Sunday, April 15, 2012

David: The uncrowned king

“Strike him,” Abishai whispered into his ear.

David stiffened and quickly scanned the sleeping soldiers that surrounded them. No one stirred. He listened a few seconds more and then slowly exhaled.

He glanced down at the man who had been pursuing him, forcing him to live in caves, ever on the run. He simply lay there sleeping. David wondered at the last time he had seen Saul looking so peaceful.

Abishai pulled up Saul's spear from where it had been stuck into the ground. He rolled the shaft back and forth in his palms a few times as he eyed the sleeping king. He leaned into David's ear again. This time he whispered, “Look! God has delivered your enemy into your hand.” Gripping the spear and pointing the tip downwards, he continued, “Give me your leave, and I will pin his head to the earth!”

It could be all over. He would finally be king. “No,” David said, “bring his spear and that water jug by his head.” Then the two men crept silently out of the camp.

King Saul twice finds himself unknowingly at David's mercy. While pursuing David through the mountains, Saul one day retreats into a cave to relieve himself. Hidden deeper in the cave are David and his army. The men encourage David to seize the opportunity to strike Saul dead, but David will only cut off the corner of his garment. Then some time later, David and Abishai sneak into the camp of Israel. As they stand over the sleeping king, Abishai offers to strike Saul dead. Instead David is content to steal the water jar and spear that were lying by Saul's head.

David had been forced to live and hide in the wilderness because Saul saw him as an enemy and a threat. Yet, all that time, he was God's anointed. He knew that God would one day make him king. So when these two opportunities arose, those around him tempted David by saying, “Look! God has given you your enemy! All you have been promised will finally be yours!” But David would not kill Saul. He knew that there were no shortcuts to the throne.

The Bible records for us that Jesus, after his baptism by John, retreated alone into the desert. There he fasted for forty days before being tempted by Satan. The Devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me!” No suffering! No humiliation! No cross!

But Jesus would not take short cuts. Just as David suffered before finally being raised up to the throne, Jesus too had to follow the path laid out for him by his Father. Writing to the Philippians, Paul says, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.” And one day we shall.

(1 Samuel 26; Philippians 2)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Jordan: The river of rebirth

The servant cleared his throat. More loudly this time. “WHAT?”, Naaman snapped.

The day had not been going well. When they had arrived at the palace of the king of Israel, Naaman had been welcomed according to protocol, as befitting someone of his rank and accomplishments. The letter from the king of Syria was then presented to the Israelite servants to be taken to their king. But the king's response had been slow. Insultingly so.

When the servants finally returned, they looked somewhat fearful. Perhaps it was the leprosy. The servants explained that the king would not cure Namaan's leprosy and that he would have to consult with a prophet named Elisha. They were given directions and shown the door. Naaman, seething, returned to his chariot. Not a word was spoken until they arrived at Elisha's door.

This time, a single servant had emerged from the house with a message for Naaman. “Go wash in the Jordan river seven times and you will be clean,” he said and then he returned into the house.

That had done it. Naaman was furious. “Why wouldn't the prophet come out and pray over me and heal me himself? He wouldn't even speak with me directly! And why the Jordan river? It's barely a river, more of a muddy stream! There are much better rivers in Syria!” Naaman's anger had not abated, even as they continued on their return home.

The servant chose his words carefully. “My Father, if the prophet had asked something difficult of you, would you have not done it? Why then would you not be willing to obey when you were simply instructed `Go wash and be clean?'”

Naaman looked at the servant for a few silent moments. Then he ordered that the chariot be turned around.

When they arrived at the Jordan, Naaman descended from his chariot. He removed his sword. He removed his armor. Finally he removed his garments and handed them to the servant. As he stood there naked, the servants could clearly see the ravages that the leprosy had already taken on his body. Naaman descended the muddy bank, wadded out into the water and immersed himself. Once. Twice. Three times. Four times. Five times. Six times. Seven times.

When Naaman came up after the seventh washing, the servants all gasped. The leprosy was gone! The damage to his body had been undone. Even all the scars Naaman had acquired from years of fighting had disappeared. Naaman was shaking with joy as the servant helped him dress, and as his fingers brushed Naaman's body he could feel that his skin was as smooth and as perfect as a newborn's.

Nicodemus the Pharisee came to speak with Jesus one night. The conversation did not go at all as he had anticipated. At one point Jesus said to him, “You must be born again” which left Nicodemus was very confused. Was Jesus was suggesting that he had to return to his mother's womb and be born again physically?

Naaman the leper experienced something as close to physical rebirth as is recorded for us in the Bible. The account makes it very clear to us that his skin was not just healed, but regenerated. But first he had to humble himself, go to the river, expose himself, and obey.

Jesus explained to Nicodemus that is wasn't physical, but spiritual rebirth that was needed. The scars and ravages of sin cannot be covered up, they must be undone. Like Naaman's physical healing, salvation requires humility, exposure and obedience. The source of the healing is despised, like the muddy Jordan river, but when we come and believe we are baptised into Christ. We are reborn and remade. As Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

(2 Kings 5; John 3)