The Word became flesh and dwelt among us….


November 2016

“Looking for the King: Bethlehem’s King.” 1 Samuel 16

The internet has been flooded with information and plenty more misinformation about the transition from Obama to Trump.

Memes that portray VP Biden refusing to give the new administration the WIFI password are funny, and a needed relief for all the other upheaval surrounding the recent election.

Outgoing leaders, when leaving against their will, can be insolent and ungracious. Saul was such an outgoing leader. Desperate to hang onto power, and trying to kill off any rival.

The fist encounter between Saul and his successor, however, ends with Saul loving David, and welcoming him into his innermost circle.
1 – The King-Elect v 1-13

Saul continued on in his reign for many more years, but God’s blessing was no longer upon him, and a new king had to be anointed, and this time, it would be the one God had in mind, not the one the people demanded.

God tells Samuel to stop grieving over Saul (v1), and He sends him to Bethlehem.

Samuel is somewhat reluctant, and we can understand(v2). Anointing a new king while there is still one on the throne is hardly ever a move that can well. Saul would see it as treason, and as we will see, he is insanely jealous.

God gives him an ‘excuse’ to meet the sons of Jesse, and he is told to anoint the one that God shows him as being the right one.

A sacrifice is made, and Jesse presents his sons to Samuel.

What happens next both amuses and confuses us. It should also humble us.

It amuses, because we know David is the son Samuel has been sent to anoint, but he isnt present.

It confuses us, because God chooses the kind of person we wouldn’t choose.

It should humble us for exactly that fact. God does not choose the proud, the high and mighty, the strong, the ones who seem to have it altogether. He chooses the weak, the small, the ordinary, the outcast, the forgotten.

God is never impressed with physical appearance (16:7), the object of His attention is always our hearts.

This is good news, as we now know that we don’t have to measure up to the world’s standards on body shape, career, parental abilities, relationship status, or friendship connections.

It should come as a very liberating truth that God is not concerned with our successes, or even our failures. But we are so often intent on walking by sight and not by faith.

It also creates a problem in that we also know that none of us have heart that are pure. The heart is deceitfully wicked. No one can know it or change it but God ( Jeremiah 17:9-10; Hebrews 4:12).

The difference between David’s heart and Saul’s was not that David was sinless. The difference is that it was a softened heart, one willing to be convicted of sin, repent of it, and be used by God for His glory, rather than seeking to use God for personal glory and power. David’s heart was a ‘Godward’ heart.

If you’ve ever been part of an awkward silence, you know something of the discomfort that Jesse and his family would have felt while Samuel made all stand while they waited for David to come (16:11).

I also know how David feels in that moment. It’s often the middle child who is forgotten in my experience.

David would seem to have nothing going for him in his culture. The youngest, given the most menial and servile task possible. Forgotten. He is still a boy. He is small. Despised by his own father and brothers. Rejected by men, but chosen by God.

But God chooses him and rejects others.

God gives him His Spirit, while taking it from Saul.

‘The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.’ (2:4).

God brings down, and God raises up. He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

Saul minimised sin and minimised God’s judgement He did not think it was possible for God to do the things He said He would do, in the ways God had commanded they should be done. When we do this, we limit God.

When we limit God, we will end up disobeying Him, either by our action or our inaction, and when we limit God’s abilities, He will never be able to use our’s for His glory.

Do you have David’s heart?

You can’t know. Jeremiah would tell us that. But you can know God, and if you know Him, truly know Him, and desire to know more of Him, you’ll have a heart like His.

There is another lesson and application here for us.

If we can only see the outside, and only God can see the heart, what does that mean for how we treat other people? Especially people we consider as being ‘different’ to us?
2 – The Troubled King v 14-23

While we are filled with hope about God choosing David, giving him His Spirit ‘from that day on’, we are startled by the contrast of the next verse and section. Verse 14 tells us, in the very next breath, that God’s Spirit departed from Saul, and not only that, but that Saul was then tormented by another kind of spirit, one sent from God that was anything but good.

When the celebration of sin replaces the confession of sin, God removes His presence

If you reject God, you reject good, and what you will have a result is a constancy of evil in your life that will torment, depress, and in the end, destroy you.

We must careful here to never say that all suffering, torment and depression are a result of God’s punishing hand. Many suffer without a cause, and due to no fault of their own, but as a result of other’s sins, or living in a fallen world with fallen minds and bodies.

Saul is not one of those people.

His rebellion and disobedience against God lead to God’s rejection and punishment in this way. He is in torment because he did not repent. He removed himself from the authority of God, and God, in turn, removed His presence, blessing, and Spirit from Saul.

When you purposely go against all that God says, when you are self-righteous and will not admit your sin, or seek forgiveness.When you say that you know better than God, and do the opposite of what He says, what do you think is left for you when you find you have removed every “God” thing from your life?

There will never be anything good left. Only evil. As the writer of Hebrews warned, for people who harden their heart after having knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin.

3 – The Servant King v 18-23

All that happens later with Saul’s hunting after David and desiring his death, makes this story of David’s entering Saul’s house and becoming his closest confidant seems ironic to us, but it’s also very revealing.

It reveals that a true king can serve anyone, even his most bitter enemy. Someone who hates him.

David knew what was up. He knew he had been anointed as the next line to the throne, but he serves Saul willingly and exceptionally.

A servant king, willing to use the gifts God had given him in any capacity.

He could play to calm a flock of sheep, or he could play to calm a troubled king. God had given him both places to prepare him for what lay ahead.

The pasture prepared him to shepherd God’s people, and his willing servant heart, both in submission to his father, and to Saul, show a kind of leadership that God is after in all people. Those who lead not so much by example only, but by faith. Those who do their work as ‘unto the Lord’.

God uses those that are willing to be used. Those who will serve Him by serving others.

People in Saul’s service knew of David’s skill with music, his valour, his bravery, that he carried himself well, and most of all, that ‘The Lord is with him’. (16:18). How an obscure shepherd boy had such a reputation in the palace while being so disregarded at home makes us wonder, but all the same, God was with him, and that was got him into the service of King Saul.

Too often we cut people down because we see them as inexperienced, not of ‘the mould’ we expect, or just because we think they are incapable.

Never despise a person who has placed their trust in God. You never know what God has in store for them.

We also should never despise the ministry of music to the soul. I know well the value of music that speaks to and calms the soul when it’s troubled. I wouldn’t be where I am in my faith today if it was not for music that spoke truth to my soul when everything else was dark and hopeless.

Music is gift from God. We should never belittle it.

4 – Bethlehem’s King v 1,4.

‘Once in royal David’s city…’

The place of Bethlehem in the story of God’s salvation is so significant, that if it wasn’t for this place, we would not have a hope.

The king from Bethlehem chosen in 1 Samuel 16 by God made way for the King sent from God to save the world that was born many years later in that same town, establishing the throne of David forever.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” Micah 5:2

Because of Bethlehem, we have a Saviour King.

Bethlehem shows us that God uses unusual, unexpected, little places, and ordinary, unknown, little people to do amazing things, for His great and eternal purposes.

God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong ( 1 Corinthians 1:27).

He takes young shepherds and makes them kings, and He takes young virgin girls and gives them His Son to bear into the world.

Never limit what God can do. He has already done the ‘impossible’.


Galatians 1:1-10 “Free In Christ: No Other Gospel”

Have you ever felt like you have fully accomplished something and you are pleased with what you delivered, only to have someone come along and completely undermine all you’ve done! Work with a project, home with the dishes, an assignment that comes back with a lower grade than you expected…

The apostle Paul knows how you feel in that moment, but with something far more important, the gospel.

Paul wrote this letter to a church in the region of Galatia, an area in modern day Turkey. He was writing to address false teaching that added works to salvation.

We are always in need of hearing the message of Galatians. No matter how we have come to faith in Christ, it is human nature to fall into a system of merit – to think in terms of achievement and reward.

Paul establishes the foundational importance of the gospel to every aspect of the believers life. It’s not just for salvation.

“We’re going to watch Paul challenge them, and us, with the simple truth that the gospel is not just the ABC of Christianity, but the A to Z – that Christians need the gospel as much as non-Christians…that the truths of the gospel change life from top to bottom…The gospel – the message that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope – creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth, for obedience, for love.” – Tim Keller
1 – The Gospel of Deliverance v.1-5

Paul’s very opening words tell us this letter is unlike others he wrote.

Not only is there no personal greeting or encouragement we might find in other epistles, but from the first sentence, Paul establishes his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He will go on to further build on his personal calling and authority to preach the gospel in the rest of ch 1 and 2.

Straight off the bat, he is making very clear, he not only has something of vital importance to say, but he has the authority to demand that they listen to him.

“His authority was not political or denominational. Neither was it derived from popular support. It was an authority and commissioning that came from a divine source. He was appointed by the Lord.” – Bruce Atkinson

Jesus had personally appointed Paul as His apostle, and the message of the gospel he shared had authority not just because of it’s truth, but because of his extraordinary commission. We might not have the authority Paul had, but we do have the same commission.

The gospel Paul preached and lived was clear and understandable.

That we are helpless and in need of deliverance. v4a
That Jesus gave Himself for our sins, buying our freedom with His death (v4). This is important, because Jesus’ death for our sins, in our place, was either fully completed for us, or it was not. It was either a full substitution, or it was not.
Paul leaves no doubt as to who the agent of our deliverance was, and Whose will it was that it was to happen this way (v4b).
That God gets the glory forever for our salvation and deliverance is also of vital importance (v5). Either salvation is all of God – His action, His work, His plan, His calling, His grace, or it is just partly of Him.

This is the humbling truth at the heart of the gospel and our faith as Christians, we cannot be our own saviours.

We find messages and teaching of self-salvation attractive, but the truth of God’s grace to us in Jesus totally ruins all our desires for glory, personal perfection and the approval of men.

The gospel tells us that we are in such a desperate situation that you need a deliverance that has nothing to do with you at all. It also tells us that God in Jesus provides this deliverance that gives us far more than any false salvation our hearts would rather have.

God gets the glory because He does the delivering. The work of our salvation rests with Him. We are saved, not by works which we have done, but by His mercy. There is nothing left for us to do but to respond in faith to His grace. It is not about the performance, it’s not even about the level of faith, it is about Who saves, and whether we believe. The A-Z of the gospel in our lives is a work of God’s Spirit, not our flesh (3:3).
2 – The Only Gospel v 6-9

This outline of the gospel is intentionally simple. We may be staggered at how it all happens,how God’s sovereignty and our responsibility coincide to make it all possible, but at it’s heart, the gospel is simple. ‘Believe on Jesus, and you will be saved.’

It’s almost too simple. We feel like we need to add some things to that.

Believe and repent.

Believe, repent and be baptised.

Believe, repent, be baptised and live holy.

Even though our intentions might be ‘pure’ and even accurate in a doctrinal sense, pretty soon we enter territory that is open to interpretation or at least various definitions, and we start to get confused about what is meant to be simple, and that’s without even entering what Paul was covering here.

We also easily create divides, as happened in Galatia, about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, all based on who uses the right terms, definitions, and interpretations based on our subjective personal understanding, experience, or creedal/denominational alignment.

Again we note the starting tone of this epistle is very different to ones we would find elsewhere written by Paul.He is astonished (v6a), surprised, even angry.

The believers at Galatia had deserting the call of God who had given them grace and peace, to turn to a ‘different’ gospel (v.6), and because there isn’t really any other gospel than the one Paul had given them (v7a), what they are turning to is confusion, distortion and perversion.

He has surprise and disappointment for the believers, but he announces a curse for those who are presenting a distorted gospel.

This a serious issue. Messing with and distorting the gospel is not to be taken lightly.

As we will see, the addition to the gospel that Paul is taking issue with is what a group of Jewish teachers from Jerusalem were pressuring the Gentile believers into accepting – that adherence to the cultural customs of the Mosaic Law, especially in regards to diet, circumcision, and ceremonial law were still necessary to live a life that pleased God.
It was Jesus, plus law in order to be fully accepted by God.

Pointedly, the things these false teachers wanted the Galatians to adhere to were all external things. They were things that other people could see. This is fundamentally opposed to what the gospel really is. Yes, people will see a change in the lives of those who believe in Jesus, but this is not a manufactured change because of the adapting of some behaviours, but because the heart has changed, and the Spirit now resides in the believer, bearing out His fruit (5:22-24) and the works of the flesh are put to death as a result.

When we add anything to the gospel, it ceases to be the gospel, and becomes something else (v7a).

“If you add anything to Christ as a requirement for acceptance with God – if you start to say: To be saved I need the grace of Christ plus something else – you completely reverse the ‘order’ of the gospel and make it null and void. Any revision of the gospel reverses it…To abandon gospel theology is to abandon Christ personally (6a).” – Tim Keller
The gospel message is not open to tender. There is no other message to proclaim, other than what has clearly already been stated.

This means that anyone claiming to have something to add to the gospel, or claiming an original thought about it, should not be heard, and must be seen for what they are, a walking contradiction, a cursed person, a charlatan.

“Paul insists we must accept the gospel on its own supernatural authority, no matter what the status of any person who seeks to change it – even if it’s Paul himself, or an angelic being.” – Bruce Atkinson

Jesus plus nothing equals everything. Jesus plus something else, equals manmade systems of religion that bind and blind.

Paul can’t say it any plainer, and as we will see in the rest of Galatians, this is an incredibly liberating truth. We do not have to be held in bondage to any system or religion, we have been set free in Christ (5:1), so we can be justified by His works, not our own. This frees us to love and serve God without trying to earn anything as a result. It also helps us see the law in the right way (3:21-29).
If the knowledge of the law doesn’t drive us to Jesus, we’re doing it wrong.
3 – The Approved Messenger v 10

Who can deliver the approved message?

The messenger is only ever approved by the message they deliver, and the one who sent them to deliver it.

Paul clearly states that his motivation when he shares the gospel is not to get men’s approval.

He knows that if he preaches the message that God has given him, he will please God and at times, displease men. He also knows that if he wants to please men, he could preach something other than what God has given him, but that would displease God.

We are not called to seek the approval of men, the moment we do, we abandon the true message.

There is only one way.

Jesus stated that clearly ( John 14:6),and as the rest of Galatians will outline, if there were any other way for us to be saved, Christ died for no purpose.

We see the reason was Paul was eager to get his point across. The gospel is not a discussion, or a debate. It is an announcement. There are no other options.

For unbelievers and believers alike, the questions are the same.

Do you think you need the gospel?

And what are you doing with it?

Has it’s truth saved you?

Has it’s truth changed your life and your allegiances?

Whose approval do you most want? God’s? Or man’s?
Are you free?

1 Samuel 15 “Looking for the King: The Rejected King”

We never need to be taught how to rebel, it comes very naturally, and we seem to spend our whole lives trying to avoid obedience and submission, if not outwardly, than certainly inwardly. We want to do what is right in our own eyes.

The only thing worse than a people who do whatever is right in their own eyes are rulers who do whatever is right in their own eyes and ignore God’s clear instructions.

Saul had started out well, but in chapter 15, we see how he lost the blessing of God upon his life.

There are warnings for all of us who are tempted to rebel, to fight against God, and would rather do things our way than His.

1 – The Danger of Minimising God’s Judgement v. 1- 9

There is no denying the start of this section is a difficult one for us to look at. God commands the complete destruction of a people group. (15:3).

This is a hard topic, and one we would either usually skim over, dismiss, or misunderstand, all of which would be to our detriment. It is a key issue for many opponents to Christianity, in that they say that God commanded genocide.

That God commands the complete destruction of the Amalekites is clear.

Why would God command such a thing?

The reason given to Saul is that the Amalekites opposed Israel when they came up out of Egypt (v2). Exodus 17:8-16 gives the record of what they had done, so all of Israel to know this day was coming, their enemy would be defeated forever, blotted out from memory.

They were the archetypical enemy of God and His people all through the OT. Even in Esther, the name of Agag comes up again, as Haman is revealed as descendant (Esther 3:1).

Isn’t this just ethnic cleansing?

“To modern ears, this sounds alarmingly like ethnic cleansing.
But this is ethical cleansing rather than ethnic cleansing.

This is an act of judgement against sin.

Destruction will come to the Amalekites not because they are Amalekites, but because they are sinners.

In a sense, this should alarm us. Not because it is unfair, but because it is fair; and because while we are not Amalekites, we are sinners.

Their destruction is a picture of what humanity deserves, and faces, from God.

When judgement comes, nothing – nothing – is left.”
– Tim Chester

“If we are inclined to minimise divine judgement, it is perhaps because we are inclined to minimise human sin.” – Tim Chester

This was Saul’s problem. He did not see the seriousness of what the Amalekites had done, so he did not take seriously the command to execute judgement on them.

God’s judgement is never ‘half done’. It must be satisfied, and He must be obeyed.

2 – The King Who Excused Himself v. 10-34

It would seem initially that Saul obeyed God fully, as the Amalekites are defeated (v7), but it is revealed that he had spared Agag, as well as best livestock (v8).

The Lord tells Samuel that He ‘regrets’ making Saul king, and Samuel is sent to confront Saul.

Saul is brazen enough to say he has ‘performed the commandment of the Lord’ (v.13), but Samuel is neither fooled nor deaf. He can hear the evidence of Saul’s lie (v14).

From the start of human history, we have been tempted to doubt the word of God and the necessity of our obedience.
If you’re more worried about your reputation than you are your sanctification, you will never accept criticism or rebuke from God’s appointed leaders in your life, or more ultimately, His direct Word.
All you’ll have left are excuses.

Saul’s excuses start coming in thick and fast.

Look at what I HAVE done.

Saul effectively says, “Yes, I didn’t do ALL that God said, but I did MOST of what He said!”(v20).

We excuse our sin on the basis that we have not sinned in ‘worse’ ways. We think things like, “Yes, I got angry, but at least I didn’t hit anyone”.

We add up our good against our bad, and think we stack up ok, but partial obedience is disobedience.

Everyone else does it

Saul blames the people (v21). Finger pointing began in the garden, and we’re just as proficient at as Eve and Adam were.

“I got angry, but he said….”

“I lusted, but she…”

“I lied, but they…”

It’s amazing how nothing is ever really our fault when our inner lawyer takes over.

It seemed the right thing to do

Killing all those animals seemed like such a waste when they could be used to sacrifice to God (v15). It is when God’s Word doesn’t make sense to us that we should examine our hearts. Our sense will never trump God’s Word.

I did it for God

Yes, I technically may have sinned, but my motives were good. I did it for God, really.

We gossip and say it’s because someone should know the truth.

We purposefully manipulate others and say it’s so God’s Will can be fulfilled in their lives in ways only we can see.

We end relationships and leave churches on bad terms because, ‘God told me to.’

“God does not need us to break his laws in order for his will to be done.” – Tim Chester

I was afraid of other people

Saul’s final excuse for not obeying God was he was fearful of other people. (v24).

Fear of others is no justification for sin.

When we don’t fear God, we will be afraid of everyone, always second guessing whether they love us, respect us, like us, and we will not be wise.
What all of these excuses do in light of God’s direct commands is question His authority.

Most disobedience is not an absolute defiance, but a nibbling away at the edges of God’s authority – Eugene Peterson

We start to think we know better than God, and we end up cursing ourselves.
Saul failed not just in not obeying God, but in justifying his disobedience.

God weighs our actions, so proud, self-justifying talk is pointless as a defence against the God Who knows all things. ( 1 Samuel 2:3).

3 – What God Delights In v. 22-23

Samuel’s words to Saul are well known.

That ‘obedience is better than sacrifice’ is something we quote often,mostly out of context.

We look at obedience as something we can see. When someone disobeys the law, they are punished. When they obey, they are not punished. Modifying our behaviour has visible benefits, even just in a social sense.

But obedience to God is never just a matter of outward behaviour modification.

Behaviour modification without a heart motivation change never leads to lasting change, or worse still, only make a change for the worse.

Samuel’s challenge is that obedience to God can only come from a heart submitted to the Will and Word of God. That is a change that works from the inside, out.

Rejection of God’s Word is a rejection of God Himself.You can choose the path, you cannot choose the consequences. If you reject Him, knowing His judgement, you are without excuse.You choose your own rejection when you choose to reject God.

You may sacrifice much in the name of God, but if you’ve only done it out a manufactured repentance that only lasts as long as people are looking your way, you haven’t done anything for God’s glory really. Many will say “Lord, Lord, did we not”…but God doesn’t know them. (Matthew 7:21-23).

The faux repentance Saul had in v24-29 is revealed in that he still wants public honour before men, even though he has dishonoured God in such a public way (v.30). His heart was not tender.

The fact also that he still tries to change the mind of God, without wanting to change his own, shows that although God will not coerce us, we so often think we can coerce Him.

It is hard to resist the temptation, especially when we suppose that we are doing something special for God, to expect special favours from God, and on occasion, to use forms that are virtually equivalent to theological blackmail…A God who can be coerced is not much of a God. – Eugene Peterson

Samuel may have given in to Saul’s begging to go back with him, but Samuel’s main action is to finish what God had commanded. (v32-33).

When we are confronted with our sins, our first impulse is to defend, to justify ourselves.

We are always usually first concerned with our standing before men.

When we are not grieved by our sins, we will dismiss warnings and the coming consequences.

Saul was more concerned with appearing honourable before the elders than he was with grieving over his sins. Samuel did that for him (v35).

If we will not mourn over our sin, God will mourn over us.

Does God change His mind? (v.11, 35b)

It was Saul that had changed, not God. God alters His own actions ( from our perspective) in order to be consistent with his character. Because Saul had failed to obey, God responded by giving him the consequences of his sin.

Though evil and flawed men seek power and seem unaccountable, God will raise up His chosen king. (1 Samuel 2:10).

God had another king in mind, one who would not be outwardly good-looking, surrounded by approving people, tall, strong, and mighty in battle. He had someone ‘smaller’ in mind. Someone who was so obscure, they would forgotten by their own father, spurned by their own brothers, and face battles far more terrifying.

How long will you mourn over failed leaders, relationships, kings, politicians, failed plans?
Thankfully, in Jesus, we have a king Who obeyed God fully, completely satisfying His judgement for sin.

We have a King Who not only obeyed fully, but Who was Himself, the sacrifice.

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