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Will the maidens with lamps be ready? Matthew 25:1-13

Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

 We’re back into our advent series focused on Jesus’ parables of waiting for his second coming or “second advent.” I’m highlighting these because many among the people of God were not ready for Jesus’ first Advent. And so as we celebrate Jesus’ birth we rightly ask ourselves, are we ready for his second advent? Are we prepared?

Our text today is found in –

Matthew 25:1-13

– the parable of the ten maidens. (I have changed the ESV’s “virgins” to “maidens” throughout).

1Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”

So this is about the second coming of Jesus when the kingdom of heaven will come to earth. When he returns, Jesus is saying, it will be like ten maidens waiting for a bridegroom.

We’ll come back to what this teaches us about the second coming, but for now let’s understand the parable.

Jesus is working with ancient marriage customs in this story. After the marriage ceremony, which included the exchange of vows, there would have been a marriage feast (v. 10) at the bridegroom’s house. (See Matthew 22:2-3 and that the groom answers the door at the end of the story.) The role of the maidens was to be ready, after the ceremony was over, to escort the bride and bridegroom to his house for the feast. They have lamps to do this, so they can light the way to the house in the evening.

In our story they’re in position and waiting. But there’s a problem . . .

2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”

So some of the maidens brought along extra oil for their lamps, just in case, and some did not. The lamps are most likely oil lamps and not torches, maybe attached to a pole. (The word here can mean either. For instance it means lamp in in Acts 20:8 and Judith 10:22. Luke uses a different word that clearly means lamp in his short parallel to this parable – Luke 12:35. And the details of the story favor a lamp – torches wouldn’t burn long enough for them to sleep; vessels of oil seem more suited to filling a lamp; and trimming v. 7 seems to apply more to a lamp – Davies and Allison)

5As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps.”

The delay is the key element in this story. The bridegroom takes so long that they all fall asleep, with their lamps burning all the while. Then at midnight the call comes. It’s time for them to fulfill their duty in the procession. And so they trimmed the wicks of their lamps for maximum brightness. And this is where the foolishness of five of the maidens becomes clear.

8And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’”

The foolish ones didn’t expect or prepare for a delay of the bridegroom. And so when they awake their lamps are going out, which leads them to ask the others for some of their oil. But the wise maidens refuse because there isn’t enough for all and the procession would be a failure if all the lamps went out on the way. So they suggest they go and buy more oil. (It is possible that in a town with a wedding going on, people would be up late and able to sell them oil.)

Next we see the consequences of the lack of preparation on the part of the foolish ones.

10And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”

Those who were prepared were able to fulfill their function; they “were ready,” as it says. And they celebrated at the marriage feast.

11Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’”

Now the phrase, “I do not know you” doesn’t mean that the bridegroom doesn’t know them. They are most likely the bride’s good friends and relatives. It’s a statement of disassociation, “I have nothing to do with you now.” Or even, “I disown you.”

And then we have the lesson of the parable drawn out for us . . .

13Be prepared therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

–  that is, for Jesus’ return. (I have changed the ESV’s “watch therefore” to “be prepared.”) The phrase, “be prepared” can and often is translated as “stay awake” or “keep watch,” but here all the maidens slept and none are blamed for it. The issue is that some were not prepared and were thus shut out.

What this teaches us about Jesus’ second coming

It’s a pretty straightforward allegory.

  • The bridegroom’s coming = Jesus’ second coming (Is the “cry” of v. 6 the same as the “the cry of command” found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16? See also note below)
  • The ten maidens = disciples of Jesus who are waiting.
  • The delay = a delay in Jesus’ return. Jesus forewarns us here that it could take a while before he comes again.
  • The wedding feast = the messianic banquet. This is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching. This is the great party that will take place at the end of the world when Jesus and all his own celebrate his great victory and salvation.
  • The shut door = judgment.

(The maidens here match with what the living disciples will do when Jesus returns in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The word “meet” there and here has to do with an official delegation that goes out to welcome, and then escort a dignitary back into the city.)

This much is clear. But what about the central focus of the parable, the oil and the lamps?

The general point is the same as v. 13. Be prepared for Jesus’ return. The five foolish maidens didn’t count on a delay and so they didn’t prepare for it with extra oil.

To not know the day or the hour means that Jesus could return quickly – or as in this case – after a long time. And this parable teaches us to be ready for a delay. Don’t be caught off guard by it. (As many have pointed out, the slave left in charge saw the delay as a chance to be wicked and get away with it, but was judged. The foolish maidens didn’t consider or prepare for a delay and were judged for this.)

But is there more? Something more specific? I think so. The imagery of a lamp shining takes us back to Matthew 5:15-16 (different word in Greek but the same idea) where this refers to “good works” or being obedient to Jesus’ teaching and example. It means living out the Christian life. v. 16 says, “Let your  light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

And when equivalents to the phrase “Lord, lord” are used (Matthew 7:21, 22; Luke 13:25), as in our passage, as well as “I do not know you” (Matthew 7:23;; Luke 13:27) and “the door was shut” with people asking to get in (Luke 13:25) – when these phrases are used in Jesus’ teaching, the issue is Christians who are not walking in obedience to Jesus. (Jesus calls them “workers of lawlessness” Matthew 7:23; “workers of evil” Luke 13:27.)

And so to be prepared means that we have considered things carefully and are ready to follow Jesus, not just for a while, but for as long as our lives go on until Jesus returns. We are prepared to live out our Christian lives for the long haul; however long it takes until he returns.

And so I ask you –

Will you be ready?

Many among the people of God were not ready when Jesus first came. And here five of the ten maidens were not ready for his second coming.

Examine your own life. Are you a wise Christian or a foolish Christian? Are you committed to living in obedience to Jesus until he returns?

One final thought. Just as in the story when the wise could not share their oil, someone else’s preparedness can’t be shared with you. You can’t lean on your spouse, your friend or your parents. Their being prepared won’t help you. You must make sure you are prepared.

Will the slave left in charge be ready? Matthew 24:45-51

Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting

We are beginning Advent today. The word comes from Latin and means arrival or coming. We use it to refer to the first coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas time – and the Advent season ahead of this is a way of preparing ourselves to celebrate this.

But of course, as we think about how to prepare ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ first coming,  it also makes us think about how to prepare ourselves for his second coming.

After all, many among the people of God were not ready for the first Advent of Jesus. And in the same way we have to ask, “will we be ready for his second Advent?” (Luke 2:34-35.)

We will be looking at three parables from Jesus about faithful waiting, and the first today is the parable of the slave left in charge, found in –

Matthew 24:45-51

 The question here is, will this slave be ready when his master returns? We begin with what it looks like if the slave is faithful and wise.

45“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” (I have changed ESV’s “servant” to “slave” throughout).

The situation is that the master has gone away for a time and has placed one of his slaves over the rest of his fellow slaves in his household. As such, he is in charge and has the responsibility of administering the affairs of the house. Specifically, his task is to give everyone in the household their food at the proper time.

Now this parable is certainly talking about pastors or elders in the church.

  • These are the ones Jesus has set over his household while he is gone (fellow slaves – v. 49).
  • And the imagery of feeding in Scripture is one that is associated with teaching – a chief role of a pastor or elder (e.g. Proverbs 10:21; Jeremiah 3:15; John 21:15, 17; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:11-14; also Matthew 4:4).

(1 Timothy 3:4-5 speaks of elders as those in charge of the household of the church. I would argue that the presence of the words “not a drunkard, not violent” in the list of qualifications for an elder in 1 Timothy 3:3 reflects the influence of this parable. Luke uses the word “steward” in his version of this parable (12:42-48) which is used in Titus 1:7 for an elder. The context in Luke 12 points to this parable as focused on leaders. Peter says in v. 41, “Lord are you telling this parable – about the master and the thief – for us or for all?” Jesus then responds by telling our parable about leaders.)

So I’m preaching to myself this morning for sure. But this parable can also have application to anyone who has responsibilities in the community of Jesus.

46Blessed is that slave whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”

So this is a trial run for this slave; a test. The key phrase is, “will find him so doing.” If the master finds him doing what he told him to do, which is the test, he is blessed.

Specifically, he will get a promotion: his temporary position will become permanent and he will gain more responsibility and honor, since he will now be over the household and all that the master possesses.

Our life in this world is a trial run for life in the world to come; the kingdom of God on this earth. And if we are doing what we are supposed to do when Jesus returns, we too will be blessed.

For pastors and elders this means exercising the authority they have rightly (Matthew 20:25-28) and being busy to lead and teach the church in the right way. For everyone it means doing all that Jesus has told us to do, whatever our role is. This is the mark of a faithful and wise slave, which we are called to be.

Next we turn to the other possibility, if the slave becomes wicked.

48But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eats and drinks with drunkards . . .”

 This isn’t another, different servant, but the same one (as we see in Luke 12:45). If he chooses to be wicked instead of faithful and wise, this is what will happen. (The word “that” points back to the previous slave. The word “wicked” is anticipatory of the bad things that will be described shortly.)

The problem is that the master is delayed. So this parable forewarns us that there may be a delay in Jesus’ coming. So the wicked slave thinks that because of this he can do whatever he wants and get away with it. And so instead of being faithful to his task he misuses his authority – beating his fellow slaves and neglects his responsibilities – going off and living it up with the wrong crowd. Instead of a focus on feeding the household, his job, he is busy feeding himself and drinking and partying.

Again our life in this world is a trial run. And if we think Jesus won’t come because it has taken so long, or that we have time to be irresponsible or if we entertain any other thought that would lead us to stop doing what Jesus has told us to do – there will be consequences when Jesus returns.

50the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

 Jesus is saying, there will be consequences, because the master will return! And since the slave thinks his master won’t come or not anytime soon it catches him off guard.

v. 51 says literally he will “cut him in two.” He will be chopped in half. Jesus is getting our attention here. Just as he misused his authority to be violent to his fellow slaves, the master will use his rightful authority to violently judge him. Notice the symmetry. And he will be put with the hypocrites (a term Jesus uses for leaders who are false – Matthew 23. Luke 12:46 has “the unfaithful” or unbelievers). Just as he negligently associated himself with drunkards and partied, the master will rightly put him with the hypocrites where there is much suffering – weeping and gnashing of teeth. Again notice the symmetry. This latter phrase most likely means grinding one’s teeth because of pain. This is an image of Gehenna or hell.

This parable teaches us that if a pastor or elder misuses their authority and neglects to teach and lead their people – there will be judgment. And for anyone who is not doing what Jesus has told them to do – there will be judgment. Jesus will return on a day when we do not expect him and at an hour we do not know and we will be judged (the language of “day” and “hour” echoes 24:36, 44). 

Well, just as this slave had a choice – to be wise and faithful doing what his master said, or to be wicked – not doing, or doing the opposite of what his master said, so –

We have a choice

What will yours be?

Many were not ready when Jesus came the first time. Are you ready for the master’s return at his second coming so that you will be blessed and rewarded? Are you faithfully doing what Jesus has told you to do, as we await his second advent?

Ministry to the next generation

Series: God and seniors

I encouraged you senior adults last week to hear the message that God isn’t done with you yet. Whatever capacity you have, God wants to use to do the work of his kingdom. Today, we continue on with a senior adult focus talking about ministry to the next generation.

Our theme verses for today come from Psalm 71:17-18

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

God wants to use you seniors to pass on the faith to the next generation.

But some might say, “I don’t feel able to be involved in ministry anymore because of my age.” So let’s talk a moment about . . .

Ministering in weaknesses

A definite reality of old age is weakness.

  • For some this means failing physical health, for others more generally it means getting weaker as you get older.
  • For some this means failing mental health, for others more generally it means a loss of sharpness.
  • For some this means growing social dependence on others.

Regarding weakness, Psalm 71:9 says, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” The “time of old age” is defined in part by one’s strength being spent.

Here’s a somewhat humorous story about aging and weakness from 2 Samuel 19:32-34. “Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, ‘Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” But Barzillai said to the king . . . ‘ Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?’” He’s saying to David, ‘No thanks, I can’t party anymore. Can’t taste the food; can’t hear the music.’

And then there is the very descriptive poem about aging in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5. I’m using the Contemporary English Version for this passage. “Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, “I don’t enjoy life anymore.” Someday the light of the sun and the moon and the stars will all seem dim to you. Rain clouds will remain over your head. Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail. The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake. You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper.”

Let me just say that, properly understood, we all minister with weaknesses, whatever they might be. So don’t be discouraged or let this sideline you from doing what God wants you to do. We all need to hear and understand what the Lord said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s never about us and our strengths. Ministry is always about God, and letting him work through us – perhaps especially in our areas of weakness. All God asks of any of us is to offer up to him whatever capacity we have so that he can use us in the work of his kingdom.

In terms of ministry to the next generation, let me begin by saying –

You have much to offer

Let’s look at the numbers

  • In 1900 there were 3 million older adults in the U.S. (People 65 years of age or older.)
  • In 2008 there were 9 million older adults in the U.S.
  • By 2030 there will be 70 million older adults, almost 20% of the total U.S. population.
  • Nearly 85% of Americans today can expect to live beyond the age of sixty-five.
  • And, nearly 72% of older persons assess their health as good, very good, or excellent.
  • In fact, persons reaching age 65 have an average additional life expectancy of 17.3 years and rising (18.9 for women; 15.3 for men).

So there are lots of seniors, who are in relatively good shape, with more to come.

You also have good qualities as Christians. I will just mention two: 1) You often have wisdom. Job 12:12 – “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”

Now, just because you are old doesn’t mean you are truly wise – but the chances are better. You have life experience in general, but also specifically experience in walking with God. And you have the long view of things. You see how things work out over the long haul, so you are not as interested in quick fixes or fads.

2) You often have humility. I see in older adults less pretense and less of a desire to prove oneself. You are also aware not only of past successes but also past failures.

And then you often have a good opportunity to do God’s work. You are not generally consumed with raising children or establishing a home. Often you have some financial base and more control of your time.

 So you have both numbers and good qualities, as well as opportunity.

Now let’s get more specific and look at some –

Biblical examples of ministry to the next generation

Of course, you can serve God according to whatever gifts and roles you have. But there is also an unofficial status that you have as an older Christian, if you have walked with the Lord for many years. And this carries some weight with it in congregational and family settings. It’s this role that I am focusing on. Here are five biblical examples of this:

1. You can teach the next generation. Exodus 12:26-27 says, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” This takes place in a family context.

Psalm 78:2-4 says, “I will utter . . . things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

Again, these are not official roles as a teacher, but unofficial in family and church settings.

2. You can mentor the next generation. This involves working together in relationship with one another; an apprenticing relationship, passing on skills and knowledge. We know how Moses mentored Joshua and Elijah mentored Elisha, and Paul mentored Timothy.

Someone mentored me in college, Ralph Sprunk. He was a professor of Bible and theology. He took an interest in me, gave me some special attention, encouraged me and was a role model for me. This can have a powerful impact on a younger person, to be taken seriously by an older adult and encouraged and empowered by what you have learned. So that they don’t have to make all the mistakes you did and can have a leg up.

3. You can give counsel to the next generation. Exodus 18:13-24 tells the story of Jethro, Moses’ father in law counseling him to delegate his responsibilities to others. Moses was running himself into the ground. 24 says, “So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.”

In the same way you can give counsel in areas of ministry and life to those younger than you, so that they can find their way through difficult situations.

4. You can pray for the next generation. An example of this is Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 48:15-16 for Ephraim and Manasseh, his grandsons. He prays for them here that God will bless them and that God’s will for them will be accomplished.

5. You can tell stories of praise to God. Many senior adults enjoy telling stories. And you might be tempted to tell negative stories or self-exalting stories. But you have the opportunity to tell stories that lift up God’s name; to tell how God has blessed you and been faithful to you.

Our text last week, Psalm 92:14-15, says, “The righteous still bear fruit in old age they are ever green and full of sap, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” What are they all green and full of sap to do? To tell how God is their Rock; how God is faithful.

And who better to listen to than someone who has walked for many years with the Lord, and can testify of God goodness and faithfulness? You don’t speak theoretically but from experience.

When I was a Conference Teacher in the Pacific Northwest Conference, one of the best things I did was to have older people come and tell stories of their time in Civilian Public Service (CPS) and other programs during times of war. They shared their stories and told the younger generation of leaders and pastors what it was like to choose to love enemies and to work for the good of their country. It was a very powerful experience.

What I’m saying in all this is that you are loved and valued! And you are uniquely qualified precisely because of your age to take up this role in the congregation and beyond; to have this unofficial role of teaching, mentoring, giving counsel, praying for and telling stories of God’s faithfulness to the next generation. I encourage you to take up this role and allow yourselves to be used by God both to bless others and to be blessed as you serve God.

God isn’t done with you yet!

Series: God and Seniors

We’re talking about aging this morning and what God has to say to our seniors. You can get it from the title – God isn’t done with you yet! That’s the message.

Now some of you may say, “Hey, what does this have to do with me?” Well, first, if you are blessed you will one day be a senior adult. So listen up.

And also, old age is relative. Psalm 90:10 says, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.” Now, some lived longer than this, but this was seen as the upper limit. But the average lifespan was lower, at least for some periods of biblical history. You could be considered a senior adult, even in your 40’s. So old age is a flexible concept.

 Our theme text for today is Psalm 92:12-15.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap to declare that the Lord is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

First of all, let me say that according to the Scriptures

Age is a good thing

 Being old and growing old is greatly valued. Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory.” It’s a sign of age and it’s to be celebrated. And older people are to be honored:

  • Leviticus 19:32 – “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man . . .” This is an expression of honor.
  • Proverbs 23:22 says it negatively, “Do not despise your mother when she is old.” Positively, it means honor her.
  • 1 Timothy 5:1-2 – “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as a father . . . to older women as mothers . . .” (NRSV)

In fact, there was a bias for the older, at least when it comes to teaching and leading. It was the elders who led Israel. And this was so true that Paul had to say to Timothy, who was young – “Let no one despise you for your youth. . ..” – 1 Timothy 4:12.

Disrespect to elders is an indication of societal breakdown – Isaiah 3:5. “And the people will oppress one another . . . the youth will be insolent to the elder . . ..”

This honor is all rooted in the fifth commandment. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor father and mother . . .” And parents by definition are older. Scripture extends this more broadly to cover all the older ones among us.

Things are quite different now.

Today many may feel marginalized because of their age

I’m not saying that any of you have allowed yourselves to be marginalized. But let’s think about this, because there are powerful pressures in our society to sideline you:

Message #1: Young is better. We live in a culture that values, or should I say, worships youth. It’s a serious idolatry that is all around us. The goal is not really to live to a “ripe old age” and to take pride and joy in the blessing of this. Old age is negative, something to be endured.

Rather, The goal is to stay and look young. And to lose this is a great tragedy to be avoided at all costs – and it can certainly cost a lot! There are whole industries committed to erasing old age – various cosmetics, surgeries and treatments.

I would just say, never be ashamed of your age. According to the Bible it’s your glory.

Message #2: Retirement is for idleness and entertainment. In America it has become a time to kick back and enjoy yourself – if you have saved enough money to be able to do this. Like the farmer in Luke 12:19 who said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”

But the underlying message is that it’s time to move out of the way for the next generation. Go on out to pasture, but make sure it is a nice pasture.

But despite all this –

Age is no obstacle to being used by God

You bring much to the table. You know this, but let’s hear it and be reminded once again:

Abraham & Sarah. They were called to a new life adventure when he was 75 and she was 65 years old. Genesis 12:4 says, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”

And, God promised them a child when he was 100 and she was 90. Genesis 17:17 says,  “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”

Think of Moses. He was eighty when God called him into ministry, to take on the mighty empire of Egypt. Exodus 7:7 says, “Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh.”

And Moses had 40 more years of fruitful ministry. Deuteronomy 34:7 says, “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.”

Remember Caleb. He was 40 when he went to spy out the land. And he was 85 when he took possession of his portion – Joshua 14:10-12.

And then we have Zechariah & Elizabeth. After being told that they would give birth to John the Baptist, Zechariah said to the angel, “. . .  I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” – Luke 1:18. He expresses doubt about being used by God, especially to have a child. Yet God used them.

And then there is Anna, the prophetess, who was 84 when she saw Jesus as a child. Luke 2:36-38 says, “She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Joel 2:28 tells us that when the Spirit comes, “old men will dream dreams.” Peter, in Acts 2, applies this prophecy to our day, the time of the church.

Paul says in Philemon 1:9, “yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” He was probably in his 50’s here. But he was not too old to be out preaching the gospel and to be put in jail for it.

In John 21:18 Jesus said this to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” This has to do with the kind of death he would die, crucifixion, which according to tradition did happen. He was a martyr and witness for Jesus in old age.

My conclusion from all this –

 God isn’t done with any of us yet!

 There is no retirement from the work of the kingdom. Until he calls us home, God wants to work in us and through us. Whatever capacity God gives us, we should use to serve him. Don’t fret what you can’t do, do what you can.

So be encouraged seniors! You have much to give! And God will continue to use you, and all of us, for his purposes, if we allow him.

Let’s end by saying together Psalm 92:14-15:

The righteous still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

 

3. The assurance of a transformed life. Series: How can I know I’m saved?

We are finishing up our series “How can I know I’m saved?” talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. My point in all of this is to encourage you that as a Christian you need not wonder where you stand with God. You need not be insecure in your relationship with God. God has more for us than that.

As we have seen, John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can and we should know that we have eternal life, and that our relationship with God is solid.

We’ve already looked at two of, what I am calling, the three bases of our assurance:

  • The assurance of God’s word and promises, and
  • The assurance of the Spirit

Today we look at the final source of our assurance, the assurance of a transformed life. And I also want to share with you a bit about the relationship of these three assurances to each other. But first –

The assurance of a transformed life

 The idea here is that if you are really a Christian, this will be evident in the way you live your life. You will be able to see this and even others will be able to see this and take notice.

Now this doesn’t mean that you won’t fail – you will. And there will always be things in our lives that we need to work on. But still, your salvation will be observable. So you can examine your life for signs of God’s work of salvation. And when you see these, they can give you assurance of your salvation.

This assurance rests on two crucial truths in Scripture:

1. Anyone who becomes a Christian is changed within. Something happens in us. God does something in us. Different images are used for this in Scripture:

  • We are born anew – John 3:3
  • We are a new creation in Christ – 1 Corinthians 5:17
  • We are raised with Christ to new life – Colossians 3:1

Something happens within us; we have a new heart; we come alive to God.

2. What is in a person will show up in their words and deeds. There is an unbreakable connection between what is within you, and what comes out of you. Now, you can fake it for a time, but eventually, over the long haul, what is within will come out in some form or another.

As Jesus said, “the tree is known by its fruit” – Matthew 12:33. And so if you have been transformed within by the saving work of God, this will show up in your everyday life, in your words and deeds.

Let’s look now at two ways of talking about this in Scripture. The first uses the language of  the fruit of the Spirit. 

Before the Spirit comes into us and changes us and empowers us to live differently we bear forth the fruit of our evil hearts. What is within us, evil, is what comes out of us. Things like “sexual immorality . . . enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness . . .” – Galatians 5:19-21. When we walk apart from the Spirit, these things characterize our lives. These things are the outward sign of our inner person.

But when the Spirit comes and changes our heart and we continue to access the power of the Spirit to live differently, this will show up in our behavior too. What is within will come out. We will bear forth “the fruit of the Spirit.”  Things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – Galatians 5:22-23. These things will characterize our lives. They are the outward sign of the inward work of the Spirit within us. So when I see them in my life, I can be assured of God’s work within me.

Then, in 1 John, John uses the language of keeping the commandments of God.

He is talking to those whose faith has been shaken by false teachers and who are not fully confident of where they stand with God. He says, “By this we know that we have come to know him (that is, Jesus, or that we are a Christian), if we keep his commandments” – 1 John 2:3 (also 1 John 3:24). And then he says the same thing in reverse, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ (that is, I’m saved) but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” – 1 John 2:4 (also 1 John 1:6). Keeping God’s commands is the outward sign of the inward reality of salvation. Not keeping them shows that your heart is not, or is no longer set on God.

John goes on to focus in on the specific commandment, that we should love one another. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers (fellow Christians)” – 1 John 3:14 (also 1 John 2:10). And the reverse is also true, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” – 1 John 2:9. So he is giving us a test. Am I saved? John teaches us that we can tell by examining our lives to see if I love my brothers and sisters in the Lord; if I lay down my life for them. If I love fellow believers, this shows that God’s love is in my heart, that is, it shows what is within me. God has indeed done a work in my heart. And in this way, I can be assured that I truly am a Christian.

 So we have looked at –

Three bases for our assurance

  • The assurance of God’s word
  • The assurance of the Spirit
  • The assurance of a transformed life

Let me make a few points about the relationship between these:

1. The assurance of God’s word is foundational. That is, what God to us in Scripture.

So for instance you can have some inner feeling about your salvation, or an inward religious experience that might seem like the witness of the Spirit. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and turning from your sins, what the Word tells us, it doesn’t mean anything. We must always judge any perceived voice of the Spirit by the apostolic standard of the Word of God.

And again you can have some outward works, both moral and religious that might appear to be the assurance of a transformed life. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and walking in repentance, what the Word says, it doesn’t make a difference.

The assurance of the Spirit and the assurance of a transformed life are important and powerful, but if they are not based on the Word, they are useless in and of themselves. It is only when we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior and repent of our sins that we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, salvation.

2. The last two assurances supplement one another. Indeed, they need to.

On the one hand, the assurance of the Spirit is an inner, subjective experience. This is a very powerful source of knowledge, to know something deep in your heart. But such inward things can be misinterpreted. Maybe what we think is the voice of the Spirit is really just our own feelings. Sometimes we can misinterpret our inward experiences.

On the other hand, the assurance of a transformed life has to do with what is outward and objective, our words and deeds, which can be a very powerful testimony to us. But such outward things can be faked. We might have a form of godliness without the power. In other words, we can live an outwardly moral life in the power of the flesh. And such a life doesn’t come from a truly changed heart. It is merely outward. We can at least do this for a time, especially when others are looking. We all know of those who have gone to church their whole life, who don’t know the Lord.

So, my point here is that it is always best to have both of these assurances together to supplement each other; the inner and the outer; the subjective and the objective. When you have both of them this gives each of them individually even more power.

And then let me end by saying, 3. When you have all three, your assurance is well established. You have a truly solid foundation. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” And as Deuteronomy 19:15 teaches – a matter is established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

When you have the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the words and deeds of your life lining up together; when you have all three bases of assurance there is no need to doubt where you stand with God.

2. The assurance of the Spirit. Series: How can I know I’m saved?

As Christians we sometimes struggle with questions about where we stand with God. And perhaps even you have asked at some point, “Am I really a Christian?” Sometimes it’s because God seems far away. Or perhaps you simply don’t feel saved. Maybe you are going through a very difficult time in your life. Or it could be that someone is telling you that your beliefs are wrong and to be truly saved you need something else. Or maybe you are struggling with a sense of failure and guilt.

This is real life. We go through these things. And this is why we are taking time for a series of teaching on this topic, the assurance of our salvation, or ‘how I can know I’m saved.’

Let me reiterate that I believe that you can know for sure that you are saved, even with these things that might make you question it from time to time, and that you can and should have confidence in your relationship with God.

As we saw last week, John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. We can know. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

Last week, we looked at the first of three bases for the assurance of our salvation, the assurance of God’s word. Today we focus in on the second basis, the assurance of the Spirit. And the Spirit, I believe, does this in two ways. First,

The very presence of the Spirit in our life gives us assurance

 The reception of the Spirit is one of the key promises that God gives us in the gospel, as we saw last week. And so, to put it simply when we see the Spirit in our lives, we know we have received the promise of salvation; we know that we are saved.

The connection between having the Spirit and being saved is so central that Paul can say in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The reverse of this, of course, is that if we have the Spirit we do belong to Christ; we are saved.

As John says in 1 John 4:13 – “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” We “know” we are in right relationship with God – because of the Spirit in our lives.

Paul uses a couple of images that make this point. And I want us to look at these. The first is “sealed” with the Spirit. He says, “you . . . were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” – Ephesians 1:14 (also 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).

Now this metaphor is sometimes misunderstood to mean that we are, as it were, locked up in a box and can’t get out even if we wanted to; that we are sealed in. (Sometimes appeal is made to Matthew 27:66, where the same word is used. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” In this case the tomb was made secure in two ways: 1) the guards who kept watch over it, and 2) the seal. The seal by itself would not keep anyone out. It could easily be broken. Rather, it secures the tomb in a different way. If it is broken it shows that someone got in. It means that the tomb has been tampered with. It is no longer “authentic” or preserved intact. In this case it is meant to keep Jesus’ disciples from getting in and taking the body so that they could claim he was raised from the dead – Matthew 27:62-65. It secures the tomb not as a lock (or a guard) would, but it secures it’s integrity; that it hasn’t been tampered with.) But this is a wrong understanding. The word used here refers to a mark denoting ownership and authenticity.

The background has to do with sealing documents in the ancient world. How do you know that a letter is truly from who it says it’s from; that it hasn’t been tampered with? The writer would take an engraved object, like a signet ring, distinctive to them, and press it into hot wax that has been placed on the folded or rolled up letter. This is the letter’s seal. So the seal is meant to confirm ownership (who wrote it) or here authorship and authenticity. (Again, the seal doesn’t prevent the letter from being opened, it simply shows that if it has been opened before you get it that its authenticity can’t be established)

The seal in our case is the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Which means that those who have the Spirit are truly owned by God; they are authentic. They are the real thing.

A second image from Paul is the “down payment” of the Spirit. After talking about the resurrection that is to come, Paul says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing (that is, the resurrection) is God, who has given us the Spirit as a down payment.” – 2 Corinthians 5:5 (Also, 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14.)

The word for “down payment” means an initial payment given as a pledge that the rest of the payments will be made. It is sometimes translated simply as a “guarantee” or a “deposit.” The Spirit here is the down payment from God to us. So the Spirit’s presence in our lives is an indicator of our present salvation; that we have already received the first installment of what is to come from God. And, as long as we have the Spirit, we have God’s pledge to give us the rest of what God has for us, in this case the resurrection. So the presence of the Spirit in our lives gives us assurance of our salvation both now and for the future.

This raises the question, how can you know if the Spirit is present in your life? There are a number of ways to answer this but our focus today is on the relational part of God’s Spirit within us:

  • The Spirit guides us in everyday life – Romans 8:14
  • The Spirit helps us to pray – Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18
  • The Spirit teaches us things and reminds us of what Jesus said – John 14:26
  • The Spirit is grieved when we sin – Ephesians 4:30. And we can sense this.

So in all of these examples we see that when the Spirit dwells within us, we have a relationship with the Spirit. There are various kinds of interaction. And through these interactions we can know that the Spirit abides within us. And when we know this, we know that we are saved.

But even more specifically –

The witness of the Spirit gives us assurance

 Paul talks about this in Romans 8:15-17 – “. . . you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”

This is how it works. 1) We receive the Spirit. He says in v. 15 – “You have received the Spirit.”

2. The Spirit “bears witness . . . that we are children of God.” In other words, the Spirit tells me, deep in my heart that I am a child of God; that I am a Christian. [As John Wesley put it, this is “an inward impression on the soul whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ has loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.”]

And we ought not think of this as a one-time thing, maybe something that happens just when we are first saved. “Bears witness” is in the present tense. This is seen as ongoing. The Spirit will, from time to time, affirm our standing as a child of God, deep in our heart.

3. The Spirit enables us to cry “Abba! Father!” This is why it says that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit. We both bear witness that we are saved. We hear what the Spirit tells us, and then we concur – “Yes, God you are my father. I am adopted into your family. I am one of your children.” And as Paul goes on to say in v. 17 – “. . . and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . .” Heirs of the salvation that God has for his own.

So if you feel insecure in your relationship with God, in addition to the assurance that comes from standing on God’s word, look to the assurance of the Spirit.

Examine your heart  

Examine it today and this week. Are there evidences of the Spirit’s activity in your heart? Are you in relationship with God, interacting with God by the Spirit who dwells within you?

And then, as a part of this relationship, does the Spirit testify to you that you are a child of God?

Perhaps you would say that you don’t know what it means to have the Spirit dwell within you. You have never experienced this. Well I invite you to put your faith in Jesus and to turn from your sins so that you can know what this means. Jesus tells us in Luke 11:13 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Ask and you can know what it’s like to have God’s Spirit live within you.

And if you would say, I have experienced the Spirit, but not really anymore. Ephesians 5:18 teaches us that we are to continue to be filled with the Spirit. It is not a one-time thing. So invite the Spirit to fill you again and continue to do this. And don’t go through life ignoring the Spirit. Cultivate your relationship with God by the Spirit. And then you will know the powerful assurance of salvation that comes from having the Spirit in your life.

 

1. The assurance of God’s word. Series: How can I know I’m saved?

We’re talking about something very practical today and for the next few weeks. How can I know I’m saved? How can you know that you’re saved? It’s a pretty important question.

Can you know for sure that God has forgiven your sins; that you are saved, right here and right now and that you are an heir of God’s eternal blessings? Or are you just hoping for the best?

Is the Christian life one that is characterized by confidence in where you stand with God?Or are we to always be insecure in our relationship with God?

We are talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. And let me say that I believe very strongly that you can know, and that you should know. We can have security in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t have occasional times of struggle or doubt. This is a part of a life of faith.

And certainly we are not to have a sense of assurance when we are knowingly and willfully rebelling against God. In the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New, words of assurance are given to those who are walking with God and finding forgiveness when they fail; assurance is given to those whose hearts are set on God, even though it’s hard.

But words of warning and judgment are given to those who choose the path of sin. So beware of false assurance. Beware of those who say, “Peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Who say everything is OK, don’t worry – even though you are choosing a lifestyle of sin.

But beyond this, yes, Christians are to be characterized as those who have great confidence and joyful assurance of their standing with God.

  • John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13. We can know.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

So, for the next few weeks, I want us to look at this topic and specifically three interconnected bases for our assurance of salvation. And today we begin with the assurance of God’s word.

And so, first of all, we need to know –

God’s promises or word to us regarding salvation

 Let me summarize these from the preaching found in the book of Acts.

1. God promises to forgive our sins. Peter says in his sermon on the day of Pentecost that God offers “the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. Later, he says it this way, “that your sins may be blotted out” – Acts 3:19.

So this is good news! Our sins, which separate us from God and bring us death can be taken away! We can have a fresh start with God, and in life, because of what Jesus has done.

2. God promises to give us the Spirit. Peter speaks of this promise from God to his listeners on the day of Pentecost, when he says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. And we see this gift bestowed in several of the stories in the book of Acts.

  • The Spirit gives us new life: we are born anew, we are a new creation in Christ, we are raised to new life in Christ, we have eternal life.
  • And the Spirit also gives us power to live differently.

So these are God’s promises of salvation to us. But it is also important that we hear God’s word about what is required of us. God’s promises often come with things we must do. And if we don’t meet the conditions, then we are being presumptuous with God’s promises.  Two things stand out here, from the book of Acts:

1. We need faith in Jesus. We need to believe that he is indeed the Messiah, who has brought us God’s salvation. Peter said to Cornelius “everyone who believes in him,” that is, Jesus receives salvation – Acts 10:43. Paul preached “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – Acts 20:21.

2. We need to repent. Peter talked about “turning . . . from your wickedness” – Acts 3:26. Paul’s message was, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” – Acts 26:20.

So this is God’s word to us, both promises of salvation and what he asks of us. Now we look at –

How God’s word gives us assurance

 Let’s suppose that you are here today and you don’t have confidence in your relationship with God; you don’t know that you have eternal life. Maybe it’s that you don’t feel saved. Maybe it’s that you are going through some difficult circumstances which make you question where you stand with God. Maybe someone is telling you that you need to do something beyond God’s word to be saved, and it raises doubts for you.

Here’s what you need to do – 1. Hear God’s word, just as you have today. God’ word says that when we come to Jesus in faith and repent of our sins, we will indeed be forgiven our sins and receive new life by the Spirit of God; we will be saved.

Hear God’s word on this, not just in your head, but deep in your heat. Let it come into your heart right now.

2. Agree with God’s word. And this is not just an intellectual thing in your mind. God’s word testifies to us of its truth in our hearts. Agree with this in your heart. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is alive and active.” It has a vitality and power to it. And when we receive it in our hearts, it comes alive and God speaks to us through it. God’s word speaks to our hearts with convincing and convicting power. And so we need to agree with this. “Yes, God. Your  word is true.”

What I am really saying is that God’s word creates faith within us, if we choose to agree with it, as God speaks in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

How do I know I’m saved? Because I know from God’s word that when I have faith in Jesus and repent of my sins, my sins are forgiven and I have new life and a hope for the future. I accept and agree with what God says about me through his word.

3. Hold fast to God’s word. This means that when we don’t feel saved, or when our circumstances are difficult, or when others say things that don’t agree with God’s word that make us doubt our salvation – it means that we make a choice, and it is a choice, not to live by these feelings, circumstances, or the words of others. We choose to live our life based on God’s word and truth.

Does your assurance seem weak?

Perhaps this is where some are this morning. Well, then keep God’s word in your heart and mind. Read it, study it, meditate on it, confess it, act on it. For it is God’s living word that builds faith within us. And so absorb its powerful testimony and align yourself with it.

Yes, if you focus on your feelings, your circumstances, or what others say – your faith will be weak. But the more you let God’s word into your heart, the more your faith will grow, which means your sense of assurance will grow as well.

And then, finally –

Apply God’s word to any other concerns you might have

 Here are some examples . . .

Do God’s promises apply to me? Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” – John 6:37. Are you coming to Jesus? He will not turn you away. You will be accepted. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – Romans 10:13. The promise applies to all, including you.

Am I too sinful? Of course you are, that’s the point! But Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mark 2:17. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ..” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Believe and repent of all your sins and the promises are yours, regardless of your past. 

Will God fail me? Impossible! Paul said, “He who calls you is faithful” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24. This is at the core of God’s identity – faithfulness to his word and promises. As Paul also says, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13. This is simply who God is.

Let God’s word be the foundation of your assurance with God. Know with confidence where you stand with God, based on what he says! And if you don’t have a relationship with God today I encourage you to hear his word and act on it, even now.

Saul’s foolishness (pt 2). 1 Samuel 14:36-46

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:36-46

Well, it has taken us a number of weeks but we’re finally to the conclusion of the story that started in chapter 13. Jonathan started a revolt against the Philistine overlords. Saul then went to Gilgal, but disobeyed the Lord by not waiting for Samuel to come and give him instructions. Then, while facing a massive Philistine army, Jonathan once again, in faith, took the initiative to bring about a great victory.

But as they were chasing the retreating Philistines, Saul made an oath that his men couldn’t eat that day. This caused Jonathan to stumble, because he didn’t hear the oath and ate a bit of honey. And it caused the army to stumble. They were starving and when they could eat they ate meat with the blood in it. And the victory was diminished because of the army’s weakness.

We saw how Saul’s relationship with God was broken due to his unrepentant sin, and so he’s just making decisions based on what he thinks is right; that is he’s not following God; he’s making foolish choices.

Our story today picks right up where we left off with Saul’s continued foolishness. Let’s see what God has to teach us in this.

1 Samuel 14:36-46

36Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.”

His army has now eaten and is refreshed. So he makes a proposal to continue to pursue the retreating Philistines. He wants to fix what he messed up with his oath; he wants to bring about a total victory.

But he doesn’t seek God about this. He’s all ready to go –

But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day.

The priest has to stop him to seek God’s guidance. But, then no answer is given.

38And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today.

Saul interprets God’s silence as a sign of judgment. There are grounds for this in Scripture (e. g. 1 Samuel 8:18). But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it can just mean keep doing what you’re doing, or you don’t need further instructions, or you are in a time of testing when God chooses to be silent. In any case, here it does mean that something is wrong.

When he says, “this sin” he specifically means who broke the oath and ate food when they weren’t supposed to. Remember, an oath means that you call on God to curse you if you don’t fulfill the terms of the oath. And here Saul put this oath of not eating on his men. And we saw last time how Jonathan unknowingly broke this oath.

Saul then swears another oath –

39For as the LORD lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.”

He doubles down on his previous oath, even though he saw how it backfired and caused trouble for his people. He now swears to kill the person who broke it, even if it’s his own son. It would have been wise to just move on.

One has to ask, ‘Why so extreme?’ ‘Why death?’ Especially since we know that in Jonathan’s case it was inadvertent.

This is not a good decision. This is foolishness on top of foolishness.

But there was not a man among all the people who answered him.

Many, if not all of the army knew what happened with Jonathan. But no one said anything. They are protecting him.

40Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”

41Therefore Saul said, “O LORD God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O LORD, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.

Urim and Thummin were most likely dice-like objects, perhaps different colors that were cast to discern answers. It’s possible that you had to get the same answer several times in a row for it to be clear. And perhaps when God didn’t answer Saul that’s what happened.

Here he asks a simple question, ‘Is the guilt with this group or that group?’ Urim likely means accursed and Thummin acquitted.

Jonathan and Saul are taken. One of them has sinned. The rest are acquitted.

42Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.

So this process accurately picks Jonathan. He is, in fact guilty of breaking the oath, even though he didn’t know anything about it. Frustratingly none of this process addresses Saul’s own knowing sin. And how it was his foolishness that led to Jonathan’s unknowing sin. He keeps the focus on the failures of others, not his own – a sin with no technicalities involved.

43Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.”

Jonathan’s response highlights Saul’s continued foolishness. He says, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die.” This last phrase may well be a question, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die?” It points out the harshness of the situation. The sentence is way out of proportion to the offense.

And it certainly contrasts with Saul’s decision when he was walking in God’s ways. In 1 Samuel 11:3 when some men had questioned his role as king and the crowd said they should be killed, he said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” Like in our story, they had just won a battle. But here Saul is ready to kill his own son.

And then, as if Saul is unable to learn, he again swears an oath, tripling down on his first oath.

44And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

Notice Saul’s complete lack of empathy or concern about his son. He should have commended Jonathan for his faith and bravery.

Is he jealous of him and his faith and boldness and how he was the one God used to deliver Israel? Clearly Saul is being out-shined. Is he trying to secure his son’s death? This certainly foreshadows how Saul will later treat David (his son in law) in similar circumstances.

But then our story, thankfully, takes an unexpected turn –

45Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die.

The army has some wisdom and courage to challenge the king. If the priest stops him before to seek guidance, the army stops him here from killing his own son. They counter Saul’s oath with an oath of their own.

They point out that God’s use of Jonathan to bring the victory is much more important than his unknowing breaking of a foolish oath. Clearly they respect Jonathan more than Saul.

46Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

Our story began with pursuit and here the pursuit ends once and for all.

All you can say after reading this is –

What a mess!

Because of Saul’s oath the victory over the Philistines is diminished. And Jonathan and the army are led to stumble into sin.

And then, because of his refusal to back away from it, he makes an oath to kill whoever broke his first oath and Jonathan is almost killed.

The story ends with him being alienated from his son and the army. And with him under the condemnation of his two oaths in this story. He said in v. 44 – “God do so to me and more also” that is, if he didn’t kill Jonathan. And he didn’t kill him.

How much better if he had sought the Lord in the first place. How much better if after his foolish oath he had acknowledged this and let it go. How much better if when God was silent, he took responsibility for causing the army and Jonathan to stumble and sought forgiveness. What a different story this would have been!

What do we learn from this?

Did you know that we are not to swear promises? Oaths are certainly allowed in the Old Testament, but Jesus raises the bar when he says in Matthew 5:34, “Do not take an oath at all”; and James 5:12 says, “But above all, brothers and sisters, do not swear . . ..” If you haven’t looked at this before, I invite you to study it for yourself.

The key lesson however is that if you are walking in foolishness, stop! Foolishness is not following God, but making our own choices based on what we think is right. This is what Saul was doing.

And today we learn that if you are walking in foolishness, don’t cling to it. When you see if for what it is, stop. Don’t be too proud to admit it and then move forward. Don’t double and triple down like Saul here. When you are in a hole of your own making stop digging – as the saying goes. You just go further and further down. You have to put the shovel down and crawl out of the hole.

Take responsibility for your foolish choices. Don’t put the focus on others or make excuses. Set aside your bad choices, and begin to follow God and walk in his wisdom.

Saul’s foolishness (pt 1). 1 Samuel 14:23b-35

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:23b-35

Our story today is a continuation of what we have looked at over the last two Sundays. Starting in chapter 13, Jonathan started a revolt against the Philistine overlords. Saul went to Gilgal as Samuel instructed in chapter 10:8, but then disobeyed the Lord by not waiting for Samuel to come. Then Jonathan took the initiative again and attacked a Philistine outpost, which led to a great defeat of the massive Philistine army. Our story today has to do with the Israelites chasing the remnants of the Philistine army as they retreat.

Before we jump into our story, let’s take note of –

Saul’s spiritual state

 –  at this time. And I’ll just say that it isn’t good! He disobeyed the Lord’s specific command to wait for Samuel and Samuel responded to him in 13:13, “you have done foolishly.” He acted on his own and not based on God’s command, which is a good definition of foolishness.

And on top of this, he was unrepentant about what he did. So you can see that there’s a break in his relationship with God. And as a result he is disconnected from God’s guidance. Samuel left without giving him instructions for how to fight the Philistines. And when Jonathan acted in faith and was bringing about a great victory Saul was so caught off guard that although he asked the priest to seek God’s will, he stopped him so that he could go into the battle.

And this theme will continue. Saul doesn’t look to God for guidance as the leader of God’s people, but makes his own choices. That is, he acts foolishly.

1 Samuel 14:23b-35

14:23bAnd the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.

This would be west of Michmash along the path of the retreating Philistine army.

So the Israelites are chasing them, when Saul puts his army under an oath.

24And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.”

An oath is when you invoke God to curse you if you don’t fulfill the terms of the oath. Here Saul invokes a curse on his men, God’s judgment, if they eat food before evening.

Why the oath? Well, the men had already been through a lot and they are getting spread out over a large terrain chasing a scattering Philistine army. And so he does this to keep them focused and to push them further.

Remember, he doesn’t have any explicit instructions from God, since Samuel left, and he told the priest to stop seeking guidance. The oath seems to be a way of putting the fear of God in his soldiers, short of  instructions from God.

There is a word play going on here in Hebrew. The word for “laid an oath” looks very similar to the root word for “foolishness.” As we will see, Saul’s oath is very misguided.

So none of the people had tasted food.

25Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. 26And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.

What a temptation! Huh? They’re exhausted and hungry and here’s an easy fix. But it says, “no one” ate of it. Now our culture doesn’t take oaths seriously. But in the ancient world, if you broke your oath you fully expected God’s judgment. That’s why it says, “they feared the oath.”

Jonathan is caused to stumble

27But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright.

So here is Jonathan, who has been fighting longer than anyone else and who wasn’t with Saul and the troops when the oath was given, because he took the initiative to start the battle, here he has a taste of honey and is strengthened. “Bright eyes” speaks to life and vigor. Even today we talk about whether some has a light in their eyes, when they are full of energy.

28Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’”

Jonathan finds out after it’s too late. He ate without knowing, but he’s now technically broken the oath and is cursed. Saul’s oath has caused him, the hero of the day and his own son, to stumble.

The oath’s effect on the people is noted –

And the people were faint.

Jonathan then expresses his criticism of his father and the oath.

29Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. 30How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.”

We’ve already seen tension between Saul and Jonathan, in that Jonathan didn’t tell his father that he was going to attack the Philistine outpost. Here he is outright critical.

If the soldiers could have eaten, just a little – the defeat of the Philistines would have been greater. Perhaps they would have broken the back of their rule once and for all. But since the soldiers are faint from hunger this can’t happen.

Not that they didn’t have success –

31They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon.

They chased them all the way back to Philistine territory. Aijalon is over 12 miles from Michmash, along the Philistine border. But it’s not what it could have been.

We are reminded again of the effect of the oath –

And the people were very faint.

Notice the progression – they had no food, they were faint, and now they are very faint. What’s the result?

The army is caused to stumble by Saul’s oath. It’s evening and so the oath is over.

32The people pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood.

Eating with the blood in the meat is strictly forbidden. This command was given to Noah in Genesis 9:4 and it is repeated in the Law of Moses several times (Leviticus 17:10ff; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23-25).

They are so famished after a day of hand to hand combat and chasing the Philistines for miles they can’t wait to go through the proper procedure of draining the blood.

Our story ends –

33Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.” 34And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Let every man bring his ox or his sheep and slaughter them here and eat, and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night and they slaughtered them there. 35And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.

So Saul steps up to stop the men from sinning and provides a solution, a stone that can be used to drain the blood. This is also referred to as an altar in v. 35.

But of course, it was his foolish oath that caused them to stumble; it made them susceptible to sin. But he takes no responsibility.

Notice also the hypocrisy here. He is furious about their sin, “you have dealt treacherously.” But he himself has not obeyed God or sought God’s guidance for the battle. 

What do we learn from this?

First of all, did you know that we are forbidden to eat blood? Acts 15:28-29

The Apostles and the Jerusalem council taught that Gentile Christians (us) are not to ingest blood. This is found in what is called the Apostolic Decree. This forbids eating blood, along with eating food sacrificed to idols, both spoken of in Leviticus 17. And it forbids us to be involved in any of the sexual activities that are spoken of in Leviticus 18.

Now, this isn’t a common thing, because our meat is butchered to drain the blood, but there are some dishes that contain blood. And we should not eat them! (If this is something new to you I invite you to study Acts 15 for yourself.)

But the key lesson of our story today is simple, don’t be foolish!

Saul here is a portrait of what it looks like to be foolish. He doesn’t obey God, but makes his own choices based on what he thinks is good and right.

And we see the results. Things don’t go well. He ends up undercutting his own goal of having a great victory over the Philistines. Instead it is lessened because his troops are starving. And he leads his son and the army to stumble. He takes a miracle victory connected to the faith of Jonathan and messes it all up. He makes trouble for Israel. And as we will see next time, as his foolishness continues, things get much worse.

Well what about us? What’s your spiritual state? Are you walking in fellowship with God? Or are you cut off from God because of your unrepentant sin? And so you are making decisions based solely on what you think is right and good.

The result is the same as with Saul. Things don’t go well for us. We wander around in darkness and futility. Even if we have outward success it is empty and meaningless. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” And as we’ll see next time Jonathan is almost killed!

Learn from Saul! That’s the message today. Learn from Saul. If we want God’s blessing in our life; if we want God’s purposes to be fulfilled, then we need to obey God’s commandments and seek out his guidance, even if what God says seems hard or risky. This is the path of wisdom.

Jonathan & God’s great victory. 1 Samuel 13:19-14:23

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:19-14:23a

Our story today is a continuation of what we looked at last week. Jonathan, Saul’s son, began a revolt by defeating a Philistine garrison. Saul then went to Gilgal according to the instructions of Samuel the prophet, given all the way back in chapter 10:8. But Saul went on to disobey God’s command by not waiting for Samuel to come. As a result, he is judged. He will no longer have a dynasty. And he is left without instructions as a massive Philistine army is poised to attack. Today, we look at what happens next.

battle scene 1

Just to get you oriented, this is a close up of the battle scene.

Michmash and Geba are about a mile apart. The wadi is a seasonal river/creek bed. On either side of the wadi in the East there are steep canyon walls, but at the pass there is flat land.

 

Our verses today begin with some important background.

1 Samuel 13:19-14:23

Israel’s difficult situation.

19Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” 20But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, 21and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads.

So Israel’s Philistine overlords, as a part of their strategy to keep them subservient, forbade all metal working. And then they charged the Israelites exorbitant rates to sharpen their farming implements, which kept them economically disadvantaged.

The result shows up in v. 22.

22So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them.

We already saw how Israel was outnumbered. Saul had 600 soldiers and the Philistines had “troops like the sand on the seashore” (13:5) along with 6,000 horsemen and 3,000 chariots.

This brings us to the beginning of the conflict.

23And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.

 They are positioning themselves to come to Geba and fight.

 14:1One day (that is, that day) Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.

Remember it was Jonathan who took the initiative in the first battle with the Philistines, not Saul. And so it is here.

The fact that he didn’t tell his father may mean that he doesn’t trust him, or perhaps he thought Saul would forbid him from going.

2Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the LORD in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.

Here we have a reappearance of the line of Eli – his great grandson, Ahijah is Saul’s priest.

Jonathan’s attack.

4Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.

battle scene 2

Here we see the Philistine advance to the pass and Jonathan’s attack to the East on an outpost. Bozez appears to be (a past of?) the northern canyon wall and Seneh the southern canyon wall.  Bozez means “the shining one” and Seneh “thorny one,” perhaps because there thorn bushes on it.

 

Michmash terrainPicture of the scene from Bibleplaces.com.

Michmash cliffs

Picture of the canyon walls that Jonathan climbs down and back up on the other side, which would have been no easy feat. Bibleplaces.com.

6Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” 7 And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”

Now, according to natural thinking this is a suicide mission. But Jonathan is acting in great faith. He believes in God and hopes that God will work through him.

Although his father is very focused on counting his soldiers, Jonathan is very clear that what matters is that God is with him, not how many people he has. God can save “by many or by few.”

Now, Jonathan doesn’t know for sure what God will do, as he said, “it may be that the Lord will work for us.” So he suggests a sign.

8Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.”

“The Lord has given” is what Jonathan’s name means in Hebrew.

11So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.”

Notice how Jonathan’s sign puts them in a more difficult scenario. They give up the element of surprise and the Philistines are left with the superior position. They have to climb up the steep rocks to get to them.

And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” 13Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. 14And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land.

And then God intervenes in a powerful way.

15And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a panic from God. (ESV note)

This is God working, causing an earthquake and putting fear into the hearts of the Philistines.

16And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude was dispersing here and there. 17Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Count and see who has gone from us.” And when they had counted, behold, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there.

18So Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For the ark of God went at that time with the people of Israel. 19Now while Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

Saul is seeking to discern God’s will. But circumstances were moving too fast.

He says to the priest, “withdraw your hand” because the previously mentioned ephod had a pocket in it that contained the Urim and Thummin, which were like dice, and used to cast lots to discern God’s will (Exodus 28:30; 1 Samuel 14:41). He’s saying stop, take your hand out of the compartment to get the Urim and Thummin.

20Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle.

So it took a while. He counted the people to see who was missing, and he tried to discern God’s will. But finally Saul gets into the battle, although really after God has defeated the Philistine army himself.

And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion.

So the Israelites have no swords? That is not a problem for God. Confusion and fighting against one another are common ways that God defeats an army.

battle scene 3

 

In this map, we see how Jonathan’s attack caused a panic that spread to the main body of the Philistine army which made them begin to retreat.  And then Saul comes into the battle.

 

 

Reinforcements.

21Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.

So here we learn that that some in Israel were fighting on the Philistine side, but turn against them as the battle went on.

22Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle.

These were those who previously “hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (13:6).

23So the LORD saved Israel that day.

What do we learn from this?

We learn what faith looks like. There is a contrast in these verses between Saul and Jonathan. And it is Jonathan that is the example of faith for us.

The Philistine raiders are out and their army has assembled for battle, but Saul is not acting. So Jonathan takes the initiative in the moment of crisis.

And he does so against overwhelming obstacles as we saw. The Philistines had swords and chariots and horsemen and a vast army. But he takes the initiative. And when God gives him guidance through his sign he acts boldly. He climbed treacherous rocks, fought the enemy and God used him to defeat the entire Philistine army. This is an amazing portrait of faith in action, risking it all for God.

We also learn that nothing is too difficult for the Lord. Are you facing a massive army? No problem! In 14:15 God caused the huge army of the Philistines to be terrified. In 14:20 God confused them and they turned on one another.

The battle wasn’t won because of Saul, who came late. And it wasn’t won by the reinforcements who came even later. As 14:23 says, “the Lord saved Israel that day.”

To put this all together, if you are here today and you are facing difficult obstacles, even really difficult ones, step out in faith like Jonathan and God will fight for you and save you as well. For no situation is too hard for God.