Epiphany 1

Preached: January 10, 2010

God Knows Your Heart
1 Samuel 16:1-13

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Holy Spirit works in our heart through these words recorded in 1 Samuel

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve for Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and go. I'm sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have provided a king for me from among his sons.”

Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear and kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer along with you and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.' You will invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will reveal to you what to do. You will anoint for me the one which I tell you.”

Samuel did what the Lord had said and went to Bethlehem. The elders of the town trembled to meet him and asked, “Do you come in peace?”

He said, “I come in peace to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” He sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

It happened that when he came he saw Eliab, and he said, “Oh! The Lord's anointed stands before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance, at his tall stature, since I have rejected him. It's not what man sees, for man looks at what's visible, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse summoned Abinadab and had him pass by in front of Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse had Shammah pass by. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had his seven sons pass by before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”

Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Is this the full number of your boys?”

He said, “There's still the youngest left over. But see, he's shepherding the sheep.”

Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not gather round [the table] until he comes here.”

He sent and brought him. He was ruddy with beautiful eyes and a good appearance. The Lord said, “Get up. Anoint him, for he is the one.” Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. Samuel got up and went to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“Let's get at the heart of the matter here.” What do people mean when they say that? That means much more than, “Let's see how it feels,” doesn't it? The heart is the center, the essence, what it's all about inside and out, what makes it go. The opposite of getting at the heart is just brushing over the matter, skimming the surface, glancing at outward appearances.

Isn't that the contrast the Lord makes in the text when he says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV)? He's not contrasting head and heart, as if feelings were more important than ideas. Rather he's contrasting what the eye can see on the outside with what is truly inside you. The heart, the way the Bible uses that word, focuses on the mind as well as the emotions. In fact, in Biblical language if the writer wanted to emphasize emotions, he wouldn't use the word for heart but rather the word for kidneys or bowels. The heart is the real you, the inner you. It's your thoughts and mind, your feelings and emotion, your will and drive. It's the full you, the real you.

That's the “you” which the Lord sees. We can put on appearances. We can play to the eyes of others. We can fool them for better or for worse. But the Lord sees the heart of the matter. He knows the real you. He knows your heart. That's what we want to think about this morning as the Holy Spirit leads us to reflect on the lives of Saul and of David.

A. The Lord's not fooled by outward appearance

1. How did King Saul fall away from the Lord?

First of all King Saul. He had started out as a good king, humble and magnanimous. Do you remember how it came about before Saul had become king? While he and a servant were outlooking for his father's donkey, Samuel anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel. Yet when Israel gathered to chose him as king, Saul went and hid among the baggage. Who was he to lead the Lord's people? Some troublemakers despised him, but he kept silent.

Soon after that the city of Jabesh Gilead was besieged and Saul rallied Israel to rescue it. After that victory some wanted to put those troublemakers to death who had complained about the king. But Saul said, “No one shall be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel” (1 Samuel 11:13 NIV). King Saul made a good start.

What happened between then and the start of the text when the Lord says to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 16:1)? Although there were several incidents in Saul's fall, the breaking point came when the Lord told Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites and everything belonging to them because of their sins against Israel. Saul went and defeated them, but he and his men spared the best of the sheep and cattle.

When Samuel confronted him with his disobedience, Saul excused the action by saying they took the sheep and cattle to sacrifice them to the Lord. Wouldn't that look good? But rather than the outward sacrifice, the Lord delights in true obedience to his word, Samuel told Saul. Therefore the Lord had rejected Saul as king.

Saul knew that this would not look good. So he said he was sorry and asked for forgiveness. But the Lord knew his heart. He knew what was going on inside Saul. So Samuel repeated that the Lord had torn the kingdom from him. When Saul and Samuel returned to the army, Saul worshiped the Lord with Samuel so that he would retain honor before the elders of Israel. But after that until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again. The Lord's not fooled by outward appearance.

Each of us needs to mark this warning for ourselves. Like Saul you've made a good start. You've been baptized into Christ. Many of you have confessed your faith at confirmation. You've learned the truths of God's Word in Sunday school, catechism class, and Bible class. You're here today worshiping. But the Lord knows your heart. He's not fooled by outward appearance.

2. What do we discover as we examine our own hearts?

So you and I need to examine our inner self: our thoughts, our attitude, our emotions, our will, our motive, our drive. Yes, that's all involved in that word “heart.” Are you an “eye” Christian, concerned about what looks good in the eyes of others more than about where your heart is? Do you just go through the motions of being a Christian? Are you doing it because that's what you're expected to do, that's what your parents did, that's what makes you look good? Do you try to strike a balance between looking like a good a Christian on the one hand and being too religious on the other hand, as if too much of God's Word or following his will too closely is a bad thing? Do you figure, why strive and strain too hard to do what God wants since “I can just ask for forgiveness when I get caught anyway”? Don't follow the path of King Saul.

Now if you're sitting there thinking, “That's not me. I always follow Jesus with my whole heart.” Then you are already only looking at appearances. You've fooled yourself. But the Lord's not fooled by outward appearance.

For my heart is divided, and so is yours, unless like Saul you've already forsaken the Lord. My heart is divided. The new self in you and me delights in the Word of our God, rejoices in his love, and desires to do his will continually. But my old self so often betrays me. It rejects God's word as foolish boredom, abuses his love as a license for sin, and desires to do its own thing. How can the new self in me grow so that my heart more and more delights in the Lord? Let's learn from David.

B. The Lord's Spirit changes us at the core

1. In what ways did David demonstrate his trust in the Lord?

“From that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power” (1 Samuel 16:13 NIV). The Holy Spirit changes us at the core. He changes hearts. Consider some of the effects the Holy Spirit worked in the life of David. When faced with the hostile giant Goliath, David declared to him, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied”(1 Samuel 17:45 NIV). He trusted in the Lord.

When King Saul tried to hunt him down, David hid. On two occasions when he could have killed Saul, he refused to raise his hand against the king, the Lord's anointed. Rather he trusted the Lord to remove Saul at the right time and bring him to the throne.

When he was told that he could not build a temple for the Lord but that a son from his own body would build a house for the name of the Lord and reign forever, King David believed. He praised that Lord that through his family line the Savior would come and reign forever. He trusted the Lord to keep his promise.

Even when King David resisted the Holy Spirit and committed adultery with Uriah's wife and arranged for his murder, the Holy Spirit brought David to repentance through the words of the prophet Nathan. David confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13 NIV), and he trusted the good news from the mouth of the prophet, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Samuel 12:13 NIV).

And when King David had to flee Jerusalem because his son, Absalom, had orchestrated a coup d'état, he left it in the Lord's hands whether the Lord would bring him back or not. He trusted the Lord.

2. Describe how the Holy Spirit changes us to the core so that we trust God's promises as David did. List some of these promises.

That's the change the Holy Spirit works in you and me. He plants trust in the Lord and grows that trust. But just as a farmer doesn't just wave his hand and have his fields planted and growing, so also the Holy Spirit uses tools. For you see, through his tools the Holy Spirit brings us God's promises, and his promise create trust.

The Second Lesson today showed us one of those tools. God “saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5, 6 NIV). What kind of washing pours out the Holy Spirit on us? Baptism, that washing of water with the word.

And what promises does the Holy Spirit use in Baptism to plant trust in your heart? Go back to Titus 3. “ . . . so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7 NIV). What great promises are contained in those words: The promise of justification that God gives the verdict that he has forgiven your sins. They are washed away. Your record is clean, for he counts Jesus' record as yours. The promise that this is all by grace, unearned, unmerited, unasked for by us, but freely given according to his good will and pleasure, freely given because Jesus has paid the price of his blood in our place. The promise of inheritance, for in Baptism you were reborn into God's family. The promise of hope, a hope that does not disappoint no matter what giants of trouble you face, for this hope is built on Jesus and his word which does not fail or prove false. The promise of eternal life, for Jesus has risen. He has conquered death. He brings eternal life to all who believe in him. What great promises the Holy Spirit uses to change us to the core!

This book, the Bible, is God's book of promises. Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life” (John 6:63 NIV-footnote). Through the word the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts. Through the word the Holy Spirit speaks God's saving promises. Through the word the Holy Spirit plants trust. And that's why we dare not play head and heart against each other. For after Baptism the Holy Spirit brings the word to our hearts through our head. The Holy Spirit uses our minds to understand the word, to know what the promise is saying so that we trust what our God says. Without the Holy Spirit our reason would reject the promises as foolishness, but the Holy Spirit open our minds. He enlightens us through these same words of promise so that we believe.

If you want the Spirit, use the word. If you want to be David and not Saul, use the word. A good place to go in the Scriptures is to the Psalms. God used David to write many of them. The Holy Spirit will use them to work trust in your heart. For through the word the Holy Spirit changes us to the core so that we do much more than simply an outward practice of Christianity. He changes our hearts, the real you, the inner you, your thoughts, mind, emotions, attitude, will, and drive. God knows your heart. He knows how to keep you trusting his promises. No matter what Goliath you face, no matter how bleak the future may seem, no matter how horrible the sin that torments you, the Holy Spirit is fervently calling to you through Baptism and through God's word. Hear his promises. Trust them. They will not fail. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313