Boldly Approaching while Desperately Clinging
by Jack Wald | November 9th, 2008

I Samuel 15:11, 35


If you are laying on the operating table with local anesthesia, here are four things you do not want to hear the doctor say. Better save that. We’ll need it for the autopsy. I wish I hadn’t forgotten my glasses. Wait a minute, if this is his spleen, then what’s that? Accept this sacrifice, O Great Lord of Darkness. There are three things a professor does not want to hear from one of his/her students. I missed class yesterday. So did you do anything important? I’m terribly sorry my paper wasn’t in on time. My dog ate my printer. A B-? I paid good money for that paper. You don’t want to hear the church youth pastor say either of these two things. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, two are in the police car… that’s everyone! I thought I had a firm hold of his ankles as we dangled him off of the roof. And the last thing you want to hear if you are king of Israel is: And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel. When I read through I Samuel, this verse jumped out at me. What a terrible judgement to hear. It is not that political rulers and kings and queens are unused to criticism. There has never been a politician whose approval rating has been 100%. If a politician has a 70% approval rating that is considered wonderful, but it means that there is still 30% of the population who disapprove of his or her performance. If you are a public figure, you have to get used to people not liking you or what you do. In fact, a good leader does not govern by polls. A good leader does what he or she thinks is right even if the action will be unpopular. But there is a difference between men and women disapproving of the job you are doing and God disapproving. There have been many who have not liked the job George Bush has done in the White House but what can they do about it? They can make fun of him. They can write editorials criticizing him. They can stand in front of the White House with signs and protest. But whatever they do, he is still president. They can vote for his opponent but this happens only every four years. They have very limited power to be used against the president of the US. He is, apparently, a very confident man and not bothered by criticism. What people think about him does not seem to matter. But if God appeared to George Bush and told him, “I am grieved that I ever allowed you to be president,” that would be a very different matter. As a child I learned this rhyme: Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. This is good advice, but it is limited to those who have no power over me. The more power someone has over me, the more it matters what they think of me. No one has more power over me than God who will determine my eternal state. I will spend eternity in heaven, in the presence of God or I will spend eternity in hell, away from the presence of God and all his redeeming qualities. It all depends on what God thinks of me. So it matters what God thinks of me. When we think of God, we tend to think of a kind old grandfather with a white beard and a gentle smile, bending down to pat his grandchildren on the head. We have a Sunday School view of God that is appropriate for young children but unhelpful for adults. The Biblical record is that God is terrifying. When Israel came to Mt. Sinai where Moses received the Law that would rule them, (Exodus 19:16-19) On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. We too would have been terrified. When the angel appeared to Zechariah to announce that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son in their old age, (Luke 1:12) he was gripped with fear. When the angels appeared to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem to announce the birth of Jesus, they were terrified.(Luke 2:9) When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the lake they were terrified.(Matthew 14:26) When Peter, James and John heard God speak to them at the Mount of Transfiguration where Jesus was revealed in his heavenly glory, (Matthew 17:6) they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. Jeremiah wrote (Jeremiah 10:10) But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath. The Sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 46 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. God who created the universe out of nothing can send what he created back to nothing. He blinks and you do not exist. It is as simple as that. A judge has power of life or death over you but his power is limited to this physical life. And as Augustine pointed out, a mushroom can kill us. So man has no more power over us than a mushroom. But God has the power to save us or condemn us for all of eternity. What God thinks of us matters. When God told Samuel that he grieved he had ever made Saul king of Israel, the language of this judgement was not new to the Biblical record. In Genesis 6 we read: The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” God was grieved he had made man on earth and what resulted? A flood that wiped out all men and women except those saved by the faith of Noah who built an ark in obedience to God. The fact that God grieved he had made Saul king of Israel was not at all good news for Saul. From our earliest days in Sunday School we learned that Jesus loves us. Jesus loves me this I know For the Bible tells me so This is true, but it is not the whole picture. In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, he pointed out (Romans 5:10) that because of our sinful nature, we are God’s enemies. Did you hear that? We are God’s enemies! That is not a lesson I remember from my Sunday School days. God’s wrath with all his power to create or destroy is directed toward us because we are sinful beings. We stand condemned by our sin and deserving of God’s wrath. Jesus loves me this I know but God’s wrath directed against us is also true and unless we understand this, we will have a superficial, sugar-coated, inadequate view of Christian faith. Paul spent three chapters in his letter to the Christians in Rome describing all the nuances of how we are condemned by our sin and how we deserve the wrath of God but then he shot up one of his glorious fireworks, a Roman candle, if you will. (Romans 5:6-11) You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! This is good news. This is great news! This is life-saving news! – but only if you know how desperately in need of help you are. If someone throws you a life buoy in the water, you have to know you will drown without it before you will make the effort to reach for it. Jesus pointed out (Mark 2:17) It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. I need to remind you this morning, I have the God-given responsibility to remind you this morning that you are in critical condition. You are on your deathbed and you are desperately in need of help. You need Jesus. Some of you might object to the tone of this message. “What about all the passages in Scripture that assure us of our salvation?” you might ask. When Moses received the law from God at Mt. Sinai, after the first stone tablets were destroyed, Moses went back up Mt. Sinai with two new stone tablets and then God proclaimed who he was (Exodus 34:5-7) Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Isaiah spoke a prophetic word from God (Isaiah 57:14) I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me— the breath of man that I have created. These are verses we hang on to. We want to be loved by God. We want to know we can be forgiven. We want to know that God is a loving god. But in our need to be loved we need to remember that Scripture reveals God to be a god of love and a god of justice. In God’s proclamation of who he was to Moses at Mt. Sinai he did not stop after talking about his love and forgiveness. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” God is a god of love and justice and because God is a god of love and judgement, we live in a paradox: We have assurance of salvation but we are desperately in need of salvation. What this means is we can never take our salvation for granted. We can never presume that we have a free pass that is going to take us smoothly and easily into heaven. It is true that the writer of Hebrews encourages us to boldly approach God. (Hebrews 4:16) Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. But it is also true that Jesus warned us about people who think they are Christians but will discover in the end that they are not. (Matthew 7:21) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Note that the people Jesus was addressing in this teaching prophesied in the name of Jesus. They drove out demons in the name of Jesus. They performed many miracles. When you meet someone who is prophesying and driving out demons and performing miracles, don’t you think they are Christians? In fact we may think they are Christians with a stronger faith than us because they are able to do these things. And yet what is it Jesus will tell them? I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! There are some people who have grown up in the church. They know the language of the church. They know how to pray in small groups. They know how to act. They may even have gone to seminary and are preaching from the Bible. But they may not be Christians. They have a cultural Christianity but are missing the real thing: a relationship with Jesus. John Wesley who started the Methodist Church is an example of this. He was raised in a Christian home. He went to America to preach the gospel as a missionary to the Europeans and Indians in the British colony of Georgia. But it was on the ocean crossing returning to Britain that he was influenced by the Moravian Christians and when he returned he had a “strange warming experience” in Aldersgate and entered into a relationship with Jesus. So how do you know you are really a Christian? How do you know you are not just following a cultural pattern? Perhaps if you had grown up in a Hindu family you would be a Hindu. If you had grown up in a Muslim family you would be a Muslim. How do you know you are more than just a cultural Christian? The simple answer is, How desperately do you need Jesus? A cultural Christian carries Jesus around until it is uncomfortable to do so. A cultural Christian picks up Jesus when convenient and puts him down when it is inconvenient. Culture Christians are not desperately in need of Jesus. Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, (Philippians 2:12-13) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling. Salvation is not a one time, everything is settled proposition. It is not like going to the airline, putting down your money and walking out with a ticket in your hand that assures you of a seat on a plane to your home country. Scripture tells us we have been saved, past tense; we are being saved, present tense; and we will be saved, future tense. Salvation is a process and we will know we have been saved, are being saved and will be saved if we persevere and hold on to Jesus. In Jonathan Edward’s terms, you are being dangled over the fires of hell, held only by a thin strand of a spider’s web. You are in a desperate situation and your only hope is to desperately hold on to Jesus. In Les Miserables, a French novel by Victor Hugo, Jean Valjean is sneaking into Paris with his daughter, Cosette, by climbing over the wall surrounding Paris. This is a very difficult climb and Cosette hangs on to his neck as he climbs, carrying the two of them safely into hiding. Cosette had confidence in her father that he would make the climb but she had to hold on desperately to his neck in order to make it to safety. In the same way, we have confidence in Jesus that he will bring us safely to heaven but we have to cling desperately to him in order to make it there. Because we know Jesus loves us, we cling desperately to him. There is no room in Christian faith for complacency. There is no place for being presumptuous. If anyone was ever a true Christian, it was William Wilberforce. He was born in England in 1759. At the age of 26 he was converted to Evangelical Christianity. He was elected to parliament and he spent his life and his family fortune fighting for the abolition of slavery and the reform of manners. He championed causes such as British missionary work in India, the creation of a free colony in Sierra Leone, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the foundation of the Church Mission Society and many others. He was generous with his estate and welcomed many who needed help to his home. He shared his faith with many. He had a deep devotional life. This great Christian man, on his deathbed, said to his son Henry, “I am in a very distressed state.” “Yes,” Henry said, “but you have your feet on the Rock.” This great Christian who changed his world for Christ spoke his last words, “I do not venture to speak so positively. But I hope I have.” It seems to me that this is the way to die, with great hope but no arrogant presumption. When we die we are not going to dance into heaven and give Jesus a slap on the back and say, “Jesus, my man, good to see you.” We will approach with fear and humility, hoping to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We move through life with confidence that we can approach God without fear but we do this only because we know how desperately we are clinging on to Jesus. My mother died three years ago. To the end she was defiantly antagonistic to the possibility that God existed. She went to her death spitting in the face of God. My father died a couple months ago. He was indifferent to spiritual things. He told me once that if God would reject him because he had not paid more attention to spiritual things, then he would not want to be with that kind of god anyway. My dad was not an arrogant man but this attitude of his was loaded with arrogance. The idea that we are able to dictate terms and set conditions for what will happen after we die and come before the all-powerful, pre-existing God is absurd. How desperately do you need Jesus? Are you living a cultural Christian life, going through the motions, or are you in a genuine relationship with Jesus, clinging on to him for dear life? How can you tell? Reaffirm your faith this morning by giving your life, as completely as you know how, to Jesus. If you have never surrendered to Jesus, then do so this morning. Don’t be so arrogant that you think you can dictate to God how it will be after we die. Come to Jesus who can carry you to safety, cling with desperation to his neck. Surrender to the love of Jesus that will take you safely to eternal life.