Hawthorn Presbyterian Church

Reading the Book of 1st Samuel

[Taken from the monthly “Notes” for March, 2012.]

1st Samuel spans the years from the end of the period of the Judges and ends with King David as an old man contemplating how his young son Solomon will take over the kingdom. That is about 100 years covered in just 30-40 pages. We read of Samuel who gives the book his name, though clearly someone else finishes the book, because he dies at Chapter 25! We learn a lot about King David, of course, and the other key person is Saul, the first king of the united kingdom. But why?

Well, for one thing it is interesting history. We deal with military coups, palace & political intrigues, immorality, and why we should not be too quick to assume that leaders are really godly just because they look godly. Just like today! But why did God cause this collection of stories to be written? Is it merely so we can learn from the characters? — to be like David and not like Saul? Perhaps and in a little way, yes, but we will struggle to make sense of some parts if all we do is look for moral examples or warnings in the lives of Samuel, Saul & David. What shall we do when we are not sure whether someone should be copied or not? What will we say about ourselves when we try to copy the “good guys” but fail? Where is our hope then?

This is not just any old narrative; it is God’s history. If it is God’s history, then this book makes most sense in the context of all that he was doing throughout the Old Testament. So, it is real history and it is theological history at the same time. And because we read this book now from the perspective of knowing that Jesus Christ has come, we know that 1 Samuel must somehow taking us from the Garden of Eden to the Cross and Empty tomb of the Lord Jesus, and beyond. In this sense we know more than those who were caught up in these events as they happened – Eli, Elkanah, Samuel, David, etc – even though they had much more detail. The godly people in the narratives were all real people, and they all knew that God was doing something to fulfil his promise made in Eden to crush the head of the serpent, and the godly knew that this would somehow involve the seed of a woman [Gen 3:15]. But they did not know how it would all end; we do. As with any story, knowing how it all ends shines great light upon why the author weaves his many characters together. So it is with God’s story as “His-story” leads up to the coming Saviour.

Israel had already seen her “saviours” come and go in the personages of the Judges. Those “saviours” had worked – for a bit – but never sufficiently and they had never really provided security for the whole land as a “kingdom”; and kingdom is where Samuel takes us. Now we know that Kingdoms need kings, and that kings, for all their faults, can be of two sorts: God-worshipping and grace-appreciating as David was, or “God-using” and grace-despising as Saul was. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference but over time we’ll tend to know. From David on, this is the pattern.

So there we have it: 1 Samuel is the story of how God sets up his king, and sets him up in a way that exposes all other sorts of king. In time, the son of David [Solomon] will build the Temple but neither David nor David’s son will be adequate to keep God’s covenant. They sin, and their descendants eventually sinned their kingdoms into judgment and exile. The whole of the Old Testament brings us to the point where eventually, at the right time in God’s history and in fulfilment of promise, Jesus came, born as David’s royal descendant. He is the true “Son of David” and as our Champion secures an eternal kingdom, inherits all the covenant promises and builds a living temple out of living stones [I Peter 2].

Is he building with you?

Service of Induction for Principal Hastie

On February 10th Hawthorn hosted the Presbytery of Melbourne East as it conducted the Service of Induction for Rev. Peter Hastie, the incoming Principal of the Presbyterian Theological College. The Moderator General, Rt Rev. David Jones preached, and past principals Dr. Allan Harman and Dr Douglas Milne also participated, along with the State Moderator, Dr Robert Carner, and the Secretary of the Theological Education Committee, Rev. John Stasse.

It was a truly joyous occasion.

The entire service, including the Principal’s response, is downloadable from the Sermons link on this site, though it is quite a large file (17MB). Use the link:


The Privilege of Unblocked Ears

[Taken from the Monthly Notes, February 2012]

In six separate contexts, the New Testament records Jesus as saying: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” No doubt he spoke it on other occasions too. It is a pithy little saying, but what was his point? The context helps us, and it is clear that Jesus was simultaneously warning against ignorance of the great saving acts of God [in terms of Ezekiel 12:1-2ff] and commending the great God-given privilege of being able to comprehend the deeper instruction in his words. In this he called his hearers back to Moses’ words in Deut 29:2-6, and so presented evidence that he should be considered the “prophet like Moses” who was to come. [Deut 18:18ff].

Jesus was concerned with both eye and ear because both provide input to the mind. He highlighted the importance of the eye when he reminded all that the 7th commandment extends to looking as well as doing. If the eye causes one to fall, put it out! [Mark 9:47] His words resonate in our highly visual culture. So much of our day to day information depends on the eye, and in our internet age, the eye can be the door-way for much that is unhelpful, and spiritually deadly. There ought to be a sign saying “Guard your eyes, all who enter here” above every internet portal. For all this, we might expect that Jesus would speak of the eyes as much a the ear, but Scripture tells us that he gave his emphasis to the ear. Why is this?

“Faith comes by hearing” we are told and God calls us to live by faith and not by sight. Thomas wanted to see before he would believe the resurrection. The Saviour graciously obliged, not because seeing was essential, but so that all the disciples would have an occasion to be instructed regarding the blessedness of all who would believe in Christ because of their preaching, and not their art. [John 20:29].

The eye cannot see the past except as someone else has already imagined it, and the eye cannot give us a picture of the future. It is fixed to the present, and is limited in what it can bring into the soul. Three disciples saw the Transfiguration of Jesus and all misunderstood it until the Father spoke; subsequently billions have heard of it and been overwhelmed by the majestic voice of the Father coming down from heaven: “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him.” The eye cannot deal with abstracts or intangible things without tying them to individual examples, which will always be reductionist. The eye may see an event caused by love but cannot see the actual love itself. The ear is freed from this limitation and the mind can hear about things like sin, righteousness, judgment & mercy, and by the grace of God begin to comprehend them. This is how we are made, and we must be thankful that it is so.

In its own way, hearing the word of God, [which includes what we call ‘reading’] allows for an awareness of the holy majesty of God that is properly suited to the limitations of our humanity. Seeing God as He is would kill us! Making pictures of Him as He is not, is idolatry! What can we do? Thankfully it is by hearing that the Spirit brings divine truth to mind directly, in ways that go beyond all that we could know by sight. We can learn of God and without falling into idolatry!

One day, we shall most surely see Jesus as he is. Until then, we must be content to hear [and know] him as he speaks in the Bible, and as he is opened to our minds by the work of his Holy Spirit. This is an unquantifiable privilege and one which through our own words and resources we have the honour of sharing. If God has condescended to speak to you concerning His Son, do not despise Him.

Resolutions and the Christian Faith

[Taken from the January 2012 “Monthly Notes”]

Resolution: n. a firm decision to do or not to do something:

It does not take many days of January to pass before the media begins discussing New Year Resolutions and how long they were kept. The pattern is often the same: an announcer explains his or her own private failings as the lead in to an invitation to others whose resolve has also faltered, to tell their story. Then follows an “expert” telling us all just why it is that some resolutions are easier to keep and others not. In some ways it all makes sense for we know that some habits are difficult to break but in other ways it can be little more than a comforting charade reinforcing our excuses; “Yes, I failed but at least I made a bit of an effort and that must surely count for something. I can always try again next year.”

The danger is that this constant pattern of on-again off-again resolutions hardens our culture to the strength and permanence of real conversion when it occurs. New Christians in every age, flushed with the very real wonder and joy of saving grace and forgiveness have had to face taunts such as, “It’s just a phase,” “You’ll grow out of it,” “Aren’t you psychologically secure enough in yourself,” and so on. Then as life’s path leads through difficult patches, the taunts take on a slightly different tone: “I thought you said your God was good!” or some sneering combination of, “If God is all powerful, why did He allow this to happen?” “Doesn’t He care?”, ”So much for His blessings,” comes our way.

We should not be shaken by such taunts because those who mock us simply have no understanding of what it is to be born again from above, and to be made new, and filled with the Spirit of the Living God. The world expects converts to relapse, and for all the same reasons as they expect with all other “resolutions,” and is confounded when it doesn’t happen. Here is where true faith differs from a merely emotional or temporary response. [See, Matt 13:20-21.] True faith perseveres over time, though one should not interpret this as a guarantee that life will always be a breeze, free from pressures, challenges, and perhaps even occasional doubts.

Whatever pressures we feel as contemporary Christians in the West, they pale by comparison with the obstacles that confront new converts in many other lands who suffer ostracism, disinheritance, and alienation from social networks which are vital to food, education, support, and perhaps even life itself. We do not really know what it is to “suffer much” for Christ’s sake, yet wherever Christians may be and however things may turn in our own land, the answer to suffering for Christ’s sake is always the same as the advice given to first century Christians who did suffer the loss of many things. (Heb 10:32-34). “LOOK TO JESUS” (Heb 12:2) for “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him,” (Heb 7:25).

In the final analysis, there is only one resolution which provides us with any lasting hope – the resolve of Jesus Christ. In Christ, and Christ alone, the future is secure, whatever and whenever the pressures. He has resolved to keep His people, totally! If you are His, He has resolved to love you, redeem you, transform you, give you His Spirit to dwell in you and to prepare you to live with Him forever. So, why would anyone in their right mind turn away from that? The answer is in the question: the mind that does not turn to Christ is not a “right mind”; it is blinded by sin.

Your New Year Resolution? May it be to know more of what the apostle John meant when he spoke of Christians saying: “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Hollywood, Christmas & Christianity

According to various news reports, Hollywood has found Biblical themes fashion-able (and for this, read “profitable”) once more and so block-buster movies with Biblical-historical themes are under consideration again. Leading movie production houses have seen the success of low budget Christian-friendly films such as Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous, One Night With the King and Soul Surfer and are taking opportunity to profit from this resurgence. Paramount is backing a film on Noah, Stephen Spielberg is considering a new film on Moses called Gods and Kings and yet another production house is making Goliath, which was apparently pitched on the grounds that today few young people understand the sporting (sic) metaphor of a David & Goliath contest. Perhaps less helpfully, a film version of Milton’s epic Paradise Lost is also planned – less helpfully because it will require visualisation of spiritual realities and concepts that are best dealt with in the mind. All this is from an industry that has previously encouraged themes that have undermined Biblical morality, challenged Christian theism as imperialist or irrelevant, mocked the importance of the family unit and rejected any fundamental difference between masculinity and femininity. So why the sudden change? Is this new desire for the Bible evidence of a genuine conversion on the part of filmmakers, a desire to repent of past sins and bring all to the truth of the Scriptures, or is it the possibility of a dollar or a few million? We do not read minds, but do seriously suspect the latter!

God is sovereign so these films may be helpful to some, but only to the extent that people are spurred on to read the Bible narrative in its proper scope. After all, what shall it prosper anyone if they should know all the Old Testament narrative, but not know Jesus Christ? Old Testament history is not just human history, to be re-told or interpreted at will. The records of Noah, Moses, David, etc. are all a record of God’s preparation for the coming of Jesus, and a warning to flee the wrath to come. Moses is the redeemer who leads God’s chosen [elect] people out of slavery to the Land of Promise. David is the anointed shepherd-king, who as Substitute for a cowering, helpless, Israel alone can defeat Goliath and all he represents. Then Solomon, the Son of David builds the kingdom. All these were flawed, so another must come.

It is for this reason too that we object to the tendency among film-makers to “enrich” the Biblical narrative by the addition of extra characters and sub-plots. But sadly, it is not only film-makers who take liberties with the Biblical narrative. Many a Sunday School lesson or nativity play has been wrenched from its historical setting & “re-told” to “engage the children”. No doubt some will wonder why this should be a problem: the film is more interesting, the drama more intense and the children learn something! However, when Biblical history is taught and re-told out of context, it subtly moves into the realm of “myth”: a story told for the message it carries, but not meant to be believed as historically real. [The problem also exists when pictures of Noah’s ark do not show its true proportions.] As Christians, history is vital!

The Graeco-Roman world was full of religious myths but Christians were adamant that Jesus’ birth was not one more myth to teach the love of God or the dignity of man. A real birth was essential to his living a perfect human life and dying a real sinner’s death. It was true in the normal sense of the word. They knew a mere myth could not physically rise from the dead, nor save anyone, nor come again. A myth cannot deal with the reality of sin. Jesus does! As you mix with those who do not yet know Jesus this Christmas season, do not give them any reason to conclude that the wonderful message of your Saviour is all just a sentimental story.

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