Monday, May 29, 2023

Civil War between King David and Ish-Bosheth: Abner switches sides

The civil war continues between the remnants of the house of Saul and David’s forces. The war was fierce and brutal. But slowly David gained the upper hand.

As it says in verse 1 of 2nd Samuel 3: “The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.”

During this extended period of conflict and warfare, several children were born to David, so this must’ve lasted several years. The children born to him were Amnon, Kileab, Absalom, Adonijah, Shephatiah, and Ithream. All of them were born while David lead from Hebron. And it makes sense, we know from the previous chapters that David lived in Hebron for 7 and a half years.

First point today, God blesses David with much fruitfulness. Children are a gift from God. And David is abundantly blessed. He has many children in Hebron. He has a beautiful family. He is blessed. God loves to bless us and help us, as we follow Him.

Then we shift over to King Ishbosheth, who is ruling over the forces of Saul. Ishbosheth is Saul’s only remaining son after his death in battle. Abner is the chief military leader under Ishbosheth, and we see some drama in verses 6 through 11:

It says, “6 During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul. 7 Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”

8 Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So he answered, “Am I a dog’s head—on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! 9 May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oath 10 and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” 11 Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.”

Point number two today, loyalty is very important. Stay loyal to God. Keep your commitment. Stay with God to the end. If something offends you, don’t switch sides over and over. Work things out. In this situation though, God is working things out so that David will be king. But Abner’s behavior is still off. Then again, it was unwise for Ishbosheth to falsely accuse Abner. Don’t falsely accuse someone if you don’t know if it’s true or not. It can lead to someone being enraged and lashing out in rebellion against you.

King Ishbosheth accuses Abner of sleeping with a woman inappropriately. We don’t really know if there was any truth to the allegation. But Abner gets very mad. This shows how powerful Abner had become. Ishbosheth didn’t really have much power, in fact he feared Abner. And Abner gets very upset.

Abner gets so angry, he decides to switch sides:

In verses 12-15: Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to say to David, “Whose land is it? Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.”

13 “Good,” said David. “I will make an agreement with you. But I demand one thing of you: Do not come into my presence unless you bring Michal daughter of Saul when you come to see me.” 14 Then David sent messengers to Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, demanding, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for the price of a hundred Philistine foreskins.”15 So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish.”

David insists on getting Michal his old wife back, who was the daughter of Saul.

But she was already remarried to another man. It says in verse 16, “Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go back home!” So he went back.”

An ugly situation. Does David really need another wife? He has many already. But he did pay a high price of Michal. So he insists on taking her back. But her husband follows weeping, until Abner yells at him to go back home.

Sad situation. Abner’s behavior here really bothers me. He’s self seeking, playing both sides against each other, and trying to gain power and authority.

So Abner begins to plotting to get Israel to shift behind David’s rule. It says in verses 17-21:

“17 Abner conferred with the elders of Israel and said, “For some time you have wanted to make David your king. 18 Now do it! For the Lord promised David, ‘By my servant David I will rescue my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.’”

19 Abner also spoke to the Benjamites in person. Then he went to Hebron to tell David everything that Israel and the whole tribe of Benjamin wanted to do. 20 When Abner, who had twenty men with him, came to David at Hebron, David prepared a feast for him and his men. 21 Then Abner said to David, “Let me go at once and assemble all Israel for my lord the king, so that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may rule over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.”

Point number three, God is working things together for good, for David, to bring the nation together under one banner. He is working through the most unlikely man, Abner, someone who served Saul, and now is serving David. Sometimes God works things out even through our enemies for our good. God can use any situation, good or bad, to work out His will for our lives. We can trust Him. We can trust Him completely to do what He said. He can even use this wayward leader, Abner, to bring the nation together. Don’t assume he can’t use you either. He can use anyone for His kingdom purposes.

So it seems like everything is going good right? Things are going to work out for Abner? Maybe it seems that way. But, don’t forget about Joab. Remember, Abner killed Joab’s brother Asahel.

What happens next? In verses 22-25: “Just then David’s men and Joab returned from a raid and brought with them a great deal of plunder. But Abner was no longer with David in Hebron, because David had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. 23 When Joab and all the soldiers with him arrived, he was told that Abner son of Ner had come to the king and that the king had sent him away and that he had gone in peace.

24 So Joab went to the king and said, “What have you done? Look, Abner came to you. Why did you let him go? Now he is gone! 25 You know Abner son of Ner; he came to deceive you and observe your movements and find out everything you are doing.””

Joab is very upset that David let Abner escape alive. He hates Abner. And he assumes Abner is going to double-cross David.

Joab is in an uproar now. He is hot with anger.

Point number four, when you are hot with anger, pause. Do anything you can to get alone, and pray and reflect, or talk to someone. Don’t take rash action. When you’re tempted to make an angry phone call, pause and wait. When you’re tempted to shoot out that angry email, hit “save as draft” first. When you’re tempted to shoot out your dirty laundry onto Facebook, wait a minute, and write in your journal instead. Talk to a friend one on one instead.

The Bible says “be angry, but do not sin.” It’s ok to be angry. We do get angry. Being angry is not a sin. But, allowing your anger to get out of control where you hurt someone or lash out, now it’s gone into the realm of sin.

Joab sadly allows his anger to overcome him.

It says in verses 26-27: “Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it. 27 Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.”

Joab murders Abner in cold blood. He doesn’t kill him in battle or defeat him in combat, he murders him. And its wrong, and sinful. Let’s see how David deals with this turn of events, verses 28-32:

“28 Later, when David heard about this, he said, “I and my kingdom are forever innocent before the Lord concerning the blood of Abner son of Ner. 29 May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family! May Joab’s family never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food.”

30 (Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.)

31 Then David said to Joab and all the people with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in mourning in front of Abner.” King David himself walked behind the bier. 32 They buried Abner in Hebron, and the king wept aloud at Abner’s tomb. All the people wept also.”

King David mourns for Abner, and lays the blame on Joab and his family. Then David sang a lament, in verses 33-34:

33 The king sang this lament for Abner: “Should Abner have died as the lawless die? Your hands were not bound, your feet were not fettered. You fell as one falls before the wicked.” And all the people wept over him again.”

As David mourns Abner, he also refuses to eat. He becomes weak for the sake of mourning. And this was pleasing to the people and to Israel. In verses 35-38 it says:

35 Then they all came and urged David to eat something while it was still day; but David took an oath, saying, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun sets!”

36 All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. 37 So on that day all the people there and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner.

38 Then the king said to his men, “Do you not realize that a commander and a great man has fallen in Israel this day? 39 And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me. May the Lord repay the evildoer according to his evil deeds!””

I’m convinced that this incident could’ve caused the nation to be divided again. But David makes it so clear that he didn’t kill Abner. Imagine if David had killed Abner! Abner had been the one gathering the people behind David in Israel. Israel probably would’ve been divided again. But David makes it perfectly clear that he didn’t do anything wrong and it was entirely on Joab.

Last point for today, sometimes we have to show people, hey, I didn’t do anything wrong in this situation. This is the truth. These are the facts. And I am innocent here, based on the facts. Sometimes we think well Jesus didn’t defend himself so we shouldn’t defend ourselves. But in this situation, it’s right for David, for the sake of keeping the nation together, to make sure the truth gets out there. He needs to make sure Israel knows that Joab killed Abner, and he didn’t do it. Otherwise it could worsen the civil war. But now, all of Israel is pleased with David, because David makes sure everyone knows that it wasn’t him, and that he is mourning Abner deeply. And I’m sure that mourning was entirely genuine.

So to review, our main points today are as follows:

1. God blesses his servants abundantly, to be fruitful

2. Be loyal to your commitments / 
Don’t accuse someone falsely

3. God is working everything together for good behind the scenes.

4. When you are angry, you must pause and not sin.

5. Let the facts be known for the good of others.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Jesus rejected in His Hometown: Are you Offended or Faithful?

“Three elements of personality are involved in making a decision to become a Christian, or in making any significant decision for that matter. They are the emotions, the intellect, and the will.

For example, a young man meets a young woman. They are immediately attracted to one another. They both say to themselves, "Now there is someone I'd like to marry." At that point, if the emotions had their way, there would be a wedding. But the intellect intervenes, questioning the impulsive emotional response. Would we be compatible? What is she really like? Can I afford to support her? Both conclude it would be better to take some more time and answer a few questions before they proceed. So the two begin spending more time with each other. He eventually concludes that she is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. Now his intellect has sided with the emotions on the idea of marriage.

But the final and heaviest vote remains to be cast -- that of the will. It stops the march toward the altar with the questions, "Am I willing to give up this lifestyle for another? What about my freedom -- is it worth the trade? Am I willing to assume the added responsibility?" The marriage will occur only when the will finally agrees with the emotions and the intellect. And so it is in coming to Christ.”
-Jim Peterson, Living Proof, NavPress, 1989, p. 170.

We’ll be looking at two key moments in the life of Jesus, first the moment when Jesus visits his hometown and is rejected by them. Secondly, we’ll look at a moment when Jesus sent out his disciples to do ministry.

Mark 6:1-2 says this: “Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.”

Their first reaction is a good thing, they were amazed at the teaching of Jesus. We should also be amazed at the teaching of Jesus. Are you amazed by the Lord? There are days when I’m honestly amazed by the Lord and what he’s doing in my life and in the world. Aren’t you? When were you last amazed by God?

I think it’s really, the cream of the crop of life, when we are honestly amazed by God. But that implies something. It means we’re actively watching what God is doing in our lives and in the world.

If you aren’t watching God, you won’t be amazed. If you are watching God. You will be amazed. Point number one today, observe what God is doing, and you’ll be amazed. More so, be in relationship with God and you’ll be amazed.

And when we are amazed, it changes us. Being amazed by God gets us excited. When we get excited, we get more active in our faith.

But next, the people question him. They start struggling. They doubt.

It says this: (2-3) “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.”

They were offended by Him. They rejected his wisdom. They say, hey we saw this guy when he was a kid. He can’t be anything special. They saw Jesus grow up as just an average kid in their hometown. So they refuse him. They get upset.

I recall after I got saved people in my hometown were offended at me. We know this guy, he’s nobody special, he doesn’t have our permission to do anything special.

People almost try to keep you in the box that they’re used to seeing you in. I bet many of you can relate to that! If you try to do something special with your life, and begin to change, people may get offended. But keep following God. Watch the miracle. But people may come against you.

But they were offended at Him. Sometimes we get offended at the truth too. We come across a particular scripture that we don’t like. Something in the Bible convicts us. And we get offended at that scripture. We reject that scripture. We come into unbelief. We get angry and upset. That’s happened a few times at our life group, or at church, people get upset at the truth. But the truth stands firm.

Sometimes when we get right down to the truth, it gets harder to accept. But wrestle through. Wrestle with God through it. Don’t reject it. But enter into it, engage with God on it, pray about it, and wrestle, and then, God will help you to embrace some very hard truths. Like struggle, like pain, like divine judgment, like hell, like sin, and the harder parts of God’s word.

One of the hardest things to do, is to set aside what we think, and embrace what God says. But I challenge you, dare to believe. Don’t take offense at the truth. Don’t take offense at your savior Jesus Christ, like his hometown did.

Sometimes as a Christian, it means God corners us with the truth, and we get a bit stressed out, and a bit prideful, and we get upset, and then we either embrace God’s truth, as a hard pill to swallow, or we reject God’s truth, and we begin to live in lies. Truth or lies is the choice, which will you choose?

Next in verses 4-6: “Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

They key phrase of this entire first half of our sermon is “their lack of faith.” To be saved, we must have faith. For someone to be healed, they had to have faith for Jesus to heal them.

Faith is the key that opens the doors of God’s kingdom. Faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in God’s system. Faith in God’s word the Bible.

There are times throughout the new testament where it says Jesus was amazed by their faith. But in this moment Jesus was amazed in a different way, he was amazed at their lack of faith. They were almost entirely faithless.

How is your faith? Again, this is a reoccurring theme in the gospel of Mark, your level of faith.

Let’s do a little check up on your faith.

Do you have faith in God’s word the Bible? It’s easy to say Yes. But do you read it everyday? Do you hunger and thirst for it intensely? As you read it are you amazed because it’s God’s word? Or are you amazed at how bored you are when you read it? That’s a measure of your faith.

And the Lord corrected me on that recently. Why don’t you have a higher regard for my word? Every single letter is incredibly important. Yet, it often takes a back seat to TV and movies and entertainment. Where is your faith?

Second question, do you have faith in Jesus Christ as your savior? It’s easy to say Yes. But, do you keep Jesus first in your life? Do you focus on Jesus every single day? Do you pray for hours every week? Or does Jesus seem to take back seat to your wants and desires and your work and your other relationships? Again, is Jesus really first? It’s a question of faith!

Do I really believe Jesus is my only hope of salvation and life and the very meaning of life itself? Or do I kind of treat it like one of many things in my life

Third question, do you have faith that the family of God, the church, is your first priority for service and connection? It’s easy to say Yes. But, then why do you miss church so much? Why don’t you attend bible study? Why don’t you volunteer and use your gifts and talents to bless the body? Why don’t you share your faith more?

This is a challenging message today, but it goes down to faith. Faith is at the base of what choices we make in our lives. If we are struggling in reading the Bible, look at your faith, if we’re struggling to pray, look to your faith, if we’re not active in our practice, look to your faith.

Bible study, Prayer, Church, these are showing the evidence or lack of evidence of faith. Ask God, every day, increase my faith. We’re surrounded by a Babylon society that is trying to disrupt our faith with pleasures. So you will have to fight for your faith to be strong. Fight the good fight of the faith!

So this first section verses 1-6 show us the power of Jesus contrasted with the lack of faith of his hometown. This is all contrasted with verses 6-13, which says:

“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

The lack of faith of Jesus’ hometown people is contrasted with the great faith of his disciples.

Jesus gathers his disciples and sends them out on a temporary mission, maybe for a few weeks, maybe less, to go and begin to do the things he is doing. He is training them to one day become Christians, who do the work of Jesus in the world. He sends them out in groups of two.

They go out taking very little with them, only a staff, no extra food. He is teaching them to walk by faith. To trust God to provide for them as they spread the gospel.

They are learning to do what their master Jesus does. What did Jesus do in his ministry? He preached for people to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand! And he healed people and cast out demons. Jesus has his disciples do the very same thing, by faith in Him, trusting God, and just as they hoped, lives were changed, people repented, some didn’t, they had to shake the dust from their feet, and move on to a new area, but the word went out, people were healed, and demons were cast out.

By faith. How is your faith? How strong is your faith? Do you go about your life living for Jesus, serving Him day and night? Are you about your master’s work? That is the challenge.

Our reaction to Jesus Christ and his message can go one of two ways, it can either go the way of his hometown, they were offended at Jesus words, and rejected him. They refused to have faith.

Or, our reaction to Jesus Christ and his message can be to go out and do his will. To preach the message to others. To serve others in love. To follow God in relationship.

And it starts with faith. Can you trust Jesus even when you don’t understand? Even when you’ve been hurt by religious people in the past? Can you have rock solid faith even when things seem crazy?

So I thought to myself, again, this whole chapter is about faith. How do we have faith? The disciples once asked Jesus a question.

It’s from the gospel of Luke, it says this: 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” -Luke 17:5-10

That is the key to having strong faith: We must regard ourselves as servants of God, like a servant in a house, waiting to serve His master. Basically always listening for the voice of the master, to do His will at any moment. And to regard ourselves as servants who are simply doing our duty. That’s humility. That’s seeing ourselves as humble servants of God. There seems to be this link between humility and faith.

If we know that we’re completely dependent on God, and that humbles us, we will have strong faith. If we think we can do it on our own and don’t really need God that much, we’ll have weak faith.

Pull it all together now, first, Be amazed by God, and let God be amazed by your faith.

Secondly, don’t be offended at God. Wrestle with the harder truths. Wrestle, and humble yourself, and embrace the harder truth, don’t push it away.

Thirdly, have a strong mighty faith, a faith that accepts Jesus words humbly, and puts them into action in your life.

Fourthly, humble yourself at Gods’ feet, and as a result your faith will grow, as you sit at the feet of Jesus, and wash the feet of his people.

In response to all this, I want you to come to humble yourself on your knees, declare yourself to God as his humble servant, ask him to humble you, and ask him to increase your faith. God bless you today.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Can a Genuine Believer lose their Salvation?

Once an unbeliever has given their life to Christ, been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, reborn of Christ, and placed into the kingdom of God, can such a person fall away, and lose their salvation? 

This question is so incredibly important. It goes to the very core of the gospel: How does it work?

Some say this isn't really that important. It is actually very important. If I can lose my salvation, does that mean I should live in perpetual fear of losing it? And if I can't lose my salvation, should I live however I want, and do whatever I want, because hey, I'm already good? 

Here we find two extremes on the position. First, more commonly in evangelical Christianity, many say you can never lose it. In fact, even if you renounce Christ, turn away from God completely and go back to a life of sin, you're still saved no matter what. That seems to be the height of theological insanity, to assume that one can do anything, anything at all, including renouncing faith in Christ, and still remain saved.

Then there is the other extreme, the Christian plucking the flower saying, "he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not." They've lost their salvation five times today, and tomorrow isn't looking any better. That is an absolutely absurd theological position as well.

Here is the theological balance found in the scriptures: Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. We can be assured of our salvation. We can consider ourselves safe in Christ. Along with these things: Remain in Christ, if you do not, you will wither, and be removed from the vine. Do not make a habit of sinning, because one who sins deliberately can be cut off. Stand firm to the end, finish the race, otherwise it is possible to have believed in vain. Do not disqualify yourself after having preached to others.

This is the concept of remaining in faith. Abiding in Christ. We must hold fast to our faith, not drifting away, while also knowing that Christ holds us firm, and we do not need to fear the Father losing his hold on us. This sacred balance is a difficult one. 

We're tempted to shift toward either theological extreme, I can never lose it, or I already lost it. But we must find a theological balance: Christ holds me fast, so I must remain in Him. 

So, can a genuine believer lose their salvation? The answer to that question is yes. 

Some would say well, if someone falls away it's because they were never saved in the first place. But let us not be deceived by this theological slight of hand. 

If we are "falling away" from something, we must already have it. If we "fall off" a horse, we must've already been on the horse and riding it. If we didn't ever really have it, then we couldn't fall away from it.

As it says in Romans 11:19-22, one who has been grafted in, can also be grafted out: 

"Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off."

Is it possible for one who is genuinely a branch in the vine to be cut off? According to Paul in Romans, the answer is yes. 

And again, it says in 1st Corinthians 15:1-2: "Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." 

Here Paul writes to believers who have taken their stand. They are in faith. They are in Christ. They've taken their stand on the rock of Christ. But Paul warns them to "hold firmly" to the word. "Otherwise" he says, you have believed in vain. Plain and simple meaning: If you don't "hold firmly" you can lose your salvation. 

As Jesus said to his disciples, "remain in me, and I will remain in you." (John 15:4)

The command is: remain in me

The promise is: then I will remain in you.

That is the sacred balance. Our part is to remain in Him. His part is to remain in us. 

John 15:5-6 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned."

Man-made theology of our day and age says you can never lose your salvation. It's therapeutic. It's meant to be helpful. But unfortunately it's had devastating consequences. A generation was told they couldn't lose it, so ironically enough they left. They left the church, went back to the world and said things like, well, I've been baptized so I'm ok. I'm saved forever no matter what. We've done great harm to people by telling them that. So we need to repent and teach a biblical soteriology, of abiding in Christ to the end. 

1st Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

Friday, May 26, 2023

King Saul dies in battle with the Philistines

Have you ever had a loved one in your family pass away? Can anyone relate? I think we've all probably had someone pass. And for some of us, it was someone we loved dearly. That's so incredibly hard. 

Then again maybe we don't have a good relationship with our parents or with our moms. God loves you, remember that. And he is going to speak to you, I think through this message. But God bless you all today. And this is kind of a sad story, a sad part of First Samuel 31. And it's about how Saul finally came to his end. 

So Saul has been persecuting David, David and his men have been fleeing from Saul for so many years now. And King Saul has been persecuting them, chasing after them trying to harm them. And David keeps refusing to harm Saul back, he very much is a man of humility and honor. 

He keeps saying, "Who am I to harm the Lord's anointed?" But finally, it comes to its final point here. It says that the Philistines, this enemy nation, right near Israel, they are attacking Israel. There's there's a huge battle going on. And many were slaughtered. It says on the slopes of Mount Gilboa they fought.

Mount Gilboa, it's actually a place that a friend of mine visited. She visited Israel a few years ago and stood in that place. It's beautiful, it overlooks a city today. See when we look at the scriptures, this is real stuff. You can go to Israel and see these places, these things really happened. So there's a battle going on here between the Philistines and Israel at this Mount Gilboa.

And it says, The Philistines were defeating Israel, they're a very powerful nation, they had powerful weapons, they had more advanced weapons than Israel, they had learned advanced metallurgy. And so their weapons were more advanced. 

And the Philistines are closing in on King Saul and his sons. They're in the battle themselves. And it says this, they killed three of his sons right there. 

The battle is fierce. The Philistines are now basically right near Saul himself. I mean, all his men are in battle around him. He's in battle and it's growing very fierce right around Saul and he's already watched his three sons die in the battle and he must be distraught, devastated. Saul takes an arrow from archers nearby. He's hit. Saul quickly realizes it's a mortal wound. So Saul turns to his servant whose with him, and says, "Hey, take your sword and run me through before these taken Philistines run me through and humiliate me." 

But the armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. He kills himself right there. This is bad stuff, it's a dark moment! But he took his sword and fell on it. When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell in his own sword too, and died beside the king. 

So Saul, his armor bearer and his sons died that day. When the Israelites on the other side of the desert Valley and beyond the Jordan saw that their army had been routed, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied those cities. So the Philistines have a total victory.

Here they are, they've won this battle. The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off Saul's head and stripped off his armor. And they proclaimed the news of Saul's death in their pagan temples, and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 

"They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan." -1st Samuel 31:9-10

When the people of Jabesh-Gilead heard what the Philistines had done, their warriors traveled all night to Beth Shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies, and they took their remains and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh. And they fasted for seven days. So this is the end of Saul and his family, a very sad moment.

And then mocked by his enemies. But thankfully, a nearby people in Jabesh-Gilead brought his body and gave him a proper burial. That was good thing they did that day. Then they fasted and mourned for seven days.

This is a very sad moment, but Saul has been sowing the wind for his whole life. He's been embracing a course of evil. 

Unfortunately, that when we make those choices, or hurt people, it's a lot of the innocent and will come back to harm us in the end. And that is how 

First Samuel 31, that's it. That's how the book of First Samuel ends, with the great defeat of King Saul and Israel by the Philistines. 

And then the book of Second Samuel starts. First Samuel goes all the way back to even before David was born, and then it goes through the life of David, as he's persecuted by Saul to the moment that Saul dies. And then second Samuel really begins the journey of King David, beginning to ascend to the throne of Israel. 

So David, after being harmed by Saul all these years, finally, his enemy is gone. And David begins to replace him as King of the nation of Israel. And these will begin to be much better days for Israel. Thankfully, a wicked ruler has passed away, a new, better King is about to take the throne. And things are about to get better for an entire nation. Because David has been through all the bad stuff, and it's kept him humble. He is a humble leader now. 

And what if he had taken the throne without any difficulty? Do you think he would have been as great of a leader? Probably not. Because sometimes we have to go through hard stuff. Sometimes we have to go through difficulties that keep us humble. And remind us that we need to rely on God completely. Sometimes we have to go through the wringer. And then when we're given authority, we won't abuse it. When we're given authority, and then we'll use it properly. 

So that's the first big point I want you to notice today is that it often takes going down to a dark place, a rock bottom, to be able to handle a better future where you're going to need to stay humble. 

Maybe that's the greater challenges after the struggles, to stay humble as God gives you many good gifts along the way. That may be the challenge for your future, is as God blesses you and builds you and grows you, you're gonna have to stay humble. Otherwise pride will destroy you. That's always a danger for any human on a path of victory: Pride starts to seep in. 

So let's see, we saw what happened to Saul here tragic and now let's see what happens with David. 

It says in Second Samuel 1:1-9, "After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days. 2 On the third day a man arrived from Saul’s camp with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honor.

3 “Where have you come from?” David asked him.

He answered, “I have escaped from the Israelite camp.”

4 “What happened?” David asked. “Tell me.”

“The men fled from the battle,” he replied. “Many of them fell and died. And Saul and his son Jonathan are dead.”

5 Then David said to the young man who brought him the report, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”

6 “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa,” the young man said, “and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and their drivers in hot pursuit. 7 When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me, and I said, ‘What can I do?’

8 “He asked me, ‘Who are you?’

“‘An Amalekite,’ I answered.

9 “Then he said to me, ‘Stand here by me and kill me! I’m in the throes of death, but I’m still alive.’

So apparently Saul had attempted suicide, but it didn't work. So he calls to this man and says, "Hey, come finish me off. I'm dying here and I feel terrible." 

In verses 10-12: “So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive. And I took the crown that was on his head and the band on his arm and have brought them here to my lord.”

11 Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. 12 They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword."

This is something that they would do in ancient times. Clothing was obviously very, very valuable in ancient times. And to show you were super upset, you would rip your clothes. I mean, you're doing the damage to something very valuable to express your grief. 

It says in verse 12, they mourned and wept and fasted all day for Saul and his son, Jonathan, and for the Lord's Army and the nation of Israel, because so many had died that day. So here we see them mourning this loss. 

I mean, David has been harassed and pursued by Saul and Israel, but yet he's mourning the loss of the army. He's mourning, this great defeat, because he's a godly man. He knows that this is a horrible tragedy. So he mourns. And it's okay in your life to mourn as well when you're sad. It's okay to mourn, to weep, to be upset, to simply allow yourself to be in that spot for a while. It's okay to feel grief. And sometimes when we're in grief, we may fast as well. 

Have you ever been so upset that you couldn't eat? That's a dark place to be. So at the same time, I'm sure David is thinking, well, this is my time to ascend to the throne. But that's not his approach to the situation. Instead he mourns. 

Then in verses 13-16, "David said to the young man who brought him the report, “Where are you from?”

“I am the son of a foreigner, an Amalekite,” he answered.

14 David asked him, “Why weren’t you afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?”

15 Then David called one of his men and said, “Go, strike him down!” So he struck him down, and he died. 16 For David had said to him, “Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.’”

This man was a murderer. He killed Saul. David has him executed. Wow, that's intense. Was this the wrong decision? I don't really know. My first reaction is to think, well, that doesn't seem quite right. But I guess he did strike down Saul. Then it says this... (verses 17-27)

17 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, 18 and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

19 “A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel.
    How the mighty have fallen!

20 “Tell it not in Gath,
    proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad,
    lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

21 “Mountains of Gilboa,
    may you have neither dew nor rain,
    may no showers fall on your terraced fields.
For there the shield of the mighty was despised,
    the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.

22 “From the blood of the slain,
    from the flesh of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
    the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.
23 Saul and Jonathan—
    in life they were loved and admired,
    and in death they were not parted.
They were swifter than eagles,
    they were stronger than lions.

24 “Daughters of Israel,
    weep for Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
    who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

25 “How the mighty have fallen in battle!
    Jonathan lies slain on your heights.
26 I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
    you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
    more wonderful than that of women.

27 “How the mighty have fallen!
    The weapons of war have perished!”

How the mighty heroes have fallen! Stripped of their weapons they lay dead! Wow. He is mourning, mourning for the loss of his friend Jonathan, mourning for the loss of someone he loved, King Saul. Even though Saul persecuted him and harassed him he loved him. 

He mourns their loss. But history is changing, their things are moving and adjusting. The story is shifting. History is shifting. One King is passing away, and another is rising up. This is the way of all life. Things change over time, don't they? Nothing is permanent. Except for Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. But human life changes. 

We were talking about that at Sunday school this morning. Pastor Chan said in the study on Job, "What were you feeling in 1923? Nothing. You weren't there." We're just a tiny blip in the spread of history.

We live 70, 80, 90 years, maybe 100? If we're lucky? We're just a tiny blip on history, we think we're so important that history revolves around us. 

Yet it does matter. David will perhaps be the greatest king that Israel has ever seen. Because he is a man after God's own heart. And at last, we've seen David chased, harassed, mocked, ridiculed, miserable, alone, living in caves, living empty, wondering when are things going to change. 

And finally he has his victory, where Saul is gone, and he's going to become king, and he can't even enjoy it. He is mourning for the loss of Saul. What a strange moment, don't you think? It's finally happened, his persecutor is defeated. And he can't enjoy it. 

He had mourned, cried, and ripped his clothes. Because he lost someone closer than a brother Jonathan is friend, someone who protected him from Saul. Frankly, David loved Saul. And I've experienced that too, with leaders, politicians, people in the Salvation Army that maybe I didn't agree with it, I still loved them, you know, still, I still cared about them and their soul, you know, you care. You can't help but care. So it's a strange and a sad moment. 

But it's also a hopeful moment, right? It's a hopeful moment, because David doesn't have to live in caves anymore. And it is God's will for David to be king. And David will be a great king. But it's sometimes it takes sorrow, to break through to victory. I'll tell you that. And oftentimes, it's a very mixed feeling, isn't it? 

When things change, it's like, Man, I'm happy. And I'm sad, and I'm hurt. And I'm blessed. And it's all just kind of together in this bowl of emotions. 

Like when you get saved in Jesus Christ, it's very much a mixed thing. Because at one point, you're so excited because you're a new person, you're born again, got the Holy Spirit, at the same time, you're mourning, because all of your sins were so ugly, and Jesus had to pay for them with his own blood. That's how bad my sin was. And you regret what you did. But then you're moved forward, past them.  

You're also a little nervous as well, looking toward a future that seems difficult, as a Christian, to begin to live by a different standard. So there's all these kinds of conflicting emotions, you feel sad yet excited, nervous yet confidence, mourning yet rejoicing. 

So welcome to the Christian life. It's kind of a balancing act between different feelings and thoughts. But fundamentally, we have a good thing here. And that's being a Christian. We have a wonderful, beautiful life walking in the grace of God every day.

Our sins have been washed away and we're new. We have the Holy Spirit, this rope hanging down from heaven that plugs into us and we light up with God's presence. We have this new power source that we're plugged into in heaven through the Holy Spirit. 

And yet life is kind of challenging because at the same time you look at the world and you see everyone who needs Jesus and you feel a little overwhelmed, like, "I want all these people to know the Lord!" And yet, it seems just out of reach a lot of times, so it's kind of tough. So, let's get used to that, used to an awkward balance of competing emotions. 

But I want to end on this note: This is a great moment because David is going to be a great king. This is a moment that the entire nation prayed and hoped for. God, please, grant us a Godly leader! And Israel now had a godly leader.

And imagine if in our country, Jesus appeared and said, "I'm the new president." That would be the day! Marantha! (Come Lord Jesus)

Prayer for Today: Heavenly Father, we've experienced a lot of these emotions, and it's tough. We walk in Your Grace, God, our sins have been forgiven by Your precious blood, Lord Jesus. Help us to walk in that sometimes awkward path. Help us to mourn those we've lost, but also to see the hope and the future that we have. Thank you, God, In Jesus Name, Amen. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Salvation Army: Do not Show Favoritism, a vital theological concept

This is a personal blog. The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

"I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism." -1 Timothy 5:21

The concept of giving special benefits or special assistance or deference to a particular group is on it's face a tempting proposition. We feel, we're going to help people who are hurting. There is a legitimate desire behind it, to help and do good. We feel, we're going to right historic wrongs. We're going to stand up for the little guy. We're going to make a difference.

These are generally good ideas. Jesus our Lord himself was very focused on helping those in need, meeting needs, healing the outcast, and reaching out to the lowly. 

Yet we also find a vital concept in scripture, old and new testament alike, it's the concept of "do not show favoritism." 

Showing favoritism in the old testament is worded like this: Don't show favor to the poor man or to the rich man in court, but do justice. In the new testament, we're told showing favoritism is legitimately considered a sin.  

It says in James, James 2:9 "But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors."

My ears perk up when the word of God so clearly indicates: This is not right. I'm listening, because, after preaching to others, I don't want to disqualify myself. I want to make sure I'm doing justice rightly. 

We in The Salvation Army need to be very careful that we fulfill our mission statement of "meeting human needs in His name without discrimination."

We must never show favoritism or disregard based on someone's standing, if they're related to someone we know, if they hold a particular ideology, or if they're financially wealthy, or very poor, if we like their personality or not. Do not show favoritism. That's so vital.

We can't favor someone because of the color of their skin either. In either direction. We should never favor someone for a position because they are Caucasian and that's what we're comfortable with. We should also never show favoritism to someone who is African American or Asian or Middle-Eastern because we want to show how inclusive we are. 

Be certain of this: Either approach is equally sinful before God.

Leviticus 19:15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor."

And when I see us doing either of those things, I tremble for the leaders making those decisions. Because it is a deadly sin, one singled out in the New Testament numerous times. 

We must return to a basic concept: equality under God. Simple, yet profound. Do not treat people differently based on any particular difference. Even gender. Even race. Even class. Even wealth. Even criminal history. Even philosophy. Even social media posts. But treat all people equally under the law of God. 

If we show favoritism in attempts to correct perceived historic wrongs, we may find ourselves condemned as law breakers as it says in James. If we show favoritism based on preference to a particular race, gender, or class, we equally find ourselves condemned as law breakers according to James. 

Do not judge with deference. Do not accept a bribe. Do not show favoritism based on familial connection, nepotism is sin just as much as favor based around race or class or gender. 

Instead, keep a stubborn sense in your eyes and heart, of giving position based on ability, but only in the leading of the will of God, by the Spirit of God. Who is most qualified? That is the standard that God gave to Moses, when Moses was to select certain leaders to judge cases over the different groups and tribes. 

“But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21).

What are the requirements? They must be capable. That's meritocracy. Appointed based on merit. They must fear God and be trustworthy as well. They must refuse bribes and dishonest gain. And there you have it. In leadership, capability, merit is the key stock to consider when making the choice. 

In providing help and service to those in need, we should help everyone, and the word says, particularly, fellow Christians. That's a principle from Galatians 6:10, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the household of faith."

Monday, May 22, 2023

David is named King of Judah in Hebron

David trusted God for years and years. He trusted God as his enemies closed in around him. He trusted God as he lived in caves. He trusted God even when he was alone and on the run. He trusted God when Saul tried to kill him. He trusted God when he was an outcast.

At last, the time had come. David had waited such a long time, for God’s promise given to him through the prophet Samuel. The promise was simple: You will be king. 

Now David asks God what he should do next. King Saul is dead. And it’s in David’s mind that he should go up to the towns of Judah, one of the tribes of Israel.

Have God ever placed something on your heart? You keep thinking about it. You’ve prayed about it. It pops into your head. People bring it up to you. In the scriptures as you read them it keeps coming up. Then finally, you ask God. And God makes it clear, this is the way.

It says in 2 Samuel 2:1 "In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord. “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked.

The Lord said, “Go up.”

David asked, “Where shall I go?”

“To Hebron,” the Lord answered."

Notice it says, “in the course of time.” Don’t get pushy with God about timing. God does his own thing with timing. We have to wait patiently. Don’t insist God give you the answer ahead of time. He’ll tell you when he chooses to. We aren’t God. He is God.

Do you get that this is a spiritual way of living? It’s the 4th dimension of existence. We all live by the three basic instincts, security instinct, social instinct, and sexual instinct. The fourth dimension is God-consciousness, practically learning to communicate with God on a daily basis. Instead of desperately trying to manipulate events to fulfill your base desires, you instead live on the 4th plane, relationship with God. All the desires which used to control your life are now secondary to God's control. 

You can have an actual intimate relationship with God himself. One day at a time. Seeking His will. Listening for his voice. Studying his word. Applying it. And over the years you learn to walk with God. A lifelong journey of faith.

Then, in verses 2-4: “So David went up there with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David also took the men who were with him, each with his family, and they settled in Hebron and its towns. Then the men of Judah came to Hebron, and there they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah.”

Trust God, the day will come, and sure enough the day came when David was anointed as king. But even now it’s not the full promise, it’s a big part of it though. He is anointed king of Judah. But the other tribes of Israel are not yet with him. 

Have you ever felt disappointed? Have you ever thought, "this isn’t all of it! I was hoping for more." I wonder if David struggled. Then again maybe he was grateful at least to be king over Judah.

Next, David finds out about the men who buried Saul. In verses 5-7:

"When David was told that it was the men from Jabesh Gilead who had buried Saul, he sent messengers to them to say to them, “The Lord bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the Lord now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the people of Judah have anointed me king over them.”"

He thanks these men who were faithful and gave Saul a proper burial.

But trouble in brewing in the rest of the country. The leader of Saul’s army is still trying to hold Saul’s empire together.

It says in verses 8-11: "Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel. Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David. The length of time David was king in Hebron over Judah was seven years and six months."

Abner, this military leader of Saul’s kingdom sets up Saul’s remaining son Ish-Bosheth as king over the rest of Israel. And now we have the start of a civil war in the kingdom of Israel, David and his troops at Hebron, and Ish-Bosheth and Abner at Mahanaim.

Next, the two armies meet at Gibeon. It says in verses 12-15: "Abner son of Ner, together with the men of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, left Mahanaim and went to Gibeon. Joab son of Zeruiah and David’s men went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. One group sat down on one side of the pool and one group on the other side.

Then Abner said to Joab, “Let’s have some of the young men get up and fight hand to hand in front of us.”

“All right, let them do it,” Joab said.

So they stood up and were counted off—twelve men for Benjamin and Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, and twelve for David. 16 Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent’s side, and they fell down together. So that place in Gibeon was called Helkath Hazzurim (in Hebrew, Field of Daggers)."

So you have Joab leading David’s army. David isn’t there, he’s back in Hebron. And Abner leads Saul’s troops. They meet at a pool of water in Gibeon. They have twelve men from each group fight, twelve vs. twelve, and it gets bloody, with daggers. Each of them dies in this hand to hand combat. Apparently after this 12 vs. 12 fighting a greater battle broke out between the two armies.

It says, verses 17-23: "The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the Israelites were defeated by David’s men.

The three sons of Zeruiah were there: Joab, Abishai and Asahel. Now Asahel was as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle. He chased Abner, turning neither to the right nor to the left as he pursued him. Abner looked behind him and asked, “Is that you, Asahel?”

“It is,” he answered.

Then Abner said to him, “Turn aside to the right or to the left; take on one of the young men and strip him of his weapons.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him.

Again Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me! Why should I strike you down? How could I look your brother Joab in the face?”

But Asahel refused to give up the pursuit; so Abner thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back. He fell there and died on the spot. And every man stopped when he came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died."

Abner doesn’t want to kill Asahel, he knows Joab, frankly they all know each other. It’s all Israel against Israel. It’s a civil war. So Asahel chases after Abner, and Abner suddenly turns, strikes him, and he dies. Abner didn’t want it to happen. But it did. And he kills him. Sad things happen in war, plain and simple.

Next, we see Abner making his last stand, in verses 24-28: "But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner, and as the sun was setting, they came to the hill of Ammah, near Giah on the way to the wasteland of Gibeon. Then the men of Benjamin rallied behind Abner. They formed themselves into a group and took their stand on top of a hill.

Abner called out to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize that this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your men to stop pursuing their fellow Israelites?”

Joab answered, “As surely as God lives, if you had not spoken, the men would have continued pursuing them until morning.”

So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the troops came to a halt; they no longer pursued Israel, nor did they fight anymore.”"

Somehow, Abner, during his last stand on top of the hill, is able to speak the right words, to get Joab to turn back his troops. Stop this killing, no more. Have mercy. And Joab stops the fighting and lets them escape. For the sake of Israel. To hold it together. Sometimes you have to show some mercy. You have to stop and forgive them. You have to do something to bring peace. And that’s what Joab does here.

Abner and his men return to their capital city, of Israel, and Joab and his men return to Hebron, as it says in verses 29-32: "All that night Abner and his men marched through the Arabah. They crossed the Jordan, continued through the morning hours and came to Mahanaim. Then Joab stopped pursuing Abner and assembled the whole army. Besides Asahel, nineteen of David’s men were found missing. But David’s men had killed three hundred and sixty Benjamites who were with Abner. They took Asahel and buried him in his father’s tomb at Bethlehem. Then Joab and his men marched all night and arrived at Hebron by daybreak."

All night they travel, and return to their respective cities, during the start of this civil war in the kingdom, between King David over Judah, and Ish-Bosheth over the other tribes. So now, a civil war has begun.

The final point today is that sometimes things get worse before they get better. It’s a mixed blessing, David becoming King of Judah, because the remnants of Saul’s empire aren’t done yet. They form into a confederacy and begin fighting against David. Sometimes it comes to blows, and everything seems out of control. But trust God in the storm, and he will get you through.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Jairus and his Sick Daughter: Don't be Afraid; Just Believe

"One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."

Here is a similar illustration:

During the terrible days of the Blitz, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as quickly as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his father's voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, "I can't see you!"

The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, "But I can see you. Jump!" The boy jumped, because he trusted his father. The Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known." -Donner Atwood

I think it’s very important for us to understand as Christians that our God is fundamentally a God who loves to heal. He healed people thousands of years ago, and he continues to heal people today. But the requirement on our end is faith. We must have faith in God. Even when we can’t see. Even when we don’t know the future. Even when it seems impossible. Faith.

The Lord Jesus heals people physically, mentally, spiritually, he heals our past sorrows, he heals our broken memories, he washes away our sins. Our God is a healing God. That is fundamental to his character.

As we’ll see today in the gospel of Mark, we find Jesus again healing people.

It says in Mark 5:21-24: "When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him."

We want to bring our concerns to Jesus, just like Jairus does in this moment. He has faith that God can help him. And sure enough, Jesus goes with him.

Whatever is concerning you today, bring it to God. Sometimes we get so focused on the problem we don’t bring it to God. Instead we worry about it. We stress over it. Stop a second and realize, I need to pray right now, at this very moment. Then bring it God in faith.

We’ve got a situation setup here. Jesus is going with Jairus to his daughter who is sick. But then the unexpected happens. A woman in the crowds, is searching for Jesus, and she believes that Jesus can help her.

It says in verses 25-29: "A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering."

It's a divine interruption. These kinds of moments happen in life all the time. We’re super busy doing what we’re doing, and God interrupts the moment with something he wants us to do. Be sure to be willing in the moment to follow God’s leading.

This woman had been sick for 12 years. That’s a long time. She had suffered. She had wasted all her money on doctors and hadn’t gotten better. I bet many people here can relate to that statement. Been to doctors for years, but it never seems to get better. Eventually you start to give up on doctors, your faith in doctors fades away in the face of the problem you’re facing. But there is a faith with this woman, if she can just touch Jesus, she will be healed. And sure enough, by her faith, it is done for her. She is healed.

In verses 30-34: "At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”"

By her faith, she was healed. The combination of faith and the presence of Jesus, and Jesus heals her. Her part is to have faith. Jesus part is to do the healing. How is your faith today? Do you have a strong faith? A growing faith? It’s simple, yet profound, a trust in God, that he can and will help you. And he calls her daughter. Your suffering is over. Be healed.

Just like that, after twelve years of sickness and bleeding, this woman is healed by Jesus. That’s what God does. He breaks cycles of suffering. The bleeding had gone on and on for years. For me, I was caught in many cycles, repeating loops, troubles that never stopped, depression, laziness, lying, slowly growing cold in my heart. Even after all those years, Jesus breaks the cycle. What cycle do you need Jesus to break in your life? Believe he can help you. He will help you. Turn to Him.

But we turn back to Jairus and his daughter. Verse 35-36: "While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”"

This is the key scripture here in this whole chapter, I believe, is: "Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Make that the motto of your life: Don’t be afraid, just believe. Make that your goal on a daily basis. Don’t be afraid. Believe God. Trust God. Commit to God. Agree with God. Stay in Faith. Have faith as your baseline, your go to, your consistent mindset. Simple faith. Powerful faith.

Then Jesus takes his inner circle and goes to the home of Jairus, in verses 37-40: "He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him."

We see a contrast here between the faith of the woman with the bleeding issue and Jairus, they both had faith, but these people laugh at Jesus. So he clears them out and goes in. He wants people of faith surrounding him as he ministers to this young woman.

Similarly, in your life, surround yourself with people of faith. Surround yourself with people on the same mission as you. Then your faith will be built up. But if you spend all your time with faithless people, you may find your faith torn down and negatively impacted by others.

Jesus gets gathered with people of faith, and goes in.

In verses 41-43: "After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat."

Three people’s lives were changed on that day. The woman with the bleeding issue, she was healed at last, and her life was changed forever. She would not bleed again. Second, the little girl Jesus raised from the dead. She was dead, now she was alive again. Thirdly, Jairus himself. He saw his little girl raised from the dead. He would never be the same. But first he believed. Then the miracle came. It’s easy to believe after the miracle. But what about before the miracle? Can we believe then?

Who is this man Jesus who did such impossible things? How can this be? Has anyone in the history of planet Earth, ever been able to raise people from the dead? Buddha never did, none of the Hindu gods ever did, Muhammad never did, only Jesus Christ. No one has ever done anything like Jesus has done. No one has ever changed people and changed history like Jesus. That’s why we gather to learn more about Him, and help lead others to Him. No one else can help. No one else can save. No one else can deliver. No one else can heal. Only Jesus. Only Jesus. And if you’ll believe, really believe in your heart, you’ll see your life changed. You’ll see healing. You’ll see victories. You’ll see forgiveness. And he will change you forever, into a new person. But it takes faith. Will you dare to believe? Will you take a leap of faith? Because that’s what Jesus commands from His followers: Have faith; don’t be afraid.

Like the little boy who can’t see his father, but his father says, jump! Could you jump when you can’t see? That’s faith. Trust in God. Believe he’s there, and he can help you. Jesus can help you. So turn to Him now. Believe in Him. Call out to Jesus Christ and he will save you! Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

The Man who Lived Among the Tombs: The Gospel Hidden in Plain Sight

In my hometown growing up there was a main drive you’d go down called Grand Avenue. And as kids we’d often be traveling with the family in the car. And along grand avenue there was this huge grave yard, I mean like 5 blocks long, and we’d always say, hold your breath, as we passed by the graveyard. Because if you didn’t the dead would come to haunt you, because they were jealous you were alive and breathing. Silly kids stuff of course.

But I remember people who would hang out there at night. People drawn to the graveyards. People who felt a connection with the dead. It was strange. Even growing up there were groups of kids very much fascinated with darkness, we called them goths.

I’ll tell you this, for much of my life I was drawn to things related to death. I was drawn to zombies, the undead. I was drawn to darkness. I was drawn to the occult. Many people in our world today are drawn to evil. They wear shirts with skulls and cross bones on them. Have you ever noticed that?

There is this dark thread that runs through humanity. Self-destructiveness. We find something good, and later we seem to self-sabatoge. We find a good situation but we implode, and we discover later, many of us do, that I was my biggest problem. I was the problem.

Well, just as people are drawn to horror movies, drawn to evil today, long ago, in the time of Jesus, there was a man who lived in the tombs. He lived in a graveyard. And we’ll see how Jesus changed his story forever. Just as he continues to do for millions in the world today.

From Mark chapter 5, 1-5, “They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.”

Jesus and his disciples had crossed the lake during this storm, which Jesus calmed by an apparent act of will. Astonishing. But now they arrive at the other side of the lake.

And this man who was living the graveyards comes to Jesus.

This guy wandering in this area, I’ve seen people like that even today, in every city in the country, people who wander the city on foot, act strangely, often with mental health issues, struggling, out of control, in fact I was once similar to this man, wandering the city, out of control, and no one could bind me.

This man would wander the area, cry out in madness, and he would cut himself with stones. How little things change, we have people today in our society, who cut themselves, I know some in our church here had done that in the past themselves. I had a close friend in my twenties and she would cut herself.

In many cases that cutting is based around sorrow, pain, an inability to express what they’re feeling inside, and so they cut themselves. In this case in the scriptures, it’s because this man has been possessed and influenced by demons.

What exactly is possession? It’s when a demon has actually entered someone and is exerting a level of control over the person. All of today have been influenced by demons from time to time. It’s much more rare that any of would’ve actually been possessed by demons. Its rare in the United States for some reason. But in other nations, in non-Christian nations I understand it’s more common. But I’m sure it still does happen even here in our city.

Let’s see how Jesus deals with this situation.

Verses 6-10: “When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.”

Whose in control in this situation? Jesus is. Complete control. It’s not a fair fight between demons and God. God has total authority over demons. Just like in the book of Job, Satan needs permission from God to do anything to Job.

Similarly here, we see the demons basically pleading with Jesus for mercy. This man has apparently many, many demons, and if you were to count them, it would be about two thousand demons were inside this man. Scary stuff.

As Christians, demons can still influence us, but we shouldn’t fear them. We should fear God. God has authority over us and them. They can’t do anything to us without God’s express permission. Why would God give permission? To test our faith, to make sure it’s genuine and stands the test of difficulties and problems.

This is an odd portion of scripture though isn’t it? We’re all wondering, what’s really going on here. It’s about the man, and his redemption. But it feels like something more is going on here. There’s a picture here for us, of some deep theological truth.

In verses 11-13, “A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.”

This is something modern Christians and modern pastors don’t like to talk about. It just seems kind of detached from modern society. But it’s 100% real. Demons and angels are completely real. They exist here in our world today. There are millions and millions of them at work in our world. I tend to think they outnumber us massively, like for every one person there must be thousands of angels and demons at work in various ways. We can’t see them. But we can often sense their presence.

Non-Christians really don’t have any defense against demons. But Non-Christians do have angels assigned to them. Christians have total authority over demons. Christians also have angels assigned to them. Church facilities do as well. Areas do as well.

In the name of Jesus, basically, we can remove demons at any time, as we choose to. We can command them out of our homes, verbally. We can command them out of people if need be. The way Jesus talks to these demons is the way we should talk to them, in the authority of Jesus Christ, they simply have to obey, end of story.

So claim that authority in your life. When you sense the enemy nearby, cast them out in Jesus name.

So the demons request permission to go into the pigs, two thousand of them, and as soon as they went into the pigs, the pigs stampeded off the hill and into a lake below, off a ledge basically, and drowned in the waters below.

Next, verses 14-17: Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.”

The people of the region are terrified but what has happened. They are afraid. They see the man and he’s completely healed. He’s ok now. He’s safe. And the people are afraid. Sometimes we’re so used to things being a certain way, it’s almost scary when it changes. I was a lot like this guy, wandering the town, confused and self destructive, and people were shocked when I became a Christian. They didn’t know what to think. So they demand Jesus leave. They are pleading with him to leave. They don’t want change. They want things to stay the same.

Sharply contrasted with… verses 18-20: As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

The man who was healed is begging to go with Jesus. He doesn’t want Jesus to leave. But he instead wants to go with him. But Jesus says no, hold on, I want you to go and tell everyone what God has done for you. You’ll be my witness. And the man did so, he started telling everyone. No one could deny it. They knew about him. And how crazy he was. But they now saw that he was healed. And the people were amazed. They feared Jesus himself, but later would listen to the man tell his story.

Let’s put it all together. What’s really going on here? All of these things really happened. Like we often say, if we went back in a time machine to this moment in history we’d see Jesus, the disciples, the man, the pigs, all of it. But, it’s also symbolic for us today.

The man living among the tombs, represents you and me, before we knew Christ as our savior. We were dead in our sins and transgressions, self destructive, harming ourselves, like the man cut himself, among the tombs, dead in our sins.

But we were drawn to Jesus, even though our sinful nature fought against us, and tried to keep us away from Jesus, we came to Jesus and fell at his feet, just like the man.

And Jesus forgave all our sins, he cast out our sins. Just like Jesus cast the demons out of the man, and into the pigs. All that impurity, then rushed off the cliff and into the waters below, just like our sins had to be washed away in the waters of the blood of Jesus shed for us. The pigs were drowned in the sea, just like our sins were drowned away, destroyed by the blood of Jesus.

All of this becomes a public spectacle to display God’s righteous judgment against impurity, for all those in the region. Just as Jesus’ death and resurrection became a public spectacle for the world about God’s righteous judgment.

The man who had been in the tombs is made new. He becomes a new person with a new mission, he begins to proclaim what Jesus did for him, he becomes a witness of the Lord Jesus. Just as we as Christians are witnesses of what Jesus did for us, and we proclaim it to others in our city.

God often doesn’t send us out of our city, but keeps us here to testify to everyone about what God did for us, and the people are amazed.