“Our place is there, where the Word of God is read, where prayers are offered, and where the Word is proclaimed. As [Jesus] custom was, he went into the synagogue.”
The following sermon by the minister gives an interesting explanation of the order of service in typical synagogue worship, within the context of Christ’s ministry starting in Nazareth:
The church in Britain today is at a very low ebb. Attendances are small. Congregations tend to be ageing and almost all declining. The vast majority of people show little respect for God. His name is blasphemed, His day is desecrated, His commandments are broken, His Gospel is despised and His church is for funerals. Why?
The publication of Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ in 1859 proved a turning point for Western civilisation. Up till then most people believed in a Creator God and feared Him. Now it appeared that God was not needed and that there was a natural explanation of the origin of the world. Even although evolution was not proved and much evidence existed to cast doubt upon it, yet human unbelief grasped hold of it as an escape from the Creator and Judge.
At the same time as Evolution was carrying all before it in the scientific and popular realm, German liberalism was undermining the church from within. Doubts were cast upon parts of Scripture. Questions were raised. At first it was about matters which appeared somewhat peripheral, eg the authorship of certain Biblical books. However, once doubt was cast upon the Bible’s inerrancy in one area it soon spread. If what Scripture said about the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible was wrong why believe the Bible on other points?
No age has had so much readily available entertainment as ours. People have no time to think about deeper things. The music is always on and it is of the kind that makes individuals forget God or rebel against Him. Television and video pictures are constantly and alluringly passing before the eyes to fill the mind and distract the thoughts from God. Pleasure is presented as the purpose of life. Envy is encouraged. Marriage vows are smiled at and sexual immorality is portrayed as something which everyone enjoys apart from Victorian hypocrites.
We live in a day when it is popular to regard all religions as having the truth and being different ways to God. Liberal theologians agree. It is considered the height of bigotry to say that the followers of any religion are wrong and on the way to hell. People conclude that there is no such thing as objective truth in the realm of religion.
There are many churches. Which is right? Perhaps they are all wrong? What is a Christian? Within the large denominations some ministers are obviously heretics since they do not believe fundamental truths such as the atoning death or physical resurrection of Christ. The world hears an Evangelical preaching the Gospel, then hears his neighbouring minister and fellow-worker teaching universalism (that everyone goes to heaven). What is he to believe? The Evangelical treats the heretic as his brother in the church, so is heresy really a soul-damning error? No wonder the world is confused. Does the truth really matter? “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (2Jn:10). “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal.1:9).
Recently it was forcibly impressed on me just how damaging some funeral services can be for the Gospel. In our world, where ministers are viewed as primarily professional comforters, what is to be said when someone dies who gave no evidence of saving grace? The practice of giving tributes at funerals is becoming very common. In some cases it is an easy exercise, but in other cases, if one is honest, it is very difficult. Sadly many ministers today say what people want to hear whether it is true or not. It is becoming increasingly rare to go to a funeral and not to hear the dead being put to heaven. When the immoral drunkard hears his fellow-sinner sent by a minister to his eternal rest, he either rejects Christianity as lies or continues in his sins assured that he will still somehow get to heaven too.
In some parts of the world becoming a Christian could mark you out as a target for beating, imprisonment or even execution. In Britain there is a more subtle form of persecution, but it is one that is very difficult to withstand. The real Christian is despised, patronised, ridiculed and ostracised. If you hide your faith you can be accepted. How hard it is to stand alone, mocked by the majority! How easy to compromise so that the popular people will not laugh at you! How often does one hear a sermon on hell? The world ridicules hell-fire preaching. Certain subjects such as the rôle of husbands and wives are avoided in preaching lest they give offence. There is a fear of mentioning specific sins from the pulpit.
No doubt in every age there have been church leaders who have badly disgraced the Christian church by their behaviour. However it seems to be worse in our day. The horrid sins and crimes of Roman Catholic priests have been paraded in public. The uncovered immorality of money-grabbing tele-evangelists cannot be hid. The media loves to publish the scandalous sins of ministers so that Christians of whatever denomination or persuasion can be written off as hypocrites.
In no age has the church been so concerned with results as at present. The number of conversions is the way used for gauging whether a ministry is successful or not. Because numbers are so important shortcuts are taken to ensure results. ‘How to’ manuals sell well. Man does the work of the Holy Spirit for Him. A decision of the will is all that is required of the unconverted. “Make this confession or say this prayer after me. Now you are a Christian. Don’t let the devil tempt you with doubts”. In this way even Evangelical churches are flooded with ‘converts’ who have never been born again. It is strange that ministers, the watchmen, do not fear being held responsible for deceiving souls to hell.
Because of the lack of visible results many even in the best churches are losing hope. Evangelism can be very hard work especially if you are seeing little fruit. It is easy to become fatalistic. If God means to convert He will. Meanwhile we sit back and do nothing or lay all the emphasis on teaching and worship. What is the point of speaking to my neighbour about Christ? They are not interested and have made that plain time and time again. What is the point of preaching evangelistically? Few unconverted folk come to my church and those who do have heard it all innumerable times. If we do not expect to see conversions it is unlikely that we shall.
If as Christians we were more consistent in our lives our witness would make more of an impact. Sadly Christians generally are as worldly as the rest of society. Our greed, bad temper, deceitfulness and unkindness undermines our words. Our lack of prayer leaves us without power. Our laziness and fear of man keep our mouths shut when we have evangelistic opportunities presented to us. Surely we need to repent and at the same time plead with the Sovereign Lord for revival!
Do you think of yourself as a soldier? Do you feel you are at war? In one sense you do because the Bible says it. Yet it is easy to forget. The enemy is invisible and pretends that he does not exist and so we are lulled to sleep. But we have a real enemy with large and powerful forces at his disposal. Wake up and fight! There is no way that we can make it to heaven without fighting.
Our enemy is the devil. He has been around for thousands of years during which time he has tempted millions of people. He has trained on the job and has lots of experience. We cannot see him and that gives him a deadly advantage. Further, he has us under constant surveillance. We do not have to speak out for him to hear. He has no physical ears but can hear the thoughts going through our minds. He can whisper into our hearts in such a way as that we cannot readily distinguish his words from our own thoughts. Unlike God, he is not able to be present in more than one place at once. However he has millions of devils under his command and so, wherever we are, devils are never far away. He does not know everything but he is highly intelligent and being thousands of years old he has acquired a vast amount of knowledge.
The Wiles of the Devil
He has many of these. For example, he mixes truth with error. Obvious heresy is easily rejected but when camouflaged with a good dose of truth it is absorbed. Sometimes he emphasises an important point of doctrine but does so at the expense of another point which is disastrously ignored. He can readily quote (or rather misquote) Scripture, which he knows better than any of us. He tempted Christ in this way. Sometimes he appears as an angel of light and would succeed in deceiving the elect to their destruction if that were possible. On other occasions he promises that good can be achieved through evil. The end does not justify the means and we must never do evil that good might come. He is the ruler of the darkness of this world who loves to darken the understanding of men and women. One of his commonest ploys is to strengthen people in the belief that he does not exist. Nowhere in this world are we free from this frightening and powerful enemy.
His great concern is to get us to sin and to do so more and more. He wants us to hurt God. Indeed his aim is to stir up everyone to fight against God. He knows that his battle with God is doomed to failure and that he will soon be cast into hell, yet he is so fanatical that he will fight to the finish. Even in hell he will be yelling his blasphemies against God. He hates the Creator and enjoys destroying. Because God loves His people Satan hates them. He will do all he can to spoil your peace and joy and make you feel miserable. He tries to seduce Christians into backsliding and so to bring shame on God and His church. If he can persuade you to lead others astray or to turn folk from Christ he is jubilant.
It is intimidating in the extreme to have such a powerful foe, but God does not leave us to the devil’s mercy. We are provided with armour which is adequate. It is made by God and specially designed for the purpose.
- Belt of Truth. The soldier has to ensure that his flowing garments will not hinder him. Fastening his belt and tucking in his clothes leaves him ready for action. This belt of truth is so important. Deceit and hypocrisy leave us vulnerable to the enemy. Be sincere and hate lies and you will stand strong.
- Breastplate of Righteousness. It is also called the breastplate of faith and love. This is ethical righteousness. Anyone who is careless about morality is in great danger. Yes, we are justified by faith alone but the faith that justifies does not remain alone. Antinomianism is very common today and as Rabbi Duncan said it underlies every heresy. This is the idea that you do not have to bother about God’s law. God forgives your sins and therefore you can live as you like. If we are to stand against Satan we need the breastplate and must strive and struggle to live a holy life. Divine sovereignty in protecting us does not annul our human responsibility.
- Gospel Shoes. It is said that Caesar’s victories were due to the superior footwear of his soldiers. The enemy was caught unprepared by his amazingly fast marches. We too need good shoes. These are the Gospel of peace. It is wonderful to know that Christ died for our sins and rose again. The full price has been paid for our deliverance. When Satan says there is no hope for us and that we might as well give up, he is lying. We have a great Saviour and can be at peace knowing that victory is sure.
- Shield of Faith. The devil shoots burning darts at us to set us on fire. He says there is no God or that God is not fair or that God does not love us. These darts are quenched by faith. We cling to God in trust.
- Helmet of Salvation. It is called in another place the helmet of hope. When Satan says this or that is exciting and that you will enjoy it and be thrilled by it, you need the helmet. You have been saved. There is a wonderful reward waiting for you in heaven. Why sell your soul for the trivial things which Satan offers? What shall it profit a man though he gain the whole world and lose his own soul (Mk.8:36)?
- Sword of the Spirit. Jesus used the sword of God’s Word very effectively in chasing Satan away. We must know our Bibles well. Study the Scriptures. Fill your minds and memories with it. “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written…”
- Prayer. This is a powerful weapon. It underlies and overshadows all the rest. It is vital both in attack and in defence that we use all prayer, always, with all perseverance, for all the saints.
The devil is mightier than we but God is almighty. There is no way in which we by ourselves can resist Satan’s wiles. Yet with God’s help we shall persevere and we are more than conquerors. Satan shall be bruised under our feet shortly (Rom.16:20).
Recently, talking to some of our young folk, it appeared to me that they were uncertain on the matter of infant baptism. Many of our best friends are Baptists. If you want a good Reformed and Evangelical church in England you almost always have to go to a Baptist church. Some of them agree with us in just about everything apart from infant baptism. Who is right? Is it the Refomed, Puritan-loving Baptists or ourselves? Why do we baptise children? It is simply because God requires us to do so.
What is baptism?
It is the sacrament of initiation into Christ and admission into the Christian church. It is the token or mark of the covenant of grace. God made two covenants with man – the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works includes all of us and was broken when Adam ate the forbidden fruit. The covenant of grace is God’s way of saving some of those perishing for breaking the covenant of works. Basically there are only these two covenants. Although the covenant of grace was administered in a different way in the Old Testament yet it is the same covenant as in the New Testament. There is essentially only the one way of salvation in both Testaments. There is only one Saviour and in every age people are required to repent and believe in Him to be saved. If salvation could be obtained in Old Testament times by works then there was no need for Christ to come and Paul’s arguments for justification by faith alone in Christ alone, are negated. The sacrifices and types of the Old Testament were aids to faith and pointed forward to Calvary. The trouble with Baptists is that on this issue they ignore the Old Testament and the one covenant of grace.
In the Old Testament there were two sacraments, circumcision and passover, just as in the New there are baptism and communion. God commanded Abraham: “Every man-child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you” (Gen.17:10-11). That command still stands today. Further God added: “The uncircumcised man-child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (v14). Circumcision was administered to a child before it had reached the age of discernment, actually when only eight days old. Now it is exactly the same covenant of grace which we have in the New Testament age. Why refuse the token of the covenant to children today? Surely if anything there is a far wider application of the covenant in New Testament times. No longer are the blessings restricted to one nation.
But is it right to link baptism and circumcision so closely? Paul does exactly that when he writes: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col.2:11-12). He is writing to Gentiles who are uncircumcised, but here he describes them as being circumcised because they were circumcised in heart, inwardly and spiritually. That cutting off of the sins of the flesh is equated with burial to the old life of sin in baptism wherein also they are risen to a new life. Baptism and circumcision mean the same thing – a break with the past, a cleansing from sin and a new start. This linking of baptism and circumcision is also made by Peter in the words: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Pet.3:21). Circumcision is the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but to do this merely outwardly and as a sign is not enough. You must be baptised and circumcised in heart.
New Testament examples
No hint is given in the New Testament of such a change of administration as that children should now be refused the covenant sign and should be excluded from the covenant community. Rather, to the contrary, there are several passages which indicate that the children fully participated in covenant blessings and were regarded as part of the visible church. When preaching on the day of Pentecost Peter asserts “The promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Here it is plain that children were given a special place. Do we have any hint of children being baptised in the New Testament? Yes, there are several household baptisms in the New Testament and it is hard for us to believe that there were no children in these families. Paul makes an interesting statement when he says: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean, but now are they holy” 1Cor.7:14). Surely the children of Christians are special! They are here described as “holy”. God loves us and loves our children.
Christ makes plain the special place children have in His church. He rebukes the disciples for thrusting them away and implying that they had no place in the new order: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Lk.18:16). The coming of Christ does not exclude or put children further away, but gathers them in. “He took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them” (Mk.10:16).
Why baptise children? As you look at the New Testament superficially it appears to say that you have first to be converted and then you can be baptised. The crowds on the day of Pentecost were baptised when they repented. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptised when he believed. It is still the same in missionary work. Adults profess their conversion in baptism. However when we also consider the Old Testament we see that the token of the covenant was commanded to be administered to children. This still stands because “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2Tim.3:16). When the New Testament is considered in unity with the Old, it in no way opposes infant baptism.
Immerse or sprinkle?
Baptists usually believe that immersion is essential. They argue that the main idea is burial (Rom.6:4) and that the person should be buried in water. But Jesus’ burial was not under water or even under ground, but in a cave. They argue that the Greek word baptizo always means immerse ie bury. However, any good lexicon will show that baptizo has other meanings and indeed that the main idea is to wash. For example this is the word used for the ritual washings before eating and could hardly mean immersion in Luke 11:38. There is not one case in the Bible where we can be sure that the baptised person was immersed. “Divers washings” (baptisms) include “sprinkling the unclean” (Heb.9:10,13). The amount of water is irrelevant because it is symbolic of the application of the blood of Christ to the heart “for the remission (washing away) of sins” (Acts 2:38).
We live in a day of unfettered pleasure. People’s great ambition is to be happy. They do not ask, ‘Is this right?’ but ‘Will I enjoy myself?’ With the vast majority the concern is to discover what will make them feel good. And if they feel good about something it must be right. Take marriage vows as an example. Surely it is a very serious business to promise before God and in the presence of a congregation to be loving, faithful and dutiful to one another ‘till death us do part’. Yet how often today even professing Christian couples split up, one party, if not both, saying, ‘Our marriage is dead’ or ‘I no longer love you’. The vows are broken, a divorce is obtained and there is the temptation to remarriage with the resultant adultery. But God has not changed and His laws still stand and there is a Judgment Day ahead of all when we will have to answer to God for breaking His laws. Even in this life there is a price to pay for being lovers of our own pleasures rather than keeping God’s laws.
No commandment today is under such attack as the Fourth. One hears of professional footballers claiming to be Christians and yet playing sport, indeed working, on the Sabbath. We are told, “Judge not that ye be not judged” (Mt.7:1). Increasingly employers demand ‘flexibility’ of their employees and often in interviews for jobs those who will not work on the Lord’s day are not offered the job. It is very tempting for the Christian to go for the higher paid job which involves occasional Sunday work. Surely, they argue, God wants me to be happy, to provide for my family, to have money to give to the church and anyway the complexity of modern industry makes Sabbath work a necessity. What experts people are at providing excuses for disobedience, but God sees through them all. Thomas Peck says: “The Sabbath (besides the institution of marriage) is the only flower that has been transplanted from Paradise in our fallen world and has survived the scorching heats and blasting winds of wickedness for so many centuries”.
The Sabbath is a Special Day
- The very first Sabbath Day was special. The first six days of time were used by God for working, creating the world and all that it contains. He rested on the Seventh day contemplating his work and rejoicing in it. God did not have to rest because He was tired. Rather He was leaving us with an example and establishing a law for man for all of time.
- When God established His covenant with His chosen people Israel whom He redeemed from the Land of Egypt He spoke from heaven in the hearing of all His people Ten Commandments of which the Sabbath was one. This commandment was in the form “Remember”, implying the continuance of the Sabbath from creation.
- God wrote these Ten Commandments with His own finger on two tablets of stone so that they would be permanent. The tablets were to be kept in the ark at the very heart of Israel’s religion.
- Very severe punishment followed a breach of the Sabbath. One individual was caught gathering fuel on the Sabbath and God ordered that he should be stoned to death (Numb.15:32-36). One of the reasons for the Babylonian exile was the desecration of the Sabbaths (2Chron.36:21).
- Sabbath observance was to be a distinctive sign of God’s people in Old Testament times (Ezek.20:12,20) and still is to be such today. Their enemies mocked their Sabbaths (Lam.1:7).
- Special blessings are promised for Sabbath observance: “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Is.58:13-14).
- Christ claims that as the Son of Man He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mk.2:28). This means that it is His day and He is the one to whom it is given and for whom it is to be spent. Having completed on the cross an even greater work than creation He rested in the grave on the Sabbath and then rose on the first day of the week which ever after was called the Lord’s Day (Rev.1:10). It became the day of worship (Acts 20:7; 1Cor.16:2).
- The keeping of the Sabbath is good for the mind and body, but essential to the soul. Why is there so much stress-related illness today? Is it not because minds and bodies need a Sabbath of rest. Why is religion at such a low ebb? One great reason is the neglect of the Sabbath.
How should the Sabbath be kept?
- Resting from work. There is certain work which is allowable on the Sabbath, works of necessity and mercy, such as that of doctors and policemen. Some pretend that all types of work can be necessary because one must earn money to live. They have to pay for their mortgage, their family’s education and their annual holiday. But those who use the Sabbath for making money will find that they are earning to put it into a bag with holes (Hag.1:6). There are Christians in the world today who have lost their homes and livelihoods for the sake of Christ. Let them be our examples and let us not be afraid to suffer persecution for the name of Jesus.
- Resting from pleasure. Some argue that they find sport relaxing, or Sunday papers, or watching television, or reading novels. But doing your pleasure on God’s holy day is strictly condemned (Is.58:13). Lay aside the weekday entertainments. Some misuse the day by spending it in travel so that they will not waste part of the working week.
- The day is to be kept holy. This means it is a day to be set aside for God. Some profane the day by idleness. They think that it is allowable to spend it sleeping. But the rest spoken of with regard to this day is rest in the Lord. It is a day to be spent in the public and private exercises of worship. It is a day for doing God’s pleasure.
- Specifically the day is to be spent as much as possible in prayer, singing praises, worshipping, reading Christian books and engaging in spiritually edifying conversation. It is a day more than any other for remembering God, His creation, providence and redemption, a day for the building up of our own souls and for doing all in our power for the conversion of sinners.
- It is a day to be enjoyed. God is looking for heart-worship. Dull, duty religion is offensive to Him. “Rejoice in the Lord” (Phil.3:1). “Call the Sabbath a delight” (Is.58:13). Sabbath delights, unlike the pleasures of the world, leave no bitter taste behind. God’s blessing rests upon our bodies, minds and souls. His love, kindness and covenant faithfulness will reach our families, our friends, our churches and our communities. Sabbaths here are to be a foretaste of heaven (Heb.4).
Thursday 7.30pm Rev D N Macleod (Arran)
Friday 7.30pm Rev James Gracie (Edinburgh)
Saturday 7.30pm Rev Tim McGlynn (Aberdeen)
Sabbath 11am and 6.30pm Rev Tim McGlynn
Monday 7.30pm Rev Tim McGlynn
There are times in our lives when we are perplexed. We do not know what to think. Something really hard, painful and overwhelming has happened. We find ourselves asking, Why? We feel frightened, hurt, anxious, sad, forsaken, crushed, depressed. Doubts flood into our minds. Is there a God? Am I a Christian? Does he care for me? I can’t cope. Remember God’s word through Isaiah, ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts’ (Is.55:8). Our thoughts are often worldly, materialistic, selfish and limited by the fact that we cannot grasp the whole picture. We fail to see the end, but only the point in the middle where we are struggling. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (v9). How limited is our vision! God takes everything in at once. He assures us ‘All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28) and ‘all things’ means all things. We view the wrong side of the embroidery and see no pattern but only a tangle of different coloured threads. God sees the full picture. Let’s look at some examples from Scripture to encourage us.
‘All these things are against me’
These were the words of Jacob when he was going through the blackest experience of his life (Gen.42:36). From a human point of view things couldn’t get worse, but as God saw it all these things were for him and the best day of his life was just round the corner. True, Joseph appeared to be dead. He had seen the blood-covered coat of many colours and had heard nothing more for twenty years. True, there was a famine in the land and they seemed to be in danger of starving. True, Simeon his son was in prison in Egypt. True, the lord of Egypt required his beloved Benjamin to be presented to him before Simeon would be freed and they receive any more food. True, their money was returned with their sacks so that it could be construed that they had stolen the food from Egypt. But, Jacob, lift up your eyes. Remember Joseph’s dreams. God’s word will not return to Him void. There is a purpose in all that has happened and you will discover anew My unconditional love for you. My thoughts are not your thoughts.
‘The arrows of the Almighty are within me’
Job cries out in distress (Job 6:4). He feels that he is a target. Does God not take pleasure in hurting him? The arrows surely are dipped in poison, and death is now in his veins and moving through his body. How else can things be explained from Job’s point of view? He had 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen and 500 she asses and in one day they were all stolen or destroyed in a series of calamities. Then he had news that his whole family of seven sons and three daughters were wiped out in a freak accident. His skin came out in boils. His wife told him to curse God and die. His friends accused him of some horrid secret sin that caused God to punish him. Everyone regarded him with contempt. Surely God hated him? But no, rather Job’s latter end was better than his beginning. He lived for another 140 years and died in glory and wealth and triumph. My thoughts are not your thoughts.
‘Call me not Naomi, call me Mara’
Few women experience the grief through which Naomi went. She left Judah in a time of famine to sojourn in Moab with her husband and two sons. But her husband died in that foreign land. Her two sons married but before long they too passed away. She returns a poor widow to Bethlehem. ‘Call me not Naomi (pleasantness), call me Mara (bitterness): for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty … the Lord hath testified against me and the Almighty hath afflicted me’ (Ruth 1:20-21). Any bereavement is hard on flesh and blood, but think of Naomi’s treble. But the journey to Moab was not in vain. She brought back someone who would be better to her than seven sons, one of God’s precious elect saved from heathen darkness to be a mother of our Saviour. My thoughts are not your thoughts.
‘How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?’
The Psalmist certainly felt forgotten and forsaken (Ps.13:1). God does not seem to know what is going on, or if He does know He does not care. Surely God is hiding from him! His enemy is exalted over him and prospering. The Psalmist feels he cannot go on. He trusted in God and nothing happened. His prayers are not answered and there is no deliverance. Yet in the last verse the Psalmist cries, ‘I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me’. God had not forgotten him. Deliverance came at last. My thoughts are not your thoughts.
‘I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul’
David feels that surely Saul will catch him one of these days (1Sam.27:1). He has had so many near escapes it must be just a matter of time. Saul hates him and is determined to destroy him. But David is the Lord’s anointed. Samuel has prophesied concerning him that he will be the next king. God’s word never fails. Surely God has kept him up till now, can keep him and will keep him. But David doubts. He uses his own wisdom and goes down to the uncircumcised Achish king of Gath for safety, but it is almost the end of him. When Ziklag was burnt and the women and children taken captive David’s own men plotted to kill him. In great danger, David had to encourage himself in the Lord. He eventually became king. He must, because God said it. My thoughts are not your thoughts.
‘I had great bitterness’
Hezekiah was deeply troubled (Is.38:17). Isaiah had said to him, ‘Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live’ (v1). But he thought, I am still only a young man, I have no family, I have tried as best I could to serve God and here I am cut off in mid life. A dark cloud of depression came over him. He turned away from man, faced the wall and prayed. God in His good plan gave him another fifteen years. My thoughts are not your thoughts.
‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’
John the Baptist was perplexed (Mt.11:3). He was in prison, never a comfortable situation. Things did not work out as he expected. Art thou the Messiah? Why do you not deliver me? Why am I suffering so much? My thoughts are not your thoughts. Jesus was indeed John’s Saviour. However frightened, perplexed, depressed you are, remember God knows what He is doing. His word and promises will not return void. Your ways are not His ways, but be sure of this, all who trust in Him ‘shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace’ (Is.55:12).
David sinned by committing adultery and then the cover-up. What a sad picture of that great man of God is presented to us. But we must beware. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1Cor.10:12). Satan is cunning and knows where and how to attack. The world is seductive and indwelling sin leaves us feeble. In humility “watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt.26:41). A few moments’ pleasure can produce years of trouble.
God is Angry
What David did displeased the Lord (2Sam.11:27). The king forgot that there is a higher King to whom he was answerable. He quietened his conscience with excuses and Satan’s lies. Surely it’s just a little sin, but the only little sin is a sin against a little God. It’s a wonderful thing to please God. This is the whole purpose of our existence. But it is an awful thing to make God angry. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God … For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb.10:31; 12:29). Some think that because “God is love” (1Jn.4:8) He would not hurt a flea, but He hurts David very sorely. Scripture makes plain, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” and “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous” (Heb.12:6,11).
Between the date of his sin and that of his repentance David was not a happy man. He says “My bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long: for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer” (Ps.32:3-4). This is a picture of the deadness, coldness and hardness of heart that David felt. His peace, joy and assurance were gone. It was difficult for him to pray and in contrast with the past he found no enjoyment in worship. This period would be more than nine months because the child of adultery was born before the repentance came. Have you forsaken your first love (Rev.2:4) and are you seeking satisfaction from the broken cisterns which can hold no real living water (Jer.2:13)?
God is good to David
David is not left in a backslidden state. God cares and so brings back the lost sheep to the fold. Nathan is sent with a parable. A poor man had one little lamb which he loved and treated as his daughter. His rich neighbour having a visitor, grudged to kill one of his own sheep and instead slaughtered and cooked the poor man’s lamb for his guest. The king’s sense of justice was outraged and he quickly decided on the death of the rich man and a fourfold restitution to the poor man. Nathan responded with a hammer blow, “Thou art the man”. David had been the youngest son, the shepherd boy, yet God had chosen him. Initially he felt unworthy to be the king’s son-in-law. Marvellously protected from Saul’s javelins, surviving many traps he now has his master’s house and wives and throne. How good God has been to him yet he despised God’s commandments, killed Uriah and took his wife! Think of your sins in the light of God’s goodness to you.
What trouble David’s sin brought upon himself and his family. He did not die and was forgiven, yet the pain he and others suffered was immense.
- Although David himself will not die the sword will not depart from his house for ever. Amnon, David’s eldest son, is killed by Absalom his brother. Absalom dies in a revolt against his father. David’s surprisingly great grief at Absalom’s death is because he felt his own sin was the cause for this tragedy: “Would God that I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son” (2Sam.18:33). Adonijah, another son, dies for rebellion against Solomon. Zechariah cried out with regard to David’s greatest son Jesus “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd” (Zech.13:7).
- Evil would arise out of his own house. Amnon incestuously forced his sister Tamar. Absalom lay with his father’s wives. David did it secretly but Absalom did it before all Israel and before the sun.
- The child born to Bathsheba dies.
- All will know and talk about what David did. The cover-up was a total failure.
For months David suffered from a guilty conscience yet hardened his heart. God could have left him to perish in his sins but God loves His people: “What son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye are without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb.12:7-8). David has now confessed his sin. He makes plain that he sees his sin as not merely against Uriah: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned”. In faith he pleads the blood of Christ for pardon “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Ps.51:4,7). God has forgiven him yet he still suffers. He had given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme and God must clear His own and His church’s name. David must continue to feel the pain of his sin so that he will truly hate sin. Some think that if they confess and repent the matter is closed but this is not always the case. Here chastisement follows true penitence. The child becomes ill. David watches it suffer. He fasts and prays with great earnestness hoping in the mercy of God that the child will be spared. But the child dies after seven days of suffering. The servants fear to tell David but when he realises what has happened he arises, washes, dresses and goes into the house of the Lord to worship. He is reconciled to the will of the Lord. He knows that he has suffered less than he deserves. He comforts Bathsheba his wife. She has another child, Solomon, and the Lord loved him and called him Jedidiah. Things will never be the same again but yet there is hope, for “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom.5:20).
Living in a world full of temptations, constantly attacked by Satan and seriously weakened by the “flesh” (indwelling corruption), there is much that we can and ought to learn from David’s sin (2Sam.11). Surely it is the third most infamous sin, after the crucifixion of Christ and Adam’s fall? David, who is described as a man after God’s own heart, showed amazing faith in confronting Goliath, his Psalms display deep devotion, he is a type of Christ and father of the Messiah, yet he brings much misery upon himself, his family and his country. Sin is easy and disastrous.
Avoiding the war He stayed at home when the Lord’s people went out to fight. All men of God are to be soldiers. They must follow the Captain of the host into the battle and make no treaty with the enemy. The church militant is involved in an ongoing campaign against all evil. Fighting for the King, His crown and glory, they strive to bring all nations and individuals into subjection to Him. Leaving the war to others David showed that his love for God was growing cold.
Forgetting the soldiers His love for God’s people was also in decline. The soldiers were fighting and dying but the king is on his bed. He has a long siesta, gets up in the evening and walks lazily on the flat roof of the palace. He ought to have been praying for the war and busily involved in the affairs of state. The sheep are in danger but the shepherd is sleeping.
Watch and pray Satan goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Sometimes he comes as an angel of light to deceive. We are constantly warned to be on our guard. Satan always finds things for idle hands to do. But David sleeps and then walks lazily on the roof. He has forgotten that he is involved in spiritual warfare.
Temptation Some guilt can be laid on the woman. She was not as careful as she could have been. She washed herself in full view of the palace. Perhaps she was proud of her beautiful body and happy to show it off. Some women are unaware of how tempting the way they dress and behave can be to men. We live today in a ‘vanity fair’ where tempting the opposite sex is considered praiseworthy but God loves modesty.
David sees The lust of the flesh is fed through the eyes. 80% of the information we gather comes through them. Lust when it has conceived brings forth sin. Jesus warns: “If thy right eye offend thee [cause you to sin], pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Mt.5:29). Drastic action is required. David when he spotted this woman should have turned away immediately, indeed run for his life. We are warned to flee from idols and we should also flee from lusts. Joseph when similarly tempted fled leaving his coat behind.
David’s conscience We can imagine that voice inside him saying, ‘Don’t look! Turn away!’ Yet David may have argued that there was nothing wrong with looking and admiring the beauty which God has created. David thinks it would be interesting to find out who she is. His conscience would warn him not to ask but to busy himself with something else. David decides that he would like to meet and talk to her. There would be nothing sinful in that, he argues.
It goes too far Reject the voice of conscience, play with sin and temptation and before long you will be ensnared. Satan and the flesh will suggest many excuses: ‘It’s just a little sin. It’s not really hurting anyone. No one need find out. It’s just a meaningless act. Others are doing it. I am the king, I can do what I like’.
God sees what has happened. Things start to go wrong. The woman conceived. If only at this point David had repented, confessed his sin to the Lord and pleaded for mercy. Sadly the sin was made a thousand times worse by the cover-up and that led to great suffering for himself and others.
Sends for Uriah David enquires of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah how the war is going but his interest is not in the war. He then sends Uriah to his home followed by a feast. But Uriah is a godly man. In comparison to David he was a nobody yet in this matter he is an outstanding example of the man of God. His attitude is quite different from David’s. He sleeps with the servants at the palace door. David asks him the next day why he did not return home. He replies that while God’s people are engaged in warfare and sleeping in the open fields he will not go to his house, feast and lie with his wife. He is a soldier of the Lord.
Made him drunk How wicked it is of the King! He tries to break down Uriah’s moral strength with alcohol. But again it does not work. Uriah sleeps the next night also with the servants.
A letter David writes to Joab the commander, telling him to set Uriah in the forefront of the army and then to retreat from him so that he will be killed. He then gives the letter, this death sentence, to Uriah to carry to Joab. How cynical! He cannot bring himself to slay the godly Uriah so he will get the Ammonites to do it and he forgets God.
What a witness Joab was a ruthless and wicked man. Had he not killed Abner in cold blood and later murdered Amasa? You can imagine Joab reading the letter and having a little sneer to himself: ‘So what is old David up to now? Aha, he is not so holy after all!’ What a disgrace to the cause of God and all for the sake of saving David’s pride!
Uriah dies Joab sends a messenger back to David. He tells the king that there has been considerable loss of life in the war in that while chasing the enemy they were shot upon from the wall. Joab adds that if David is angry at the loss of life and the tactical mistake made, tell him that Uriah is dead and that will soon quieten him. How sad!
David’s response When he hears that Uriah is dead he hides a smile and responds philosophically “The sword devoureth one as well as another”. Everything has been subjected to one concern, the cover-up.
Marriage Uriah’s wife hears of the death of her husband and mourns for him. He had been a faithful husband. No doubt the sense of guilt in her conscience added to her sorrow. After the period of her mourning is over David sends for her and she becomes his wife and the child is born but what David did displeased the Lord.
Have you ever been called a fool? Many of us have, at one time or another. It’s a horrid term. No one wants to be thought of as foolish. It makes a difference, of course, if the person giving you that name is in earnest or just joking. Also it is significant whether the person calling you a fool is someone whom you respect. The greater the person describing you in that way and the more serious they are in doing so, the more devastating it is. Jesus once spoke of a man to whom God said “Thou fool” (Lk.12:20). He is speaking of a very successful farmer. What makes him a fool? Are you a fool?
The context here is covetousness. One of the crowd pleaded with Jesus to speak to his brother to divide the inheritance with him. How often families fall out over their parents’ will! Brothers and sisters who used to get on so well are now at each other’s throats because John got the house or Jane was left the money that James felt should have come to him. How pathetic to see the tears of grief over a sad bereavement turn so quickly to hatred! We can all think of families where lasting barriers have arisen over a few pounds.
Money was terribly important to this man in Luke 12. Some of the crowd came to Jesus for healing from their leprosy, or for curing of their paralysis or for opening their blind eyes. They had serious bodily illnesses or disabilities. These were pressing needs which sin had brought into the world. Others came for something even more important, the salvation of their souls. But here is a man who came to Jesus for mere material things because he was jealous that his brother had been left everything and he had been left nothing. The Tenth Commandment says “Thou shalt not covet”. Basically covetousness is the “love of money” which Paul describes as the “root of all evil” (1Tim.6:10). In the Sermon on the Mount Christ says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt.6:33). Spiritual needs are far more important than to be wealthy in worldly terms. There is more to life than money, far more.
Our Lord tells a parable about a man who longed to be rich. He envied his wealthy neighbours. He worked very hard. At last he made it. He obtained a huge harvest. He had earned his fortune. Now he could retire and relax and enjoy his hard earned wealth. But God said to him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” Are you like this fool?
He speaks to himself and says: “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry”. How terribly worldly! Why do people put such value on money? It’s because they see it as the key to happiness. With money I can own a beautiful house, the most luxurious of furnishings, the most modern of appliances and have an enchanting landscaped garden. If I am rich I can have a flashy car, designer clothes, eat out whenever I choose in the best of restaurants, join the most exclusive clubs, enjoy the best entertainment and go on the most exotic holidays. Here is a man who feels he has arrived. All he had ever longed for is in his grasp. Money brings certain happiness, or does it? The more you have the greater is your responsibility to use it for the good of others. Money is a burden bestowed by God upon people and for which they will have to answer at the Judgment Seat. This man says to himself “Be merry” but God says “Thou fool”.
No Thought of Death
God says to him “This night thy soul shall be required of thee”. “But I am only sixty-five, I’m only fifty-five, I’m only forty, and some live till they are a hundred”. Yes, and some die before twenty. Although we can immediately think of people we know who passed away in their teens, the fool in our heart says to us that we are going to live to a ripe old age. Not a day is guaranteed to us here. James writes of a merchant who says “Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy, and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow” (Jas.4:13-14). Death is only a breath away. Are you a fool living as if you were going to be here forever?
No Preparation for Eternity
This man had much goods laid up for many years – for this life. He had savings, life assurance policies, substantial pension provisions, but he would enjoy none of them. Who would get what he left? He was crossing the Jordan of death into a new country where he would be homeless and penniless forever. One must be sensible in providing for one’s old age, but how much more must we provide for the never-ending eternity? Here is a man who lived for this world, for his job, success and pleasures. He dies and ends up in hell. He had planned for a heaven here, but never got his heaven here nor in the next world. He has eternity to regret his failure to lay up for himself treasure in heaven. The rich man of Luke 16 was “clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” (v19). When he died he opened his eyes in hell and immediately became conscious of a terrific thirst that made him long for a drop of water to cool his tongue in the torment of the flame. “Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” and are you prepared?