Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The costs and benefits of covenant (1 Samuel 20)

Sociologists in America interviewed three-thousand American teenagers about their religious beliefs, and came up with the term Therapeutic Moralistic Deism.  Therapeutic Moralist Deism is the conviction that a god exists and wants people to be nice, that the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about ourselves, that this god in not involved in our lives unless he is needed to resolve a problem, and that ‘good people’ go to heaven.
Sadly, this self-centred undemanding belief system sounds a lot like what many people in the church think Christianity is about.
The passage before us is filled with covenant language.  A covenant is a formal binding agreement.  We can see that David and Jonathan entered into a covenant relationship with each other.  The Son of David—Jesus—calls us into a covenant relationship with him.  This is a relationship that demands great costs from us, but enjoys infinite benefits. 
We are going to look at the costs and benefits of a covenant relationship with the Son of David.
The cost of covenant
David has been on the run from King Saul.  He goes to his friend, Saul’s eldest son Jonathan, and asks, ‘what have I done? What is my crime?  How have I wronged your father that he is trying to kill me?’
Jonathan seems to be in denial.  He doesn’t seem to believe that his dad wants David dead.  That actually makes sense.  The last time Jonathan was a part of this story was when his dad promised, ‘as surely as I live, David will not be put to death’ (19:6).
You can be sure that Jonathan desperately hoped that Saul would not harm David.  He loves both his friend and his father.  Indeed, it seems that Jonathan has an especially close relationship with his father.  He tells David, ‘my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without confiding in me’ (2).  It will break Jonathan’s heart to have to choose between his dad and David.
Jonathan had made a covenant with David.  He had given David his sword and robes, in an act that seems to point to the fact that Jonathan recognised God’s good intention that David should be the next king rather than him.  Isn’t it amazing that the crown-prince Jonathan, the eldest son of Saul, would say to a commoner like David, ‘whatever you want me to do; I’ll do it for you’ (4)?  This boy had grown up expecting everyone to do as he said.  Now he is willing to serve David!
The Son of David talks about the cost of entering a covenant relationship with him.  ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up 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 10:37-39).
A young man approached a Christian preacher after a church service and pointed out that being a Christian doesn’t make you any friends.  The preacher wanted to point the young man to all the friends that he had in the church, but he knew what the young man was saying.  Since he had become a Christian this guy hadn’t received a single positive response from anyone among his family and friends.  That hurt!
Another young man, who was very wealthy, approached Jesus and enquired about life with God.  When Jesus pointed out that God claimed the right to tell him what to do with his possessions the rich young man thought the cost was too high, and so walked away materially rich and spiritually bankrupt.
As we read this narrative we might wonder why David would even consider attending a festival with King Saul.  But the people have been talking about the fact that the Holy Spirit had overpowered Saul and caused him to prophesy.  David might be hoping that this means that Saul is now a changed man.  So Jonathan and David devise a plan that will reveal Saul’s heart towards David.
Jonathan’s heart must have broken when his father’s anger flared up.  His covenant with David is going to cost him the love of his father.  How tragic to be on the receiving end of his father’s abuse.  ‘You son of a perverse woman!  Don’t I know that you sided with son of Jessie to your own shame and the shame of your mother who bore you?  As long as the son of Jessie lives on this earth, neither you nor you kingdom will be established’ (30-31).  Could you imagine Saul’s reaction if he knew that Jonathan was happy for David to be king instead of him?  When you enter a covenant relationship with the Son of David there will be many who think that you are mad to give up your supposed right to rule your own life!
The benefit of covenant
Why would Jonathan be willing to give up the claim to the throne for David?  Why would he be willing to receive his father’s abuse for the sake of David?  It is all to do with love!
‘… Jonathan became one in spirit with David and he loved him as himself … and Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself’ (18:1-3).  ‘And Jonathan made David reaffirm his covenant of love for him, because he loved him as himself’ (17).  ‘The kissed each other and wept together, but David wept the most’ (41).
Maybe I’m taking things too far to draw any conclusion from the fact that David wept the most.  There is no doubt about the extent Jonathan’s love for David, but is there a hint that David’s love for Jonathan was even greater?  Isn’t that true of our covenant relationship with the Son of David?  We may love Jesus, but he loves us more than we will ever love him!
Love for the Son of David is God’s gift to us.  We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19) and he has poured love into our hearts.  God has knit our souls with that of the Son of David that we might love him as ourselves.  But we never out-love the Son of David.  ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).  Jesus laid down his life while we were still his enemies.
Jonathan did as David said, because their covenant demanded it.  Jonathan delighted to do as David said because love compelled him.  ‘This is love for God: to obey his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3).
The cost of not being in covenant
One theme running through this chapter makes me a little uncomfortable: Jonathan talks of the time when the Lord ‘destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth’ (15).  He envisages a day when the enemies of David will be destroyed!
He also seeks to ensure that his people will not be amongst the enemies of David.  It was common practice that when a dynasty changed the new king would wipe out the family of the old king in case any of them made a play for the throne.  Jonathan has David promise that he will not do that, and indeed I we will see the resulting kindness shown to Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. 
No one spoke more clearly about judgement and hell that the Jesus.  God will punish those who refuse to enter into a covenant relationship with the Son of David.  Listen to the words of our Messiah: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell’ (Matthew 10:28).
In the Christianity Explored course Rico Tice points out, ‘When we hear Jesus’ words about hell we have to ask ourselves, “Why would he talk like that?”  … The reason that Jesus warns us about hell is surely that he loves us and does not want us to go there.  He knows that if we reject God throughout our lives then ultimately God will reject us.  He knows that sin, if left undealt with, will take us to a place of unimaginable and unending suffering.  He warns us, because he loves us.’
Therapeutic moralistic deism is a self-centred belief system in a god whose only purpose is to make us feel good about ourselves.  Does your faith look like therapeutic moralistic deism, or has does it reflect the fact that you have entered into a life-transforming covenant with the Son of David?  Some of you know a little bit about the nature of a covenant relationship (when you promised to forsake all others).  Yet the covenant with Jesus is the only one that promises incomparable love and both, now and for all eternity.

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