Sunday, October 31, 2010

1 Samuel 7:1-6,9-12 "Ichabod to Ebenezer: The Glorious Road from Ichabod to Ebenezer"

1 Samuel 7:1-6, 9-12 Then the men of Kirjath Jearim came and took the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD. So it was that the ark remained in Kirjath Jearim a long time; it was there twenty years. And all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD. Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the LORD, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only. And Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the LORD. And they fasted that day, and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah.
And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. Then Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him. Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and drove them back as afar as below Beth Car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”

Sermon VIII - “The Glorious Road from Ichabod to Ebenezer”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,

This morning we conclude a sermon series which we began way back on August 29. Over these past two months we’ve watched the sad, spiritual decline of Israel, who were supposed to be God’s people. The road thus far for Israel, has been anything but glorious. It began as we looked at the home of a believing couple in Israel and we realized the true glory of Israel was seen in the intimate relationship of the home with its God. But we watched as Israel’s spiritual condition declined. We saw the terrible spiritual conditions in the home of Israel’s high priest, Eli. We watched as a father did nothing to curb the shameful act of his sons within the walls of the church itself. Then we saw how little respect the people had for the things of God as they took the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them, believing the ark itself would be able to save them from their enemies. At that, the ark was captured and Eli’s two sons died in battle. ICHABOD! The glory departed from Israel.

This road from Ichabod to Ebenezer then took a rather surprising turn as the Ark of the LORD ended up in the temple of a false god. It was there we saw the one true God reaching out to the heathen to show them that He alone is God. But these heathen wanted nothing to do with the ark or the LORD. They wanted to rid themselves of it and all the trouble it brought, and return to blindly following their false god Dagon. So they sent put the ark on a cart and sent it back to Israel. The ark first stopped in Beth Shemesh where the people acted like selfish children on Christmas and looked into the ark. God demonstrated His holiness by slaughtering a great number of people for despising His sacred ark. The people of Beth Shemesh sent off the ark to the neighboring town of Kirjath Jearim saying, “Who is able to stand before this holy LORD GOD?”

That brings us to our last text in this sermon series. The Ark of the LORD has returned to its home, but has the glory returned? Or does Ichabod remain? We read that the ark spent twenty years at the house of Abinadab in Kirjath Jearim, with his son Eleazar consecrated to keep the ark. And it would appear that for twenty years the Ichabod remained in Israel, even though the ark had returned. During this time the house of Israel lamented after the LORD. That is, they knew life wasn’t what it should be. They knew something was wrong. They continued to be servants of the Philistines.

So it was that they had contrition, but not repentance. They were sorrowful and lamented after the LORD, but they did not bear fruits of repentance and believe on the LORD for forgiveness. During these twenty years of sorrow and oppression they continued to worship false gods - the Baals and Ashtoreths - gods of lust. There was sorrow, but no repentance.

It was not until Samuel, the prophet of the LORD, spoke the law to Israel that repentance was worked in their hearts. “If you return to the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the LORD, and serve Him only.” The LORD is not interested in splitting time with Baal or any other false god. He alone is God and there is no other. He is a jealous God who will not share His glory with another. Therefore they needed to prepare themselves inwardly and outwardly. Outwardly by removing all the false gods from among them. Inwardly by repentance.

And return they did. They put away all their false gods and served the LORD only. At Samuel’s word they gathered at the city of Mizpah. There we read that they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. This was a symbol of them pouring out their hearts to the LORD in sorrow over their sins. Furthermore they confessed, “We have sinned against the LORD.” Then Samuel prayed for Israel and the LORD answered. The LORD answered by fighting their battle for them and driving off the Philistines.

The glory of Israel has returned! No longer was Ichabod present in Israel but Ebenezer. The name Ebenezer should sound as glorious to the Christian’s ear as Ichabod is hideous. Ichabod means that the glory has departed. Ebenezer means stone of help. The LORD was Israel’s Ebenezer - their stone of help. His help did not just come in defeating the Philistines. His help came in defeating their greatest enemies. He helped them by defeating their sin problem by sending His Son to be their Savior. He defeated death when He raised Jesus to life on the third day. And He defeated the old evil foe, Satan, when Jesus crushed Him underfoot. Ebenezer! Thus far the LORD has helped us.

What a glorious road to Ebenezer that is! Though it was a dark road for many years, Ebenezer was not far. It was but a quick U-turn that God worked in their hearts by causing them to repent and believe on Him. And so it always has been with the LORD God. It is just like the Prodigal Son who went from the pig troughs to his father’s open arms. “The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression.” (Num 14:18) “With Him is abundant redemption.” (Ps 130:7b) What a glorious road this is from Ichabod to Ebenezer, as the LORD reforms His people!

On this Reformation Sunday we are reminded once again how glorious a road it is from Ichabod to Ebenezer. At one time the church of Rome was a faithful Christian church. But like Israel, over time the glory departed. Rather than preaching the pure Word of God and proclaiming the glories of the Gospel, Rome wandered further and further from the Truth. Over time the Antichrist arose telling the people that he was God’s representative on earth and alone had the authority on earth to forgive sins. He condoned the worship of false gods by telling the people to pray to saints and the Virgin Mary.

But Ichabod can be most clearly seen in the Roman Catholic Church when we consider that chief doctrine in all of Scripture - the doctrine of justification. The doctrine of justification declares on what account are we declared “not guilty” in God’s sight. We call this the chief teaching in all of Scripture because our eternal salvation is dependent on it. The Apostle Paul clearly teaches that man is justified by grace through faith in Jesus alone, apart from any works of man. We heard this in our New Testament lesson from Romans 3, that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24) And in verse 28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

But as Martin Luther came on the scene in the early 1500's, this chief doctrine was no longer being championed by the church of Rome. When this young monk was troubled by his sins, his priest told him to do more good works and pray to Mary. There we see Ichabod. The glory has departed when a troubled sinner is no longer pointed to Christ to comfort His troubled conscience. In fact the church of Rome would go on to proclaim in the Council of Trent, “If anyone says, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema (or eternally condemned to hell).” (Canon XII) The council of Trent was in fact condemning to hell not just the Lutherans, but also the Apostle Paul for teaching justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

While Luther only found Ichabod in the church of Rome, he did find Ebenezer in the Scriptures. There Luther found his Stone of Help in His Savior Jesus Christ whose death on the cross paid for every one of his sins. He found Ebenezer in the Gospel as he read how God declared him “not guilty” not because of anything he did or did not do, but solely because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And so the Reformation began. Another U-turn to God’s Word. God worked through Luther to bring to light this glorious doctrine of justification once again. Sinners were called to repentance and comforted with the good news about Jesus Christ. People were not directed to saints or to their works, but to Jesus as Ebenezer - their Stone of Help. In the Reformation we see once again the glorious road from Ichabod to Ebenezer.

Over these past 6 months or so, we have been taking note of the 50th Anniversary of this Church of the Lutheran Confession. In the 1950's there were many troubled Christians who wondered if Ichabod had returned to Lutheranism in America. The once confessional Synodical Conference was on the verge of falling apart because of false teaching. The once stalwart Lutheran church body in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, had begun to practice unionism, that is, they were fellowshiping with those with whom they were not agreed in doctrine. And this caused the smaller, once orthodox synods of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the little Norwegian Synod (today’s Evangelical Lutheran Synod) to fail in putting Scripture into practice by breaking fellowship with the Missouri Synod.

The Word of God was being ignored. Some were adding to Scripture others were taking away from Scripture by not teaching and practicing what God’s Word says. Many conscientious Lutherans had to leave the church bodies they had grown up in. Many had to break fellowship even with their family members. Where would they go? Would they have a church to worship at? Would they have a Christian school to send their children to? The future seemed so uncertain. Ichabod seemed to be enclosing in on them.

Yet Ebenezer was not far from any of them. They had the Lord Jesus Christ as their Stone of Help. He was not going anywhere. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. His promises were not going to change. He would be with His children even unto the end of the age. And so He continued to be Ebenezer to His faithful children. He brought together like-minded Christians and formed this Church of the Lutheran Confession. He also opened up doors and guided the way for us to establish Immanuel Lutheran High School, College, and Seminary. God worked another reformation through His Word. While those early days were uncertain, today we look on our history as Christians, as Lutherans, and as members of the CLC and by the grace of God are able to say with Samuel, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
What a glorious road it is from Ichabod to Ebenezer. May the LORD continue to be our Ebenezer - our Stone of Help - now and into eternity. All praise be to the Triune God! Amen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

1 Samuel 5:1-8 "Ichabod to Ebenezer: Part 6 - The Ark of God Goes Visiting"


1 Samuel 5:1-8 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set it in its place again. And when they arose early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. The head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only the torso of Dagon was left of it. Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor any who come into Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day. But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and He ravaged them and struck them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. And when the men of Ashdod saw how it was, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is harsh toward us and Dagon our god.” Therefore they sent and gathered to themselves all the lords of the Philistines, and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?” And they answered, “Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried away to Gath.” So they carried the ark of the God of Israel away.

#VI: “The Ark of God Goes Visiting” (Adapted from a sermon series by Pastor E. Schaller - 1964-65 Journal of Theology)

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
Is there any place God would not be willing to go to share His glory? This question came to mind this last week when we heard a talk show host trying to excuse his behavior. His conservative audience had scolded him for being interviewed in a magazine that publishes images of nude women. The host defended his action saying that if Jesus were alive today, He would have been interviewed by the same magazine because Jesus went were the sinners were. How would you react to such a statement? Well, there are really two parts to the statement. The first is that Jesus would have been interviewed in a magazine that existed to break the 6th Commandment. And such a statement is ridiculous and borders even on blasphemy.
The other point he made, that Jesus went to where the sinners were, should be clear to all. We heard in our Gospel lesson that the Pharisees were shocked and appalled that Jesus spent time with well-known “sinners” and even ate with them! Jesus had a valuable lesson to teach. He did go to sinners, because He came to save sinners! If Jesus avoided all sinners He would have stayed in heaven! But His purpose in going where the sinners were, was not, as I suspect was the case with this talk-show host, to gain publicity for Himself. He went to where the sinners were to call them to repentance and to save them from their sins.
With that, we return to our question. Is there any place God would not be willing to go to share His glory? Our text for today gives us another Scriptural example of God reaching out to the idolatrous heathens to lead them to repentance and saving faith in His name. As we continue in our sermon series, “From Ichabod to Ebenezer” let us consider how the ark of God goes visiting. May the Holy Spirit work through His Word to enlighten our hearts and minds that we may be zealous in reaching out to the heathen and show to them that there is no other God, but the Triune God!

When God gave the command to Moses to build the Ark of the Covenant, He did it with a specific purpose in mind. In the directions God gave, He said to Moses, “You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.” (Ex 25:21-22) IN the Ark would be the Law which God had given and which the Children of Israel had vowed to obey. The terms of the covenant they had agreed on. IN the ark were the 10 Commandments. ON the Ark would be the mercy seat, where God would meet with His people. ON the Ark was the Gospel as God announced mercy to His repentant people.
But last Sunday, we heard how the people came to despise the true purpose of the Ark of the Covenant and began to look on it as a good luck charm. As they headed into battle with the Philistines, the priests carried this ark into battle believing that the Ark itself would give them the victory. Thus they showed their disdain for the living God and contempt for His covenant with them. God granted the victory to the heathen Philistines and the Ark was captured. Ichabod, the glory had departed from Israel.

It is quite interesting to see where the ark of God goes, when it goes visiting. We read in our text that the Philistines took the ark of God into the temple of their god Dagon. Dagon was their god which symbolized the fruitfulness of the sea. The statue had the head and hands of a human, but the torso and tail of a fish. They brought the ark of God to this location because they viewed their victory over Israel as a victory over Israel’s God too. They put this trophy of this defeated God next to their god, Dagon. This showed how these idolatrous people viewed the God of Israel - as if He were no different than the god they had formed with their hands. In fact, since they defeated Israel, the Philistines probably viewed the God of the ark as being inferior to Dagon.
It is amazing that God would allow this, isn’t it? After all, we read about the same ark in 2 Samuel that when it was being transported at one point that the oxen stumbled and Uzzah reached out and took a hold of the ark, that God struck Him dead. Yet, here the Philistines put the ark of the covenant into the temple of a false god and there was no bolt of lightning from heaven to stop them!
This does not seem like a fitting place for the ark of the covenant at all! A symbol of the living God placed on the same level as an idol fashioned from man’s imagination and by his hands? But God uses this as an opportunity to reach out to this people and show them that there is no other God, but One.
After the ark’s first night in the temple of Dagon, the inhabitants of Ashdod entered the temple to find the statue of their false god flat on its face before the Ark of the Covenant. It was as though Dagon was worshiping the God of the ark. The people thought it might just be a coincidence and set their statue upright once again. After the ark’s second night in the temple of Dagon, there was no denying what was going on. The people of Ashdod entered the temple in the morning and once again found the statue of Dagon lying on the earth before the ark. Only this time the head and the hands of the statue had broken off.
The message God was sending this people was clear. It is the very thing that Paul told the Corinthians, “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.” (1 Cor 8:4b) Dagon was nothing but something they had thought up with their minds and fashioned with their hands. Dagon could do no thinking with its head and no working with its hands. Dagon could not remove one sin. Dagon could not rescue them from death and hell. Nor did Dagon even promise to do any of those thing. These are things that only God could do. Only Jesus’ death on the cross could atone for sin. Only Jesus resurrection from the dead could promise deliverance from death. And only faith in Jesus Christ could assure of deliverance from hell and the gift of eternal life. Dagon was nothing before the ark of the living God.
This may seem like a strange place for the ark of God to go visiting - a temple? But God wanted to get the attention of the people and show them that Dagon was nothing, and only He had any power to save. The Philistines had before them everything they needed to know about the living God. IN the ark was the Law, the Law by which is the knowledge of sin. ON the ark was the mercy seat of God - the good news of forgiveness and mercy in the promised Messiah. If only the Philistines knew to look there!
Next weekend we will be holding our Mission Festival service. And the question may arise as to where we should go with the Word of God? Sometimes we feel that having a church and holding regular worship services should be enough to attract the heathen. Here in church, like the ark, the Law and the Gospel are preached. Sin is condemned and for the repentant, forgiveness is promised for Jesus’ sake. But like the Philistines, what unbeliever knows to look into the ark to find out more?
In a way, we also are like the ark. We too know the Law and the mercy of our pardoning God. From childhood we have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. And we need to go visiting as well. Rather than waiting for unbelievers to come to us, we need to go to them and sow the seed of God’s Word. With God’s Law the idols that man has set up in his heart will crumble to the earth. The false gods of money, sex, power, pride, alcohol, and self. These are nothing and cannot save from eternal death in hell. None can overcome sin. None can overcome death. This is only something Jesus can do.
Unfortunately, when we go visiting with God’s Word many will react as the Philistines did. They recognized that the LORD God was behind the humiliation of their god and the cause of a plague among them. God intended to cause them to look to Him as the only true God. After all, this is the same God who said, “‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways!’” (Ez 33:11) God was actively at work among the heathen Philistines that they might turn to Him in faith and live!
Though the people recognized that the LORD God was doing all this, they wanted nothing to do with Him. Verse 7, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is harsh toward us and Dagon our god.” Get the ark out of here! We want nothing more to do with this God. Many react the same way when God visits them with His Word. Jesus told us as much in the parable of the sower and the seed. Some view God and His word as being too harsh and want nothing more to do with Him. They would much rather keep their false gods and carry on their merry way to hell. Though this be the case, we must not become discouraged. The ark of God must continue to go visiting to the heathen as the seed of His Word is sown.

Is there any place God would not go to share His glory? While Jesus would never have been interviewed in a dirty magazine just for sake of publicity, He would visit with a harlot and a tax collector to call them to repentance and share with them the hope of eternal life which He alone could give. God would even allow His most holy symbol on earth to be brought into a idol’s temple that He might witness His power and deity to them. May God help us to always cherish His Word and take the Gospel visiting with us wherever we go! Amen.