4th Sunday of Easter
1 Samuel 17:34-37
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
Do you ever have nightmares? I think we all know what they are but a nightmare is an elaborate dream full of imagery that incites us to fear, anxiety, stress, or sadness. We often remember them because they cause us to suddenly wake up and perhaps even in a sweat. Whatever it was that we were dreaming about seemed so real and so horrible and so terrifying. Even children can experience nightmares. There will be times when we’ll hear one of our children crying during the night and the only explanation is that they had a nightmare. But whatever it is that we have nightmares about can reveal to us what it is that we are actually afraid of in life. Maybe it’s losing something or losing someone, maybe it’s being humiliated or embarrassed, or being a failure of some kind. And everyone has different fears and it’s not always physical pain or death. Some people are more afraid of being humiliated or embarrassed or feeling like a failure than dying.
We humans, by nature, are fearful. In that way, we’re actually quite similar to sheep. As I understand it, sheep are very fearful and skittish. I once read a story about how some visitors came to a farm and had their tiny puppy jump out of the car and the mere sight of that unknown little animal caused the farmers entire flock of 200 sheep to stampede across the field in sheer terror. So what is it that makes you afraid? What gives you nightmares?
At the time of our text there’s a whole army that’s paralyzed by fear. The Israelites are at war with the Philistines. And they’ve drawn up battle lines. There’s one side, there’s no man’s land, then there’s the other line of battle. And every day the Philistine hero Goliath- who happened to be just a massive person – 9 feet tall, his armor weighed some 125 pounds. He would come out taunt the Israelites, mock them, insult God, mock God, and he made an offer. Instead of both armies fighting it out, they could pick one individual to fight for them and he would fight for the Philistines and whoever one that one-on-one match, that side would win the war.
But here’s the problem: King Saul isn’t fighting him, no one in the army is volunteering to fight him, they’re all cowering in fear. But there’s more, by NOT fighting him, they’re allowing him to go on these tirades insulting the Lord, mocking the Lord, and by allowing it they’re actually giving some credence to what he’s saying! They’re full of doubt about the Lord’s ability and power and love to rescue and deliver them!
But then comes David. He’s apparently for whatever reason not fit to be in the army. He’s been tending his father’s sheep. He comes bringing a care package for his brothers in the army and he hears what Goliath is saying and he’s appalled. He can’t believe no one is standing up to him, no one is confronting him. So, David says, “I’ll do it, I’ll go.” They bring David to Saul and Saul says, “You can’t go, you’re only a boy, and he’s an experienced soldier!”
But this is David’s reply. He’s been shepherding sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, David went over and above the normal call of duty – shepherds were not required to risk their lives on behalf of their flock- but David went after the lion or the bear, rescued the sheep from their mouths and when the vicious animals turned on him, he grabbed them and struck them, probably with a knife killing them. Now can you imagine what kind of a heart for sheep such action requires? I mean, I’ve never tended sheep, but I have a feeling that if I did and a lion took one of the sheep and I didn’t have a rifle, I’d probably write that sheep off. I can imagine David not relishing the idea of fighting a lion or a bear, but he had such care for the sheep that he did. Those would have certainly been challenging experiences, but notice what God was doing with them, He was training David for this moment. God often builds our trust in him by bringing us through challenging circumstances.
But notice David’s confession of faith: “This uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Courageously David steps up and you know the end of the story, David defeats Goliath and Israel routs the Philistines.
So what does this mean for us? Who are we more like in this account? We all would probably like to think that we’re like David, but isn’t it true that we’re far more like Saul or one of the men in the army? Aren’t we all too often the cowards? Yes, we face many things in life, we can experience nightmares, maybe it’s losing someone, or losing something, maybe it’s being humiliated or embarrassed or feeling like a failure and that will drive us to live our lives in fear so that ________ doesn’t happen to us.
But the reality is, we face something much worse that we don’t often consider. God says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” What ought to fill us with a great amount of fear are the spiritual battles that we face day in and day out. The temptations to sin, the temptations to give anything less than 100 percent commitment to our spouse, the temptation to give more to our work and our jobs than to our families, the temptation to be angry, bitter, jealous, selfish, prideful. Like ignorant sheep we often wander right into sin and temptation and that ought to terrify us because any sin seperates us from our God and puts our souls and our salvation at risk!
We need courage. We need courage to face our fears, we need courage to face the daily battle against sin, Satan and temptation. Where is courage found? Saul had no courage- he just melted in fear. Goliath had courage, right? But it was a false courage. Goliath’s courage was in himself, in his strength, in his abilities, in his armor. But it was a false courage. He failed. Perhaps we might look at an account like this and get the wrong idea- the lesson is that I need to trust God more, if only I could find it in myself to have more faith, more courage so I can act like David against the big things in life that I’m facing. But all that is is Goliath type courage. True courage doesn’t come from yourself.
Rather, look at David. David had a shepherd’s heart, he put himself on the line in order to rescue a sheep. Against Goliath he really become a substitute, he represented the nation of Israel against Goliath, but he knew it wasn’t him who was going to win the victory, it was the Lord. By God’s grace we have an infinitely better shepherd than David. In Jesus we have a Shepherd who stepped into battle as our substitute. He faced something infinitely worse than a lion, a bear, or a Goliath, he faced the wrath of God for the sins of the world. He faced the nightmare of all nightmares. You see, the ultimate nightmare is standing before a holy and perfect God and having to answer for every careless word, every shameful thought and every disgusting deed we’ve done.
But that’s what your Good Shepherd, Jesus, faced in your place and in mine. See, God doesn’t save us by giving us an example to follow, like be a better David, no, He saves by substitution. Jesus came so that His perfect life has become your perfect life, his innocent death has become the payment for all your sins, and his resurrection is your guarantee of eternal life. And knowing that is who your God is and who your Good Shepherd is gives true courage. Jesus, the Lord of the universe, left heaven to experience humiliation, rejection, pain, and death and all for what purpose? Only one: to rescue His sheep, to rescue you!
Knowing that gives true courage. Since Jesus faced the ultimate nightmare for me I can face the little nightmares of life knowing it’s going to be all right, I can face them all knowing that my salvation has been already won and eternal life is my future. Amen.