Archive for March, 2012

Judges 14 – Samson

Today was the first Sunday after the death of one of our members from a long battle with stomach cancer. She was just shy of 40 years old, leaving behind a husband and 8-year-old daughter.

Today’s passage was Judges 14, about Samson. It was, like many stories in the book of Judges, a bizarre tale. Yet, as he has done for the last 6 months, P. Charlie preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and the sovereignty of God through this difficult, strange account. Again and again, I am blown away by the teachings God prepared for His people through these narratives.

The first point of the sermon was that God works through people. He does not control them as automatons and machines but instead works through their (less than ideal) characters and personal foibles to bring redemption to Israel. In His love He has chosen people to accomplish his plans.

The second point was that God works through people for the Church. We looked at Judges 14:4. “His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines.” “It” here was Samson’s desires (indeed, his lust) for a Philistine woman (not Delilah, she comes later in chapter 16). It was Yahweh, though, not Samson, who used Samson’s sinful desires to accomplish his plans for Israel.

One point stuck out to me in this section: Yahweh loved Israel too much to let them stay in deadly peace. In Genesis 3:15, God promises to put emity between the Enemy and the Church, between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Over the years, the borders between Israel and Philistia had grown too porous, and Samson’s life was just a reflection of Israel’s assimilation with foreign, godless peoples. In this crazy story of Samson’s burst of anger and murder of 30 Philistine men (his groomsmen at his own wedding!), we see a blessing in disguise–God was reintroducing the enmity that should properly have existed between Israel and this godless nation.

What did this mean for us today? P. Charlie encouraged us to broaden our perspectives from the meaning of our experiences for ourselves to the meaning of our experiences for the Church. What is God doing for the Church through what I am going through?

And here, he shared some words on the recent loss of our sister and friend. He did not want to minimize the personal grief of their family, or appear arrogant for trying to explain the reasons for this tragedy, but he did want to share that already because of this trial there have been things happening for good. Love has been multiplied within our community. The sharing of testimony and the gospel has taken place among unbelievers in schools in the Upper East Side, where her daughter goes to school. God wants His Word and glory to go out to the world, to the people He desires to save. One way of understanding why God allows tragedy is to see how these events, though it makes it no easier to explain them for those personally involved, can draw others closer to Him.

I felt chills through my body as P. Charlie concluded by speaking of the death of those 30 Philistine men. Samson took the life of 30. But Jesus gave his own life for many. It was almost prophetic. His presentation of the gospel felt so much more weighty given the tragedy before us.

During Communion I meditated on several verses regarding death. From that point until the end of service–through the communion hymn and ending hymn, through the closing prayer and benediction and dismissal–I felt like I was looking at myself from a distance, with my life as just one small part of God’s epic plan.

He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death. (Hebrews 2:14)

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:4)

Destroying the power of death. Life swallowing up what is mortal. It all felt so immense.

These were the stakes Paul and the apostles faced. Today, unlike every other time, I felt the weightiness of his famous words to the Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Wasting away. Their bodies were weak. They had seen and touched death. Affliction. But the eternal weight of glory unseen far surpassed any present affliction–no matter how prolonged, no matter how severe.

That is the hope that we have in Christ. It is not a trite hope. It is not a warm fuzzy feeling. When we say we will see the dead again, we mean it. Our loved ones will be waiting for us on that day when we join our Lord and Savior Jesus in heaven. We can be sure and confident of this.

Oh the glory of the Lord!