A Woman Who Loves Jesus
To be loved and to love are the highest human experiences possible if you think about it. To know that someone actually cares about you and loves you brings the greatest joy. To experience love for another person is what human beings live for. It is where they find satisfaction and happiness. Isn’t it striking that when Jesus Christ sums up what God expects from people, what the law of God expects, it is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength because He is the greatest person to love there is. And then to love your neighbor as yourself; all the law and the prophets hang on this (Matthew 22:36-40). Every commitment we have to one another is rooted in love. The secular songwriters might say, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love…” I know that is from long ago, but they are still writing about love. Why? Because this is what makes life worth living.
It is interesting that when God describes those who belong to Him, He uses this kind of description. One of the most familiar verses we remind ourselves of when life is hard and when things aren’t good is Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good, for whom? To those who love God, and then that is explained further, to those that are called according to His purpose. That purpose is defined as being conformed to the image of Christ. God’s purpose is to change me and make me more and more like Jesus; to change a sinner into a saint or to take a dying person and make him into an everlasting, living person. The thing that marks those who belong to God is that they are people who love God.
1 Peter 1:8-9: Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Jonathan Edwards (in The Religious Affections), years ago seized on those verses as the key to being able to distinguish those who were truly born again during the time of revival. Those people had a love for the unseen Christ and found joy in Him. There are lots of people who practice religion and get caught up in the emotion of it, but those that actually belong to Christ love Him and find joy in Him. Those we truly love we find joy in because the two go together.
Spurgeon, 2127, 77: “Love is not a creature of law; it comes not on demand, it must be free or not at all. . . . Men do not make themselves love by a course of calculation; but they are overtaken with it, and carried away by its power.”
G. Campbell Morgan, talking about our greatest defense against sin, says the only way to have victory over it is, “The expulsive force of a new affection,” to actually find yourself loving God enough that sin pales in comparison and no longer holds the appeal that it once did.
Our text tonight in Luke 7:36-50 explores this whole concept of love and draws a contrast between the kind of religion that was known for being very careful and, in contrast, a woman who was known for having a terrible life, but was also known for loving Jesus. We want to try to find the secret to loving Jesus from a woman who loved Him.
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
A woman (or man) who loves Jesus—
· Knows Her Sins Are Many
· Has Been Forgiven Much
· Expresses Love Openly
· Is Saved by Faith
· Is Granted Peace
I. Knows Her Sins Are Many
A woman, or anyone who loves Jesus, knows her sins are many. She’s one who knows her sin is destroying her.
37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner,
39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
Because she knows her sins are many, this is one reason she is weeping in the presence of Jesus. Simon imagines his own sins are few. That is actually what Jesus is targeting when he says,
40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
When you grow up in a tradition, a religious culture like our own, where we are spared some of the more open kinds of sins, we have a tendency to think of ourselves as basically good people. In fact, it is very common with about 90% of the people you talk to who don’t know the Lord yet, for them to think they are good persons. If you walk them through the Ten Commandments, they will find they aren’t, but most times they do what they think will make them happy, knowing they will make some mistakes. We need to come to realize that we are basically not good people.
This week I was talking with a friend who said that years ago she was struggling with God and God’s will for her life and with her parents’ authority. She got so frustrated that she told God to leave her alone. God withdrew for a while—long enough for her to learn how sinful she was. She realized how desperately she needed the Lord to rescue her from herself. People go through life thinking they want to be free and have God leave them alone and not restrict them. When God leaves us alone we find that our freedom is slavery because we become enslaved to our sin. In her experience, as she went lower and lower it created a great hunger for Him, for Him to once again wrap His arms around her. She asked Him to come back into her life. He did. Now to hear her tell it and see the smile on her face, she values what she enjoys much—knowing it is there because of His mercy and grace, showing love to people who have shown hatred to Him.
Have you ever considered how sinful you are?
If you could live out your heart’s desire in every particular, where would you be?
If you took the last week or month, what were your thoughts and musings?
What words do you speak or fail to speak?
What deeds have you done that you know are contrary to God’s will and pleasure?
What deeds have you failed to do?
Are you really “basically a good person”?
Many of you that I’m speaking to know the Lord and want to serve Jesus, but when you start thinking in these terms, you know that your sins are many. Until you get honest about who you really are, you will find it difficult to love Jesus because you won’t value what He has given you by forgiving your sins.
II. Has Been Forgiven Much
This woman’s reputation was such that as “a sinner” no true prophet (or so Simon thought) would want her to even touch him. What did Jesus say, because Jesus knows her sinfulness better than Simon does. Jesus knows everything about this woman, not just her reputation. He knows the roots of her sin, not just the fruits of her sin.
But what does Jesus say?
47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Have you ever thought of the fact that we want to hide sin, but that Jesus is fully aware of every sin of your life. Every hidden thought, every secret desire, every habit you cannot shake, everything that mocks His authority—Jesus knows all about it. He is more aware of it than you are aware of it. He said He would die for you to free you from it, that He has decided to wipe it clean, to receive you and make you His own. It is easy for us to think we are more acceptable to God because we do some good things. Jesus knows how bad you are and He loves you still. It is much easier to talk about it than to get your head around it. Who else loves you that way? You are so grateful to find someone in this world to stick by you and love you, but here is a God that knows you even better and it’s not just till death do you part. He loves us with an everlasting love and will not let us go.
What do you think about Jesus’ freely granting forgiveness to a person guilty of notorious sins? Simon doesn’t think he needs much forgiveness, but Jesus answers his thoughts. Jesus is looking into the depths of who Simon is, not just what he is known for.
Are there some sins of yours that you find it hard to believe He would actually forgive and release you from?
How do you view yourself in comparison to other sinners you know?
She loved Jesus because He first loved her! In Jesus she found hope, a person who knew her for what she was and loved her still. There’s nobody like Jesus.
III. Expresses Love Openly
…brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
In the Middle East you know you’ll get certain types of greetings, but even in that part of the world, this is too much. When it comes to Jesus, can we really love Him too much? Is it possible to express that love too freely? Simon is restrained in showing even common courtesy, let alone lavish love. Jesus confronts him for it:
44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
Religion tends to foster being respectable. How respectable was this woman’s display? Jesus’ response to her display tells us that Jesus is not nearly as impressed with respectability as people are. His approval of her feelings and actions teaches us something about what He values, about the nature of true saving faith versus religious code and ceremony. Respectability is all about me. Love pours itself out for the person that is loved.
J. C. Ryle, 236: “Grateful love is the secret of doing much for Christ. . . . All desire to see among Christians more good works, more self-denial, more practical obedience to Christ’s commands. But what will produce these things? Nothing, nothing but love. There never will be more done for Christ till there is more hearty love to Christ himself. The fear of punishment, the desire of reward, the sense of duty, are all useful arguments, in their way, to persuade men to holiness. But they are all weak and powerless, until a man loves Christ. Only let that mighty principle get hold of a man, and you will see his whole life changed.”
Our love goes cold when our iniquity abounds, grows cold when we love idols, when somehow we imagine that something else can satisfy our hearts more than Jesus.
IV. Saved by Faith
Simon’s approach to God seeks to earn God’s favor. Whereas, the woman knows that strategy will never work for her. If that’s the strategy she must have, she knows her case is hopeless. If she is to be saved it will have to be given to her, done for her, freely offered, and she will have to trust Jesus to give it. She is saved by faith, not by works.
Simon is not clear yet on who Jesus Christ actually is. He is debating on whether He is even a good prophet, let alone whether He is the almighty God who wrote the Law. His guests say: “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” That is a good question. Who can forgive sins, who but God?
Think about it, God eating lunch with you, and he tells this woman, your faith has saved you. You have come to trust in what actually has the power to save, in the person who can actually rescue you. You have quit trusting in yourself and one reason you have is because your sins are many. You realize your case is hopeless and when you saw that forgiveness could be yours, you wanted that badly and you received it by faith.
V. Granted Peace
“Go in peace” was a common enough expression. Why would He say that to her? She was falling apart in the middle of a dinner party. Her tears show a level of sorrow over her sins, a broken heart from the damage sin does, a hopeful joy that she could actually be free—if Jesus were willing to grant her forgiveness.
Her lavish love expresses the outpouring of her saving faith in Jesus as the One who forgives all her many sins. He graciously confirms her faith, strengthens her heart that she is on the right track, and in so doing grants her peace. She no longer needs to be distraught over her sin, to wonder if there is any hope for her. She has it all because she has Jesus. He knows all about her, but has loved her, forgiven her and granted her peace.
There is no peace to the wicked (according to Isaiah). They are like the churning of the sea casting up mire and dirt. Every Epistle in the New Testament except for 1 John, begins with, “But grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the gift of God to His people. Because of God’s grace, favor unmerited, we can have peace—shalom—completeness that comes from being reconciled to a holy God through Christ after sin had broken the relationship. We finally are restored to the relationship Adam and Eve had in the Garden. We now finally have a future and a purpose. We have peace.
What about your life with Christ fits “going in peace”? Would you say that in Jesus you have found your completeness, your security, whatever happens? When Jesus says your sins are forgiven, what else can you want? This is peace.
When I think of Jesus I think of Him walking on the water in the midst of the storm, as the calm center in the midst of a surging crowd of broken people. When I think of Jesus I think of Him alone bearing the sin of the world, dying for the people who hate Him, who will one day love Him. When I think of Jesus I think of His calm repose in a garden tomb and then sudden life that darkness cannot overcome.
When Jesus grants you peace, you have peace, and nobody can take it from you. It is not like the peace of the world that comes and goes. It’s a forever kind of peace. This is the gift of God to those who love Jesus. They love Jesus because they know their sins are many and they have been forgiven much. They love Jesus and find that they want to express that love openly. They love Jesus because they have been saved by faith and granted peace. Are you among them?
1. Why is realizing how sinful you really are an important step to loving Jesus more?
2. Why would a person think his sins are few?
3. In what ways does knowing Jesus forgives notorious sins help you with confessing your own sins? What do you think keeps a person from confessing sins to Christ and finding forgiveness?
4. In light of Jesus’ evaluation of this woman and of Simon, what do you think His assessment would be of the devotion we see in our churches?
5. What interferes with your “peace”—completeness, security and how does a close relationship with Christ give peace?
Pastor Drew Conley
Hampton Park Baptist Church
May 11, 2014
The Gospel Gateway of a Woman’s Heart
Paul the Apostle once hated Jesus and His followers and was zealous to destroy them all. The shining testimony of one particular believer made him fight all the harder to resist what he did not want to believe. He was on his way to persecute other believers when the risen Jesus called his name and completely reversed his course. Paul poured himself into spreading the faith he had once tried to stamp out. That was roughly a decade earlier than this text. He has now traveled with a mission team in regions that never ever heard the gospel before. His old friends have tried to kill him but have failed. He has endured being stoned by pagans and somehow lived to tell about it, but his body still bears the marks. He has confronted prejudice and legalism. It is likely that Saul, now Paul, has done more to spread the gospel to all ethnicities than any other Christian alive at the time.
But now he’s stymied. He’s part-way through his second mission trip, and God seems to be working at cross-purposes with him. The vast area that would become modern-day Turkey is ripe for the gospel. His heart beats to reach the masses there, but for some reason God has said no. His next choice is to go northwest into ancient Bithynia, just below the Black Sea, east of today’s Istanbul, and the region where a few centuries later the Nicene Creed would be formulated. But the Spirit would not allow the missionaries to go there either at this time.
The man on the move, the zealous apostle to the Gentiles, faces the frustration of denials and delays, zealous to do God’s work, yet unclear where he’s to do it.
This kind of challenge and frustration is not just the domain of champion missionaries. Mothers and missionaries, apostles and disciples, seasoned saints and new believers find that life can be frustrating and difficult, even when you’re devoted to serving God. It can be hard to connect the great truths of the faith with the wear-and-tear of everyday life, broken down into its long hours and painstaking minutes doing laundry, wiping noses, dealing with spouses who won’t communicate and children who won’t listen. The setbacks, conflict, personal suffering, nagging sins, and limping faith make it difficult to see the significance of the labors of any given day or to appreciate the small successes that fall far short of the big victories we desire most.
Back to Paul – Then in the middle of the night came a vision—a man of Macedonia (northern Greece) beckoning, “Come over and help us!” That’s all it took. When you hunger for God’s direction, you thrill to the sound of His voice. The next morning the mission team set sail. That’s where the text begins.
11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace (rocky island with peaks rising 5,500 feet—where the statue “Winged Victory” was found in 1863), and the following day to Neapolis (new city; the port for Philippi, 10 miles inland), 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of thedistrict of Macedonia and a Roman colony. (Phillip was named after Philip of Macedonia, Alexander the Great’s father. This is the place where Mark Antony defeated Brutus and his armies, establishing Octavian as Caesar Augustas and ushered in the Pax Romana. It was a miniature Rome, where the citizens enjoyed the privileges of Roman citizenship). We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
The Macedonian man in the dream turned out to be a woman. Before his conversion and in the days of strict Phariseeism, Paul would not have been impressed. Women were considered second class citizens. Pharisees would pray daily and thank God that they were not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman, but now it became significant. Evidently there were not even ten Jewish men in Philippi, else there could have been a synagogue. (Perhaps Philippi had followed Emperor Claudius’s example of banishing Jews from Rome as disturbers of the peace.) Instead, there was just a little band of praying women. One of them was a business woman from Thyatira (where one of the seven churches were and where sexual immorality and idolatry were so strong that they infiltrated even the church that would one day be there through a woman so evil that Christ calls her Jezebel). The Lord opened this woman’s heart to the gospel. She and her household believed and were baptized. It was a seemingly small victory, but God is Master of making small things powerful.
Further to the west of Phillipi is Albania, to the north are the countries of eastern Europe: Romania and Bulgaria. When Paul crossed the northern waters of the Aegean, he was taking his missionary team into the edge of Europe. The gospel would take root there and would spread westward. It would radically change the course of Western History, and it would lap upon the shores of a region now called the United States of America.
The gateway of the gospel to Europe went through the narrow doorway of the heart of one woman named Lydia. Whoever would have thought one conversion could be so significant? Lydia may not even be her personal name. It may be her trade name because Thyatira was in a region called Lydia.
We will trace what led to her conversion and what issued from it, but overarching it all is this great truth: in the plan of God, one woman’s heart opened to the gospel can change the course of nations. Never forget it. You may view your response to God’s Word as insignificant, your trust in Him as pathetically weak, and your labors for Him as powerless, but that is assuredly not the case. Not when the Lord opens your heart to the gospel and makes you His. He has made you His for a mission. You are His treasure. You are His appointed light to those who walk in darkness. Your loving service for Him will echo through time and eternity. It is unavoidable. It is monumental. Your significance as a mother, as a woman, as a person, is certainly more than the recognition you receive on Mother’s Day.
One woman’s heart was key to a continent and more. With all the duties and influence mothers have, there is no greater impact than a woman, mother or not, whose heart is opened to God.
Lydia was a woman of
· Faith (When she became a woman of faith, she became a woman of significance.)
I. Lydia was a Woman of Prayer (Acts 16:13)
13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.
The “we” in this verse is a shift from previous verses. Apparently Dr. Luke has joined the missionary team. Luke is the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the companion volume, the Acts of the Apostles. Having joined the team, Luke speaks as an eyewitness of this particular encounter.
Compared to the excellence of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, this little prayer meeting by the river side had to seem inconsequential to most residents of Philippi. Idolaters thronged to the Pantheon and the acropolis on the hill, but one day such locations would be the stuff of art history studies. What was about to happen at the riverside would shake nations and would link millions to an eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ.
It is still that way today. A small group of people on their knees before God shapes history more than the spectacular pomp of worldly power or the mystical beauty of religious ceremony.
He who comes to God must believe that God is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Not many people actually believe that because not many people seek Him. Not many people live their lives or most of their lives as if God even exists. These are God-fearers seeking His face in prayer, even though they are not yet saved through Christ. Paul and his companions are there by divine appointment to share the good news. They are not there because they made the choice. They wanted to be somewhere else. God made the choice because He knew that in that band of women was a woman whose heart would open and thereby open the way for the Gospel for us.
Paul’s pattern was to seek out the ones making some effort to find God. Usually he would go to the synagogues, the place where Jews who knew the Old Testament worshipped and where God-fearing Gentiles were to be found.
Do not think that everyone who gathers for a worship service is trusting in Jesus yet. If you will talk with them, you will find out. You may be God’s appointed messenger of the gospel to them. One of the best ways to reach a person is to ask if there’s something you could pray about for them. In our area of the country people are not offended by that question. They are often impressed that you would take the trouble to care about them. When you ask the question you find out if they believe there is a God and you will uncover what they are concerned about. When you find that, you find your route to talking with them about God.
Lydia had made talking to God a priority. Little did she know that day that God would talk to her—and change her forever. If you are going to make prayer a priority, you must have a time, a place and a purpose. We all know we need to pray more. We all know this is important if you believe there is a God and that He controls the destinies of individuals and nations. You know there is so much that needs to happen, and you can’t do it yourself. It makes sense that prayer should be a priority. You must have a time, a place, and make it something you purposely do. That’s where Lydia was not only when Paul found her, but when God found her.
II. Lydia was a Woman of Industry (Acts 16:14)
14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods,
Purple dye was gathered drop by drop from a particular kind of shellfish (8,000 to produce one gram of this dye), and hence it was very expensive. It was in great demand because Roman officials wore togas of this color. Wearing purple identified you as one of the “movers and shakers.” Thyatira—ironically one of the cities in Asia that Paul had been forced by the Spirit to bypass – was famous for its dyes and actually had a purple dye guild there.
Lydia was hard-working and evidently wealthy, with a household to care for. (That reminds us of the Proverbs 31 woman as it relates to her capacity.) This teaches us that it is a false notion that Christianity does not fit a woman (or man) of business and capacity. Christianity is for everybody – including those who are very capable. God created both male and female in His image with the capacity to exercise dominion over the earth in their assigned roles and to enjoy communion with Him.
This woman had God-given abilities that made her successful. It also teaches us that having ability, responsibility and success is not enough. Lydia was a woman of industry, successful in her trade, and a woman of prayer, and yet she needed Jesus just as much as the demon-possessed fortune-teller whom the gospel would rescue next.
The first two identified members of the church in Philippi were women: one wealthy and one demon-possessed. This is the church that would become known for its generosity and faithfulness to the apostle Paul in his missionary endeavors.
III. Lydia was a Woman of Worship (Acts 16:14)
...who was a worshiper of God.
Lydia was not a Christian yet, but she was reverent toward God. Only a fool denies God’s existence, and Lydia is no fool. It doesn’t take much looking around to figure out there has to be a God. A God-consciousness is a necessary precursor of trusting in Christ, the Mediator between God and man. If I don’t believe there is a God, then I don’t need a mediator. If I don’t understand where I am with God or my problems with God, then I don’t need Jesus Christ.
My sense of guilt before God for my sin and my bondage to sin creates a hunger for rescue that only God could achieve. My sentence of death is a thirst to break through death’s prison bars into life. How many funerals must I attend to figure out that I am heading to a box which is headed to the ground? No human being on the planet can spare me from it; only God can do that. That sentence of death creates in me a thirst to break through death’s prison box to everlasting life.
Creation all around me bears witness to God’s power and His incredible design. My conscience warns me there will be judgment from the God of justice. These things call me to worship God as God, and they preach to me my need of a Savior to remove God’s wrath from my sinful self. I can put on a show of outward appearance of being a good person, but the better I know myself and my propensity for sin, the more I know why I need God. I cannot fully worship – can’t worship at all – until the sin barrier is removed. I can’t draw close to God without that sin guilt gone because I cannot feel safe with a God so holy who is Judge of all the earth. Even my best efforts at worship leave me unfit to survive His presence. That’s what would make the gospel of Christ so attractive to a woman like Lydia. She wanted closeness to God. Jesus is the only way to get there. “No man comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Lydia is extraordinary. She is not your typical person in the ancient world or in the modern world. She is a wealthy, successful business woman from a pagan city doing business in a powerful city—and yet prayer and worship mark her life. Yet that is still not enough.
IV. Lydia was a Woman of Faith (Acts 16:14)
The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
What did Paul say to Lydia? We are not told in this passage, but as you read the book of Acts, you have 19 examples of the preaching and teaching of Paul. What would Paul say to a woman like Lydia? Paul would take her straight to the foot of the cross, because at the foot of the cross she would learn that her success, her prayers, and her worship were not enough. At the foot of the cross she would realize why she still felt incomplete and feel as if she couldn’t reach God. She could not reach him because she could not reach Him as she was. At the foot of the cross she would see God’s love displayed. God declares to the world that He cares enough about sinners to die for them. He removes the barriers, He draws them close and changes them from the inside out, not because they deserve it but purely because He is good. His amazing love is the kind that makes you exclaim “Amazing love, how can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me.” (And Can It Be that I Should Gain, Charles Wesley)
That’s what Paul preached to Lydia. He gave her the preaching of the cross. It doesn’t stroke your ego or fall at your feet as successful. It is not impressed by your religiosity. It declares that you need a Savior like everyone else. This woman with all her success needed Jesus. That’s what Paul always preached.
Many people were unmoved even by Paul’s gospel preaching. The Lord is the One who makes preaching effective. God opened her heart so that she paid attention (took heed) to what Paul was saying. Paying attention doesn’t mean that you just don’t fall asleep in the message. This word means that she took heed to what he was saying. The Lord opened her heart and she responded to it by trusting in Him. How many warnings go unheeded? How many invitations to trust in Jesus go unanswered? Why? The human heart is like a prison house with a barred gate. God must unlock the door to let the light in. Saving faith takes heed to God’s Word, but the Light has to shine there first.
Have you opened your heart to Jesus? I am not talking about attending church but about opening your heart to what God is saying to you. Can you place all its treasures into His hand for safekeeping? Will you trust your life, with all its moments and days, to Him, knowing He loves you with an everlasting love and has called you according to His purpose? Trust God, who knows your name and your frame because He created you for His glory.
VI. Lydia was a Woman of Commitment (Acts 16:15)
15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well,she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
These are outward expressions of a heart trusting in Jesus – a commitment of faith. She shows it by her public declaration of her faith in Jesus through baptism. Baptism basically says to the world, “I’m starting a new life. I am immersing myself in Jesus Christ. I’m willing to be identified with Him.” This was at a time when being identified with Jesus was not all that popular. Paul would end up in prison. The church in Philippi would suffer persecution.
Lydia’s faith produced a commitment that was willing to publicly align with Jesus. It also produced a commitment in her leadership of her household (no mention of husband; widowed? divorced? single?). We are not told who the members of her household were, and there is a reason we are not told. It does not matter. They were evangelized and also believed. Her testimony had traction with those who knew her well, and they, too, trusted Jesus.
We see her commitment in her determined hospitality. She strongly urged (exhort – parakaleo; “prevailed upon us”—insisted) Paul and his companions to stay in her home. She had to constrain Paul and his companions to stay at her home—they were not men to take advantage of others. Lydia wanted to give of herself and of her resources to others and was determined to do so. An open heart creates an open home. One of the great marks that a person is truly converted is the freedom with which they give of themselves and of their possessions to help others. A stingy Christian may not be a Christian at all. We have received God’s grace and we mirror God’s gracious action to others. Those who have experienced His grace delight in showing grace to others.
Romans 12:13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
1 Peter 4:9: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
God used Lydia to meet the needs not only of the missionary team, but also of the fledgling church in Philippi. Verse 40 of this chapter seems to indicate that the new church met in Lydia’s home (adequate size): “And they went out of the prison, and visited Lydia: and when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them, and departed.”
The wealth from her industry had a gospel purpose long before she knew that it did. Her prayer had a gospel answer. Her worship had a great High Priest named Jesus who would bring her into fellowship with the Father. All she was reflected God’s design of her and work in her. Now she has found her great calling. God changed her. God changed Philippi, and through Philippi God changed the world.
Morgan, 382: “Christ needs vantage ground in Philippi, on which He can stand, and proclaim His evangel, from which he can send His messengers forth to capture the city, and all the region beyond, for Himself. He finds a woman’s heart, and woman’s home.”
A woman’s heart opened to the gospel became a gateway to evangelizing the world.
Where do you find your significance? Why do you get up in the morning? What do you live for? Why are you alive? Is it to be a person of prayer, hard work, or worship? These are good things and important things, but they are insufficient.
You need more—not just before God but in your own sense of identity. We need to understand that what God is doing in us is far more important than what we are doing for God.
1. In what ways does the success of the gospel in and from Philippi help you think about God’s denials and delays in your own life, like those Paul suffered leading to his being directed there?
2. How does this part of church history influence what you think about sharing the gospel with even one individual?
3. How does the NT’s emphasis on prayer match up with your own experience positively and negatively?
4. Why would someone already worshiping God be a good prospect for the gospel of Christ?
5. What does the Lord’s opening Lydia’s heart to take heed to Paul’s words teach you about the nature of true conversion?
6. Why/how are the ways Lydia displayed her commitment to the Lord evidence of her saving faith in Christ?
Pastor Drew Conley
Hampton Park Baptist Church
May 11, 2014
1 Timothy 6:20-21
In this last letter Paul, through Timothy, admonished especially those who were wealthy to make good use of what they had. In a scale of worldwide comparisons, we would all qualify as those who are rich. You may not feel that way, but compared to many others in the world we are. The issue is not whether we are rich or poor but to make good use of what we have, whether it is more or less. We need to be aware of the pitfalls that come when you have more. There is the pitfall of pride over possessions, thinking of ourselves as better no matter how we accumulated our possessions, and the pitfall of misplaced trust, the tendency to think our security is in our financial status when it is actually in God.
Then we need to seize the opportunities to use what we have for the good of other people, not missing the chance to share and be rich in good works because ultimately that means we are investing not just for time but for eternity. We are giving of ourselves and of what we have for what is really life. That was Paul’s charge to those who were rich.
Paul switches back to Timothy in verse 20:
20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.
This was one last concise statement of the truths Paul had been driving home throughout this whole letter, and it is fitting that we reach this passage on the evening we honor our graduates. This is a “send-off” kind of passage – final words and a reminder not to forget the important admonitions. Paul is basically reminding Timothy that he has been given, been entrusted with, something of great value, and it is his obligation to protect it. He gave four ways that Timothy was to respond to this deposit entrusted to him.
1. Treasure Revealed Truth
2. Turn Away from Distractions and Denials
3. Stay in Line with the Faith
4. Rely on Grace
I. Treasure Revealed Truth.
O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.
Paul called Timothy to treasure revealed truth. He has just charge those who are rich in this age to store up treasure for themselves in the age to come as a foundation for what is really life.
A deposit is something turned over to another for safekeeping. We go to the bank and make a deposit. In doing so, we entrust them with the safekeeping of our money. Timothy may not have earthly riches, but he has something to guard that is far more valuable. Paul addressed those who were rich to use what they had been given for God’s purpose, and now he admonishes Timothy to guard the eternal treasure with which he has been entrusted. He is to see to it that it remains intact and unaltered and doesn’t slip from his protective care. He is like a soldier on guard, guarding the treasure or the spoils of the previously won victory. He is the guardian to make sure that no one takes anything from it. It is a sacred trust. The truths of the gospel and their practical implications constitute a gift from God to be protected and cherished. A sacred trust.
Have you ever thought about the history of the Church – what we would consider the glory days and times of revival when many souls were saved and churches were alive with the power of God? And we ask ourselves, what happened to it? On the one hand we know that the Spirit moves where it wants to move, and we can’t manufacture a revival that is sent by God. At the same time, the fruits of that revival can be protected and guarded. What happens is that over time, because of human nature and the threats and challenges to that sacred trust, both the truth and its impact on our lives is sometimes lost. You can look back at your own life and see times when God is especially speaking to you and changing you, and you also see times when you let that slip. The gains that you made slip away and are lost. You have to keep coming back to the Lord.
Paul has delivered to Timothy a charge not to let anyone teach a different doctrine from what Paul delivered. The true doctrine carries with it practical applications—prayer in worship, distinctive roles of men and women, the qualifications and responsibilities of pastor/elder/overseers and that of deacons; refusing to get sidetracked on asceticism and dietary doctrines, but developing genuine godliness; caring for widows; holding elders accountable; faithfulness in the workplace, even if menial; and avoiding materialism. These healthy practices flow from sound teaching in accord with gospel truth.
Even if we hold correct doctrine, it is easy to let our living contradict it if we are not on guard. It doesn’t matter what your role is in the church. One of the most dangerous things that pastors face is always talking about God and His Word, having their professional persona and then having the way they really live. The two have to be one and the same, not contradicting. Christ said teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you, not just teaching them all things.
It is like a garden. If you don’t weed it, the weeds will choke out the good stuff. We have to weed our lives. We need to take the lens of the gospel and say, “What needs to go, what needs to be removed from my life?” What kind of cultivating do I need to do? If you are just coasting along in your relationship with God, I can guarantee you the weeds are taking over. There has to be attention to what may be choking out the good stuff. The same thing that happens with individuals happens with the church. If we just float along and let whatever happens happen, it ends up as a church full of weeds. We have to keep coming back to the Bible and saying, “Does this line up?” If we do not watch our spiritual life, it deteriorate, too.
Life by the Book expresses our desire to keep on evaluating our lives individually and as a church family by the Scriptures, constantly making adjustments to stay close to God’s Word and by so doing to promote spiritual health (life!). Whenever what we’re doing doesn’t line up, we seek to bring it in line. Failure to do so sets us in a pattern of perpetual drift. Before we know it, we are far off course.
II. Turn Away from Distractions and Denials.
Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,”
Avoid has the idea of turning away from something. It is the opposite of confrontation, and means just turning from it altogether. Sometimes the focus it takes to confront babbling and contradictions takes us off point and we end up wasting time and energy better used to further the truth. What is babble? It is exactly what it sounds like. It is empty talk, it is chattering, and confusing talk about things that don’t matter —genealogies, speculations, and controversies about what is not even revealed.
Contradictions is actually the word “antithesis.” It is something that is placed against something else – the oppositions, the objections, and the falsely called knowledge. It contradicts the truth. Beware of those who have a special corner on the truth, who believe there is something beyond the plain meaning of the Scriptures that you need to survive and thrive as a Christian.
Think about Satan’s old tactic with Eve. What did he start with? “Hath God said?” Then he boldly contradicts it and gives the antithesis: “You shall not surely die.” Eve’s mistake was even to entertain Satan’s argument. I am not saying that was her first sin, but it was a mistake. Turn away from such talk. It leads to disaster. In our day, we are often told to be open-minded, but to be open-minded to what contradicts God’s Word is to open your mind to the enemy.
You can’t find truth on the road of error. It is like considering routes that go south when you need to go north or like seeking to grow healthy by doing what destroys health. Stay married to God’s revealed truth; don’t get drawn aside by the distractions and the denials.
It is like being open to the advances of a woman who is not your wife or a man who is not your husband. You don’t need to go into that because you know from the get-go that it is wrong, and there is no possible good that can come from it. If something is contrary to Scripture, just say no. Avoid distractions and denials.
III. Stay in Line with the Faith.
for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
In other words, by getting in line with some of these speculations, some have veered from the faith. The faith is what Christ has taught – that established body of truth that makes up Christianity. If you subtract from it or add to it, or distort it, you don’t have it. Faith involves living as well as thinking – doctrine and duty. To teach anything different not only undermines gospel teaching; it infects gospel living. Swerved means to fail to aim at, miss the mark; suggests lack of attention and determination to stay the right course. “If you aim at nothing, you’re likely to hit it.”
Those who buy in, that profess this “different” gospel will find they don’t have the gospel at all. The good news saves to the uttermost, producing spiritual health in those who believe it.
It takes effort, desire, attentiveness to stay in line with the faith and not swerve off—like staying alert driving. It is easy to veer off just by not making the necessary effort to stay on the road.
If you just assume you’re okay because that’s the way you’ve always done it, you’ll drift. Keep coming back to the rule of faith and practice. Scripture alone.
IV. Rely on Grace.
Grace be with you.
If Timothy could have done this all on his own, he would not have needed grace. There was much work for Timothy to do, but He must do it with the power of grace. Grace is favor unearned. It is God’s goodness lavished on us and is the reason we can stay true day by day and not swerve off the path, fight the battles we need to fight, avoid the pitfalls, and carry out God’s directives. Reliance on what only God can supply stamps the Christian life as authentically from God, not man.
If everybody can explain Hampton Park Baptist Church by the virtue of the talents of the people who are here and by virtue of all the “man things,” where is the glory of God? But if there are features of our church life that evidence submission to God’s Word despite our different personalities and viewpoints and that evidence the love of God for people who come from various backgrounds who are one in Christ and if our lives evidence the fruit of the Spirit and if there is a surging vitality of God’s life here, then He gets glory!
Grace be with “You” is plural—not just Timothy the preacher but grace for all the brothers and sisters in Christ at Ephesus who were reliant on God’s grace to live out the gospel in their lives. Self-reliance, man-centeredness, prideful self-righteousness, deviation from what God has supplied in doctrine and power leads to a graceless Christianity that is not Christianity at all.
Like the church at Ephesus and like Timothy, we have been entrusted. We have been entrusted now with this entire letter from Paul to Timothy. What do we do with it? Do we just close our Bibles and say, “That series of messages is over?” Do we just want to go on with life and give no regard to what we have learned? No, we want to:
· Treasure Revealed Truth,
· Turn Away from Distractions and Denials,
· Stay in Line with the Faith, and
· Rely on Grace
The Church’s One Foundation
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.
Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.
The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.
Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.
- Samuel John Stone
1. In what ways can we as a church family make certain we are “guarding the deposit entrusted” to us? Are there areas we need to address in light of what 1 Timothy has taught us?
2. What are some contradictions to God’s truth we must turn away from today? What empty talk common today should we turn away from? What makes it empty babble?
3. What happens to us when we give room to contradictions and babble?
4. What are ways you’ve found to be effective in helping you keep from swerving from the faith?
5. What is the relationship between relying on God’s grace and bringing God glory? In what ways does God’s grace manifest itself in your Christian walk?
Pastor Drew Conley
Hampton Park Baptist Church
May 4, 2014
Voice of God
1 Samuel 28:3-25
We were encouraged in chapter 27 to see that God did not abandon His purposes for David, even though David for a time seems to be living a God-less life, ignoring God. David teaches us that when we forget God in the trials of our life, we are easily deceived by fearful unbelief. We find ourselves trapped by short-sighted strategies. (In fact, we don’t see David extricated from that until chapter 29.) We were also encouraged to see that we are guarded by divine grace.
Like David, our faith has its ebbs and flows. We falter. We wander. We stray. But chapter 28 warns us not to hold God’s grace cheaply. He shows us grace not so that we grow complacent by God-less living, but so that we hunger to be back in fellowship with God. If over and over we turn our backs to God, we consign ourselves to a tragic destiny. That’s what we see in the life of Saul. In an odd reversal in chapter 28, we find Saul seeking to hear from God, while David is not. But God does not answer Saul. It is too little and it is too late.
3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. 4 The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. (This was a major conflict.) 5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.” 8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” 9 The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.
15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.” 20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. 21 And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, “Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me. 22 Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.” 23 He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed. 24 Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, 25 and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.
The key verse in this passage is verse 18, where Samuel says to Saul, “Because you did not obey the Lord, He has done this thing to you this day.” This is why I named this message “Voice of God.” The passage starts with a depressing, frustrating, and chilling setting with the silence of God (vv 3-7). Then in verses 8-14 is the search for answers and in 15-19 the warning of the prophet. We will focus on that part of the passage. My prayer for us, as those who have heard men declare the Word of God by the Spirit, is that we will value the voice of God as God deserves, in a way that will change our destiny from one like that of Saul and connect us to one like that of David, a forerunner of the great King Jesus Christ, the Word revealed to us.
I. The Silence of God (I Samuel 28:3-6)
5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets.
This was a pitiful condition. It was Saul’s final days, his final hours, and he was without God and without hope in the world. We are reminded of Isaiah’s words in the later history of Israel: “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)
Even the nation chosen to receive the oracles of God suffered times when His Word was hard to find. In fact, when Samuel ministered before the Lord as a child, the word of the LORD was rare (1 Samuel 3:1). Like Eli the high priest, whose eyesight was failing, Israel was largely blind to the ways of God. Every man was doing right in his own eyes. There was no king in Israel, and they were not listening to God as King of the land. The priests, Eli’s sons, committed outright evil in the course of their tabernacle duties. It was a time of darkness, but God spoke to Samuel and established him as a prophet of the LORD throughout the whole country. If anybody wanted to hear what God had to say, they knew that Samuel was the man. “The LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh (where the tabernacle was) by the word of the LORD.” (1 Samuel 3:21). It was a gift to the nation, and in the course of time, a gift to its first king. Samuel anointed Saul king in answer to the wishes of the people but also at the command of God. God chose Saul, and Saul enjoyed direction from the LORD through Samuel.
But Saul chose not to listen to God’s voice, but rather to carry out his own plans in his own way. The result: God quit talking to him. Those who ignore the Word of God that they have will eventually lose it altogether. We see this repeated throughout history. It happens in the lives of individuals and in the lives of nations. Think about the seven churches and where they were. They were all in modern day Turkey. While there is some gospel light there, today it is considered the largest unreached people group in the world.
Think about Germany, the land of Luther, the birthplace as it were of the Reformation. Finally people started paying attention to the Word of God and what it taught about being saved. Look at the course of Germany, spawning rationalism and Nazi-ism, and even today a difficult place to minister even though there are still those that believe in the Lord. Then consider the Netherlands and the time the pilgrims spent there. The Netherlands is now known for their coldness to the things of God and for their commitment to sins of the flesh. Think of the British Isles, where not more than 100 years ago you had some of the greatest preachers of all history filling vast auditoriums with people and speaking words from God. I think of America where for some time now we have had a consistent effort from rulers of our land to shut God out from public life. In Greenville, the center of the buckle of the Bible-belt, we tend to think that we will always have the privilege of God’s Word. In reality, as we look at history, we see that our days are numbered. Even if this privilege should last for our lifetime, if we don’t pay attention to the Word, there is no guarantee that later in your life you will have access to it or will even have the desire.
Amos 8:11-12: “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.”
If you could just know what God thinks and what God knows, you would realize that He is there for you and is directing you. This is one of the greatest joys of human existence. It is like getting to step back in time to the Garden of Eden and getting to walk with God in the cool of the evening. The Spirit of God is there for us! Here in Amos God talks about such a famine – “They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” Our access to the Word of God really has less to do with the fact that it is available than whether or not our hearts are receiving it. If you love it, if you prize it, you will have it. If you run from it, ignore it, or shut your heart to it, you will lose it. When you lose God’s Word, you lose God. This is all about what we value and love and why we sing the songs we sing. We want to fire up our hearts and our adoration toward God. We are expressing the attitude that we must have God and we must have His Word. We value it and do not want to give it up. As soon as we start falling back, shrugging, saying “so what” to God’s Word or “no big deal,” we are in danger. What you value and what you love forces out what is contradictory to it.
What are you doing with the Word of God delivered to you?
What do your priorities of time and effort reveal? Are you obedient to what you know?
As you look at your week and all the things you have to do, where does God’s Word rank? Here is how you know: Do you hunger for God’s Word? You use it or you lose it. You listen and follow it, or you lose your way and your hope.
This silence of God was self-induced. It was because Saul did not treat God with the adoration and first place status God deserved for being so gracious to Him. He was living in an era when Samuel was there. In fact, Samuel was so valuable to Saul that he tried to get him from the dead. He had Samuel when he was alive, and now He was frantically searching for him because he wanted to hear from God. God does not owe you and me His revelation. It was His gift to us to be obeyed, to be shared, to be lived and to be treasured. The silence of God leads us to the search for answers.
II. The Search for Answers (I Samuel 28:7-14)
When the days grow dark, with catastrophe threatening, people who have long turned a deaf ear to God start praying, start wanting a word from Him. It is really the kindness of God that He has us experience darkness and calamity so that we remember where our help comes from. You have heard that there are no atheists in foxholes. How many testimonies about God and prayers did we hear from the rubble of the twin towers?
Years before, Saul deliberately did not carry out the command of the LORD regarding the Amalekites, and tried to cover by saying that the animals he spared were for sacrificing to the Lord. In other words, he thought he could disregard the word from God as long as he was still doing the worship thing. He thought, “As long as I am showing up at church and singing the hymns, I don’t have to actually be worshiping God in my heart and I don’t actually have to be listening to what He has to say. As long as I keep going through the motions I am okay.”
Samuel rebuked him: 1 Samuel 15:22-23 “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”
Samuel’s rebuke that day may have seemed overly dramatic—a poetic exaggeration for effect, but here is Saul pursuing divination in order to get the answers he wants. He wants information about the coming battle. He is afraid. If God won’t tell him, he will seek elsewhere, even if he has to talk to the dead, again contrary to God’s command. There is no repentance here, just desperation as he sinks into the darkness.
You may be surprised that the woman succeeded in bringing Samuel up. She may have been too! It is not clear whether the medium is frightened because she sees Samuel or that in seeing Samuel, she realizes she is dealing with King Saul who has banned mediums from the land. She thinks she may be part of a sting operation. Not all necromancy is fake. And even if this woman faked it before, this time it was for real. God condemns pursuing the occult, not because it is powerless. Just the opposite—it is powerful and wicked. It is the power of darkness rather than light. It is seeking power and hidden knowledge and pleasure apart from God. It brings you into the tyranny of darkness, demons, and death.
10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. 15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
If you will not pay attention to the light, you are left to the darkness. If you refuse to yield to truth, you give yourself to error. If you will not have God rule over you, Satan will.
There is a God-shaped void in the human soul. Human beings try to fill it in all kinds of ways—money, pleasure, and achievements. Many people realize they are spiritual in their make-up, so they seek spiritual experience one way or another—the feeling of being connected to something beyond the temporal and physical, power, insight, or inner peace. But if you do not fill your heart with God, it becomes a vacuum sucking in all kinds of dirt. If you do not yield to the Holy Spirit, you are open to the unclean spirits.
Christ has conquered the darkness. He has delivered us from its domain and transferred us into His kingdom (Colossians 1:13). He is far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion. He is more powerful than demons. The light dispels darkness.
Where has the darkness gained a foothold in your life?
What idols are taking God’s place in your heart?
What do you most fear to lose, or what do you trust or love more than Him?
Behind those replacements for God lurk Satan’s demons deceiving, dominating, and destroying. If you refuse the light, you are left in the darkness searching for answers.
III. The Warning of the Prophet (I Samuel 28:15-19)
The darkness should not be our greatest fear. God should be. He is greater. That may be hard to equate because we think about God being light, God being love, and God being the one who makes us feel secure. Yes! But if you turn against the cornerstone, the cornerstone will grind you apart. If you turn against God’s goodness, you leave yourself to His wrath.
Don’t trifle with God and His Word. When God speaks, He makes good on what He says. His words mean action. To disregard the words of God cannot stop the works of God. For that reason dismissing or disobeying God’s Word is the height of folly. Saul’s problem is not David; it is David’s God. David’s blessing is not because of himself, but because of His God in whom he trusts.
16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”
When man treats God like a fiction created by man he does himself harm. Denying the existence of God in creed or in conduct does not cause God to vanish or render Him incapable of action.
As long as you think of Biblical religion as only one of the many garden varieties of man trying to find significance through someone or something greater than himself—tied to geographical regions and cultures, you will dangerously miscalculate what you owe the living, personal God of heaven and earth.
Think about Belshazzar who was almost like king of the world. His dad was away on a religious pilgrimage, and Belshazzar was living it up, feasting, drunken, mocking God, and praising idols. Then there was the handwriting on the wall.This is like the handwriting on the wall for Saul. The handwriting on the wall basically said, “You are done. You have been weighed and found wanting. Your kingdom is gone and tonight you are dead.”
20 But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. 21 He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. 22 And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened."
How did Saul respond? He fell to the ground full of fear. He would not eat, but still there was no genuine repentance—no casting himself on God’s mercy. He was just waiting to die.
A scene set in the darkness of night ends in the night. And by nightfall the next day, Saul would be dead.
There is a reason you don’t have to experience this. Christ went to the cross to free you from the darkness. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, suffered the silence of God on our behalf: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He suffered being cut off from God the Father that we might be reconciled to Him. He suffered the curse, that we might experience the blessing. He bore God’s wrath, took on Himself the darkness, and broke the power of darkness at the cross. From His empty tomb where he conquered death shines the light. The message to us is: Embrace the light less darkness overcome you! Listen to the voice of God before it is too late.
1. Sometimes God brings judgment into our lives by giving us what we want—in Saul’s case, to be free from God’s directives. Have you seen God do this in your life before? What did you learn from the experience?
2. What are ways you have found help you to treasure God’s Word and follow its commands?
3. Saul pursues the occult to find answers. What do you think people who dabble in the occult today are seeking, and why is it important not to adopt such tactics yourself?
4. Why should God, not the darkness, be our greatest fear?
5. What are the dangers of allowing your religion to give attention to the words of God without reference to His activity in line with His Word?
6. How does your relationship to Jesus Christ rescue you from the kind of tragic end Saul faced?
Pastor Drew Conley
Hampton Park Baptist Church
May 4, 2014