Saturday, September 30, 2017

Karma Undone

Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away. (1 Samuel 21:1-6)

What we have here is a desperate David spinning a yarn in order to get food out of the priest.  Ahimelech asks him why he is alone, and David essentially claims, "I'm on a secret mission!  Yeah, that's it.  I'm a spy, and I'm meeting up with some other spies, and we are going to be doing some spy stuff.  Shhh!  Don't tell anybody.  Do you have any thing to eat?"  So, David is engaged in bearing false witness, because he is desperate, but that should not be an excuse.  Remember Abraham lying to the Egyptians about not being married to Sarah, and what happened?  A plague hit...the Egyptians!  This is not karma, this is something else.

Ahimelech responds with a sin of his own.  He takes an incidental command from Exodus 19 and applies it to eating consecrated bread that is only meant for the priests. There is no situation in which David is allowed to eat the bread, and so Ahimelech has violated the law of God.  What's more, because David is a likable and famous individual, having killed his ten-thousands as the song goes, Ahimelech is ready to violate God's law, and David has given him a tremendous opportunity.

Now, there's the chief of Saul's herdsmen, Doeg, an Edomite by birth, and it says in the passage that he was "detained before the Lord" at the same location.  God wanted this man there for a reason, and it is clear why in the next chapter.  Doeg tells Saul all that has happened, Saul confronts Ahimelech, and then Saul has Doeg himself kill all the priests and destroy the entire town of Nob, including women, children, and livestock. Once again, this is not karma, for none of this is happening to David, and the punishment on Nob is overwhelming in comparison to David's crime.  This is something else.

Let's look at another David transgression.  We will look closer at this in the future, but the taking of Bathsheba for his own and killing her husband involves not just being dishonest but literally lining up all the commandments and shooting them.  This makes lying to Ahimelech a boy's prank.  However, there is much destruction due to David's secret agent yarn.  There is much more destruction due to Bathsheba, too, as we read:

Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” (2 Samuel 12:10-14)

Once again, this is not karma.  The world is not under a karma system.  Karma does not exist.  We are under a curse caused by the original transgression of Adam.  This is important, because the illusion of karma permeates everything that happens in life, including the history of David, as we see.  We get sucked into the idea that our actions cause direct consequences back at ourselves, and so we find ourselves in situations where we are watching our every move.  We find ourselves in a covenant of works, where every transgression of God's moral law manifests itself as an injury to self or loved ones, as if God is waiting for us to "mess up" so he can afflict us or our families.  But the truth is, the curse mankind brought on ourselves IS the affliction.  This is the natural state of things due to the fall, and so God doesn't need to afflict us with sickness and disease.  We've done it to ourselves already.  God's glorious job is to deliver us from the curse by grace.

I have been confused by certain verses for years.  When Jesus heals a 38-year invalid, he later tells him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)  The wording made me think that one could lose God's grace by sinning again, and so one had to be constantly on our guard against sin to prevent his soul being lost.  This is a plunge into legalism fueled by karma.  Here is another way of looking at what Jesus said:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

One is unable to repent unless the Holy Spirit draws him to repentance.  Repentance is the immediate and first seed of a true faith.  Faith is given to us by God's grace, which he exerts over us to deliver us from the curse.  So, what Jesus is telling his disciples and those with them, is that only those with a true faith will escape the curse that has been in effect since Adam sinned.  David repents in both of his situations.  In Psalm 32, David writes:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (1-5)

And we know the deep repentance of Psalm 51, which David wrote directly after Nathan convicted him.  Remember, this exchange: David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die."  We know that God forgave David his lying to Ahimelech, because Jesus justifies David to the Pharisees in Mark 2 (see last sermon).

Now, as Christians, we do continue to sin, and trials befall us, but this, too, is not karma, but God allowing his children to be disciplined by the curse without us being still under the curse.  As Paul writes in Hebrews,

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

We are delivered out of the curse by Jesus Christ taking the curse upon himself on behalf of God's children.  In an astonishing exchange at the end of 1 Samuel 22, David takes on the role of both the first Adam and the second Adam for the sake of the last surviving member of Ahimelech's family:

But one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. And David said to Abiathar, “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father's house. Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping.” (1 Samuel 22:20-23)

In these four verses we have the fall of mankind through Adam, the curse, and even both the serpent and Judas in the actions of Doeg.  But then the second Adam rises up and takes charge when David proclaims, "Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping."  The grace of God in Jesus Christ appeals to us, "stay with me, do not be afraid. Those still under the curse hate you because they hate me, and they will try to destroy you, because they hate all that I stand for, but put your full trust and faith in me, for with me you shall be safe forever."

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Against Legalism

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)

In order to support what his disciples are doing in breaking the ceremonial law of the Pharisees, Jesus actually has the audacity to cite a desperate time in David's life.  David lies repeatedly to a priest, because he and his followers are starving, and Jesus uses this historic event to make his theological point.  The reason will become apparent, and it is the difference between life in the old covenant of works and the new covenant of grace.

The law of resting on the Sabbath is not only a ceremonial law that shows love for God, but it has been corrupted into a man-made exaggeration of the original law.  When man does something like this, he believes in an aberration of who God is.  Remember the original sin?  Adam and Eve were convinced by the serpent that God was a mean tyrant, and so they broke the single boundary that God had provided for them.  We even read Eve adding a little legalism of her own.  She tells the serpent that she and her husband are not to eat of the forbidden fruit NOR TOUCH IT.  God didn't actually say anything about touching the forbidden fruit, but the illusion of God as tyrant had grown in their minds, that they could not escape the image, even though it was a graven image they had created themselves.

Likewise, the Pharisees have taken a law in which man shows his love for God by taking a break from the toil that is part of the curse and basking in God's glory for at least a day, enjoying the Lord who made him, learning about him, and studying his eternal nature.  The Sabbath is a day to live in the gospel, and the Pharisees have turned it into a ritualistic game of freeze tag, where we aren't even supposed to touch anything.  So, we have developed a system of works that is a misinterpretation of a law that God made for us, so that we could live in his reality better.  So, when the disciples pick grain for food, the Pharisees freak out on them, telling them they are breaking a strict law.  God as strict taskmaster is unbelief in the God of the bible, and Jesus tells them so.

The key word that Jesus uses here is "need."  Elsewhere in the gospels (Luke 14:5) he says, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?"  The truth of the matter is, that even these legalistic Pharisees would help another in need.  The law of need supersedes the ceremonial law, especially a law that has been distorted by man's wiles.  Jesus punctuates his point twice.  Once with "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."  This first smack directly states what I said above, that the law of need--or the moral law--supersedes the ceremonial law.  The second smack across the face comes with the statement, "So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath," which is another way of saying, "I'm God, so my interpretation of the Sabbath is the correct one!"

Today, we have the same legalism going on, and it confuses us, because we are no longer in a covenant of works but in a covenant of grace.  Paul helps us in his fantastic letter to the Colossians in this exact matter.  He tells us that God "has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."  This transfer of his children from one covenant to the other absolves us from legalism. It doesn't mean we are not under the law, though.  Being in the covenant of grace means that we still perform the moral law, the law of need, out of gratitude.  Gratitude means loving the neighbor we can see to show that we love the God we can't see.

Paul writes, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:16-23)

Remember, there are many in the church who are still under the old covenant.  God, in their eyes, is still "stern taskmaster," and so they are only trying to "help" you, because they do not understand the covenants, and they think everyone is still under the old covenant.  They are only trying to help, but you are under the new covenant of grace.  Paul says to let no one disqualify you by insisting on man-made institutions and regulations.  You are dead to those things!  You are also dead to the source of such things, which are the elemental spirits of the world.  These are demons inspiring humans to add unbiblical teachings to a false gospel in order to keep you dead in your sins and lose your soul forever!  Paul instructs us to keep our minds on heavenly things and not earthly things, in order to combat these worldly teachings.  This sounds like more law, but these are laws of joy that come free and willingly to the one who is in the covenant of grace.  When Paul tells us to put to death our earthly desires in Colossians 3, he's telling us as people who have been justified in Christ, not as people of the old covenant.  So, if we go back to where Paul states the theme of his letter, we read the following:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:8-15)

The first sentence above summarizes the letter: don't let anyone add legalism to your gospel.  Then Paul tells us how to do this by reminding us of our justification.  In fact, most of the letter is a classic telling of the gospel.  We need to hear the gospel over and over, so that we can be spared false teaching within the church, teaching that is legalistic in nature and that leads us outside of the covenant of grace and back into the covenant of works where death lay.

Paul ends his gospel presentation by showing us two things.  First, Christ has eradicated the legal demands put upon us by the law and crucified it, destroying it forever.  Next, he asserts his authority over all of the unbelieving people in this world who would lead us astray by their authoritative false teaching. 

Legalism is the most pervasive false gospel in the church today, as it has been throughout history.  It is the element that keeps many would-be Christians forever outside the grace of God, because many, both in and out of the church, think it is the true working out of Christianity.  Jesus tells us that this could not be more wrong.  Read your bible and see for yourself.  The true gospel is one of grace, and good works are done for love of God and neighbor, not to appease a tyrant who may or may not save you.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Christian Bond

In 1 Samuel 20, we can see the covenant bond between David and Jonathan in action.  We can learn through the text about the bond between Christians that is stronger than any other bond in life.

Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah and came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?”

1. Christians are persecuted by the world without cause.  Jesus is the one they hate.  We are just his representatives.  As it reads in John 15:25, "They hated me without cause." The persecution of Christians strengthens the bond between them.

And he said to him, “Far from it! You shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. And why should my father hide this from me? It is not so.”

2. Sometimes we try to vouch for someone who is in the church but not of the church.  Just as Christians are to be in the world but not of the world.

But David vowed again, saying, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” David said to Jonathan, “Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit at table with the king. But let me go, that I may hide myself in the field till the third day at evening. If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me to run to Bethlehem his city, for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the clan.’ If he says, ‘Good!’ it will be well with your servant, but if he is angry, then know that harm is determined by him.

3. True Christians will respond positively to religious matters.  Worldly ones will respond negatively.

Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the Lord with you. But if there is guilt in me, kill me yourself, for why should you bring me to your father?” And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! If I knew that it was determined by my father that harm should come to you, would I not tell you?” Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if your father answers you roughly?” And Jonathan said to David, “Come, let us go out into the field.” So they both went out into the field.

4. When one becomes a Christian, he is taken out of his worldly family and brought into covenant with a new Christian family.  This family may contain members of your worldly family, but one cannot be in both families.  David is afraid that Jonathan's worldly family may supersede his covenant family.  As we saw in 1 Samuel 18:1-4:

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.

Jonathan is in a new covenant with the true anointed king, David, and Jonathan has divested all of his earthly right and inheritance for a new, heavenly inheritance.

Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:19-21)

And Jonathan said to David, “The Lord, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? But should it please my father to do you harm, the Lord do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father. If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David's enemies.” And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.

5. Although we are now members of the Lord's house, in a new covenant, we should continually pray for our old house, that the Lord will not forsake our natural family.  As we see later, David seeks out still-living members of Saul and Jonathan's household, in order that he might show grace and mercy to them, and he finds Jonathan's son and brings him to his table for the rest of his days.  Likewise, we pray to the Lord that he will spare our loved ones, that he will show grace and mercy to them before it is too late.

Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. On the third day go down quickly to the place where you hid yourself when the matter was in hand, and remain beside the stone heap. And I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I shot at a mark. And behold, I will send the boy, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them,’ then you are to come, for, as the Lord lives, it is safe for you and there is no danger. But if I say to the youth, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go, for the Lord has sent you away. And as for the matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, the Lord is between you and me forever.”

6. Christian communication is such that true believers speak the same dogmatic language.  They understand the true meaning of scripture by the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Their methods of evangelism are in harmony.  They don't accept Paul and reject James, or vice versa; they understand that Paul and James are preaching the same gospel.  Their doctrine is compatible, and they don't in-fight.  They reject false gospels that come to them from outside and inside the church, and they embrace the true gospel in all its fullness.  They turn to God's word for its truth, and they pray to God continually for his guidance.

So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul's side, but David's place was empty.

Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him. He is not clean; surely he is not clean.” But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David's place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?” Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem. He said, ‘Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king's table.”

Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.”

7. This is an expansion on point 3. Remember, the true church will embrace true, biblical doctrine, and the false church will reject it.  The false church will also attempt to drag the believer back into his natural, unbelieving family, claiming that the natural, family bond is the stronger.  The worldly inheritance is promoted as being more valuable than the heavenly one.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him.

8. A true Christian identifies false gospels and false believers, and mourns for the persecution of fellow believers.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39)

In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him a little boy. And he said to his boy, “Run and find the arrows that I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. And when the boy came to the place of the arrow that Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the boy and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” And Jonathan called after the boy, “Hurry! Be quick! Do not stay!” So Jonathan's boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. But the boy knew nothing. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter.

9. Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. (Revelation 14:1-5)

And Jonathan gave his weapons to his boy and said to him, “Go and carry them to the city.” And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.

10. This is the most moving and powerful part of this passage, because, except for one brief encounter, David and Jonathan are never to see each other again. However, the bond between them is in the name of the Lord, who is between them and will be between their offspring forever.  This bond cannot be broken and is more powerful than the bond of blood.  We are all washed in the blood of the Lamb, and no matter what happens to us in this life, even if we are physically separated from each other in this life, we have that Christian bond that God sees.  It is the bond of the church, the bride of Christ, and being bonded in this way is indestructible and eternal.  It is the Lord's bond and can never be broken.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Foundations

In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain,
for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
    they have fitted their arrow to the string
    to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord's throne is in heaven;
    his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
    fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
    the upright shall behold his face. (Psalm 11)

This is a psalm of David, when he was running from danger.  The danger could be Absalom in 2 Samuel, or it could be Saul in 1 Samuel.  Since we are looking at the danger from Saul this month, I thought I would look at this psalm here.

The first part is David responding to someone, a counselor maybe.  Apparently the counselor does not advise David to take refuge in the Lord, which is what David actually does.  Instead, the counselor advises David to flee like a bird to the mountain, because those bad men are going to get him!  They are pulling taut the bow to strike malice upon the pure in heart.  Then comes this very important line: "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

This counselor obviously does not have faith in a sovereign God who will not let David come to harm, but let's look at the word "foundations."  What are the foundations that must not be destroyed?

1. God. The first foundation is a God who created everything and who is ever-present for his children.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:27-31)

2. Inspiration.  Next we have the scriptures, the Word of God, that reveal to us who he is in his very nature.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:12-17)

3. Christ. In his revelation God reveals to us the only way that a sinner can be forgiven by a just God.

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-43)

4. The Holy Spirit.  The fourth foundation, the Holy Ghost, transforms a man's heart into one that is capable of loving Jesus.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15)

5. Faith. Once the heart is regenerated by the Spirit, a man is justified by putting his full faith in Christ. God now sees this sinner as righteous.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11:1-3; 12:1-2)

6. Good Works.  Being one with Christ, we are motivated to change our whole lives and live for the one who redeemed us, out of gratitude.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

If any of these foundations are under attack, first we try to repair the one foundation that is crumbling, but if we struggle in that regard, we must always fall back on God himself, the first foundation, from where all the other foundations spawn.  This is what David does in the second half of the psalm, and this is what Peter instructs his readers in his first epistle.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-19)

In the Lord we take refuge, and in his foundations!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Four Defenses of Christ

The four defenses of David in this chapter can be seen as four defenses of Christ, of the gospel itself, by Christians and by the Holy Spirit.

And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul's son, delighted much in David. And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself. And I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you. And if I learn anything I will tell you.” And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you. For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?” And Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan. Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan reported to him all these things. And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before. (1 Samuel 19:1-7)

The first defense is the verbal defense. Paul wrote that he was put here for the defense of the gospel.  Peter tells us to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us.  This may only be a link in the chain that will convert a soul to Christ, but each link is necessary, and we should always try to engage a hostile world in fruitful discussion about the truth as found in Jesus Christ.

And there was war again. And David went out and fought with the Philistines and struck them with a great blow, so that they fled before him. Then a harmful spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand. And David was playing the lyre. And Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. And David fled and escaped that night. (1 Samuel 19:8-10)

Sometimes we forget that Jesus can defend himself! As we read in Luke 4, "When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away."  Nothing is going to happen to Jesus, because he is God's son, and God is sovereign.  Even Christ's death on the cross was planned from the beginning and was preformed for the salvation of the souls of God's children, because he loves us.  He is willing to put himself at disadvantage for our sakes, but God is always in control.  Not a sparrow falls without him knowing about it.

Saul sent messengers to David's house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning. But Michal, David's wife, told him, “If you do not escape with your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped. Michal took an image and laid it on the bed and put a pillow of goats' hair at its head and covered it with the clothes. And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” Then Saul sent the messengers to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” And when the messengers came in, behold, the image was in the bed, with the pillow of goats' hair at its head. Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me thus and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go. Why should I kill you?’” (1 Samuel 19:11-17)

Christ is defended in the life of the church.  Through the service, the preaching, the sacraments, the love for the surrounding community, the church confounds the hating world by using the foolish things of God.

When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. (Acts 9:23-25)

Christ is hidden within the church, but once the church acts, he is revealed to all who seek him.

Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth. And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:18-24)

Finally, there's the defense of conversion by the Holy Spirit.  Ultimately, it is God's choice who "gets it" and who doesn't.  As the church, we cast seeds of apologetic before the world, which either will reject it or incorporate it into its understanding of truth.  In the end, the Holy Spirit is who changes the heart of the unbeliever into a spirit-filled believer.  As in Acts 9, Saul is breathing murder against the disciples, and in that time of hatred, he is dethroned from his own personal kingdom and Christ himself assumes the place of power.

In Acts 2, we have all four of these defenses at work: the Holy Spirit breathing life into the new believers, a well-reasoned defense of The Way by Peter, the fellowship of the church, and Christ's safe interceding from heaven.  The dynamic of the church, the truth, the Spirit, and Christ is such that we should never have qualms about sharing the hope that is in us.  Though faith, we can help Christ draw the world toward himself.