Sunday, August 26, 2007

Good Friends II: Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell

August 26, 2007


Good friends are hard to find. I mean real friends, the kind that aren’t in it for what they can get from you, or even ultimately what they can give you, but are seeking God’s best for both of you. That’s holy friendship and it’s exceedingly rare and precious.


I remember a particularly dark period in college. I was frustrated, numb, and really feeling cut off from God and everyone else. I was in the habit of meeting once a week with a friend named Roger. He was a friend like Barnabas, the kind we talked about last week. He encouraged me spiritually and helped point and cheer me towards Jesus. But then there was that time we met at Wendy’s up in Cornelius. I told him how I had been feeling for over a month. I had been putting on a show and a happy face for a while. That day Roger had a different kind of conversation with me. He told me about his ongoing need to be set right before God and he talked about the need to continually examine myself and confess my sins to God. Without getting in my face, he helped me see that I had taken my eyes off of Jesus and was running my own way. As that truth broke through to me, tears came, my heart softened, and God reached in.


Last week I said there were two kinds of people in the world: those who are turned or turning towards Jesus Christ and those who are turned or turning away from Jesus Christ. We looked at Barnabas as an example of how to be a good friend, a godly friend, towards those who are turned or turning towards Jesus. This week we are looking at Nathan, who was a godly friend to David when he turned away from God and sinned.



“Let Me Tell You a Story”


So, Nathan’s friend and boss and king has sinned royally! If you think talking to a friend about sin is sticky, you don’t know the half of it. The king had all the power and David could easily have had Nathan executed for being a bother. Nathan had to be very careful in how he confronted David with his sin. And this is the genius of the story. Ultimately it is only marginally or not helpful to try to be someone else’s conscience. Right? I could preach at you all day long about the evils of adultery and murder and it could wash right over you. But Nathan managed to prick David’s conscience.


“So let me tell you a story.” That’s what Nathan said. That’s also what Jesus often did. Let me tell you a story so you can see good and evil and right and wrong at an arm’s length. Let me tell you a story so that if there is any conscience in you that hasn’t been drugged or subdued or knocked senseless by repetitive sin, you might engage with that story.


Let me tell you a story.


There once were two men. One was a rich man who had much – many flocks and herds. The other was a poor man who only had one little lamb. And as you might imagine, he treasured it and loved it and tenderly cared for it. It meant so much to him it was like his own child. When a traveler came to visit the rich man, he stole the poor man’s lamb and served it to the traveler.

Now, any of us can sense the injustice in that story. The big guy is picking on the little guy and took his one precious treasure from him. On top of that, David was the King and responsible for justice in his Kingdom. He reacted from the gut – “that’s wrong and that guy is going to pay!”

I want you to notice two things in particular at the end of v. 5 and the beginning of v. 6.


David declares (swearing to God!):


…the man who has done this deserves to die… He must make restitution fourfold…


David recognizes two key things: he recognizes and names sin and its consequence, death; and he describes the ancient understanding of atonement or restitution, righting a wrong.

I want to take a step back from Nathan and David’s interaction for a moment. We’ve talked before about how to share the Gospel – how to witness to Jesus Christ. And one of the ways we’ve talked about is not just listing out a set of beliefs, but telling God’s story. Nathan was, in a simple and powerful way, telling God’s story. There is sin in the world and it leads to death. And mercifully, God has provided a way to make atonement for sin. It is necessary for salvation for a person to understand these two truths. And David understood these things. He should have; he already knew God. And when he heard this story of a very human injustice, he was able to articulate what he knew in his head. Beyond that, he even had an emotional reaction, growing very angry at the sin and injustice of the rich man.


But this is not enough. It is not enough to know the Biblical story in our mind or even with our feelings. The ancient Hebrews would have said it is a matter of the heart. To them ‘heart’ was the seat of the will. I must interact with God at the heart-level… not just feelings, but where my will yields to God’s will. And that’s where Nathan pressed in and showed himself a godly friend.



“Hey, I’m Talking to You”


Nathan risked a lot. He could have lost David’s friendship or much worse (like his life). But that’s where I get my definition of holy friendship. It’s not about me or you, but about what God desires for you and for me. Your relationship and rightness with God is more important even than you liking me. Our call to worship was from Ephesians 4, which says that we are to mature as believers, speaking the truth in love so that we “grow up” in Christ. So Nathan spoke the truth in love. Realizing that David could still see the difference between right and wrong he pressed in: “Hey, I’m talking to you!”


Verse 7 is riveting. Nathan then said to David:


You are the man!


In that instant David couldn’t dodge the truth anymore. It had been spoken in love. Until then, he had been able to rationalize and look away from and bury the truth. You can imagine the thoughts:


I’m the king; I deserve whatever I want.

I couldn’t resist such a beautiful woman.

Her husband was bound to die sooner or later in the army.

I’ve been a good king and honored God; I deserve a little reward.


When it’s just us alone with our sin, we can push God’s truth away or twist it so that our sin gets overlooked. Nathan got David to see right and wrong more objectively, to reconsider it in the light of God’s truth. He made it personal: God and sin and our need for God’s help and forgiveness is not just a nice religious belief out there, it’s what God is saying to YOU.



Steps Towards Wholeness


Verses 7-14 are packed with God’s Word and with the realities of sin and God’s mercy. I want to take time to look at them with you.


In v. 7 Nathan says to David, “You are the man!” This is the first word of conviction, perhaps better described as the indictment. Sometimes this comes from God’s Holy Spirit; sometimes we hear it through the Bible, God’s Holy Word; and sometimes it may come through a holy friend like Nathan, who is speaking truth in love.


In vv. 7-8 Nathan goes on to describe God’s goodness, God’s grace towards David. It is God who anointed David king and who delivered him from Saul. God also blessed David richly. Nathan describes these things to say, “Was God not good enough to you that you would disobey Him in this way?” It points us to the importance of gratitude in our lives. A thankful heart is an obedient heart.


In v. 9, Nathan names David’s sins. He “despised the word of the Lord by doing evil.” He “struck down Uriah” and “[took] his wife.”


And the Bible makes clear that there are always earthly consequences for sin. Nathan speaks for God in v. 10 and following. This is signaled by “Thus says the Lord” in v. 11. David’s sin will reap tragic and horrible consequences in his household, with adultery and death coming back to haunt him.


Further, in v. 12, God says that while David sinned in secret, the consequences will be played out in full view of all. This is not particular to David, I think, but the usual way of sin and it’s consequences. Consequences are almost always public.


Finally, in v. 13, after this horrible litany of sin and consequences, David responds, “I have sinned against the Lord.” This, finally, is where I would say ‘conviction’ is complete, because David confessed to all his sin. If this were the only account we had, I would have trouble saying that David reached the point of repentance, but having read Psalm 51, I believe that he did.

Finally, in v. 13 Nathan speaks the word I am longing to hear: “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” While David’s sin is real and deserving of death, God has taken away the eternal consequence. Only God can do that sufficiently; it is a demonstration of His mercy and grace.


It would have been more pleasant to end our text there, but v. 14 is important, for David did indeed suffer horrible consequences because of his sins of adultery and murder. While God might indeed ease the earthly consequences of sin if we earnestly ask Him to, like gravity, it seems as though the weight of our sin often falls inexorably where it will. God’s great gift is to save our life and to help us not sin.



Is God Talking to Me?


What do I take away from this story?


I read a pretty thorough description of God’s story of creation, sin, consequence, and redemption, both in story form with the poor man and the lamb, and in David’s life as God redeemed him from his own self-destruction.


I recognize that it is not enough to know the story at arm’s-length. Just as God used Nathan to say “You are the man!” to David, God would have me recognize that I am the man! Likewise, if you miss this, you’ve missed the point of today’s text. You are the man; you are the woman; you are the boy; you are the girl.


God created you for goodness, for obedience, for a relationship with Him. You and I and every other human in history has messed up God’s creation like a three year old kicking over the tower of blocks I carefully built. But we cannot destroy God’s creation, just mess it up. God’s gracious invitation through Jesus Christ is to hear His Word and Spirit, and in our conviction that we (I!) have sinned, turn back to God with a broken and contrite heart and say, “Help me!” And God will rebuild our lives and give us life with Him.


That’s the promise; that’s the Good News.


That’s the Word of hope that folks need to hear when they are turned or turning away from God.


A friend who will speak that Word of hope – that’s a friend worth having and that’s a friend worth being. Amen.



Sunday, August 19, 2007

Good Friends I: Barnabas (Acts 9:26-28; 11:19-26)

Sermon by: Robert Austell

August 19, 2007


Have you ever needed a good friend?


I sure have. I’ve needed one when I was down, when I felt lonely, when I was discouraged. I’ve needed one to encourage me, motivate me, press on me to be a better person.


For those who believe in God and for whom God is at the center of all things, good friendship is inter-woven with our spiritual life. A good friend isn’t just one who hangs out with us or cheers us up, but who helps us grow closer to God.

And that’s true whether we are moving towards God or moving away from God. A good friend… a real friend, can help us run that race toward Jesus. Remember Hebrews 12:1? We are running the race, hopefully with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, avoiding the entanglements of sin along the way.


Well, we are not running alone. Here is the role of holy friendships: to spur us on towards Jesus if we are running towards him and to stop us and help us turn around if we are running away or are tripped up by sin.


Today, we will be studying Barnabas, who exemplifies holy friendship as an “encourager” of those running towards Christ. Next week we will be studying Nathan, who exemplified holy friendship when he confronted King David in his adultery and helped him turn back towards God in repentance.


Barnabas is a wonderful study in holy friendship. Today we will look at four godly character traits demonstrated by Barnabas. These are worth our study and emulation as we look for and try to be good friends to those who would seek God.


Before looking at these traits, look at verse 24. This verse describes the core reality from which Barnabas’ character flows. He is described as a “good man,” and that is then defined in this way:


[He was] full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.


While it is possible to have, in a non-spiritual way, each of the character traits we will discuss, it is the faith-relationship with God through Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in Barnabas’ life that made his friendship a holy friendship. At the recent church retreat to Bonclarken and in the church newsletter, I’ve been talking about what it means for the Holy Spirit to dwell in a Christian as well as to be dampened by distraction or sin. The foundational reality for a holy friendship is loving God and being right with Him. From there we are then able to love each other as God intends.



Joy


The first trait is joy. There was a “situation” that developed in the early days after Jesus’ death. Those who believed were persecuted greatly, even tortured and killed, and so they scattered away from Jerusalem. But along the way they told the story of Jesus. Mostly, these were believing Jews explaining to other Jews how the Messiah had come. But in verse 20 we read that there were some who told the story of Jesus to non-Jews. Particularly in Antioch, they told the Greeks there about Jesus and many believed.


When the disciples and other believers in Jerusalem heard about this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. What was his reaction to this rather unexpected spread of the Gospel? We read in v. 23:


…when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced…


He was thrilled. Never mind that these people were different. Never mind that they were “outsiders” to the Word and promises of God, given to the people of Israel. Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit and faith and he rejoiced to see these Greek people believe.


I’ve been in more than one downtown Presbyterian church that is now an empty building because the members moved to the suburbs and the church did not see the changing demographics as a ministry and mission opportunity. I’ve also been in churches that found themselves in the middle of huge change, whether ethnic, generational, or economic, and they were just thrilled at the new opportunities for the Gospel.


The disciples probably knew Barnabas was the right one to send to Antioch. He was not hung up on Jewishness or ties to Jerusalem, but was simply thrilled to see God at work anywhere and with anyone.


The first trait of holy friendship is joy. Will we celebrate what God is doing, even if it is not what we would choose to do? Will we look for what God is doing and enthusiastically jump in with both feet? If people are being drawn to Jesus, is there any reason we would not rejoice at that?


A good friend is full of joy at what God is doing.



Encouragement


In the same sentence, we read that Barnabas not only rejoiced, but also…


…began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord…


As you may know, Barnabas’ nickname was “son of encouragement.” And here is a description of that trait in action. Barnabas found new Greek believers in Antioch. Not only was he thrilled at this, he got involved with them and encouraged them to remain true to the Lord. We don’t know the content of his teaching, but it’s not hard to see the wisdom behind his words. How easy it is for new believers to get side-tracked from following Jesus. (How easy it is for old believers to get side-tracked from following Jesus!)


This is the heart of holy friendship for those who are face-towards God. “Press on! Run the race! Don’t turn aside!” How seldom we dip beneath the surface, even with our good friends, to encourage one another in Christ. It’s even rarer to get involved with someone we don’t know well at all.


Be intentional with your friends. Get involved with those you know who seem to be trusting God with their lives. Offer some godly encouragement. Share out of your own experience. You know where it gets hard for you. Maybe you can offer someone else hope or reassurance where you’ve needed it before.


We are not solo Christians. That is perhaps where the “run the race” analogy falls short and gets misleading. It’s more like “play the soccer game” with the goal of Christ. We are to work with one another towards the common goal of Jesus.


A good friend offers encouragement.



God’s Way Over Mine


Next we read that “considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” (v. 24)

That’s not the point I’m going to focus on, however. We know that people were already coming to the Lord before Barnabas arrived and that it is the Holy Spirit who brings people to the Lord.


What I want to focus on is the next part. When many began coming to the Lord, Barnabas “left for Tarsus to look for Saul… and he brought him to Antioch.” (25-26) I’m not sure of Barnabas’ motives. Maybe it was getting to big for him to manage. Maybe he thought of Paul as the perfect one to bring into this situation. Back in Acts 9, Barnabas and Paul interact when Paul comes to Jerusalem and all the disciples are afraid of him, but Barnabas believes in his conversion. Barnabas saw Paul “testify boldly” in Damascus and vouched for Paul with the Jerusalem Apostles. Maybe it is this same bold testimony that he wants now to bring to Antioch.


The point is that Barnabas does not declare Antioch the church of Barnabas or jealously protect his new disciples and protégés. Rather, he calls in one that he has seen God use in a powerful way so that God’s mission may be furthered. He puts God’s plans above any he might have.


The point of good friendship isn’t ME; it’s loving the other person. That’s the point of “love your neighbor as yourself.” You are to take the way you would love yourself and put the other person there. In spiritual terms, this is even more significant, because that love is godly and God is first elevated at the heart of the friendship. That means that I will be your friend, not for what I’ll get out of it, nor even for what you’ll get out of it, but for what God would have you get out of it.


And I’m willing to share you. You don’t belong to me, anymore than those believers in Antioch belonged to Barnabas. I might think of someone who would help you even more as you grow towards God. That’s because a good friend seeks God’s purpose in the friendship.


A good friend aligns his or her plans with God’s.



Persevering and Committed


After Barnabas brought Paul [still called Saul sometimes] to Antioch, we read:


And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers… (v. 25)


This was no short-term pass-through mission. Barnabas, and Paul with him, were committed to these new believers in Antioch. They got involved with them, teaching them about following Jesus. By themselves persevering among the believers, they demonstrated the very thing Barnabas first encouraged them about: remaining true to the Lord.


This is the logical extension of a friendship that says, “I’m not in it for me.” If I’m in it for me, I’ll get what I want and get out. But if I’m in it for what God would have you get out of it, then I am committed for the long haul.


Commit to be a good friend. Pray for those God brings into your life.
Communicate regularly with them. Ask the deep questions. Follow up and don’t let things slide. Persevere.


There are only two kinds of people on the earth. There are those turned or turning toward God and there are those turned or turning away. Next week we will talk about being a friend to those turned or turning away from God. The people we’ll study are Nathan and David.


Barnabas is the prime example of how to be a good and godly friend to those turned or turning toward God. Joy, encouragement, God’s way over mine, and persevering commitment are all traits that will spur one another on towards Jesus.


Take time today to identify several people who need you to be a good friend to them and think how you might extend these traits into their lives. Amen.