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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:How the Mighty Have Fallen!
Text:1 Samuel 31:1-13; 2 Sam. 1:1-0 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Savior, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us
Scripture Reading: 1 Samuel 31:1-13  
Hours and Days and Years and Ages
Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting   
The Lord’s Our Rock

(If the order of worship allows it, 1 Samuel 31:1-13 can be read earlier in the service, and 2 Samuel 1-27 read before the sermon).

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

 “How the Mighty Have Fallen!”
1 Samuel 31:1-13 - 2 Samuel 1:1-27
From the way 1 Samuel Chapter 31 and 2 Samuel Chapter 1 are separated in our Bibles, you might expect that they contain wholly separate subject matter. But these two books were not separated in the original manuscripts. Some commentators believe that the separation came because there were so many chapters (though they were not yet divided by chapter and verse) that they could not fit on one scroll, so when the first scroll was used up the second scroll began.
There are other suggestions as to why First and Second Samuel are divided. However, it is clear that in the original text they were not separated; these two chapters go hand in hand. Although the two chapters record events some one thousand years before the birth of Christ, they raise a number of contemporary moral issues including suicide, cremation, and homosexuality.
Saul’s suicide is perhaps the best-known Old Testament account of suicide, while the New Testament example is that of Judas Iscariot. The biblical record gives no indication that either one of those men were saved. In fact, Judas was a son of perdition and Saul certainly is described in the terms of a reprobate person.
Because of that, it has often been taught that if someone commits suicide they are automatically consigned to hell. When I was growing up that is what we always heard. The theory was that since there is no time for repentance, the person who takes their own life cannot be saved. But by that logic many Christians would be condemned because many Christians die unexpectedly without having an opportunity to repent of specific sins they have committed.
I’m thankful that we are not the judges here. God alone will judge who is in heaven and in hell, and the judgment is given on the basis of God’s grace through His gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ. If someone, by God’s grace, believes in Jesus with saving faith, they will be saved. Conversely, those who do not have saving faith in Christ alone will be condemned to an eternity in hell.
Now is it possible that a Christian, in a moment of weakness, futility, and sin commits suicide and still is saved? That is for the Lord to judge, but I have known sincere professing Christians who have committed suicide. In one case, a dear neighbor of ours who had a childlike faith in the Lord was emotionally unstable. He had been diagnosed with some serious psychiatric problems. One Sunday after church, at about noon, he set fire to a shed and burned himself to death. My wife was the one who found his suicide note in his Bible, tucked into the page by Psalm 23.
This man, who was a little over 40 years old, used to come to our house for chicken. He loved my wife’s chicken, and then afterward he would sit cross-legged on the floor with my children – they were little then, and he would say, “Pastor, tell me another story about Jesus…”
He exhibited a childlike faith. In a weak moment he did a foolish, sinful thing that grieved his parents deeply. Is he automatically in hell?  I’m thankful that we can leave that decision with the Lord, and echo Abraham’s words, “Will not the judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Gen. 18:25)
A second issue addressed in these verses is cremation. There are churches that are divided right down the middle by whether or not it is a sin to have your loved one cremated instead of buried.  Years ago, the New Horizons magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church featured the two opposing views between cremation and burial. One author took the view that it is sinful to be cremated, the other author took the view that since God can raise the ashes as well as the dust, it is inconsequential, so long as someone isn’t being cremated in an effort to thwart the resurrection of their body on the last day.
The reason many Christians take the view that cremation is sinful is that invariably it was evil people, such as Saul, who were cremated (though many commentators don’t view the action in 1 Samuel 31:12 as an actual cremation). But in the Old Testament era, it was the unrepentant evil ones who were burned in the fire.
Consider, for instance, Leviticus 21:9 where we read: “If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.”
Or consider how Joshua 7:25 describes Achan and his family being stoned to death. It says: “Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them.”
Likewise, in 2 Kings 23:20 we read, “Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. Then he went back to Jerusalem.”
By contrast, we read in Deuteronomy 34:6 that God buried Moses. And in the New Testament, we have the example of Jesus who was buried in the tomb. He is our example; He is the one we are to follow in life and in death.
I pastored a church once that had lost many members over the issue of cremation. One of my predecessors had said, in forceful terms from the pulpit, that he would never perform a memorial service for someone who had been cremated. He elaborated on some of the texts I have mentioned.  Consequently, when I was considering the call to that church the presbytery questioned me at length as to whether I would do a memorial service where the deceased had been cremated.
I said I would, and I have. I have no doubt that God is able to raise those ashes and will raise them. I also realize that most Christians who desire to be cremated do so because financially it is much cheaper to be cremated than to have a burial service. It costs a lot to live, but it costs a lot to die, too. 
My own mother desired to be cremated. She had been a widow for decades but a couple of years before her death she married a widower. He was older than my Mom by quite a few years, so we were surprised when she died first. Her new husband was grieved, not only by her death, but also that she had stipulated in her will that she wanted to be cremated. Her reason for cremation was strictly financial, but her new husband believed it was sinful for a Christian to be cremated. 
We ended up burying her next to my father in a cemetery outside of Champaign-Urbana. My one brother kiddingly asked, “Do you think Mom is looking down from heaven?” And I said, “No, she’s looking at Jesus, but she would surely be angry with us if she could look down because we haven’t done anything that her will stipulated!”
My own preference is to be buried, in a simple ceremony with an economical casket. However, sometimes as Christians we argue and debate things that aren’t that big, and the crucial areas of life – a Christ-like love, serving God and others, purity, holiness, living our lives as a living sacrifice of praise in view of God’s mercy – these things sometimes get neglected because we are parsing the verses on cremation and burial, or some other issue, that is admittedly an important issue, but not a central issue to our salvation.
A third moral issue brought up in these chapters is homosexuality. 2 Samuel 1:26 is frequently used as justification for homosexuality in the LGBTQ+ community. In that verse David declares, “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.”
You have perhaps heard of the Metropolitan Community Churches. They are a worldwide group of churches that teach the inclusion of all people and all behaviors. To give you an idea of their size, MCC congregations around the world perform more than six thousand same-sex unions or marriage ceremonies annually.
Many mainline churches now share their “queer theology” (their term, not mine). And virtually all those churches point to 2 Samuel 1:26 as a “proof” text. They say, “David said that Jonathan’s love for him was wonderful, more wonderful than the love of women. So obviously David loved Jonathan more than Ahinoam, Abigail, or even Bathsheba. There’s nothing sinful about homosexuality – just look at David and Jonathan.”
And as for Sodom and Gomorrah, they weren’t destroyed because of their sexual practices. They were destroyed because they weren’t concerned about the needs of others. It says so right in Ezekiel 16:49. It says: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” That is the line of reasoning by those in the MCC, and the mainline churches that have accepted their twisted view of Scripture.
Clearly, 2 Samuel 1:26 isn’t advocating homosexuality. If anyone was heterosexual it was David who got himself into a lot of trouble because of his love for the female form. What then does that text refer to? What does David mean when he says, “Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.”?
On the one hand, he refers to Jonathan’s love for him which was so great that he sacrificed the throne for David.  As Saul’s son, Jonathan would have been the next king, but Jonathan passed that up knowing that God had determined that David would be the next king of Israel.
Jonathan also risked his life on more than one occasion for David, as he sought to protect David from Saul. Those of you who served in the military in times of war can perhaps especially relate to what David is saying.  If your life was spared because of a comrade who risked his life for you, you have a love for that person that is different than the love you have for your wife. There is nothing sexual about it. It is simply a great love for someone who was willing to sacrifice themself so that your life was spared.
God’s Judgment on Sin
We have seen a number of things that these chapters don’t teach: They certainly don’t condone suicide, cremation, or a gay lifestyle, but by way of biblical application they do teach that sin against God brings judgment. 
That is true in every case. It was certainly true for Saul. His sinful rebellion against the Lord led to his day of judgment. In verse 4 we read of how he died, and in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 we read an inspired commentary on Saul’s death: “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.”  
But it wasn’t just Saul who suffered judgment. Israel as a nation also suffered judgment because of her sin. 1 Samuel 31:7 describes how “When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them.”
Leaders of nations, just like pastors of churches and teachers of students, have a greater responsibility. By their place of influence and authority they either build up those under their guidance or cause their downfall. And because of that, evil leaders whether in government, churches, or educational institutions will face a stricter judgment from the Lord unless they repent. (cf. James 3:1)
God’s judgment also came upon the Amalekite who lied. Critics of the Bible love to point out “the big error” – the huge discrepancy – between the account of Saul’s death in 1 Samuel 31:4 and 2 Samuel 1:10. 1 Samuel 31:4 describes how Saul said to his armor-bearer, “‘Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.’ But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it.”
But then in 2 Samuel 1:10 we read about an Amalekite who told David that he killed Saul and took his crown and armband which he proudly presented to David. The critic says, “The authors of the Bible couldn’t even remember what they wrote. First, they say Saul threw himself on his sword and took his own life, and then they say this Amalekite did him in. Obviously, the Bible is full of errors!”
However, that is hardly the case. This Amalekite may well have witnessed Saul’s death and rushed up to get his crown with the thought of what he could gain. Being an Amalekite he figured David would be overjoyed at Saul’s death because now David would be king. Perhaps the Amalekite thought he would be rewarded with a bounty for his claim that he killed Saul. He was a brazen liar, and judgment came upon him.
And the same is true for all who do not repent and accept by faith the gospel truth that Jesus bore the punishment for the sins of His people. If we do not accept by saving faith that Jesus suffered and died to take the curse of our sin upon Himself – that He was punished in our place – that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21)then we, too, will face judgment rather than blessing.
Sin against God always brings judgment. If you and I don’t accept that Jesus bore the judgment we deserve, then we will pay the punishment for our sins in the eternity of hell. You have perhaps seen the tweet, “Worried about dying? Don’t. You will live forever. All you have to worry about is location, location, location.”
That tweet is backed up by biblical truth in many passages including Daniel 12:2, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” And it is backed up in the words of Jesus in John 5:28-29: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
The day is coming when the truth of Hebrews 9:27 will become a reality in your life and mine. That verse reminds us that each one of us is destined for death, and after that to face the judgment. If you have never trusted in Christ alone for your salvation from sin, take seriously the free offer of the gospel as it is proclaimed in 2 Corinthians 6:1, 2:
As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you."
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
God’s Name Blasphemed Among the Gentiles
A second application from this passage is that when public sin brings havoc in the church – “the Israel of God” – we are to lament that God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles.
When David raised the lament in verse 19, “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen!” he was lamenting that God’s glory is ridiculed because of the sin of His people. The Philistines were filled with joy because they had defeated the people of God.  “Our god, Dagon, is far greater than their God, Yahweh,” they undoubtedly reasoned. That’s why in verse 20 David commands, “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.”
The same principle applies in the church, which is described in Galatians 6:16 as “the Israel of God.”  We are to guard ourselves against sin, and mourn the public sins that the media rejoices in whenever a prominent Christian leader falls, because then God’s name is blasphemed among the heathen – among the Gentiles.
Recognizing my sin, I try to guard my life because I don’t want sin to mar my relationship with God, or bring sorrow to my wife, or shame to my children. But an even greater incentive for living a pure, holy life is that if we don’t, we will cause God’s name to be blasphemed by unbelievers.
In Romans 2 the Apostle lists a long series of questions: “...You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?”  And then in verse 24 he writes: “As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”
A great incentive for living a pure and holy life is so that the "Israel of God" - the church and our Lord - are not ridiculed and blasphemed because of our public sin. An important prayer for every Christian, and certainly every Christian leader, is the prayer of David in Psalm 69:5, 6:
You know my folly, O God;
    my guilt is not hidden from you.
May those who hope in you
    not be disgraced because of me,
    O Lord, the Lord Almighty;
may those who seek you
    not be put to shame because of me,
    O God of Israel.
God’s Mercy in Good Times and Bad
In this tragic passage, we also see that God is good when things go well and God is good when they don’t. God was at work in the death of Saul and Israel’s downfall as we clearly see from the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14. But it wasn’t just Saul who took his life. 1 Chronicles 10:14 declares: “The Lord put him to death.
But through these events, God was also working to bless Israel greatly through the reign of David and then his son, Solomon. God is good, and He is working all things for our good, when circumstances are bright, and also when circumstances are dark and more tragic than what we could ever imagine them to be.
One of the things that always touches my heart is that when a Christian is suffering greatly, whether with illness, accident, death, loss of a job, or other hardships, do you know what words I often hear? Often, I hear Christians in those circumstances – in fact, many of you, in the great difficulties of your lives – have said to me, many times through tears, “God is so good.”
As we look ahead to the future (a new year), knowing that it will bring both joys and sorrows, both trials and blessings, how important that we also remember – and rejoice – in the fact that God is good, no matter what our circumstances may be. As Ecclesiastes 7:14 puts it: “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other...”
The words of Job are so true, spoken to his skeptical wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)
No matter what the future brings (in this new year), may we always focus with saving faith on Jesus Christ, and live in such a way that the name of our Lord is glorified, hallowed, and praised, for He is always good, whether in times of great joy or in times of deepest sorrow.  Amen.
sermon outline:
                                “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.
                                      How the mighty have fallen!”  (2 Samuel 1:19)
                                    “How the Mighty Have Fallen!”
                                      1 Samuel 31:1 - 2 Samuel 1:27
I.  1 Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1 go hand in hand; they were not separated in the original
     texts. Between the two chapters several moral issues are raised, including:
     1) Suicide (1 Samuel 31:4e; cf. Matthew 27:3-5)
     2) Cremation (1 Samuel 31:12; cf. Lev. 21:9; Josh 7:25; Deuteronomy 34:6)
     3) Homosexuality, as 2 Samuel 1:26 is wrongly but frequently used as justification for
         homosexuality in the LBGTQ+ community
II. By way of Biblical application the two chapters teach:
     1) Sin against God brings judgment – for Saul (1 Sam. 31:4), for Israel (1 Sam. 31:7),
          for the Amalekite who lied (2 Sam. 1:1-16) – and for you and for me if we don’t repent
          of our sins with true saving faith in Christ alone (Isaiah 53:5-6; Acts 4:12)
     2) When public sin brings havoc in the church (the Israel of God, Galatians 6:16), we
          are to lament that God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles (19-20; Psalm 69:5-6;
          Romans 2:21-24)
     3) God is good when things go well and when they don’t. God was at work in the death
         of Saul and Israel’s downfall (1 Chronicles 10:13-14), just as He was at work in the
         blessings Israel experienced under David and Solomon (Ecclesiastes 7:14; Job 2:10)



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Ted Gray

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