Sermon for Invocabit
Text: 1 Samuel 17:40–50; Matthew 4:1–11. Scripture quotations are from ESV unless otherwise noted.
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
There is a theme that runs through our service today. It is the theme of the Champion who fights for God’s people. Psalm 46 summarizes this theme with its words: “Be still and know that I am God.” This is not God admonishing us to seek Him in quiet contemplation. God is no enthusiast urging us to sit in quiet so that He can make himself known. This is God stepping forward to be the one who fights for us.
Luther captures this imagery well in the hymn we just sang: “For us fights the valiant one, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye who is this? Jesus Christ it is.” Yes, Jesus is the valiant one who fights for us, that is, for our good, on our behalf, in our place. This is the whole idea of Luther’s magnificent hymn, which captures the message of Psalm 46 superbly. With Christ on our side, we need fear no ill, no loss. Though everything be taken from us, it is God who breaks the bow and shatters the spear. When nations rage and kingdoms totter, it is the Lord who utters His voice and makes the earth melt. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Where Psalm 46 and Luther’s paraphrase of it in A Mighty Fortress are a fantastic summary of the Champion theme, there is perhaps no clearer example of what this looks like than in our Old Testament lesson from 1 Samuel. We have a great deal to learn from David in this narrative. But before we take him as our example, let us see him as a type, an image or foreshadowing of Christ. Jesus is not only the Son of David, He is the greater David—David’s Son and David’s Lord. What David does for Israel in a prefiguring of what Jesus will do for the Church.
David comes as the least among the Israelites. We heard last week how he wasn’t even invited to the sacrifice with Samuel like his father and brother. Now he has been sent by his father Jesse to check on his brothers, who are encamped with the armies of Saul against the Philistines. David isn’t even a soldier. He’s a shepherd, but a fierce and dedicated shepherd. When Saul tells David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” David responds, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.”
The people of God are paralyzed in fear. The giant who oppresses them draws near every day and says, choose someone to fight me and if I defeat him then you will all become our slaves, and if he defeats me, we will all become your slaves. Yet, who can defeat this giant? If a soldier volunteers to fight, he is most certainly to be killed. And if a soldier watches his compatriot fight, then he must watch his friend die and himself be turned into a slave. Thus, it happens over and over again. Day after day, the challenge is issued and goes unanswered.
Do you not see how this is just like the devil’s attack against mankind—how in one man’s sin all mankind fell and became slaves to the devil? But David has had enough. He tells King Saul, “Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” David fights for God’s people. He stands in at the battle as a representative of the entire nation. As it goes for David, it will go for all the people. If David wins, Israel is victorious. If David loses, Israel is defeated.
But David looks to the Lord: “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” David does not put his trust in himself, but in the Lord. For it is the Lord who has already anointed David to carry out the task of being the Shepherd of His people. David knows that the Lord will not hand over His anointed one. David will be king, and though he will not raise his hand against Saul and take the Kingdom for Himself, he is confident that the Lord will not hand him over to Goliath, but will deliver the oppressor of His people over to David. That is why David can cry out, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hand.”
David steps forward in the place of the entire nation, fighting for all of God’s people, confident in the Lord who has anointed him. He is the least of God’s people, but he is made the greatest. He is the smallest, but he is the champion. The veterans of Saul’s army can breathe easy in the trenches. They can stay in safety, behind the courage and steadfastness of David. The Lord will be victorious through His anointed one.
Fast-forward to David’s greater Son. He has been anointed by the Holy Spirit in His baptism at the Jordan to be the champion, the representative of the human race. He goes out in weakness. He becomes the least of all men. He gives Himself over to hunger and thirst while trusting God to provide. He steps into the breach and holds the ground of faithfulness on behalf of all men. The oppressor of God’s people comes and taunts Him. “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus will not take His own welfare into His own hands. God will provide and take care of His anointed. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Jesus answers temptation with God’s Word, as Eve had in the garden. Satan then proceeds to twist God’s Word, as he had done with Eve. “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” But Jesus will not put the Lord, His God and Father, to the test. Jesus will be the faithful champion of His people. Jesus will take back what the Devil had stolen.
Then the devil offers a compromise. The devil offers a truce. If you bow down and worship me, Jesus, then I will freely give you that which you came to win. All the kingdoms of the world will be given to you with all their glory. You can establish your Kingdom over all men right here on earth without suffering and dying. But Jesus sees through the temptation. He does not want to be Satan’s vassal, but the Father’s Son. His Kingdom will not be of this world. Its glory will be greater than all the glory of the earthly kingdoms together. Its glory will be the bloody death of Jesus. Yet Jesus will worship only the true God and offer the noblest sacrifice of His own holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death. “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
Jesus wins the battle. The Father sends the holy angels to minister to Him and sustain Him. It is important for us to remember that Jesus doesn’t resist temptation because of how well He can quote scripture, but because He trusts the Father. He knows for what purpose He has been anointed. For He will not only rule an eternal Kingdom from David’s throne, but He will also be an eternal priest in the order of Melchizedek who offers the noblest sacrifice on the Altar of the Cross. Yet He goes to the cross trusting that God will not abandon His anointed one. He whose word provides life will not let death have the final say. God will not let His anointed see corruption. He who is steadfast in battle gives His life and will be raised.
Who else could accomplish what Christ accomplishes? Who else can withstand Satan’s temptation with perfect trust? We can take David and Christ as examples and strive to live with the faith they exemplify, but first and foremost we must see in them God’s desire to save us.
Jesus has turned our struggle against Satan into a passive one. We endure, we persevere, we hold our ground, we put on the full armor of God that we might stand in the victory that Christ has won for us. This does not belittle our struggle against sin. No, especially in this season of repentance we ought to redouble our efforts at turning from that which is evil. This is no time to be lax. This is no time to say that right and wrong, sin and grace, are unimportant or trivial. This is a time to recognize the severity of our sin, to see the damage that our sin causes us and those around us. Do not receive the grace of God in vain.
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Turn from your sin and look to Christ who stands in your place, who fights for you. You have a champion. You have One worthy of your faith. He will not let you down. He has been tested in every way and has withstood the attacks of Satan that cause you to fall. In His victory you have life. In His victory the accuser has been cast out of heaven and no longer stands against you before God. Yet his wrath is great on the earth because he knows his time is short. Trust in Christ, for He alone can save you from the lion who prowls around looking for someone to devour. In Christ sin and death have been overcome for you. Be still, and know that He is God.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria