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11

I was once in a preaching seminar with 15 other young guns.  We were being taught by someone you might call a living legend.  One session I remember was on how to preach Romans 3:21-30.  The point came when the living legend asked us what we thought the application should be.  Now aside from my various misgivings about application I reasoned to myself that if an application was there in the passage it was probably worth flagging that up.  I looked down and sure enough I saw what I thought was a pretty clear ""application"" of Paul's teaching:

Where then is boasting?  It is excluded. (v27)

So I stuck up my hand and suggested that the application might be humility.  More particularly it seemed that, since Christ had taken the work of salvation entirely into His own hands (and out of ours), we ought gladly to shut up about ourselves, our morality, etc etc. 

"Wrong!" said the preacher.  "The application should be 'Repent!'"

"Oh", I said. "Why?"

I immediately regretted asking 'why.'  Dagnammit we're evangelicals, we're supposed to preach repentance, it's union rules.  Besides, I don't want to appear soft in front of the 15 other young guns and this living legend!  The living legend was more than a little irked by my question and replied: "Because, dear boy, verse 23 says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Sin is the problem, therefore I would have thought that repentance would be a very good idea!!"

Those who know me may be surprised to learn that I didn't answer back to this one.  Oh I wanted to.  How I did want to!  But judging by the alarm in the preacher's voice and the mood of the room it felt wise not to imperil my standing any further among such sound folk.

But sometimes I fantasize about what would have happened if I'd said what I really thought.  The fantasy goes something like this:

I stand slowly, deliberately, with all the solemnity of the lone, faithful prophet.  All eyes are upon me as I bellow with righteous ardour:

"Sin is not the problem!   S i n   i s   n o t   t h e   p r o b l e m !!!"

All hell breaks loose.  Outrage.  Pained howls.  Torn garments.  Hurled stones.  I am immovable in the midst of the storm.

"... Sin is not the problem... God's wrath at sin is the problem!  No... better... God's wrath at us in our sin - that's the problem!" 

At once they are felled by Truth as by lightning.  Cut to the heart, the stones drop to the floor first, then the men.  One by one they slump to the ground, the hand of the LORD heavy upon them.  In breathless awe they ask: "Brave herald, what is this teaching you bring us?  It resounds from the very heights of Zion against our presumption and folly."

Sporting a fresh cut across my chiselled jawline, I am otherwise unruffled.  Ever magnanimous I continue:

"Dear friends" (the dust in the air has now leant a husky tone to my rich, commanding voice). "Dear friends, let us not define our predicament so anthropocentrically."

I leave this dread word hanging in the air.  The mere mention of 'anthropocentric' elicits groans from the already contrite gathering.  Here was their shibboleth used against them.  It stung.  Yet they could not deny that they were indeed guilty of this greatest of liberalisms.

"I commend you friends..."  They look up nervously - could there yet be grace for them?  "...While many have merely scratched the itch of the modern age, you have refused to pander to felt needs. You have proclaimed the problem of sin and for this I commend you."  I pause.  "And yet... and yet... you have defined the problem so poorly, so slightly.  You have defined the problem from below.  If we define the problem as something lying in our hands then aren't we at least suggesting that the solution is in our hands?  But in fact the problem is above us - just as the solution is.  The problem is not fundamentally our sin, the problem is the Lord's wrath upon us."

"What's the difference?!" cries out one of the younger preachers, "Our sin, God's wrath, it's all the same..."  He is hushed by the living legend who slowly shakes his head.  It is clear now how wrong he has been. 

He stands, still shaking his head, unable to look at me or the others.  Eventually he speaks, "Glen's right. He's always been right!"  The living legend looks like he's been hung from the ceiling on meat hooks.  As though in great pain he exclaims, "You must understand...  We faced such terrible dangers in preaching.  We still face such dangers.  I wanted, we all wanted, to resist the me-centred pulpit.  I was so sick of hearing about 'filling the Jesus-shaped hole in your life'.  I couldn't stand the invitations to 'let Jesus into the passenger seat of your life'.  I wanted people to turn.  I still want people to turn." 

I put a re-assuring hand on his shoulder. He meets my eye for the first time and continues.  "I just thought, if we can show them that 'fulfilment' isn't the issue - that sin is the issue, well then maybe they'd come to their senses.  Maybe they'd see their errors and turn from them."  I give a look to the living legend, he nods, "I know, I know, that's the problem."

"What's the problem?" asks one of the young guns.

The living legend sighs deeply and turns to the others.  "It puts the focus on us.  If we just preach sin and repentance the whole focus is on us."

"It's anthropocentric" mutters a young gun, latching onto his favourite word.  He looks around to see if anyone else has noticed his firm grasp of the issues.

"I don't get it" pipes up another, "I thought sin and repentance was God-centred preaching?  Isn't that what you taught us??"

The living legend is speechless.  I break the silence.  Crouching down to their level, I ask, "If we simply preach sin and repentance how exactly is God at the centre?  He may well be over and above our conceptions of sin and repentance - but how is He in the middle?  In such a sermon isn't God actually on the periphery?  He's hardly the principal Actor!"  At this stage the one who muttered 'anthropocentric' is nodding in the way failed quiz show contestants nod when they're told the right answer.

I go on, "It's like our passage from Romans 3.  Sin is certainly there!  Sin is certainly a problem.  I mean we've been told from verse 9 that all are under sin.  And we've been told in verse 20 that observing the law will never get us out from under this condition.  But given that this is the case, wouldn't it be strange if Paul then told us that 'repentance' was this new work that was better than the old Mosaic works?  Actually Paul doesn't mention any of our works in this passage, not our obedience, not our repentance.  No, what does Paul point us to?  Verse 25, the blood of Jesus - a propitiation for our sins.  Now we all know what propitiation means right?"

Young noddy blurts out "A sacrifice that turns away God's wrath!!"  I gesture with my hands, trying to calm his wild-eyed enthusiasm.

"Ok, yes. Well done.  It turns away God's wrath.  Because that's the real problem.  The problem is, chapter 1 verse 18, the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against us.  It will culminate in, chapter 2 verse 5, a day of wrath.  And Paul is at pains to say we all deserve it, we are all unrighteous and there's nothing moral and nothing religious we can do to turn aside this wrath.  We are helpless.  BUT, a righteousness beyond us has come.  And He is the sacrifice who turns away God's wrath.  Through His redemption we are justified freely.  That's the gospel.  That's what we preach.  And who is at the centre of this story?  Not us.  Him."

"So we shouldn't preach sin and repentance?" asks another.

"Of course we should.  But those are comprehended within a much more profound perspective.  Wrath and redemption are the deeper truths.  You know I'll bet that all the sermons you hear are about committed sin and sanctification?  You know the kind.  'God says: Don't do X, we all do it, let's ask His help to stop.'  Where are the sermons that major on original sin and justification?  Why don't we plunge them to the depths and then take them to the heights?  Why all this middle of the road stuff that puts us at the centre?"

A couple of young guns knowingly mouthe 'anthropocentric' to one another. 

I continue "Take Islam.  It's a classic religion of repentance.  God remains far above, it's down to us to clean up our act.  In fact all human religion is man justifying man before a watching god.  But the Gospel is God justifying God before a watching humanity.  He takes centre-stage and we need to move off into the audience to watch Him work salvation for us.  Christianity is not a religion of repentance, it's a religion of redemption.  And that's quite a difference don't you see?"

As I speak, the young guns have been picking themselves off the floor one by one.  The room has been won to the side of Truth.  I look upon them with fatherly benevolence.

"So now friends - now that you know these things: What would be a good application of Romans 3?"

In unison they reply "Humility!"  And for a moment all is right with the world.

Until, that is, the harmony is shattered.  One of the young guns, no doubt provoked by my impossible smugness, speaks up:

"Hey, if humility is so important, how come you're so proud?" 

The mood of the room takes a decisive turn.  Another piles in "And how come you've been dreaming us up for the last 10 minutes to feed your ego."  Here's where the fantasy turns pretty nasty.

"What kind of egotist spends his time winning theological debates in his head??"

"Yeah, debates he never actually won in the real world!"

Another pipes up: "I think I know 'Where then is boasting?' - he's rstanding in the middle of the room!!"

At this point the fantasy is basically unsalvagable.  So then, I hate to do it, but sometimes you just have to pull rank. 

"Quiet all of you!  This is my fantasy.  Either you submit adoringly to my theological genius or you can get out now." 

Faced with those options they instantly choose non-existence.  One by one they vanish, though somehow their looks of betrayal and disgust seem to linger on.

"You'll be back" I say to the departed phantasms.  "Pretty soon I'll need to feel right about something else and you'll be right back in my imagination, bowing to my unquestioned brilliance.

"Ha!" I say.  The laughter echoes around my empty head.

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5

This is the last in our series looking at various doctrines through the lens of the David and Goliath story. (The other four stones were: preachinggrace, faith and election)

Here we consider why it is that the concept of reward is not counter to the doctrines of Christ alone, grace alone and faith alone.

So let's ask: Why do people consider the concept of reward to be a potential threat to the doctrines of grace?  Well, often the argument runs something like this:

  • Grace means that everything is a gift
  • If everything's a gift then there's no room for merit (you can't earn gifts)
  • Reward is based on merit (otherwise it's not reward it's just random)
  • Therefore, grace means there's no room for reward.

But is this really the definition of grace with which we want to begin?  The whole burden of this series has been to show that Christ - our David, our anointed Champion - needs to be at the heart of our thinking.  And so we saw that preaching is not simply lifting our eyes to some general divine battle plan but focussing us on the King who wins the battle for us.  Grace is not basically God's empowering of our work but something completely outside ourselves - the victory of our Champion.  Grace is, at heart, Christ's work for us, to which we contribute nothing. Grace alone is effectively just another way of saying 'Christ alone.' It is the affirmation that the victory is secured by Christ without us having lifted a finger to help.

Now with this definition of grace - is there room for reward?  Well yes.  Think of how the Israelites plundered the Philistines

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.  Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. (1 Sam 17:51-53)

On the basis of David's victory they plunder the Philistines.  Without the victory they would all have died.  In victory none of them could claim credit for securing it.  But in response to it, some will have chased hard, killed many and brought back much plunder.  At the same time it's conceivable (though we're not told and I don't think this happend) that some may simply have gawped in wonder at the victory of David and barely moved an inch.  Both kinds of soldiers win the day.  Some participate in the victory more fully.  That's really the very simple point I want to make with this post.

Again it emphasises that faith is not synonymous with inactivity!  We get these strange ideas about faith since we're used to playing off faith against works all the time.  We say things like 'I'm not saved by my works, I'm saved by my faith' - which is a really unhelpful way of framing things.  It makes it sound like faith is the one meritorious work (an internal mental act) that I summon up to earn salvation.  The message becomes - "Don't do works (external physical acts), do faith (internal, mental acts)!"  And then we get our knickers in a twist worrying that any external, physical acts are necessarily worksy.  But no. 

Think about Numbers 13.  The spies come back from the promised land with grapes like basketballs.  Caleb and Joshua say "We should go up and take possession of the land" and the people stay put.  A distinct lack of physical activity. Perhaps they were worried about earning the promised land!  Was this a rejection of works and an instance of faith?  No it is utter faithlessness through and through.  Not going up is faithless in Numbers 13 and going up is faithless in Numbers 14.  Why?  Because of the LORD's promise.  He promises success in the first instance and failure in the second.  Their response to the promise is what constitutes the faith/works divide.  Inactivity can be utter unbelief.  Tremendous striving can be pure faith. 

Faith is receiving the promise appropriately.  In Anders Nygren's phrase, faith is being conquered by the gospel.  In 1 Samuel 17 terms, faith is looking at the giant fall and understanding who it is who's won - your brother and king.  From faith - which is simply looking away from self to the Victorious King - may flow all kinds of things like cheering (emotions) and plundering (good works).  And if you've really seen the victory it's pretty hard to see why you wouldn't cheer and why you wouldn't plunder.  But cheering and plundering doesn't win the battle - the king does.  "Faith" is just another way of directing our attention away from ourselves (even away from our joyous response to salvation) and fixing it solely on the Saviour.  The fruit of this faith will come forth in all manner of affections and works which are the organic outflow of the work of Christ alone.  In 1 Samuel 17 terms the plunder comes from:

  • the victory of the king alone
  • is empowered by the bread of David (v17ff)
  • and is the natural overflow of praise which necessarily attends seeing the victory aright.

Now Christ expects us to go hard after reward.  Otherwise, why dangle it in front of us??  (e.g. Luke 19:17!!)  But just as we're expected to rejoice, so too with pursuing reward, we simply do not have the resources in ourselves.  Nor is it an abstract providence that grants us divine energies to rejoice and to plunder.  Rather it is a focus again on the Champion, our Brother, that will produce both the shout and the charge into enemy territory.

So having looked again at our triumphant King... Go in war to love and serve the Lord.

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Recently I was reading John 1:1-18 with some international students who knew next to nothing about Christianity.  I was bracing myself for all sorts of questions about the trinity and the incarnation.  Actually they understood these quite easily. (After all how difficult is the sentence "God is a loving relationship of three Persons" or "the Word became flesh" - these concepts are only difficult if you're committed to a whole other raft of theistic suppositions!).  Here is what they really struggled with:

The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it

Now one issue is the translation of the word for "understood".  katelaben could be translated 'lay hold of', 'take possession of' or in the cognitive sense of "understand" as the NIV has it.  Perhaps the English word "grasp" straddles these meanings nicely?  "The darkness has not grasped the light."

But however you translate it, you have this conceptual riddle: if light shines how come there's darkness?? 

Well there might be some reasonable explanations like, maybe the Light is not very strong.  Well no, the Light is Jesus Christ - the Light of the cosmos! (v9-10). 

Ok, well perhaps the Light is not shining in the right place?  No - the Light shines directly in the darkness, the darkness that is humanity in its unbelief  (v4-5). 

Hmm, well maybe the Light only shines on some but not on others, leaving the darkness unenlightened?  No, "the true Light gives light to every man." (v9). 

This is the riddle:  the Light really shines and shines directly into the darkness.  John even says the Light enlightens every man.  Yet the darkness remains.  Somehow the darkness does not receive the omnipotent Light of the cosmos.

These international students were stumped.  And actually so was I.  This should have struck me many times, but it took their fresh pairs of eyes to see what is really a very great question:  How can omnipotent Light shine and darkness remain?

If this doesn't strike us, it really should.  And we must resist the urge to smoothe the problem away.  The text does not let us off the hook - either saying "He doesn't really shine" or "It's not real darkness."  No, He really shines and there's really darkness.

In fact this has been a riddle from day one.  Literally. 

3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day", and the darkness He called "night". And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.

Though verse 2 told us of 'darkness' and 'the deep' (abyss), the Word of God brings a triumphant light.  Yet this light does not extinguish the darkness.  Instead there is a separation of light and darkness.  How strange!  We think of light swallowing up darkness - illuminating it, removing it.  Yet what we see is two realms separated.  The light is clearly superior but the darkness is not obliterated.

Recently 2 Corinthians 5 has come up on two blogs I read regularly - Baxter's Ongoing Thoughts and Halden's Inhabitatio Dei.  In particular the emphasis has been on the fact that "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ." (2 Cor 5:19).   I heartily agree.  But I took issue with what I see to be the loss of any category for ongoing darkness/alienation/separation.  Paul goes on in the next verse to explain his ministry of reconciliation - he urges people "Be reconciled to God."  Paul goes around this (in one sense) reconciled world and urges people (with a passive imperative - interesting grammar no?!) to be reconciled.  Why?  Because the light shines but (somehow!) darkness remains.

And this makes the darkness not less outrageous but more.  The sin of those in the dark is not that they haven't had the light or not pilgrimmaged towards it.  Their sin is that they are being enlightened minute by minute and yet walk in darkness.  Think of Paul in the Areopagus - he tells the Athenians that they live and move and have their being in God - He is not far from them at all!!! (v27-28).  And yet they must repent (v30-31) because judgement is coming.  This is the great problem - not that they have sinned against a 'god over there.'  Rather, they have rejected the God in Whom is their very life.  The light is shining, they are (in one sense) living in God.  And yet this makes their darkness all the more appalling.

How can we be godless, given how God has lifted the whole creation to Himself in Christ?  How can we shout our 'No' to God given His omnipotent 'Yes' in Christ?  This is an outrageous conceptual problem.  But it is, even more, an outrageous moral problem.  It must not be rationalized or wished away.  God really was reconciling the world to Himself on the cross.  He really has said Yes to all creation. The true Light really does enlighten everyone.  Yet somehow humans remain godless, they shout their defiant 'no', they love and remain in and perpetuate the darkness.

Sin is insanity. There simply is nothing reasonable about it.  We must remember this as we go about our ministry of reconciliation.  (2 Cor 5:18-20).  At the most fundamental level, there's nothing credible about unbelief.  Let's not conduct our evangelism as though there is.

We are to urge the people of this reconciled world to be reconciled. How can they not be!?  That should be the flavour of our evangelism.  How can you not be enlightened by Him who is shining with Almighty power??  That urgency and incredulity and insistence and even moral outrage should characterize our ministry.  Christ shines - how can you not be enlightened??  Christ is given to you - how can you not receive Him??  Christ has reconciled the world - how can you not be reconciled??

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For an example of what preaching like this might sound like - here's an evangelistic Christmas carol talk on Isaiah 9. The concluding challenge in particular is shaped by these kinds of thoughts.

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We've looked at Preaching and Grace, now we examine Faith through the lens of David and Goliath.

One of the most significant 'light-bulb' moments for me in the last couple of years has been to hear Alan Torrance and Mike Reeves say in different contexts basically the same thing.  Namely this: the reformers did not speak of salvation by 'faith alone' so much as they spoke of salvation by 'Christ alone.'  So Torrance maintains that John Knox, when he used the word 'alone' would attach it most often to 'the blood of Christ' rather than 'faith'.  Reeves says something similar about Luther - he would speak of salvation by 'God's Word alone', more than by 'faith alone'.  Did both reformers both believe in 'faith alone'??  They staked their lives on it.  So why make the distinction?

Well think about these two ways of answering this question:  Are we saved by our works?

Answer 1: No, we're saved by our faith

Answer 2: No, we're saved by Christ's work

Now which answer better refutes works salvation?

The trouble with answer 1 is that is readily gives the impression that faith is the one work that merits salvation.  It seems to privilege 'faith' as the one property we must possess over and above those other properties called 'works'.  So we say, "It's not my works that save, it's my faith."  Faith becomes a thing.  But as Matt Jenson reminds us Faith is Nothing.  (If you haven't read Jenson's short little article, stop wasting your time on this post and get over there).

Far better to say Answer 2: "It's not my works that save me, it's Christ's work."  Our salvation lies outside us, in Jesus.

On a related note, this has some bearing on that little question we ask in evangelism: Why should God allow you into His heaven?  The standard wrong answer is 'Because I did good things.'  But all too often the standard 'right answer' is, 'Because I believed in your Son.'  I much prefer the answer I read at De Regno Christi:

I’ll bow and be silent. Then I’ll hear a voice,
“Father, he’s mine.”

 H/T Tim

Our salvation lies outside of ourselves.  Therefore if we trumpet 'faith alone' as a way of elevating this saving property called 'faith' which is my own meritorious possession... well, that's pretty yuck.  It makes faith into a work - the one truly saving work.

Now if you buy into that kind of understanding, what view of faith and works will you have?  You'll say 'works are external, physical acts' and 'faith is an internal, mental act.'  And you'll say, God has rejected external, physical acts (works) but desires internal, mental acts (faith).  But let's ask, Is it possible that my external, physical acts are instances of faith in the world?  Surely yes!  On the other hand, Is it possible that my internal, mental acts can betray exactly the kind of works righteousness condemned in the Scriptures?  Absolutely.

So how does David and Goliath help?

Well the Israelites were full of internal mental acts prior to David's victory.  They might range from things like "Yikes, what's the quickest way to go AWOL" to the much more respectable sounding, "Bring Goliath over here, I'll win the day."  (No-one did seem to think this, but it was a possibility). Now both those mental acts would have been faithless.  Even if someone thought "I'll defeat Goliath in the Name of the LORD" it would be faithless, for to do so would be to step into shoes that only the Anointed King can fill.  Such mental acts are still works since they displace the Champion with something else.

On the other hand, once David has defeated Goliath, there are some very concrete external acts going on (v52).  They shout aloud and chase down the defeated Philistines.  Yet for all their physicality, these acts are simply expressions of faith.  In fact the person who remains physically unmoved by David's victory is almost sure to be the person who has not seen the victory, or has not understood the connection between David and them.  Such a person has no faith.

'Internal' does not equal 'faith' and 'external' does not equal 'works'.  What counts is the victory of David.  Has David's victory for me been understood and received?  That's the question that lies at the fault-line between faith and works.  Any expression of a 'yes' to that question (whether internal or external) equals faith.  Any expression of a 'no' to that question (whether internal or external) equals works.

Let's put it one more way:  'Faith alone' is really another way of saying, 'I did not help David one little bit, but I get all the benefits.'  'Faith' does not put the spotlight on me (and my emotional/spiritual state).  'Faith' is all about putting the spotlight on Christ.  'Faith alone' is an expression that secures 'Christ alone' in my subjective appropriation of salvation.  Just as 'Grace alone' is an expression that secures 'Christ alone' in God's objective offer of salvation. 

Ok, I'm repeating myself lots now.  Why hammer on at this?  Well here's one pay-off.  The quest for more faith is not an inward journey!  I don't find faith in me.  I find faith when I forget all about faith and simply focus on my Champion.  I find myself in the state of believing not by trying to believe but by simply seeing and appreciating the work of Christ.  And from this the emotions (shouting!) and the works (plundering!) will flow as true expressions of faith.  As Robert Murray McCheyne once said to a woman he counselled, "You don't need more faith, you need more Christ."

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You've all wondered what David's five smooth stones represent (1 Sam 17:40).  Now I bring you the definitive answer...

Not really, I just have some reflections on David and Goliath and there happen to be five of them...

  1. Preaching
  2. Grace
  3. Faith
  4. Election
  5. Reward

But first, let's remind ourselves of the story. (Read it here)

So here we are (verses 1-3) the uncircumcised Philistines facing off against the ranks of Israel.

 

There came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. (v4)

Over nine feet tall.  Most of us would be eye-to-navel with him.  The tallest man I know (6 foot 9) wouldn't even be eye-to-nipple!  Even his coat of armour (verse 5) was 55kg or 8½ stone.  And he’s from Gath which tells you:

 

1) He’s probably Nephilim.  (Look up Gath and Anakites – you do the requisite mathethatical calculations).  In which case he’s literally super-human.  Literally a super-hero – or super-villain more like.  In the person of Goliath heaven and earth is united against the ranks of Israel.  But secondly...

 

2) Gath means ‘wine-press’.  And here we see Goliath crushing the LORD’s vineyard.  Israel is the vine and Goliath is the vine crusher.  Watch him crush them, vv10-11:

And the Philistine said, "I defy (reproach) the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together." When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

The word ‘dismayed’ means literally ‘shattered’ and Israel has been constantly told 'Don't be dismayed by the nations.' (Deut 1:21; 31:8; Josh 1:9; 8:1; 10:25).  Instead God would dismay (shatter) the nations - how?  Hannah tells us at the beginning of 1 Samuel:

Those who oppose the LORD will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His King and exalt the horn of His Anointed."  (1 Samuel 2:10)

Through the Messiah, the LORD would shatter all opposition.  In 1 Samuel 2 we see world-wide realities - judgement to the ends of the earth.  Hannah looks ahead to the victory of the LORD Jesus.  But in chapter 16 we see little David anointed as king.  And here in chapter 17 we see this little king picture for us the victory of the Anointed One.

 

We see him in verse 12, fresh from his father’s house, the house of bread – Bethlehem – bringing bread to his brothers.  But David’s provision and sustenance would mean nothing without his victory.

 

Let's consider his victory.  From verses 38-40 we see him reject the armour of Saul - his victory would not be with worldly strength but in weakness - that the Name of the LORD be seen in all its power.

Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have reproached. (v45)

With a single blow David kills the giant (v50) and then takes his head (v51 - cf Gen 3:15; Hab 3:13).  In a second the Israelites are turned from shattered men to shattering victors.  Now, in the certainty of their king's victory (v52) they shout and advance, shattering the adversaries of the LORD and plundering their camp.

 

Now...  What’s that got to do with preaching?

 

A good preacher is like a war correspondent on the front lines of this battle. You survey the scene – and it’s bad. An evil, super-human opponent.  Fear and despondency in the ranks and you just can’t win.  But then!  You announce, from among you – the anointed king, your champion.  He is small and looks so weak but, yowsers he is handsome! (v42; 1 Sam 16:12).  What courage He has as He fights for us.  What confidence He has in the Name of the LORD.  And look people, look – even through His weakness He defeats the enemy – killing him with his own weapon.

 

And as the herald of victory you declare:

 

"We’ve won!  Our champion has triumphed!  Shout aloud! Praise your Champion!  Rejoice in song!  And advance into your week knowing that the enemy is decapitated – you have the victory in your Messiah.  Charge into your week in the name of the Anointed King…. And then come back next week when you’ll  be dismayed and terrified all over again."

 

And each and every week you herald the bad news that is very bad and the good news that is beyond triumphant.  And bit by bit the troops begin to really love their King and they begin to walk in the kind of freedom and victory that He’s already won for them.  That’s good preaching.

 

Bad preaching is not like that.  A bad preacher is like a battle-weary soldier briefing the troops and saying

 

"It’s tough out there people but, hey, if battle-weary soldiering has taught me anything it’s that we’ve got to be tougher. That David – he’s an example to us all – a model soldier.  Let me give you some advice that I learned direct from David: When you use a slingshot, you have to get a firm base with the legs and then... it’s all in the wrist.

 

"Three points for you to take with you – after all this is a military briefing – you’re here for practical tips.  Point 1: remember whose army you are.  Don’t let the side down.  Point 2: Remember the techniques I’ve taught you, and Point 3: if you’re struggling for motivation – do it for David!  God bless, and ‘be careful out there.’"

 

Do it for David??  Do it for David??  David did it for you!!  And He did it for you when you were shattered and terrified.  Our congregations need gospel preaching.

 

Our congregations need to hear the victory of Christ proclaimed week after week after week.  We don’t need more combat skills – we need more Christ.  If you take your eyes off the champion your eyes either go on Goliath or on your paltry combat skills – either way you’ll end up dismayed, shattered, terrified.

 

I hear so many sermons that simply crush the vine.  They do Goliath’s job for him.

 

When you preach, preach about our Champion.  Tell them about His fight, His sacrifice, His victory.  Make them shout, make them sing, make them see brave, beautiful, loving, strong Jesus once again.

 

And the weaker the troops, the more dismayed, the more disobedient, the more they look like deserting and making shipwreck – herald the good news.  Christ has triumphed for the weakest and the worst of them.

 

Preach the Gospel friends.

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Two sermons on 1 Samuel 17 - audio part one; audio part two

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Some other relevant posts on preaching:

Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God

Preaching evangelistically

What is "applied preaching"??

A long (20 000 word) paper on Karl Barth and preaching

It's been very sobering to study the wrath of the Lamb this week (Rev 6:16).  Here are seven thoughts (of course seven!) that occurred to me this week while preparing to preach Revelation 6:

  1. This is not so much the anger of the great king against rebels. This is much much worse. This is the anger of the Lamb who was slain to save rebels. This is the anger of the meek and humble Saviour who stretched out His arms to a disobedient and obstinate people. This is the anger of the One who longed to gather His children under His wings but they were not willing. This is the anger of the bloody sacrifice who poured out His life just to redeem and forgive such people. Those who will be sent to hell have not only rebelled against a mighty King, they have trodden on the slain Lamb. They have spurned their only Saviour, who wept and sweated and bled for them. They have hated and trampled on Christ crucified.   And they will not stand on the great day of His wrath.
  2. The great day of His wrath comes after a long wait (Rev 6:17).  He is indeed 'slow to anger'. (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3; cf Rom 3:25; 2 Pet 3:9)  And both the anger and the slowness are good things. It would be terrible if the Father or the Son flew off into a rage without warning. But it would also be terrible if they never got angry - the evil of this world, and particularly the evil of rejecting Christ is damnable. So His wrath is a very good thing.
  3. We are meant to draw nearer to the wrathful Lamb, not flee further from Him.  It is the unbelievers who run from the Lamb in His anger (v15-17), it's the believers who run to Him.  (Cf Psalm 2:12).  As we read of His wrath we are tempted to draw back, but instead we should press closer, ask, seek and knock even more.  His anger should in fact make us draw nearer - if we do, we will find Him to be our Refuge.
  4. Anger is not the last word.  Revelation 6 clears the way for Revelation 7.  "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence."  (Hosea 6:1-2)
  5. It's vital to see that the Father is not the only One angry at sin!  Sometimes we can imagine that the cross is an angry Father being placated by His Son who really isn't that bothered about sin.   "Jesus loves you, don't mind the Father, He's cranky!"  It's at this point that people suppose that true trinitarian theology is opposed to penal substitutionary atonement.  But no the Father and Son are not divided in their attitudes to sin.  The Son is Christ precisely because He loves righteousness and hates wickedness (Ps 45:7).  Rev 6:17 speaks of ‘their' wrath - Jesus is just as angry at sin as the Father. And He suffers in Himself the fullness of His own divine anger at sin.
  6. Chapters like Revelation 6 show us just how intense Christ's sufferings were. Here is the magnitude of the wrath which Jesus faced on the cross. The Lamb faced His own divine anger at sin - an anger that shakes the creation to its very foundations. When we read of Jesus sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane and overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, He is feeling in Himself the dread of all those who say to the mountains ‘Fall on us and hide us.' After studying Revelation 6 we should have a bigger picture not only of judgement day but also the cross.
  7. We are tempted to measure hell by our sins. Passages like this tell us to measure our sins by hell.  (Spurgeon used to say this often).  What do I mean? We tend to think of our sins as trifling matters and then we read about the terrible judgement of God and think it's over the top. That's backwards. We should read about the terrible judgement of God and then think - that's what my sin deserves. Don't measure hell by your sins, measure your sins by hell. And then rejoice that the Lamb intercepted His own wrath and hid you under His altar, the cross. (Rev 6:9)

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