Blessed to Be a Blessing

2 Samuel 5:1-5

[1] Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. [2] In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the LORD said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.’” [3] So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. [4] David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. [5] At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

As a sophomore in college, I was already eager to graduate.  This was partially because I was eager to work and make money and partially because I thought I would then be done with school forever (God is funny in His providence).  In my naiveté, I imagined graduation would be the time when I finally “made it” and I could reap the benefits of my labor.  It was all very self-centered.

In our passage this morning, David is finally experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promises to him.  David is to be king and prince over Israel.  The time of running for his life and living in caves is (presumably) over!  Now David can enjoy a life of power, prestige, and wealth.  But is that all?

See, David is not only called to be prince but he is also called to be shepherd.  Jesus tells us in John 10:11 that “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  David’s blessings are not meant to benefit him alone, but they are given for the sake of the sheep.  David ascends to the throne, he enjoys a lengthy and prosperous reign, and he is favored by God, not for the sake of his own legacy but that he might be a greater blessing to the people of Israel.

Not only does success equip David for his shepherding ministry, but also hardship.  The many years of wandering and waiting gave David a compassionate heart.  He was a man who knew what a shepherd was meant to be – one who would give rest, lead, and comfort the sheep (Psalm 23).

So often we see success and hardship only in regards to how it benefits us.  The noblest way we interpret our circumstances is how they are maturing us or drawing us nearer to God.  Of course, we were made to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but it rarely occurs to us that God may be shaping and reshaping us that we might be more effective at loving and caring for others.

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No One in Charge

The God Who is There Leader’s Guide
D.A. Carson

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

– Psalm 14:1a

A little over a year ago the British Humanist Association ran ads on London buses reading, “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  It is fascinating that the Association felt it wise to insert “probably”; if the person who says there is no God is a fool, I suppose this slogan represents cautious folly.  But why the British Humanist Association thinks that the nonexistence of God should reduce worry is more than a little puzzling.  If there is no God, it is hard to see how there is transcendent meaning.  Worse, no one is in charge, so there is no assurance that justice will be served at the end; there is no one to look after me, no one I can trust.

Praise God that He is Unfair

Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

– Psalm 32:2

Or in other words, blessed is the man who is counted perfectly righteous before God.

I’m not a very good gift giver.  I tend to give people what I like – books.  I have given my wife many books over the years and I think she forgives me.  But just because she forgives me doesn’t make me a good gift giver.  It means I have a second chance which I could very well use to buy another book.

Being forgiven is not the same as being righteous.  It means a clean slate and a second chance.  This sounds like good news but it is actually terrible news.  If you give me a second chance to buy something other than a book, it’s possible I’ll take it. But if you give me a second chance to flap my arms and fly out of a window, there is no hope.

We need more than a second chance with God because which of us can be perfectly righteous, without sin, even for one day?  Who can stand before a holy God?  Scripture is perfectly clear.

[10] as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
[11] no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
[12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

– Romans 3:10-12

Thankfully God gives us more than a second chance.  He offers to count unrighteous people righteous.

[11] Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities. 

– Isaiah 53:11

Jesus not only takes our sin and gives us forgiveness; He also lives a perfect, sinless life and gives it to us that we might receive the reward He deserves.

Praise God that He is just but not fair!  It’s not fair for a teacher to take a test and give a student credit.  It’s not fair for a parent to raise a child and for a stranger to boast.  And it’s not fair that Jesus lives a perfect life and sinners can enter into the presence of God and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into your master’s rest!”

It’s More Than That

Psalm 103:12

as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

1 Peter 2:24

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

The gift of God is forgiveness.  God can make us clean and he does so at great cost.  The sinless Son of God takes on the punishment for the sins of the world that we might be forgiven.

Sometimes people say that this is like a judge who sentences a criminal to jail time and then takes his place.  But it’s more than that.  It’s more like a victim of a drunk driver going to jail for the drunk driver.  Or an an assault victim willingly taking the punishment for their attacker.

Every sin is against God but He sends His Son for sinners.

The Divine Warrior

Show Them No Mercy
Tremper Longman III

The first voice we hear in the New Testament is that of John the Baptist, sounding remarkably like the Old Testament prophets of phase 3:

You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:7-10; see also vv. 11-12)

John expects that the one coming after him will fill the role of the violent warrior who will rid the land of its oppressors. Imagine his shock later when the one he does recognize through baptism preaches the good news, heals the sick, and exorcises demons. As a matter of fact, we have a record of his reaction in Matthew 11:1-19. John is now in prison and hears reports about Jesus’ ministry. His doubts lead him to send two of his disciples to Jesus to ask the skeptical question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (11:2).

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6)

Through his actions, Jesus informs John that he has in fact chosen the right person. However, Jesus is also subtly changing – indeed, enriching – John’s understanding of his mission. In a nutshell, Jesus is the divine warrior, but he has intensified and heightened the battle. No longer is the battle a physical battle against flesh-and-blood enemies, but rather it is directed toward the spiritual powers and authorities. Furthermore, this battle is fought with nonphysical weapons.

The exorcisms of the New Testament are a case in point. Here we see the violent nature of the conflict. Matthew 8:28-34 (see also Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) narrates the story of Jesus’ ordering the demons in two demon-possessed men to enter into pigs, which then throw themselves into a lake and are destroyed. The climax of phase 4 is violent but in an ironic way. Paul looks back on the crucifixion and pronounces it a military victory over the demonic realm:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15)

Jesus’ ascension into heaven is also described in military language, indeed by the citation of a holy-war hymn from the Old Testament, Psalm 68:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (Eph. 4:8)

Jesus defeated the powers and authorities, not by killing but by dying!

Creation

Unlocking the Bible: Creation (Genesis 1)
Colin Smith

Imagine nothing. It’s almost impossible. But before the creation there was nothing, except God. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

In schools, we challenge our children’s creativity by giving them materials to work with: ‘See what you can do with this,’ we say. But there were no materials for God to work with in shaping the universe. He created all that exists out of nothing, and He sustains the universe by His own power.

Take a fresh look at what God has created today. Look at the sky; it proclaims the work of God’s hands. Listen to the birds; they testify to God’s gentle care. Every snowflake bears witness to His majesty. Every sunrise speaks of His faithfulness.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard, (Psalm 19:1-3).

Link: Complete Blog Post

Too Great and Marvelous

Contentment
Tim Keller

[1] O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
[2] But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

[3] O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.

– Psalm 131

The believer realizes that the reason God’s actions are often opaque is not because we are wise and he is foolish, but because he is too “great” and “wonderful” for us.

Link: Complete Blog Post

A Psalm of Praise

Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eugene Peterson

[7] When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
[8] Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
[9] But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

– Jonah 2:7-9

The commonest form of prayer in the Psalms is the lament.  It is what we would expect, since it is our commonest condition.  We are in trouble a lot, so we pray in the lament form a lot.  A graduate of the Psalms School of Prayer would know this form best of all, by sheer force of repetition.

Jonah in the belly of the fish was in the worst trouble imaginable.  We naturally expect him to pray a lament.  What we get, though, is its opposite, a psalm of praise, in the standard thanksgiving form.

Circumstances dictated “lament.”  But prayer, while influenced by circumstances, is not determined by them.  Jonah, creative in his praying, chose to pray in the form “praise.”

A School of Prayer

Under the Unpredictable Plant
Eugene Peterson

[1] Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, [2] saying,

“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
[3] For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
[4] Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
[5] The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
[6] at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
[7] When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
[8] Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
[9] But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

– Jonah 2:1-9

That Jonah prayed is not remarkable; we commonly pray when we are in desperate circumstances.  But there is something very remarkable about the way Jonah prayed.  He prayed a “set” prayer.  Jonah’s prayer is not spontaneously original self-expression.  It is totally derivative.  Jonah had been to school to learn to pray, and he prayed as he had been taught.  His school was the Psalms.

JOnah-620x335Line by line Jonah’s prayer is furnished with the stock vocabulary of the Psalms:

  • “my distress” from 18:6 and 120:1
  • “Sheol” from 18:4-5
  • “all thy waves and thy billows passed over me” from 42:7
  • “from thy presence” from 139:7
  • “upon thy holy temple” from 5:7
  • “the waters closed in over me” from 69:2
  • “my life from the Pit” from 30:3
  • “my soul fainted within me” from 142:3
  • “into thy holy temple” from 18:6
  • “deliverance belongs to the Lord” from 3:8

And more.  Not a word in the prayer is original.  Jonah got every word – lock, stock, and barrel – out of his Psalms book.

But it is not only a matter of vocabulary, having words at hand for prayer.  The form is also derivative.  For the last hundred years scholars have given careful attention to the particular form that the psalms take (form criticism) and have arranged them in two large categories, laments and thanksgivings.  The categories correspond to the two large conditions in which we humans find ourselves, distress and well-being.  Depending on circumstance and the state of our soul, we cry out in pain or burst forth with praise.  The categories have subdivisions, each form identifiable by its stock opening, middle, and ending.  The rhythms are set.  The vocabulary is assigned.

This is amazing.  Prayer, which we often suppose is truest when most spontaneous – the raw expression of our human condition without contrivance or artifice – shows up in Jonah when he is in the rarest condition imaginable as learned.  Our surprise lessens when we consider language itself: we begin with inarticulate cries and coos, but after years of learning we become capable of crafting sonnets.  Are infant sounds more honest than Shakespeare’s sonnets?  They are both honest, but the sonnets have far more experience in them.  Honesty is essential in prayer, but we are after more.  We are after as much of life as possible – all of life if possible – brought to expression in answering God.  That means learning a form of prayer adequate to the complexity of our lives.