Remember what we are celebrating this Christmas

Recently, I came across this quote by C.S. Lewis. He says,

“In the Christian story, God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the height of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He does down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.” — C.S. Lewis

I believe Lewis is right. Jesus does descend to reascend. He descends as a humble babe born in a manger, but He reascends into heaven as our Savior and King. As we enter the Christmas season, we need to remember that’s what we are celebrating.

We are celebrating Christ

Jesus is the Savior, the One who by His death humble provides eternal life. May we remember that this Christmas season. When we remember Jesus, may we be reoriented away from the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season back to Christ, so that we keep Christ in Christmas.

Shine as lights to the world

The reasons we want to keep Christ in Christmas is so that we will be driven to shine as lights in the world. Christmas is an opportunity for us to be a witness for Christ, so let’s take that opportunity. Let’s make it a point to shine as bright as the lights on our tree and houses to the world for Christ during this season.

Along with keeping Christ in Christmas and shining as lights in the world, may we also remember the hope we have in Jesus.

The hope we have in Jesus

You see, Advent is also a season of longing and hope. A season of longing for our Savior’s return, and a season of hope knowing He will return.

So this Christmas remember Christ, shine as lights, and long for His return. As a church, let’s help one another do that this Christmas season.

Question for Reflection

  1. How do you keep Christ in front of yourself, your church, or your family this Christmas season?

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In What Ways Might We Be Self-Deceived?

I’ve always been interested in documentaries. My family, however, doesn’t share the same love for them as I do, so I typically have to wait until they make a trip to see my wife’s parents to watch one.

While I don’t get to watch them as much now, growing up I watched documentaries all the time. Over the years, I’ve seen a number of them on Area 51 in Roswell, New Mexico. It’s interesting to consider the top secret work that’s being done there, even if it seems a bit far-fetched to think our military is hiding and testing alien spacecraft on and around that base.

But what’s far-fetched to one, isn’t to another. If you have ever watched those documentaries, you know there are always a few folks the producers are able to find who truly believe aliens exist, and they and their spacecraft are being tested in Area 51. Listening to these folks talk, we would, or at least I would say they are self-deceived. They clearly believe something that’s false to be true.

While it might be easy to say alien conspiracy theorists are self-deceived, they aren’t the only ones who we might consider to be self-deceived. Saul, the first king of the nation of Israel, was self-deceived. No, he didn’t believe in aliens, but he did believe some things about himself that weren’t true. If we are honest, we like Saul can believe things about ourselves that aren’t true either. Maybe the same things Saul believed about himself. With that in mind, let’s look at the ways in which Saul was self-deceived.

In What Ways was Saul Self-Deceived?

1 Samuel 15 presents one episode in Saul’s life that sheds some light on the subject of self-deception. In the beginning of chapter 15, Samuel, who is a prophet, comes to Saul and says,

“…“The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”” (1 Sa 15:1–3)

Saul failed to follow the Lord’s command

Saul was initially obedient. He did gather 210,000 men for battle. He did besiege and ultimately chase the Amalekites all the way to Shur, in an effort to destroy them (vs 7). While he did those things, he didn’t complete the Lord’s task. Look at the text starting in verse 8,

“And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.” (1 Sa 15:8–9)

So while Saul was initially obedient, he failed to completely obey God. He spared the life of King Agag, the best sheep, oxen, and calves.

Saul’s actions didn’t please God.

In fact, God was so displeased with Saul that starting in verse 11 He says to Samuel,

 ““I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” (1 Sa 15:11a)

Having regretted His actions, God sends Samuel to tell Saul what He was thinking. This is where we start to get into the ways in which Saul was self-deceived.

The ways in which Saul is self-deceived

(1) He believes he is more obedient than he really is

In verse 12 we learn that:

“…Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.” And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”” (1 Sa 15:12–13)

In their initial exchange, we learn that Saul thinks he has been obedient. He really believes himself because he proudly proclaims to Samuel that he’s done what God asked. But Samuel knows Saul hasn’t obeyed. He lets Saul know he knows with a well-placed question. Look at verse 14,

“What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”” (1 Sa 15:14)

I mean talk about busting someone’s bubble. Saul, experiencing that starts to try to recover. In verse 15, “Saul said,…

“They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.”” (1 Sa 15:15)

The way in which Saul tries to recover is to shift the blame to the people he is supposed to be leading. But Samuel didn’t want to hear it. In verse 16 he says,

“Stop! [basically, I don’t want to hear your excuses, Saul. Then he proceeds to tell him what the Lord had said to him the night before] … And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”” (1 Sa 15:16–19)

And…

“…Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”” (1 Sa 15:20-21)

You see, Saul doesn’t get it. Even though he has clearly disobeyed God, he still thinks he has done what he was supposed to do, which tells us that Saul is self-deceived. He believes he has fulfilled the Lord’s commands when clearly he hasn’t.

While this was Saul’s error, it’s not uncommon today for us to be self-deceived when it comes to our own obedience. As one commentator notes:

“Christians will often declare themselves obedient to God in any number of matters — in the doctrine they espouse, their approach to financial stewardship, sexual purity, marital faithfulness, church membership, worship, evangelism, Sabbath observance, and more — when in fact their conduct does not line up with the Bible’s teaching.” [1]

Just like Saul didn’t listen to and obey God’s Word, we have a tendency to do the same. We hear what we want to hear. What is convenient for us at the time. But when we do that we are making and living by our own rules, not God’s.

Along with that, when we refuse to follow the Lord’s will, we aren’t pleasing Him. The only thing that truly pleases God is when we live obedient lives. Lives modeled after His Word. Then and only then are we truly worshiping God. Samuel points that out in verse 22 when he says,

““Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Sa 15:22)

Worshipping God, then, isn’t just about us gathering together on Sunday, singing songs, and listening to a sermon. Worshipping God involves us obediently following His commands. That’s what God takes delight in. Not us going through the motions of gathering each week or halfway obeying His commands. Samuel makes that even more clear in verse 23 when he says,

“Rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Sa 15:23a)

You see, living in outright rebellion or slightly rebelling against God is the same thing. Halfway obeying God’s commands like Saul did makes it no better than someone who practices divination or idolatry. In each case, we are disobeying God. As those who are disobedient, we don’t deserve His praise instead we deserve His punishment. So when we make up our own set of rules and follow them, or twist God’s commands to suit our own way of life, God is not pleased. If we think He is, we are self-deceived.

You see, God wants our hearts, our desire, our entire life to be in line with His will. That’s what truly pleases Him and that’s when we truly worship Him.

(2) He believed he’s a better leader than he really is

We read this earlier, but remember when Samuel confronted him. What did Saul do? He immediately shifted the blame to the people he was supposed to be leading. But that’s not the sign of a good leader. Good leaders take responsibility for their failures. They don’t blame shift. But because Saul was self-deceived about his obedience, he wasn’t able to take responsibility for his failure to lead.

I think that is the same with us. If we aren’t willing to admit our failures, our disobedience, we aren’t going to be good leaders either. We are always going to think it’s someone else’s fault instead of our own. So unless we can get to the place where we are willing to admit our own mistakes, our own sin, we aren’t going to be good leaders. We might think we are, but we aren’t.

Consequences of a self-deceived life

As a result of Saul’s failed obedience and leadership, God not only regretted making him king, but God took his position from him. So we see that there are consequences to living a self-deceived life. Often times, those consequences affect more than just us, they affect those around us as well. The nation Saul was supposed to be leading, ended up suffering from years of Saul trying to hold onto the position God had taken from him. As well as Saul suffered himself. So living a self-deceived life doesn’t pay. It’s much better to admit your sin and failures and deal with it.

We aren’t perfect

You see, we aren’t perfect people. Instead, we are imperfect, unholy sinners who have been made holy by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. That doesn’t mean we should strive to be perfect like Jesus, it just means that we aren’t. So there is no shame in admitting your imperfections, repenting of them, and asking God to help you follow His will.

Don’t repeat Saul’s mistakes. Instead, learn from them and do the opposite. Admit your sin, your inability to lead, and turn to God who can and will strengthen you for the task He has given you.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you believe yourself to be more obedient than you really are? Or do you recognize that you aren’t perfect, that you do sin against God and others, and that you do need to repent and rely on the Holy Spirit to empower you to follow God?
  2. Do you believe yourself to be a better leader than you really are? Do you always blame others for failed ventures rather than yourself? Or do you recognize that you probably fail from time to time and it’s your fault that you failed?

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[1]  Richard Phillips, 1 Samuel, 237.

What should we think of God’s command to destroy an entire nation?

In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins says,

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

But is this true? Is God who Dawkins makes Him out to be? In order to understand where Dawkins is coming from, we need to look at what the Bible says. One of the events to which he might be referring is God’s command to destroy the Amalekites.

Destroy the Amalekites

The nation of Israel first encountered the Amalekites when they were wandering around in the desert. They were at a place called Rephidim and the Amalekites attacked them. This was the battle where God had Moses hold his hands up. When his hands were up, the Israelites would prevail, but when they went down, the Amalekites would prevail. Ultimately, with the help of Aaron and Hur holding up his hands, the Amalekites were defeated (Ex 17:8-13).

After the battle was over, God promised that one day He would destroy the Amalekites. In Exodus 17:14 God said to Moses,

““Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”” (Ex 17:14)

By the time we get to 1 Samuel 15, God was ready to make good on that promise.

“…“The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”” (1 Sa 15:1–3)

When we read this, we might think that is a bit extreme. Some, like Dawkins, may even go so far as to call God an unjust Tyrant for not only destroying the military, but the whole nation — women, children, and cattle. Every last thing was to be destroyed.

What should we think of God’s command to destroy the entire nation?

As we think through God’s command, we need to keep several things in mind.

(1) We don’t deserve God’s mercy.

You see, we are all sinners. Paul confirms this when he says in Romans 3:23,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Ro 3:23)

When we talk about sin, what we are actually talking about is us living in rebellion to God. Rebellion means that we reject God’s way of doing things for our own way of doing things.

All those who live in rebellion against God are sinners who deserve God’s punishment. Paul makes this clear in Romans 6:23 when he says…

“…the wages of sin is death…” (Ro 6:23)

In other words, the payment we deserve for our sin is eternal punishment.

What these verses tell us, then, is that we don’t deserve salvation. Instead, we deserve condemnation. But, and this is a very big beneficial but, because our God is merciful, He doesn’t always give us what we deserve. Instead, God gives us what we don’t deserve. He gives us salvation from sin, death, and ultimately His punishment. Everyone who calls themselves a Christian has experienced God’s mercy and grace because we are all getting what we don’t deserve.

(2) God is a patient with us 

One of the reasons we experience God’s mercy is because He is patient with us. If God wanted, He could have destroyed us the moment we took our first breath. That’s because we are born sinners. No one is innocent. Honestly, God could destroy us the moment our life begins and still be just. God’s holy and His holiness requires Him to deal with sin. In destroying us, we would be dealing with our sin. Thankfully, God doesn’t destroy us the moment we are born, and He doesn’t because He’s patient.

God’s patience explains why those in Israel’s day were allowed to live. While God was determined to destroy the Amalekites and the other nations Israel encountered in the land of Canaan — the Promised Land — he didn’t destroy them right away. For hundreds of years, He allowed them to chase after other gods, commit injustices, and live by their own wisdom. It wasn’t until the cup of God’s wrath was full that He used Israel as His instrument to destroy them.

(3) God uses others to execute His punishment

That’s what we see in 1 Samuel 15. God uses Israel as His instrument to not only punish the Amalekites, but also the Canaanites, and all the other nations in the Promised Land who deserved His wrath.

The Patient Daming of God’s Wrath

John MacArthur, in his sermon The Wrath of God, uses an illustration from Barnhouse to explain God’s patience, His wrath, and ultimately His offer of salvation in Christ. He says,

In His eternal foreknowledge, God the Father foresaw all of the sin that would be committed after the time of Christ, your sin and my sin, and He stored His wrath against it behind the dam of His patience.  And the wrath of God against sin that even today has not yet been committed is also stored up waiting for the day when His patience shall burst into its holy end.  “For thousands of years, that dam has held and God has held back His wrath.  Occasionally throughout human history He stooped to dip His hand into the pent up flood and pour a few drops of wrath on some especially vicious outbreak of rebellion.  But for the most part, God seemed to overlook the sins of man in the centuries before the cross.  It looked maybe as if sin was tolerated, but it was just piling up.”

You know, the dam broke one day, and it broke at Calvary.  And it broke on Christ and drowned Him in all the sea of sin.  And it will break again, and it will drown all those men who are not in Christ.  Christ took the judgment for those who believe.  For those who do not believe, they will take their own judgment.  And the wrath of God awaits them.  Because they hold the truth, no matter what they claim, but they hold it, and suppress it because of their sin.

So we see that God isn’t an unjust Tyrant. Instead, He’s a patient, merciful, and gracious God, who eventually gives us what we deserve, if we don’t repent and turn to Christ.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you believe God is an unjust Tyrant or a patient and merciful heavenly Father who gives us what we don’t deserve?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon Portraits of Israel – Saul

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