- Hebrews 6:4-12
- 1Samuel 3
My dear friends in Christ, GK Chesterton wrote:
It is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.
John Bunyan writes in The Pilgrim’s Progress about the battle in which the main character, Christian, faced Apollyon. This battle was fierce during which Christian was wounded. The dragon stood over Christian and trod on him with his heavy foot. Sneeringly Apollyon hissed, “I am sure I’ve got you now!” Christian reached out for his sword and quoted the words of Michael 7:8: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” (Micah 7:8, NIV) He gave his enemy a deadly thrust and Apollyon flew away. The story goes on: “Then there came to him a hand, with some of the leaves of the tree of life, the which Christian took, and applied to the wounds that he had received in the battle, and was healed immediately.”
This of course is allegory—with rich meaning to Christians nonetheless.
The history covered by 1Samuel 1-4 describes a state when Apollyon had his foot on the chest of the Church of Christ. But, victory belongs to the Lord.
Dark, silent times
Chapter 3:1 paints a bleak picture:
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. (1 Samuel 3:1, NIV)
Imagine a church without a message. No hope, no future, no joy, no freedom—just doubt and a burning conscience that God’s righteousness can’t be satisfied; just gloom with the prospect of death. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.”
I conducted a service in a funeral parlour. After the service the funeral director approached me with these words: “This was the first time in quite some while that I heard the Bible read with a sermon based on it.”
We learnt last week that the sons of Eli did not know the Lord and despised the sacrifice of the Lord. In practical terms what they did was to obstruct the way between God and his people and, as such, they withheld salvation from the people.
It was the same in the time before the Reformation 500 years ago. The Roman Church withheld salvation from the people; the Gospel was seldomly preached while priests enriched themselves with offerings which replaced the grace of God in Christ to forgive sins. Thousands upon thousands of people died spiritually starved. Add to this the thousands of martyrs who resisted these hellish practices, and we look at a dark period of Apollyon having his foot on the chest of the Church.
Sadly, it’s happening again in our day—in churches who claim to be protestant. Preachers of the World even today will keep their congregations occupied with pop psychology and New Age teaching of self-improvement, rather than preaching the Gospel of grace that transforms and sets free because it is founded in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ Jesus.
Forty years ago General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church of Australia were void of the Word of God. We heard that what we experienced in Toowoomba during the Assembly meeting last week when we heard the Gospel call with clarity proclaimed—Oh!, how glorious were the Bible expositions, we didn’t want it to stop—and how wonderful the prayers before and during all the reports—these things hardly happened during an Assembly before 1977. It was all about social mission, and what the church had to do to stay in step with the world around it. But then God spoke, and godly men, under the Word, decided to stay on, to reform what needed to be reformed, to remain true to the Scriptures. And out of a handful who chose to take this step, God is building his church. A Catholic priest recently remarked: “You Presbyterians get to the heart of the matter – you speak of Christ and a crucified Saviour.” On the other hand a liberal theologian remarked, “I was Presbyterian once, that was my kindergarten faith, but we gave up all that bibliolatry when we started reading.” But may we continue in the words of a remark of an Orthodox priest: “You Presbyterians, you know what you believe in, and you say it.”
Would I want to be in a church where I can’t preach the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ? Thousand times “NO!” And may God grant me grace when Apollyon stands with his foot on my chest to, with the last bit of energy I have, plunge the sword of the Word in his chest.
Things got so bad that in Samuel’s time, as the Bible records, God wanted to kill Hophni and Phinehas. God, still in control and watching over his church, had to step in for his own glory, because if his church does not have his Word to feed on, they have nothing to fight the battle with.
It is almost as if there is a second layer of meaning in verse two:
Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. (1 Samuel 3:2, NIV)
He became spiritually blind too. Even if there was a vision of God he would not be able to see it. Indeed, he did not hear God call that night. What a state for the church to be in! He was sleeping in his usual place, or his own place (ESV). Even this remark has some double meaning: he was not even close to the ark, the meeting place between God and his people.
Breaking the silence
Verse three has a double meaning too:
The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. (1 Samuel 3:3, NIV)
The lamp of God had not yet gone out. What a glorious verse! There was spiritual darkness all over. Our chapter further on speaks of death, destruction, and even sins so bad that there was no atonement for it. But here there was still light.
And then God speaks! The Word of the Lord was scares, but now He speaks. Most important are the details recorded in this verse: He spoke to the servant He was raising up for Himself, young Samuel, who was resting in the temple of the Lord, right there where the ark was.
Eli had long given up sleeping there, but the young Samuel receive his first vision right there where God symbolically dwelled with his people.
We have to understand that revival and reformation is not something man can instigate. God did it then, and ever since He has given new life to his church when He revealed Himself in his Word—and let’s add to that, the Word-made-flesh, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Today we long to see that God once again visit us with a spiritual revival, to bring new life his church, but before we have not made our beds around the throne of God, and before we haven not found ourselves on our knees with the prayer, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears” it might remain a distant dream.
See, there is no ark anymore, there is no temple anymore. In its place we have a living Saviour. He is our ark, our meeting place, our holiest of holy, our atonement, and He dwelt with us as a human being, yet He never sinned. He is our new High Priest. Hophni and Phinehas failed, our High Priest accomplished the mission. He is our mission, our message, our purpose, our Founder and Perfecter. When we proclaim Him only, when his mission is our only goal, He builds his church.
But like in the time of young Samuel, we need to proclaim his message with clarity and without fear. What a first message Samuel had: the young boy, withholding nothing what God reveals to him, look the old Eli in the eye and told him everything, including this:
Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ” (1 Samuel 3:14, NIV)
Was it easy for Samuel? No, “He was afraid to tell Eli the vision” (1 Samuel 3:15, NIV). Yet, he did!
That’s where reformation starts: when we boldly and obediently proclaim God’s revealed will. Many reformers paid with there lives for doing so, as did the prophets of God in the Old Testament. But they died in the Lord, victoriously! Their blood became the seed of the church. And maybe this is what we are called for in our day.
A new beginning
I believe there is symbolic meaning hidden in this text:
Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. (1 Samuel 3:15, NIV)
The doors of the temple swung open that morning. God was amongst his people again. No longer was the will of God kept from his people: They were welcomed in again!
What a wonderful verse this is:
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. (1 Samuel 3:19, NIV)
Samuel’s words were the words of God. Where God speaks new life happens:
And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. (1 Samuel 3:20, NIV)
And then these words:
The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. (1 Samuel 3:21, NIV)
There was life again: God is in his temple, his Word is heard, and people worshipped Him. There is no other way to reformation.
My dear brother and sister, may I ask, “Is all you see today in Australia the foot of Apollyon on the chest of the church?” Is there perhaps some despondency, a hopelessness living in your mind when you think about the Gospel message and the future of the church?
Take heart. Stand up! God has broken the silence in Christ and the Word of the Lord is the sword in this battle, being made alive through the power of the Holy Spirit. You are called into battle; the outcome is sure, we are on the winning side! Blood might flow, lives may be on the line, but the victory of the cross is sure. Proclaim the Word and without ceasing pray for those who preach the Word.
God has broken the silence: listen to his voice! Here am I Lord, speak for your servant listens.
Sermon preached by Rev. D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 25 June 2017