In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Change was afoot. A king. The time of the judges was over. The people had been agitating for a king for a while. Since the time of Gideon, also known as Jerubaal (1 Sam. 12:11; Jdg. 9:1-6), when they crowned his son as king. They had wanted a king. But the problem was that this was a nation called into existence by the Lord. It only existed because of the Lord. It only continued as long as the Lord’s name was upon it. Their ancestor Abraham had a barren wife, Sarah. She birthed their father, Isaac, miraculously at 90 years of age, because the Lord promised it. They were the result of a continuous string of miracles. Just as the Church today is. Kings and governments have constantly tried to stamp out this Christian church for the last 2000 years. Yet, miraculously, when it seems the Church is dead, the Lord raises it from the dead. He causes it to spread. To increase. To pour forth renewing this world. Persecution can’t destroy it. Persecution can’t stamp it out. No, far more dangerous than the world to Christ’s Church is Her own faithlessness and apathy toward Her King.
For this kingdom not like any other kingdom. This is a miraculous kingdom. It exists against all odds. The forces of the world, sin, and Satan are always at work against this kingdom. (Gen. 3:15) It doesn’t exist by human reason or strength, but by the Holy Spirit. It is sustained by the Holy Spirit alone. And the Holy Spirit works through the Word of the Lord. The promises of the Lord. The grace of the Lord to sinners. The Lord sustained this kingdom through 300 years of not having kings during the time of judges. He could sustain it through kings too: both the faithful and the unfaithful. (1 Kings 19:14-18) For what is the foundation of this kingdom? The Word of the Lord. Who is the Word of the Lord? Jesus. (John 1:1-3, 14) So, Jesus is King.
This is the problem with asking for a king. They were dethroning Jesus. This kingdom would only be God’s kingdom from here on out when the king and the people listen to the Lord’s Word (1 Sam. 12:13-15)—when the Lord remained enthroned in their hearts as king, by faith in Him. When the kings were faithful the Old Testament Church usually flourished. When the kings were faithless, the Old Testament Church diminished.
This does not mean life will be good or easy. Belonging to God doesn’t mean life is easy. For the Lord saves by way of the cross. He went to the cross. (Matt. 16:21-24) That’s how He saved all who call upon His name. (Rom. 10:13) So once His name is on you His cross is in your life. And He calls you to take up your cross and follow Him. (Matt. 16:24-26) When you put down your cross, to live like the world, to be like the world, to be ruled in the ways of the world (1 Sam. 8:19-20), then the blessings of the cross of Christ evaporate from your life. He allows this so that the consequences of your own sins drive you back to Him, to His throne of grace, to His rulership, His kingship over you, to your cross that He has fashioned for you. And under His cross is where His blessing is, His salvation is. (Luke 9:23-26) So take up your cross in faith.
Saul’s cross was to trust the Lord in all things. To do His Word. To seek the Lord in all things. To wait on the Lord in all things. But Saul didn’t trust the Lord. He was the king the people wanted: strong, rugged, decisive. “I forced myself to offer the offering to implore the Lord’s blessing,” he said. (1 Sam. 13:11-12) But the Lord’s blessing doesn’t come from you forcing your way on Him and His Church. It comes for the Lord is pleased to bless according to His Word of promise. His word of prom in the Old Testament had been attached to the priesthood and their sacrifices. Sacrifices by Samuel, not by the king. Just as His promise of blessing is attached to the Sacrament of Altar (Matt. 26:26-28), the Sacrament of Holy Baptism (Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 6:3-4, etc.), and the preaching of repentance and forgiveness in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Luke 24:47) It isn’t found elsewhere. What appears to be blessings in the eyes of the world—numbers, great crowds, flush bank accounts—are not God’s blessings when they do not come through God’s appointed ways of blessing you.
Repent. For change is upon you. One pastor is leaving. Another pastor will eventually come. Things will change. Will they change for the better or for the worse? Will you seek a pastor who wishes to bless you by the means the Lord provides—our Lord’s own Word and Sacraments according to our Lord’s institution—or will you seek a pastor who does things the way that your human eyes see fit?
You see, that’s why they wanted a king. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Jdg. 17:6; 21:25; Prov. 21:2) It was mayhem. (Jdg. 18:1ff; 19:1ff) Repent. For you are not the judge. Jesus is. He sets the standard. He doles out the judgements. He judges graciously. He judges mercifully. He judges according to where He has placed His name. He is patient and long suffering when His name is involved. But He is just. He has judged all sin by pouring out His own judgement on Himself. It does not have to be poured out on you. But when you depart from Him, when you reject His name on you, He will allow you to suffer in order to draw you back to Himself. (1 Sam. 12:20-25; Gal. 3:23-24) For the sake of His name on you He does it. Out of love for you, like a Father He gives you enough rope to hang yourself. Then He swoops in with His cross at moment you repent, putting His neck in the noose, taking your hanging on Himself, lifting you up by His cross, giving you His mercy and love.
His name is on you, Church. You belong to Him. His cross is in your life, crucifying you to your own desires, to your own wisdom, and revealing to you His higher ways. He works for your sake. For your salvation. For His name’s sake He saves you. His rule is eternal. His love for you never ends.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON