SERMON FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 5, 2020
As you all know, this is the first Sunday in a new year—in a new decade. And I’ve had a very strong sense that the most important thing we can do this year is to grow in our knowledge and understanding of who God is. The best way to do this is to read and study God’s written Word—to read His book.
We live in a world that’s increasingly confused about who God is. Even many of us who call ourselves Christian have many wrong ideas about God—and the primary reason for this is that we don’t know God’s Word.
The Reformation of the Sixteenth century occurred because people had lost their understanding of who God is and what He calls us to be and do. The church had strayed far from God—but they had an excuse. They had almost no access to the Bible. Until the invention of the printing press, almost no one, including priests, had Bibles available to them.
We don’t have that excuse. A recent Lifeway study found that 87% of American households own at least one Bible—but 53% of Americans have read none of it or only bits and pieces here and there.
The study found that only 11% of Americans have actually read the entire Bible at least once. 9% have read it more than once, which seems to indicate that a very large majority of those who read the Bible once find that they need to read it again—and again.
But the 89% of us who have read little or none of Scripture are basing our ideas about who God is primarily on what we hear from other people—or what we observe in those around us who call themselves Christians.
Can you see the problem here? A few of you have developed the habit of reading the Bible through every year. Some of you have another plan for regular Bible study. I’d like to see all of you begin this year to regularly feed yourself on God’s Word—we have the Bible available on CD for those of you who prefer listening to reading and there are smart phone apps that will allow you to read or listen to the Bible wherever you are.
Focusing on really getting to know the Bible this year is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. But it was the recent piece written by Mark Galli, recently retired editor of Christianity Today magazine, calling for the impeachment of President Trump that really showed me how little understanding there is even among Christian leaders of our great and awesome God. Mark Galli is a Presbyterian pastor who believes that President Trump has been disqualified for office by, in his words, his “blackened moral record.”
My job as your pastor isn’t to talk about politics—it’s to proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But in light of the enormous and continuing publicity surrounding Mark Galli’s editorial, I think we need to pause for a moment and consider what the Bible has to say about what God looks for in a leader, about how God works in difficult situations and, most of all, what we can learn from God’s Word about how we ought to live in this broken world.
When the Israelite people demanded a king, God gave them Saul—Saul who looked like a king and who led his people to victory in battle just as they had hoped, but who God rejected because, as he told the prophet Samuel, “he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments” (1 Samuel 15:10).
But Saul had done most of what God told him to do—he’d just changed a few of the details in ways that made sense to him. Sure, he’d failed to kill the king God told him to kill, and he’d kept the best livestock, even though God had told him to kill all of it—to us that seems like not a big deal. To God, however, it was a really big deal.
1 Samuel 15:23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity or idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”
Saul had succumbed to the sin of pride—he’d started to think that he and God were partners and that he could adjust the plan if he had a better idea. Apparently God did not agree.
So God anointed a new king—a young shepherd boy named David. A boy who defeats the giant Goliath who terrified the entire Israelite army. Killed him with his slingshot and a few small stones—killed him not for the reward promised by Saul, but that “all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all … may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand” (I Samuel 17:40).
David achieves great success in the Israelite army, so much so that King Saul becomes jealous and determines to kill David. He pursues him with his army, but twice when David could have killed Saul, he refused—refused because Saul was “the Lord’s anointed.” Saul had been named king by the Lord God and David refused to do anything contrary to God’s will.
Saul was eventually killed and David became king, a king “who inquired of the Lord”—a king who tried to do God’s will—most of the time. One day, however, this morning’s reading tells us that David stayed in Jerusalem when he should have been with his army in battle. That was his first mistake. It gets worse—a lot worse.
David goes up on the roof of the king’s house—perhaps looking over his kingdom below. He sees a woman bathing and sends his servants to bring her to him. He seduces her and then when she discovers that she’s pregnant, he kills her husband and marries her to cover up his sin.
But that’s not the whole story. When I was in seminary, a woman who led us through a directed retreat told us about the system that she used to read the Bible. It didn’t sound that good to me at that time, but later I decided to try it—and it’s a system I’ve used many times since then.
Markers to divide Bible into sections—read one or more chapters from each section each day. Always reading different passages together.
Using this system, I often find connections between events or stories that I might have otherwise missed. Anyone who’s read through the entire Bible knows that there’s a lot of repetition—the same stories are told more than once. And different details are included in different places.
So in reading the various books that talk about King David, we find additional details—details that make it clear that this wasn’t just a sin that occurred because both David and Bathsheba happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. No—it was a carefully premeditated sin by David.
Because in 2 Samuel 16:23, we read that “in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all his counsel esteemed … by David …”
2 Samuel 23:34 “Eliam the son of Ahithophel” was one of David’s mighty men.
So Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, is also the daughter of Eliam, who, along with Uriah, is one of David’s mighty men. And Eliam is the son of David’s most trusted counselor, Ahithophel. Which makes Bathsheba the granddaughter of David’s most trusted advisor, surely also one of his closest friends.
And as such, it seems unimaginable that he would not have been an honored guest at the wedding of his close friend’s granddaughter and one of his mighty men.
Although David inquired of his servants who the woman he saw was, he already knew. He’d planned the whole thing—all except for the part about Bathsheba becoming pregnant.
Talk about a “blackened moral record.” If you or I had been writing this story, we probably would have quit before David got to this point. That’s not how God works, however.
So did God then “reject David from being king” as he had Saul. No—He didn’t. He took Bathsheba’s child from him—the baby died. And He told David that He would “raise up evil against him from within his own house” (2 Samuel 12:10). And we surely see that in the rest of David’s story. But not only did God not disqualify David from leadership, He calls him a man after his own heart.
How can this be? Why did God reject Saul for what might seem to us like a fairly minor infraction, but not only allow David to remain on the throne, but to declare him a man after God’s own heart.
David wrote Psalm 51 after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin—his sin which he immediately acknowledged and repented of.
Psalm 51:10-12 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
This was the prayer of David’s life. God loved David not because David was so good or so moral. God loved David because David recognized himself as a sinner in need of forgiveness—in need of a Savior.
What was it that made David a better man in God’s eyes than Saul? It was that the deepest and most deliberate desire of David’s heart was to do as God requires and to be holy as God is holy.
So why is his great sin so carefully recorded in Scripture? It’s recorded as a warning: it shows the danger of interrupting, even briefly, our duty to watch and pray. The danger of failing to remain alert, to keep awake.
It shows the danger of even thinking about sin, the danger of thinking that it’s OK to listen to songs, to read books, to watch movies or television programs, to look at websites, that pollute our mind, because we’re also polluting our soul.
It shows the ruin and havoc that can occur when we decide that we can tolerate and gratify just one sinful desire. When we start to think, “what can it really hurt”?
David’s story reminds us that we can throw out all but one match—and still manage to burn down the whole house.
So who is qualified for leadership? Whoever God puts there. You and I might very well have declared Moses morally unfit for leadership because he killed a man before God ever called him to lead His people out of Egypt.
We would almost certainly have demanded David’s removal from office after the Bathsheba affair.
We might have refused Solomon as king because he was Bathsheba’s son.
We might have refused to welcome Paul into the church because of his murderous past. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Ananias, that might well have happened.
Have you noticed how many of the people God called to do great things in the Bible were murderers? People who had sinned greatly?
Have you noticed how badly we often fail to recognize what God is doing? Have we forgotten that the King of kings came into the world—but He looked so unlike the world’s idea of a king that even the leaders of His own people failed to recognize Him? Hated Him so much that they killed Him?
King Herod was a cruel and evil king in Israel when Jesus was alive. And yet Jesus never says anything at all about trying to get rid of him.
The early church lived under the rule of the Roman Emperor Nero, a man who persecuted Christians in horrible ways. And yet the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “I urge supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (I Timothy 2:1-2).
So what are we to do?
The Bible tells us quite clearly that God is in charge of all things—including who will be allowed to rule over any nation. This has not changed. President Trump is president only because God has allowed him to be. Whether this is for good or for evil only history will really be able to tell us. Our job is to pray for him.
What does God expect from us? He expects us to pray for all people, including those we don’t even like. He expects us to love one another and to love our enemies. He doesn’t care what we look like on the outside—He cares greatly what we look like on the inside.
In the gospel of John, people bring a woman to Jesus who has been caught in the act of adultery. They want to stone her to death. Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
Matthew 5:44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons (and daughters) of your Father who is in heaven.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you’ve been among those who have publicly condemned our president, you need to repent. Repent of thinking that you know better than God. If you’ve been one of those who fails to recognize that our president is far from perfect, that he—like all of us—is a sinner, you also need to repent. There is only one God—and it is Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
No president can save us, no army can save us—only God can do that. Can and will—if we come to Him acknowledging our sin, our failure, our inability to live without Him.
Jesus’ picture of the kingdom heart is a heart overflowing with tenderness for everyone. A heart that weeps over wrongdoing and sin as He wept over the city of Jersusalem.
Why have we moved so far from this understanding of God as a nation? Because we have turned away from His Word. When we fail to know God’s Word, it’s inevitable that we’ll fall back into that place where we, like so many of those that we read about in the OT, begin to “do what’s right in our own eyes.” And not just do, but believe. We begin to believe that right is whatever seems right to us.
The prophet Hosea wrote God’s words: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” The more we study God’s Word, the more we understand that our greatest lack of knowledge is simply that we’re blind to how little we really know. It’s so easy to take a verse or two and think we understand it. But to read and meditate on the entirety of God’s Word introduces us to a God that is far beyond our ability to understand—His power and His glory is simply too great for us to ever fully comprehend, at least in this lifetime.
And yet in His greatness, His omnipotence, He cares for us—every one of us. He loves us with an everlasting love. He loves us in a way that we seem largely incapable of even beginning to love one another.
So let us truly become people of the Word—the Word that Jesus described as the bread of life. When we are as anxious to consume this bread as we are to consume food for our physical body, when we spend at least as much time feeding our soul with God’s Word as we spend consuming all the good foods the world provides, then perhaps we will begin to change not only ourselves but the world in which we live.