Saturday, 3 December 2016

'Hold on! I didn't sign up to be a soldier' (1 Samuel 23:1-14)

Why did you become a Christian?  I am suspecting that most of you didn’t turn to Christ because you wanted an adventure.  I doubt many of you became Christians because it would make your life more challenging.  I am sure most of you turned to Jesus without giving too much thought to his promise that ‘all people will hate you because of me.’  We heard him say ‘come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest’, but we weren’t necessarily ready for his, ‘now go out into the world proclaiming the good news’.
People turn to Jesus because they are in need.  You were painfully aware that you were morally bankrupt.  You felt alone in the world.  Life without Jesus was empty.  You wanted to know that you are forgiven.  You knew that you deserved hell, and that Jesus offers heaven.  You wanted to be adored by God the Father, cherished by God the Son and transformed by God the Holy Spirit.  But you weren’t necessarily signing up to go into battle!
So you can understand how David’s men felt when he told them that they were going to fight the Philistines.  Those who had gathered around David were the distressed, in debt and bitter in spirit.  They were turning to David for refuge and security.  They weren’t an army.  When David said, ‘let’s go to war’ they responded, ‘behold, we are afraid.’
The rescuing messiah
At this stage in the story David has been anointed by the prophet Samuel.  The word christ/messiah means ‘anointed one.’  David is a messiah-figure whose life points forward to his greater descendant Jesus, who is God’s true Messiah, and is referred to as the Son of David.  When David acts as a messiah-figure should, he sets a pattern that will be followed by Jesus.  When David comes to the aid of the town of Keilah we see that God’s messiah rescues.
It was King Saul’s job to protect his people of Keilah from being attacked by the Philistines, but he is not bothered.  However, David cares about them.  He steps out from hiding and goes into battle to free the people from their oppressors.  Similarly, his great descendant, Jesus, was also intent of rescuing.  In the gospels we read that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem where he was going to give his life to rescue a people from guilt, death and hell.  Like David’s men, his disciples objected to this plan.
The recruiting messiah
Imagine the thrill as David’s men looked back on that victory.  I am sure they rejoiced in seeing what God had done, and that he had used them to do it.  They had got more than they signed up for.  They had approached David as those who were rejected by society.  He then turned them into soldiers and leads them on an adventure.  A number of years ago there was a best-seller called ‘The Purpose Driven Life’.  That book had its critics, but it resonated with something within Christians.  We should want to be a part of what God is doing in his world!
You came to Jesus a sinner in need of saving, and now God sees you as a son, a saint, a servant and a soldier.  You are a herald of the good news and an ambassador of the king.  John Piper urges pastors to get radical with people.  ‘Don’t let them settle down to be comfortable, middle-class Americans.  Call them to a wartime lifestyle …’
Jesus doesn’t call you into battle because he can’t build his church without you; he is calling you because he wants you to know the joy of victory.  And there is victory every time the word is shared, even if no-one responds, because you have pleased your Father’s heart by being faithful.
A man in his thirties was talking to a Christian leader.  He said, ‘I used to be sold out for Jesus … I used to read my Bible, ready to do what it ever commanded me to do … but now I have settled for a safe kind of Christianity.’  Never let your best days as a Christian be those that are behind you.  Comfort is a poor substitute for adventure.  God has prepared works of service in advance for you to do (Ephesians 2:10).  He both loves us and has a plan for each day of our lives.
The reigning messiah
One of the most striking things about this passage is the fact that God is with David.  Before the battle God had assured him, ‘I will give the Philistines into your hands.’ 
If we are sure that the battle belongs to the Lord then we will not worry that we are not as gifted and competent as we would like to be.  God can use even our fumbling words.  
Jack Millar was in a taxi with a Spanish-speaking driver.  He thought about sharing the gospel, but knew that he didn’t speak Spanish very well.  So he prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to help him with his Spanish.  As he reached the end of his little gospel explanation, he uttered the powerful words, ‘Christ died for our fish.’  The man roared with laughter, and then they were friends for life.  ‘Don’t try so hard,’ he writes, ‘just be stupid along with me.  The lost are out there.  Let’s love them from death to life.’
If we are sure that the battle belongs to the Lord then we will pray. 
Jack Miller writes, ‘prayer becomes effective when you don’t have any clue how to make life work and yet you believe that God … helps you as you ask and keep on asking.’  We are afraid to speak about the cross to your family, friends, neighbours, workmates and strangers, but that is our calling.  So we pray that we would have the courage to create and grasp opportunities.  We pray for people because we know that only God can open the eyes of the spiritually blind to see the beauty of the gospel, and he does so as the gospel is presented to them!  ‘We have not yet taped into the resources that are in God when it comes to prayer’ (Miller). 
After the battle Saul sees an opportunity to kill David, and God tells David that the people of Keilah will hand him into Saul’s hands if he stays.  As David resumes life on the run we read that while Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hands.  Saul cannot triumph over God’s protection.  God is with his messiah.  Indeed, God promises to be with all his people.
Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry there were those who sought to have him killed, but God did not give him into their hands.  The people of Nazareth get mad with Jesus and want to throw him down a cliff but passing through their midst he went away (Luke 4:30).  The Jewish authorities were mad at Jesus, and picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple (John 8:59).  Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands (John 10:39).  God did not give him into their hands, until that moment when it was right for him to offer up his life!
We may not want to come out of hiding and be salt and light.  We are not promised immunity from all trouble in this world.  Yet God does shelter under his wings.  Even though we may be ridiculed as we speak up, God rules over all mouths.  Though some may die martyrs death there is a sense in which we are never safer than when we are following the call of God.
When you turned to Jesus you may not have realised that you were being recruited into his army.  I didn’t sign up to be a soldier.  But don’t complain.  This is a wonderful privilege.  That God would choose to use us to further his purposes in the world is a great thing.  How beautiful are our feet as we come bringing good news.  We won’t feel complete if we refuse step into the battle and talk to others about Jesus!
Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg write a book about the unexpected adventure of taking everyday risks to talk with people about Jesus.  They suggest that by keeping our faith to ourselves we are missing one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling dimensions of the Christian life.  Strobel writes, ‘I have repeatedly found that it’s the Christians living out the unexpected adventure who are enjoying the most fulfilling relationships with God.
So let’s follow the rescuing, recruiting and reigning messiah as he leads us in battle!

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