first instance, but because God withdraws his presence and blessings. The Holy Spirit is not at work where the spirit of this world is at work.

God is faithful

Joshua concludes his instruction to the leaders reminding them of the faithfulness of God.

You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. (Joshua 23:14, NIV)

This would strengthen them enormously.  You look back to where God started his grace in your life, you know what He promised and how He fulfilled all his promises, how He is with you just now, and look into the future and you may know for sure He will be with you all the way until He reached his purposes.  So, when the Israelites understood that they should complete the task of driving out the rest of the enemy, they could count on God for his faithful help.

The same applies to the church in its mission charge: our Lord promised to be with us, He promised that when we pray He will give us what we need and have joy in Him.  Sometimes we ask wrongly, with the wrong motives, we do not wait, we follow our own heads, etc; the Lord then does not answer our prayers.  But when it is really his will and we follow in obedience, He is always faithful provide what we need.

The question is, Do we even pray? and, Do we indeed find ourselves on the road to do his will in bringing the Good News to the world around us?  Is what we keep ourselves busy with what God wants us to be busy with?

Inheritance cold-shouldered 

You have to turn to Judges the first chapter to read this recurring phrase, “they did not drive out”.  Let’s take one verse:

When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. (Judges 1:28, NIV)

What did they do with those they did not drive out?  They made them into forced labourers.  Just a little handy to have the foreigner in your midst as a labourer.  Nothing wrong with a hook behind The bathroom door! But what did lead to?  Turn to chapter 2:10:

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10, NIV)

What was the next step?

They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger (Judges 2:12, NIV)

What was the result?

In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. (Judges 2:14, NIV)

God sent his angel to the people with this message:

Yet you have disobeyed Me. Why have you done this? (Judges 2:2–3, NIV)

Is this not on average the state of affairs in the church of our Lord Jesus today?  There are scores of churches in the big cities and bigger towns who struggle for survival.  Yet worldliness has crept into the pulpits, the activities of the congregation and the personal lives of the members.  Large church buildings go on the market to become coffee houses and even pubs, while the church has become bankrupt.  Trace the ministry of such a church and one would most probably find a ministry which started out as an outward-looking church which gradually switched to an inward-looking church.  Vision on the big picture of God’s Kingdom is lost, and on what spot and on what pew people sit in church has now become its mission.  Such church has no place in God’s kingdom and it has lost its reason to exist in this world.  The world has no respect for such a church.  Such a church has shunned its inheritance.

We should learn from the letters to the churches in Revelation. Ephesus lost its first love, and they grew cold in their fervour for the work of God, became clinically inward-looking, and Christ warned them that their lampstand might be removed, that is that they run the risk of ceasing to be church in God’s eyes.

Smyrna on The other hand, was a small and poor church, but fervent for the Lord.  “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” (Revelation 2:10, NIV)

Conclusion

My dear friend, where do we stand with our task of conquering this world for Christ?  And in Wee Waa?  How do we stack up against the standard of holiness of Christ for his church?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV)

No, the true church of Christ is “the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” (2 Corinthians 6:16, NIV)

The disobedience leads to worldliness; worldliness leads to weak witness, weak witness leads to invoking God anger upon us, which leads to our destruction.  Disobedience is like the hook behind the bathroom door:  it provides the foothold for the devil. As disciples of Christ we need to leave everything behind and follow Him

May God help us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 February 2014