What do you think is the "normal Christian life"?
I can vividly remember thinking about that, not long after I had left the university, in the mid-sixties. I was sitting reading on the veranda of a lovely colonial-style house on a beautiful tea-estate in Uganda, owned by a generous Christian couple. Uganda had recently acquired its freedom. And this particular situation seemed near to heaven.
However, I knew that this idyllic experience couldn't be classed as the "normal Christian life". For this was just after I'd come to Uganda with Southern Sudanese students for a Christian conference while working in the Sudan with CMS (the Church Mission Society – seconded to the American Presbyterians).
And the conference was soon after the Christian Secondary School in Omdurman, where I was teaching many Muslim boys and a few Southerners, had been destroyed. This was by hundreds of invading Islamic youths wanting to attack our fine black Arab, Northern Sudanese, Christian headmaster.
Then not long after that, our mission centre in the centre of Khartoum was reduced literally to rubble. This time scores of thousands had gone onto the streets of Khartoum, Omdurman and Khartoum North.
So on that veranda, for once and for all, I was aware that highs and lows are all part of the life of the believer. And we can see that in Old Testament times tonight in the case of David, the King of Israel from 2 Samuel 5.
And my headings are: first, THE NEED FOR PERSEVERANCE, secondly, THE NEED OF FAITH FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE; and, thirdly, THE NEED TO WATCH AND PRAY
So first, THE NEED FOR PERSEVERANCE
Look at verses 5.1-5:
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, "Behold, we are your bone and flesh. 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.'" 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. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah for seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years. (2 Samuel 5.1-5)
You have to realize the context for this. After God's people had escaped from slavery in Egypt and settled in the Promised Land, Saul was appointed king to guard them against attack by their warring neighbours. But he failed. So while Saul was still alive, David, a mere boy, was anointed King in waiting in a private ceremony by the prophet Samuel. A little older, after killing the Philistine Goliath and becoming a national hero, David was a commander in Saul's army. But, then, out of jealousy he was outlawed by Saul. So David now had to live dangerously and often rough until Saul's death.
David was then anointed King (again) by his supporters at Hebron in the South, but just as King over Judah. But Saul's followers in the North still continued their opposition. That was until Saul's son, Ishbosheth, and his senior commander Abner were both killed. Then the leaders of the Northern tribes came to Hebron, as our passage says, and "anointed David King over Israel" (verse 3). David was now king of both the North and South - the King of all Israel. But do you see what was involved in getting to that Kingship? Answer: years of being an Internally Displaced Person and on the run from Saul - and with highs and lows.
One of the lows was that God's plan for David to become King had taken 20 years. You see, from the human side God's work often doesn't give instant results. Wilberforce in the 19th century spent a life-time trying to achieve the abolition of the slave trade and slavery. Josephine Butler, another 19th century Christian reformer, spent her life in seeking to remove Contagious Diseases Acts, which far from reducing prostitution and STD's, increased them and demeaned women. So don't be surprised if it takes time to remove the shameful Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.
Perhaps, you are praying for something important, and you want it immediately, but nothing is happening. Well, if what you are praying for is right, God may simply be saying, "wait". He may be wanting to teach you lessons. David had to learn to wait and he learned a lot while waiting, as you can see from his Psalms.
Above all David learnt the vital lesson of how to face hardship. In Ps 56 – a Psalm when the Philistines had earlier seized David in Gath – he could write (verse 11):
"In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 56.11)
I can remember before my trip to Uganda, at a confirmation in the Khartoum Cathedral (that was), the Bishop of the Sudan preached on Hebrews 13.6, where Psalm 56.11 is quoted and says:
"The Lord is my helper,
I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13.6)
And the Bishop applied it to the terrible situation in the South Sudan then – in 1965, exactly 50 years ago – with Christians being persecuted for their faith and killed.
So, God's working often takes time and you have to wait and it is hard. But with God's help and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can learn how to persevere and not give up.
We must move on secondly to THE NEED OF FAITH FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE (or that's how it seems).
Look at verses 6-10:
And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, "You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off"—thinking, "David cannot come in here." Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. And David said on that day, "Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack 'the lame and the blind,' who are hated by David's soul." Therefore it is said, "The blind and the lame shall not come into the house." And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all round from the Millo inwards. And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him. (2 Samuel 5.6-10)
The details of this are not totally clear but the gist is clear enough. David was now King of all Israel. It was politically unwise to make Judean Hebron the capital city. So in God's providence Jerusalem, which is in the South but in the tribal area of Benjamin (Saul's tribe), was the place chosen for political unity. But humanly, securing Jerusalem seemed impossible.
In the earlier Israelite conquest of the Canaanite territories, the Jebusites had never been dislodged from Jerusalem. They had a rock fortress with sheer rock faces to it. It seemed impossible to get to them. That's why the Jebusites taunted any aggressors with the words, "the blind and the lame will ward you off."
However, the Jebusite stronghold had an amazing series of water tunnels and shafts for its water supply. So somehow David, with God's wisdom, saw a possibility of getting into the fortress by the water ducts. And his men did just that. Humanly speaking the Jebusites were right in their thinking that (verse 6) "David cannot come in here". But verse 7 immediately goes on:
"Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is the city of David". (5.7)
And the reason is there in verse 10:
"David became greater and greater [beginning with that amazing feat and then his subsequent building project of verse 9], for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him." (5.10)
Who is facing some seemingly impossible situation at the moment? If God is with you, as Jesus said (Luke 18.27), "What is impossible with man is possible with God." Jesus was saying that in respect of money and a truth we learnt at the end of last year. It was when we urgently needed £700,000 from the November Gift Week before the end of the year. That meant we could sign contracts. But we were still short of the target. However, just in time an external donor gave us £40,000 and we were soon there. And we learnt how Hudson Taylor, the founder of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, was so right. He once said, "every great work for God is first impossible, then difficult and then done!"
But do underline that real secret of David's success in verse 10. It was that "the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him." When facing the impossible you need faith not only in "a great God" with whom "nothing is impossible". But you need faith in a great God who also is ever present with you. In Hebrews 13, before quoting Psalm 56, the writer quotes Joshua 1 verse 5 where God says to Joshua, "I will not leave you or forsake you." So Hebrews 13.5-6 reads:
"Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for he [God] has said [this is Joshua 1.5]: 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say [with Ps 56.11], 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13.5-6)
So when you are facing something seemingly quite impossible, remember David. And remember Hebrews 13. And remember, of course, those final words of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel for believers in every age:
"Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28.20).
Let's move on thirdly, to THE NEED TO WATCH AND PRAY.
Look at verses 11-15:
And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also carpenters and masons who built David a house. And David knew that the LORD had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel. And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David. And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, 16 Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet. (2 Samuel 5.11-15)
We have just seen how that promise to Joshua of God's presence in Hebrews 13.5 is in the context of a warning against the love of money. Well, the previous verse to that verse is a warning regarding marriage and sex. For Hebrews 13.4 says:
Let marriage be held in honour among all [and not just believers], and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. [Then it goes on] Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he [God] has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13.4)
With regard to temptations from money and the success that it brings, David did well. In our passage, we may assume Hiram (king of one of the great business centres of the Ancient world, Tyre), was trying to woo David's friendship and form an alliance. Hiram realized that David was making Israel something of a super-power in the region. So he sent "carpenters and masons who built David a house". And you can be sure that wasn't just a Tyneside flat! It was a house fit for a King. But David did not let it go to his head. Verse 12 says he gave all the honour to the Lord for being a successful king. It says this:
"And David knew that the LORD had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel."
David realised that his present position was all due to God's grace. And he was there for the sake of others, not for his own ego but "for the sake of his people Israel."
Some of you who are younger here tonight, one day (unless Christ first returns), will get to the top in this country (or another country) in your various professions or businesses. When you are there, thank God that he has "established you" in that position. But remember that you have got there by God giving you gifts and talents in the first place and then by putting you in the right place at the right time on so many occasions. And remember you are there not primarily for your own sake but "for the sake" of whoever you are over. Like David that is to show Christ-like humility. For Jesus told us he came not to be served but to serve. So David resisted the temptations of wealth and success.
However, David didn't do so well in the bedroom. Verse 13 tells of all his concubines and wives. But this was in violation of the divine decree to Israel's future kings not to "acquire many wives" (Deut 17.17). Sadly as you read on in Samuel and the early part of 1 Kings you find out that this was David's Achilles' heel or great weakness – the control of his sexual instincts. And that was especially so in the case of Bathsheba, one of those "wives from Jerusalem". And the result for David was domestic chaos and national crisis.
Don't think that royalty's, politicians' or other public persons' sexual behaviour has no affect on public life. It had then. It has now. Remember that as you vote this summer. Lord Nolan, the first Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, needs to be heeded. He said:
"Of all the behaviour which in my personal experience has caused the greatest misery to other human beings, I would put adultery pretty high on the list. I don't actually think you can expect a man with the strains of public life to perform adequately unless he has got a good home life to go back to."
Of course, David was just following the crowd. That is a number one danger. Ancient kings, like some modern pop stars, politicians and top business people, thought sex was a perk of the job. True, David hadn't heard (as others in the Old Testament hadn't heard) Jesus' teaching on marriage and sex (for example in Mark 10.2-12). For today's world and for all time, Jesus is clear that sexual intercourse is to be reserved exclusively for heterosexual monogamous marriage. And how that message needs to be heard in our sexualized and pornographic culture.
But Jesus was simply explaining the Old Testament teaching in Genesis. On any count, there was no excuse for what David did with Bathsheba and the murder of Bathsheba's husband. Yes, temptations regarding sex and money come to God's people as they seek to promote his kingdom, now, as then. So with regard to any temptation, as Jesus taught in the Lord's Prayer, pray that you are not led into temptation but deliverance from evil. And as he told the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, "watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Matthew 26.41).
Of course, if you have failed in any area, remember that there is forgiveness through Christ as this Holy Communion service reminds you. Read Psalm 51 that we are told David wrote seeking forgiveness and cleansing after sleeping with Bathsheba. And if you are here and have never, ever, yet gone to Christ for forgiveness and new life, why not do that tonight? Remember that he died for you and your sins and wants to give you new life and power by his Holy Spirit.
I must conclude
I do so by drawing attention to verses 17-25 but with just one comment. They tell you about David having new battles with the Philistines. He might have thought that now I am King all will be different. There will be peace and quiet.
But, no! Not only were the temptations the same, but the opposition and attacks and challenges were the same. Like all of us David had to wait for that totally new age about which David knew only a little (but some - see Psalm 16.10-11 for that).
However, Christ and the Apostles have told us much more; and that is that when Christ returns, John's vision will become a reality – that vision of Revelation 21 where John writes of the New Jerusalem, when God …
" … will wipe away every tear … , and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
Until then God's kingdom on earth means that the normal Christian life will be hard and needs perseverance; it will demand what sometimes seems impossible but we must trust God who is with us; and there will be temptations over money and sex, so we must pray and be watchful.
And for that perseverance and for our encouragement, let's remember that wonderful New Testament promise in Hebrews 13.5-6 where God says:
"I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13.5-6)