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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Strong Judge Who Was Weak: The Judge Who Received Grace Upon Grace
Text:Judges 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Added:2022-01-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: John 9

Text: Judges 16

 

SAMSON: THE JUDGE WHO RECEIVED GRACE UPON GRACE

  1. The Disguised Grace in Samson’s Life

  2. The Revealed Grace in Samson’s Death

  3. The Eternal Grace in Samson’s Legacy

 

  1. Psalm 46:1-3

  2. Psalm 69:1, 2, 3, 10

  3. Psalm 146:4-5

  4. Hymn 43:1-3

  5. Hymn 64:1-2

  6. Hymn 43:4-6

 

Words to Listen For: rhyme, catchy, ox, 50, lentils

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What is grace disguised?

  2. What are the two wills at work in Samson’s life?  How do they work together?

  3. Why was the Samson’s blindness a blessing?  Are you blind?

  4. What’s a “vending machine prayer” ?

  5. Where is the only other place where Samson is mentioned in the Bible?  How should we feel about this?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved Congregation of Jesus Christ,

Everything that we experience in this life is grace.  Let me say that again.  

WITHOUT EXCEPTION, everything that we experience in this life is grace.  Either obvious grace or hidden grace. Grace revealed, or grace disguised.

When we think of grace, we typically only think of revealed grace.  Moments of miraculous healing, moments of a softening heart, moments of a healthy baby, or a happy anniversary.  But there is also “grace disguised.”  We heard this briefly last time.  Grace disguised in Samson’s life.  Moments of difficulty.  Moments of pain.  Moments of tragedy.

  • When a child is hurt, or even dies.  
  • When there is a disease that is not miraculously cured.
  • When there is tragedy and pain and loss…

This is grace too.

It may seem insensitive to say this.  It may FEEL insensitive if you are going through one of these moments right now.

HOW CAN YOU CALL THIS GRACE?  I’M STRUGGLING HERE!  I’M SUFFERING!  I WANT TO MOURN...AND YOU’RE CALLING IT GRACE?

Yes.  I’m calling these moments grace too.  Grace DISGUISED.  This term comes from a book of the same name...Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss

A book written by a man who had a life that seemed right out of the story of Job.  In an instant, his life was changed forever.  A tragic car accident claimed the life of three generations in his family - his mother, his wife, and his young daughter.  It is this author, having come through all of this, who calls it grace.

You can think that I am naive...but this author is not.  Having been through all of this pain and misery, he still calls it grace.

And it takes time to come to terms with referring to tragedy as grace, but one day, you will look back on the events of your life that you once mourned over, the events of your life that you cried bitter tears over, the events of you life that you shouted at until your voice was hoarse...and you will call them grace.

It might not be possible for you to do this on earth...you might never get there...but in heaven, when that great tapestry of time is revealed, - when God proves to you, once and for all that he REALLY meant it when He said that He works ALL THINGS for the good of those who love Him -  then you will be able to see it as grace.  

I know that’s what Samson is doing right now.  He is looking at the tapestry of his life and he sees all his failures - moral and physical, all of his difficulties, even his weakness, his blindness, and his slavery at the end of his life...and now he sees them all as grace.

This morning, as we close out our sermon series, let us examine 

SAMSON: THE JUDGE WHO RECEIVED GRACE UPON GRACE

  1. The Disguised Grace in Samson’s Life

  2. The Revealed Grace in Samson’s Death

  3. The Eternal Grace in Samson’s Legacy

The Disguised Grace in Samson’s Life

For most of his life, Samson was burdened by disguised grace.  In both his high moments and his low moments, there was grace, and it was disguised.  Let me explain.

In the moments of Samson’s great successes, tearing a lion in half, killing 1000 men with a donkey’s jawbone, lifting up a gate and carrying it over 40 miles...in the moments of Samson’s great success, there was disguised grace.  You may think that the grace was obvious - God enabled him to do mighty things!  But it was disguised because the real grace was found in God’s patience.  The real grace was found when God didn’t take away Samson’s great strength and Samson’s anointing when he fell into sin, and stayed there for 20 years.  God was showing hidden disguised grace through His patience.

And then there was disguised grace in Samson’s great tragedy.  This we heard last week.  After verbally sparring with Delilah, Samson shared all his heart with this woman so obviously bent on his destruction, and he tells her that he is a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb, and that his hair is a symbol of that vow.  Put to sleep on her lap, Samson’s hair is shorn

And we read, (Judges 16:19b) - Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him.  This is tragedy number 1.

He awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.  This is tragedy number 2.

And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes - tragedy 3

They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison - tragedy number 4.

If everything is indeed grace...this is the most disguised grace you’ve ever seen.

 

Now, it’s interesting.  Many ministers, many commentators will look at these four tragedies, and see them only as tragedies…and they will turn them into a lesson on sin, and they will all say this one line.  They all say it  because a) it’s clever and b) it rhymes.  And ministers love to be clever, and they love to rhyme.  It sticks in people’s heads easier when it rhymes.

This is what they say: The downfall of Samson is a picture of what sin does to you.  Sin BLINDS, sin BINDS, and sin GRINDS.  Very clever, very cute...and very accurate.

This is exactly what happened with Samson.  The things that happened to him physically at the end of our text last week are the things that happen to us spiritually today when we sin.  It’s a great little saying.  Sin blinds, sin binds, sin grinds.

But it’s not the whole picture.

Because, where sin was at work, grace was at work too… it was just disguised.

You see...there are two wills at work throughout Samson’s life.  The will of Satan, and the will of God.  And so often, these wills run parallel to each other.  

Take the start of Samson’s ministry.  When he saw that beautiful Philistine woman.  Whose will was that?  Well, Satan was involved, as Samson was filled with lust.  Satan is behind Samson’s sin.

But what does the text say?  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 was the evil will of Satan at work, in parallel with the secret good will of God. Satan INTENDED IT for evil. Samson DIDN’T CARE if it was evil. But God INTENDED IT for good.  And that’s what ultimately happened.  There were these two wills at work all throughout Samson’s life.

It was all sin.  The evil things that Samson did, and the good things that Samson did...they were still tainted with sin.  But it was also all grace.  The good things that Samson did, and even his sins...they were infused with grace.

Sin blinds...but grace gives sight.  Sin binds...but grace gives strength.  Sin grinds...but grace gives salvation.

Grace gives sight, strength, and salvation.  Not quite as catchy, but a deeper look at what is going on here.

After Samson lost his great strength, he was vulnerable to the Philistines, and they had their way with him.  They did whatever they wanted...and what they wanted was humiliation.  They wanted this menace brought to his knees...and so they took his eyes.

Even now, blindness is a terrible tragedy.  Even with today’s advancements like braille so that the blind can still read, advancements like seeing eye dogs so that they can still get around independently, blindness is a tragedy.  Even with those around you to help, there is a great sense of loss.

But there were no braille books for Samson in the prison, there was only darkness.  There were no seeing eye dogs to guide him, only chains, attaching him to the handle for grinding grain - walking around in a circle all day like an animal.  There was nobody around him to help, only those who mocked.

And we see, here at work, two wills.  It was the will of Satan for the Philistines to blind Samson.  It takes a special kind of evil to take someone’s eyes.  Samson was already weak.  His power had been broken, and they were taking him to jail.  The blindness was wholly and completely unnecessary.  It was needless pain and suffering.  Exactly the way that Satan works.  This was the will of Satan.

But it was also the will of God for Samson to be blinded.  And why?  Because for Samson, blindness would be a blessing.

You see, Samson was a master of self-sabotage.  Samson was his own worst enemy.  His main enemy wasn’t the Philistines.  It SHOULD HAVE BEEN...this is THE VERY REASON WHY God raised him up, but Samson’s main enemy was his sinful flesh.  Samson was a materialist, you see.  He was driven by his fleshly desires, a man who was all about what his eyes could see.

  • He saw a woman that he liked, and he had to have her.

  • He saw forbidden food that he wanted to eat, and he had to eat it.

  • He saw a chance for violence, a chance for revenge and humiliation, and he revelled in it.

And this, God allowed for a time.  He allowed Samson to live in sin until the right moment.  Until the moment when a rebuke, a punishment, a consequence...would SOFTEN Samson instead of harden him.  When it would be a wound unto LIFE and not unto DEATH.  And so God’s will was to physically blind Samson, so that his eyes might be spiritually opened.

Because, even though Samson didn’t know it...he had been blind since the beginning.  He had been blinded by his own lusts and desires.  He had been blinded to the things of God, even as he followed the pleasures that his eyes could see.  He was blind, and he did not know it.  What a tragedy.  What a tragedy this is.

And this is always the way, isn’t it?  This is perfectly exemplified in our reading - John chapter 9.  

In John 9, we saw the healing of a man born blind.  Jesus heals this man who has been blind his entire life, and the Pharisees are enraged, because the healing took place on the Sabbath.  They go about searching for Jesus, and through questioning this man, and his parents, just became angrier and angrier. And then, to top it all off, some of them hear Jesus teaching about why He came into the world.

John 9:39 -  Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”  Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?”  Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Essentially they were saying, “Jesus!  You’re not suggesting that WE might be blind...we are the leaders of the blind!  We have the law of Moses!  You’re not actually suggesting that we come to YOU that our sight may be restored...you flaunt the Law!  You heal on the Sabbath!

It doesn’t even OCCUR to the Pharisees that they might be blind.  It never does to people who are blind, you see.  One of the indications of your blindness is that you don’t think you’re blind.  The indication that you are on the way to sight is in the recognition that you are blind.  And this isn’t only about the Pharisees in the 1st century.  This isn’t only about Samson in the 32nd century before Christ...but this is about you and me, right now in the 21st century.

So...are you blind?  

Here’s a hint...if you answered “no!” right away, insulted that I would ask you this...you might just be blind.  But, if you take the time to think about it, pray about it, and ask others around you to gently challenge you on your weaknesses, on areas where you might be blind...well then...you’re starting to see.

But Samson wasn’t the type of person to think about it.  He wasn’t the type of person to pray about it.  Samson was a man of action.  A man of independent action.  Samson was blind to his blindness for so much of his life - nearly all of it, right up until the end.  Samson was not a man to listen to the wisdom of others.  And why would he?  He always got what he wanted.  His supernatural strength made sure of that.  But when his sight was taken away, and he couldn’t see what he wanted anymore...when his strength was taken away, and he couldn’t just do anything he wanted to do anymore...that’s when everything changed.  It was in Samson’s physical blindness that he realized how much of a mess he had made of his life.

Now, you might be skeptical of this.  This is too nice.  Too cutesy, just like the bind, blind, grind thing.  How do we KNOW that Samson recovered his spiritual sight in the prison?

Well, in one sense, you are right.  WE DON’T KNOW exactly what it was that happened in that prison.  We don’t know how many days, or weeks Samson went about grinding.  They probably didn’t wait much longer than that to give thanks to their god for Samson’s defeat.  But again, here we can see God’s grace.  If they dragged Samson right from Delilah’s house to the temple of Dagon...there would have been no change for him to repent.  No chance for him to change.

But however long Samson was in prison, grinding like an ox...it was long enough.  For we see a changed man come out of that prison.  We see a humbled man…at least, mostly humbled.

The Philistines had gathered to celebrate their god Dagon.  You see, for them, it wasn’t just that they had triumphed over Samson.  They didn’t gather to celebrate Delilah’s womanly wiles, or their own cleverness...they celebrated Dagon.  It was a contest, you see...a contest between the god of the Philistines, and the God of Samson.  This was a supernatural showdown, and it seemed like Dagon (really, Satan) had won.  God’s anointed man was defeated.  But God wasn’t done yet, because He hadn’t left Samson for good.

Do you remember last week?  Those two verses right beside each other?  One of the most tragic verses, followed by one of the most hopeful verses?

The tragedy: He did not know that the LORD had left him

The hope: But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

God hadn’t left Samson for good.  Instead, He met Samson in that prison, and His disguised grace was revealed.  Our second point.

As Samson felt his hair growing back, he knew that there was still hope.  As long as there is life, there is hope.  Samson had been broken by grace in disguise.  He had been softened and molded into the judge that he was always supposed to be.

And how do we know this?  Because, in the temple of Dagon, Samson prays to Yahweh.

Verse 28, for the first time, Samson is praying. 

You might say, “But what about Samson’s prayer at the end of chapter 15?  He prays then too, doesn’t he?

Technically Samson does pray in Judges 15:18, but this is the kind of prayer that I was taught to call a “vending machine prayer.”  Samson treats God just like a vending machine - I have a need, I give the payment of a prayer, and God will give me a product.  This treats God like a dispenser of goods.

And here, the vending machine analogy is especially fitting, because what Samson wants is a drink.  He is thirsty, dying of thirst, and there is no natural source of water around.  You can be sure, that if there was a stream, or a lake, or even a literal vending machine filled with drinks, Samson wouldn’t have prayed.

But THIS prayer.  THIS PRAYER that he prays in our text...it reveals something of the heart of Samson.  It reveals that grace had its way with him. 

Let’s take this prayer line by line

O Lord GOD - this is a good start.  O Adonai, Yahweh.

Samson addresses God by His TITLE, recognizing His power - Adonai

    And then by His NAME, recognizing His love and faithfulness - Yahweh

Not only was Samson praying to the Almighty God, who was ABLE to answer his prayer…he was praying to his Heavenly Father who was willing to answer his prayer.

O Lord GOD, Please remember me

During that time in the prison, Samson would have had time to remember his mother’s teachings.  When she taught him about his miraculous birth - announced by an angel!  When she taught him what it meant to be a Nazirite - set apart for service to God.

When she taught him right from wrong.  When she taught him why Israel was in the sorry state they were in.  “We rebelled Samson,” she would have said.  “We rebelled, and we were disobedient.  But God is still here.  He hasn’t fully abandoned us.  Even in our sins, when it seemed so hopeless...He remembered us. He sent you to us.  To be the next judge.  To save us.”

And in that prison, Samson would have wondered if it was still true.  Samson would have looked back on his life and cried out “I’ve wasted it!  I’ve wasted it!  But maybe...just maybe...I can still do something good.  Lord, Yahweh...please see me here.  Please remember me and give me another chance.”

O Lord GOD, Please remember me, and please strengthen me only this once, O God

In his blindness, Samson was able to see God like never before.  His sight, which had proven to be his greatest enemy, had been taken away, and now his blindness would lead him to his greatest victory.  Samson DID MORE for God in his blindness than he ever did with his sight, and, Samson SAW MORE OF GOD in these last few weeks of his life, when his vision was nothing but darkness.  And yet...Samson was still Samson.

Even though he learned so much, even though he was now serving God, Samson still had a prideful streak.  

O Lord GOD, please remember me, and please strengthen me only this once, O God...that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.

It was about God...and it was about Samson.  Still.

But this prayer was enough.  Samson’s heart had been changed.  It had been softened, even if some sinful pride remained.

And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other.  And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.”  Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than he had killed during his life.

In Samson’s death, he had victory over the Philistines.  And the power of the Philistines was broken...at least for a time.  Broken by Samson in his death.  The Philistines don’t appear again until the days of Samuel, 50 years later.  They were the occupying force.  The rulers.  And then they just disappear for half a century.  Because of Samson.

It seems, that in this last action, Samson actually accomplished what he had been born to do.  In tearing down this temple, Samson enacted God’s judgement on at least 3000 of the pagan Philistine rulers, breaking their power.

So.  We have been looking at Samson’s story for 4 weeks now...and at the end of the story, it seems that we need to make a judgement.  Was Samson a good guy or a bad guy?  A hero, or a villain? A good example or a bad example?  What is Samson’s legacy?  Our final point.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you might say, “too little, too late, Samson!  Especially because your last act didn’t even seem all that pure.”  You’re probably not surprised to hear me say this...it is no secret that I have been critical of Samson from the start.  Throughout this entire series, I have been pretty hard on him, but to be fair, so is the book of Judges.

I have been so hard on Samson...because I see a bit of myself in him.  And some days, more than a bit.  I have been so hard on Samson because I want to warn you not to be like him.

If I were to summarize Samson’s life, if I were to summarize Judges 13-16, in a single sentence it would be - Samson is useful as an example...do the exact opposite of what he did.

  • Samson ran into sin...you should run away from it
  • Samson played around with temptation...you should destroy it
  • Samson listened to the song of the devil...you should plug your ears

But Judges 16:31 isn’t the final word on Samson - and I am so excited about that.

Samson goes off the radar after his death in at the end of Judges 16.  We do not hear him referenced, we do not see his name mentioned anywhere else in all of Scripture...until Hebrews 11.  Please turn there with me.  Hebrews chapter 11.

This is the chapter known by some as the Hall of Fame of Faith, or The Heroes of Faith.

And somehow...SAMSON appears in here!

Samson is listed beside great heroes.  Obvious heroes.  Samson is included in this list with Abraham.

Now, ABRAHAM definitely fits here.   Despite his failures, Abraham trusted and obeyed God. He left his homeland for him. He was willing to sacrifice his son for him!  Abraham is the man of the faith!  He TRULY BELONGS in Hebrews 11!

Moses is here too, who, after 40 years living among the pleasures of Egypt, and 40 years herding sheep in the wilderness, was an amazing Saviour and redeemer of the people of Israel for the final 40 years of his life.  It took him a while to get there...but Moses TRULY BELONGS in Hebrews 11!

But Samson?  What did he ever do to deserve being on this list?  What did Samson truly accomplish to be here?  We read:

By faith Abel

By faith Enoch

By faith Noah

By faith Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses…

And then we get to our man Samson

Verse 32 - And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

We leave Judges 16 shrugging our shoulders about Samson...but thank God that WE do not have the final word on Samson.  God has the final word, and that final word is grace.

What did Samson ACCOMPLISH to be on this list?

Absolutely nothing.

Because that’s not what the list is.  Hebrews 11 is not the list of David’s mighty men, where the exploits of these men are told...that they earned a place in the list because they killed 800 men at one time, or because they fought in a field of lentils (look it up, it’s strange).  But that’s not what Hebrews 11 is about.  That’s not what faith is about.

Even though these men and women did do amazing things - including Samson - they aren’t on this list for that reason.  No matter how excellent or lacking their works were...not a single one EARNED their way onto this list.  They are on this list because of faith, and that faith...because of grace.

But, it’s true, Samson is on this list for a reason.  It’s not just a list of names.  What did Samson do by faith?

Let’s read these verses again and see if you can find it:

Verse 32 - And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

There are those who say that Samson is the one who stopped the mouths of lions...but we’ve heard that story.  There was a lion in it, but was it by an act of faith that Samson tore the lion in two?  Not really.  This is, instead, a reference to the prophet Daniel, who, by faith, continued praying to God when it had been forbidden, and was thrown into the lions’ den.  The mouths of the lions were stopped supernaturally.  So why is Samson in here?

I think it’s quite clear, if we have the eyes to see it.

Why is Samson here?  Samson was made strong out of weakness.  It was all grace.  From beginning to end in Samson’s life.  There was nothing that he ever earned, but here it is for us, in black and white.  He finally learned the truth of the great Hymn - My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

    My hope is built on nothing less

    Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness

    I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

    But wholly lean on Jesus’ name

 

    When darkness veils his lovely face,

    I rest on His unchanging grace;

    In every high and stormy gale

    My anchor holds within the veil

 

Samson’s strength had always been FROM God, but now it was IN God.  His strength WAS God.  Samson never got his sight back...but God got His Samson back.  God got His Samson back.

And this is exciting, beloved!  We should be EXCITED about Hebrews 11, and that Samson’s name belongs there.  We should be as excited to read Samson’s name in Hebrews 11 as I was when I read the end of Manasseh’s story in 2 Chronicles.  Do you remember?  Manasseh, the most wicked king to ever reign...the king least likely to repent, actually did.

Do you remember my excitement when I read that for the first time? As I read the words of Manasseh’s repentance, tears formed in my eyes and started running down my cheeks.  I ran, excitedly to my roommate’s room, knocked on the door and fairly shouted at him: “Cody!  Manasseh repented!!”  And he looked at me like I had gone insane.  But I was so excited.

This is how we should feel about Samson!  When we aren’t sure what to make of his story in Judges, we have to turn to Hebrews to see God’s seal of approval on Samson.

It’s not that everything Samson did was suddenly okay.  In some ways, a lot of ways...Samson’s life was a tragic failure.  It was a waste.  He could have done so much more.  This big and mighty man ended up doing something so little.  So small.

But thanks be to God that our eternal salvation doesn’t work in the same way.  Our eternal salvation isn’t about the big things that we do.  It’s not accomplished by our mighty deeds, by our perfect and unwavering obedience.

In salvation...we do the small thing...because Christ has already done the big thing.  Jesus Christ has done the big thing, and all we have to do is to get on our knees, humble ourselves, and truly see who He is.  Truly know Him.  Truly pray and give him our whole heart.

For what does He promise?  He promises us: My grace is sufficient for you.  My strength is made perfect in weakness.

Being weak doesn’t disqualify us...but being proud might.

Being weak doesn’t disqualify us...but being blind might.

If we CLING to our pride, if we CLING to our blindness and say - I LOVE THIS SO MUCH THAT I WILL TAKE IT WITH ME TO MY GRAVE...then...that’s exactly what you will do.

But if our eyes are opened, even a bit...if our eyes are opened and we say...I AM PROUD...help break my pride.  I AM BLIND...please open my eyes…

If instead of clinging to our sin, we cling to our Saviour and rest in His perfect work instead of our own weak work...then we will be embraced by the arms of grace.

We must say “On my own, I was blind, no matter how well I thought I could see.  On my own, I was weak, no matter how strong I felt.  On my own, I was a slave to Satan, no matter how free I felt.”

I once was lost, but now I’m found

I once was blind, but now I see.

It’s grace, from beginning to end, and it’s amazing.

 AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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