Sermon notes 06-13-21 Becoming What God Sees
1Samuel 15:34-16:13 34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35 And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.”9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here. 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
Mark 4:26-34 26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
If you happened to hear my message last week you know that it was about death, and what happens to Christians when we die. As eternally important as that subject is, you may remember I said that I prefer to preach about the great fulfillment and joy and peace that are ours in this life through being followers of Jesus Christ.
The Scriptures that Lois just read for us lend themselves to doing just that; in fact, my message today could in some ways be regarded as the prequel to last week’s message. The good news I want to share with you today is that, before we and our loved ones who trust in Christ for salvation spend eternity together in his presence (which was our subject last week), we can have great fulfillment and joy and peace in this earthly life through being followers of Jesus Christ.
I especially want to focus this morning on that word fulfillment and how God brings fulfillment to our lives in ways that are mysterious and surprising, often without us even being aware that God is working, until seemingly all of a sudden, we realize we have become what only God could have seen in us. I hope we will also see that while it is God who works to bring fulfillment to our lives, our role is not entirely passive; there are things for us to do while God is working. The process of becoming what only God sees requires our cooperation.
Both of our Scripture passages this morning can be seen as examples of people and things becoming what only God could have seen. One passage is about someone who is anointed as an earthly king, the other is about the kingdom of God. If we read between and a bit beyond the lines of these passages, we can observe the human cooperation that allows for the fulfillment of God’s purposes in our lives.
The passage from 1 Samuel introduces one of the most famous characters in the Bible, King David … but at this point in David’s life, he is anything but famous and he seems like the last person who would ever become a king. The passage begins with Samuel grieving and God regretting. The object of their grief and regret is Saul, whom God had selected and Samuel had anointed as the first king of Israel. The reason for their grief and regret is that Saul had shown himself to be unfaithful and had proven to be completely unqualified to remain as king. But the Lord tells Samuel to stop his grieving and he instructs Samuel to prepare to anoint a new king that the Lord will provide from among the sons of a man of Bethlehem named Jesse.
The Scripture says, Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. After assuring the elders of the city that they need not fear his presence, Samuel invites Jesse and his sons to a sacrificial feast. Per the Lord’s instructions, Samuel has his horn filled with oil ready to anoint the new king, and he naturally assumes that Eliab, the firstborn son of Jesse and perhaps the tallest and strongest, is the one God will have him anoint. But the Lord has other plans. [He says] to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. And then the Lord says these profound words: For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
So, Jesse calls his next oldest son to come before Samuel, and then the next, but each time Samuel tells Jesse that the Lord has not chosen this one. This is repeated seven times, until there are no more sons of Jesse present to pass before Samuel. At this point we can imagine that Samuel is undoubtedly extremely puzzled and perplexed. After all, the Lord had told him that he would provide for himself a king from among the sons of Jesse. So Samuel asks Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” Jesse responds by informing Samuel that he has one more son, the youngest one, but he is keeping the sheep.
Notice that this youngest son, whose name we have not been told at this point in the story, was not considered important enough even to attend the feast. He was left to attend to the job that only the lowliest of the sons would have been given, keeping the sheep. But Samuel tells Jesse that the feast will not commence until the youngest son comes. So Jesse sends for him, and when he does come, the Lord tells Samuel to arise and anoint him, right there in the midst of his older brothers, and we finally learn that his name is David when the Spirit of the Lord rushes on him.
In our Gospel passage Jesus tells two parables that also illustrate things becoming what only God could have seen. Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of God, which is not a geographical place but is rather about God’s presence and power becoming a reality within the world and within the lives of God’s people.
The first parable is about the mysterious way that a grain of wheat sown in the ground sprouts and grows and over time develops into a mature plant ripe for harvest. The second parable is about another type of seed, a mustard seed, that was the smallest among the seeds commonly used by gardeners in ancient Israel, yet when sown grew into the largest of all the plants in the garden. The parables are similar to the story of David in that they emphasize small and obscure beginnings that result in remarkable and even miraculous growth to fulfill God’s purposes. In each case the results are what only God could have foreseen.
I said earlier that in both of these passages, we can observe the cooperation that allows for the fulfillment of God’s purposes. To observe this in the story of David’s anointing, we have to go beyond the passage itself to what we later learn about David. While he was tending the sheep, David was also honing his skills on the harp and with the sling. His skills on the harp led to him writing many songs of praise to God that are found in the book of Psalms, and we know of course that his skills with the sling combined with his faith in God allowed him to slay the giant Goliath. This insignificant shepherd boy would become the greatest king in the history of Israel, and the human ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the two parables of seed that develop into mature plants, it would seem on the surface that Jesus is describing a process that happens entirely without human involvement. He tells us that farmer “knows not how” the seed sprouts and grows and matures; it happens automatically. But notice that in each parable, it takes someone to scatter or sow the seed on the ground. In each case, the gardener or farmer has to act in faith that God will work in mysterious ways to make the seed become what only God could have foreseen. God’s purposes for the seed are fulfilled only when someone acts in faith that God will work to make the seed become what only God could make it become.
I want to a come toward a close by sharing one of my favorite verses of Scripture, one that I have sometimes claimed as my life verse, Psalm 138:8: The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. I love this verse because of the two-fold promise that the Lord has a purpose for my life, and that He will fulfill it. I love this verse too for what it does not say. It does not say that I need to figure out the purpose of my life; it simply assures me that the Lord has one. I understand this verse to mean as well that only when the Lord fulfills his purpose for my life will I experience what it means to have true fulfillment in life.
But I do not take these promises for granted. I believe that without my cooperation, I can miss out on God’s purposes for my life, by being unfaithful, by being disobedient, by resisting the nudging of the Holy Spirit, by making life about me and my plans and purposes rather than about God’s purpose for my life. At time I wonder if I have blown it.
But here’s what I know to be true. The Lord never gives up on us, but offers us second and third and thousands of chances to begin again to cooperate with his plans and his purposes. He will continue working to bring fulfillment to our lives, in ways that are mysterious and surprising, often without us even being aware that He is working, until one day, seemingly all of a sudden, we will realize we have become what only God could have seen in us … and our joy will be full. Thanks be to God. Amen.