The title of today's sermon may at first seem like it contradicts my theology. My theology says that of the increase of Christ's kingdom and of peace there will be no end. So why do I title this: "When False Religion Triumphs"? My theology says that from the time of the resurrection and forward, Christ has been building His church and the gates of hell have not prevailed against it. Christ moves His kingdom forward irresistibly. He is winning the war.
But (and this is an important distinction), just because the overall worldwide war is being won by Christ does not mean that we don't lose individual battles. I think it can be demonstrated that there has been a non-stop growth of the church in numbers worldwide, but at the very time that has been happening there have been entire regions of Christendom that have been decimated. Islam almost wiped the church out in Africa and Turkey. Humanism has almost wiped the church out in England, Australia, Europe, and Canada. The Humanists have won the battle in many of those countries, and I think we have our head in the sand if we say otherwise. Christ has never promised that the church would not lose individual countries. In fact, he promised the opposite. He has promised to personally remove the church from entire regions of the world if the church didn't smarten up and repent. You can read that in Revelation 2-3. For example, He told the church in Ephesus, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent." What is the lampstand? Earlier He had said it was a symbol of the true church. And God did remove the church from much of Turkey.
But the church can also lose individual battles, even if it is a vibrant God-honoring church. God has never promised that we would not have setbacks. But I am convinced that we would have a lot less setbacks if the church worldwide would be united in prayer for each other and care for each other. But we are anything but united; anything but prayerful, and anything but taking care of the needs of the church worldwide. And today's sermon is a call to change that sad situation. So I have titled this sermon: "When False Religion Triumphs: A Prayer & Action Report." And as a prayer and action report, it is going to have a little bit different format than some of my sermons do.
If you look at the map that I made for your outlines, you will see that this was an absolute disaster for Israel. Israel was resoundingly defeated. The solid line going north to Gilboa was the initial foray of all the Philistine armies. The two dotted arrows are the places that the Philistines settled into when the Israelites fled. That's a good chunk of Israel. Israel has effectively been cut in half. The broad curved arrow at the bottom was the Amalekite raid through Philistia and southern Judah while the armies were gone. They were the opportunists. So that is virtually 2/3 of Israel being decimated. Israel was hurting and the Philistines had indeed triumphed in this battle.
What was David doing in the meantime? We have already seen that two days after Saul's resounding defeat at the hands of the Philistines, David was sitting in the ashes of Ziklag mourning the complete displacement of all their own families by the Amalekites. But David began to do for Israel what I would encourage you to do for the church of Jesus Christ. Even while mourning his own losses, he began praying a prayer of faith in Psalm 69:35 that God would save Israel and rebuild the cities of Judah that had been devastated and that God would cause the refugees to once again possess the cities that the Philistines had chased them from. He was trusting God for the persecuted church; He was interceding for the persecuted church; he was praying against the enemies of the persecuted church – especially verses 22-28 of Psalm 69; he was taking action on behalf of the persecuted church in chapter 30; and two days later, he began ministering financial aid to those who had been so devastated by the Amalekite persecution in southern Judah. So David's response was prayer and action. And that's the purpose of my sermon today. This is a call to prayer and action on behalf of the persecuted church, and even perhaps to do like David did and to send help to those who are being persecuted in other countries. We can't do everything, but we can do something.
Christians Face Opposition (v. 1)
Since we have already dealt with verses 1 and 6 last week, I won't say much about them except the obvious. Verse 1 begins by saying, "Now the Philistines fought against Israel." And the writer makes it clear in verses 9-10 that this was at least in part a religiously based hostility. The Philistines were proclaiming their victory in the temple of their idols. They had displayed Saul's armor before all their Ashtoreth images. 1 Chronicles 10:10 says that they fastened Saul's head in the temple of Dagon. This was a ritualized declaration of the victory of their religion over the religion of Israel.
Certainly this war could be explained in terms of politics, economics, Philistine need for more land, and other sociological factors. But it was at least in part because of the hatred that the demons of Ashtoreth and Dagon had toward Yahweh. We will totally miss the boat on the wars around the world if we only look at them in terms of oil, economics, megalomaniacs, and politics. Satan drives those megalomaniacs. 1 John tells us that the whole world lies in the lap of the wicked one. He can do what he wants with them. The hatred that the Sadducees and Pharisees had toward Jesus even after He done so many healings and miracles was irrational in one sense, but it makes sense when you understand that it was driven by demons.
And in the same way, the opposition to Christianity around the world doesn't make sense on one level. Why can't they just leave peace-loving, kind, and generous Christians alone? Why the millions of martyrs, the tortures, the brutality against Christians? On one level it doesn't make any sense. But I believe it is in part demonically motivated. The more successful the church is, the more Satan will hate it and persecute it. Revelation 12 tells us that the persecution of the church is because Satan is enraged that he is losing. The reason we have more persecution today than we have ever had in world history is because the church is growing faster than ever before in world history, and Satan doesn't like it. He is lashing out. The same demons that were behind Ashtoreth and Dagon back then, hated and persecuted Christians in the New Testament. For examples, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Herod ordered the killing of all babies in Bethlehem two years old and under. If you just stopped reading there you might mistakenly think of Jesus as a perceived political threat. But Revelation 12 goes behind the scenes into the invisible realm and tells us that it was the dragon, Satan, who moved Herod to kill those children. In Revelation 2 God describes the persecution and imprisonment of Christians by local authorities, but it goes behind those visible causes and gives the spiritual cause for the persecution when it says, "the devil is about to throw some of you into prison" (Rev. 2:10).
And this is one of the reasons why prayer is so effective in ministering to the persecuted. It's a spiritual battle. The church of the west could bind the hand of Satan and help the hand of the elect angels if we would be united in prayer. And if you want to see the kind of amazing success against religious persecution that David saw in the next chapters, you need to pray the kind of spiritual warfare prayers that he and his men prayed – and pray them with faith. Psalm 69 is a no-holds-barred prayer that can bring down God's judgments upon those who kill and destroy Christians in other countries. It's a marvelous Psalm. But you can bet your bottom dollar that wherever Christ's kingdom has a beachhead, it will receive opposition. 2 Timothy 3:12 guarantees that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." So first of all, there is opposition.
Christians Face Death (v. 6)
Verse 6: "So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day." Josephus tells us that it was a huge number that died. That was the prayer report for David.
The prayer report for us is that between 163,000 and 165,000 Christians are martyred for their faith every single year for the past few years. And most of those martyrdoms are by Communists, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. They are often screaming religious slogans as they maim, decapitate, burn, kill, and loot. In terms of numbers of Christians killed, I understand that the worst nations in descending order are North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Maldives, Yemen, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Laos, Pakistan, and Sudan. Nigeria didn't even make it into the top list, but I know that in 2011, the Muslim group, Boko Haram, killed 510 Christians in one week and destroyed more than 350 churches, using guns, gasoline bombs, and even machetes. I think the numbers rose to somewhere around 1000. They weren't even on the top list of nations. We need to be aware that Christians face death for their faith all over the world.
Let me give you a small sampling of headlines from the past two months:
- June 3 – Suicide bomber killed 15 Christians at prayer
- May 29 – 35 Christians officially reported murdered in Nigeria's Plateau State, and the number is rising.
- May 24 – Five Christians killed in Pakistan
- May 17 – Christians attacked at Bayero University in Kano; 17 students and 2 professors dead, 22 injured.
- May 14 – More Christians killed in Orissa
- March 22 – In Kadugli, the Capital of South Kordofan, at least four church buildings have been razed and more than 20 Christians killed.
- Church torched, Christians threatened in India's Kashmir State.
- Anti-Christian incidents in Indonesia are on the track to surpass last year's increase, according to the Jarkarta Communication Forum.
- Two pastors burned to death in Mombasa Kenya
- Egyptian judge frees attackers who knifed a Christian.
And the list could go on and on. 165,000 Christians murdered for their faith last year. Why do we need to be involved? Because it is a life and death issue.
Christians Become Refugees (v. 7)
Verse 7 says, "And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley" [that would be going West] "and those who were on the other side of the Jordan" [that would be going east], "saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook the cities and fled; and the Philistines came and dwelt in them." The area that the Israelites fled from is the area covered by the three top arrows. It was a mass displacement of people, who probably did not have time to take much of their stuff with them. They just ran with what they could carry.
And this is happening all over the world to Christians as well. You have probably seen some of the footage of Christians being massacred in Orissa State, India, with all the houses of Christians being burned down, and Christians fleeing for their lives, living off of insects and what they could scavenge in the forests. Initially there were 100,000 Christians who fled to the forests, and a year later there were still 50,000 Christians hiding out in the woods. They had to flee so quickly that they couldn't bring anything with them. Refugees.
In country after country there are Christian refugees who have escaped by the skin of their teeth. Just to give you an idea of how many Christian refugees have fled from Iraq, compare two numbers. In 2003 there were 1.2 million Christians in Iraq; today there are estimates ranging between 350,000 and 500,000. Well, if you subtract those two numbers you get an idea of deaths and refugees. That's anywhere from 700,000-850,000 Christian refugees from Iraq.
What about other countries? Even liberal CBS has reported that 100,000 Christians have left Egypt as a result of the intense persecution of Christians since the overthrow of Mubarak.
There are tens of thousands of Christian refugees fleeing from Mali since this past March 22. One Mali contact said,
"Horrible crimes have been made against the population: massacres, rape of women, obligation to wear the veil, chasing Christians. All the churches were destroyed in Gao and Timbuktu. All the believers had to flee towards the south, leaving their homes and giving up all their goods."
And there are similar statistics of Christian refugees who are fleeing for their lives in Indonesia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burma and other countries.
But here is an additional tragedy: guess who dominates the United Nations Refugee agency (the UNHCR)? Muslims. And when Christian refugees ask asylum from Muslim persecution, guess who gets to choose whether to grant or deny such status? Muslims. It's not even Americans who make such decisions for who comes to America. We've ceded that authority to UN employees. Muslim United Nations employees are keeping Christians from being able to flee from Iraq, resulting in the decimation of the Christian Iraqi community. In India, 200,000 refugees in Punjab State, and more than that number in Sindh State have been denied access to aid by Muslims. But at the same time that Christians were being denied refugee status, whole Muslim communities are moving into the United States on refugee status despite the fact that they face no persecution. It's bizarre, and we need to write to our representatives to stop this nonsense.
Just by way of comparison, what America is allowing in terms of immigration would be like having a team made up of Amalekites, Philistines, Edomites, and Ammonites determining whether Jews can have asylum. It's a sad situation, and we need to be in prayer. Because asylum cannot be found, there are over 5 million internally displaced people in various countries who are hiding out from their persecutors, and there are millions in refugee camps. This is a call to care and even to share with such Christians. We can't do everything, but we can do something.
Christians Face the Arrogance of the False Religionists (v. 7c-10)
Control (v. 7c)
Point IV deals with the arrogance of the Philistines on four levels. First, there was control of the Israelite properties. Verse 7 ends by saying, "and the Philistines came and dwelt in them." They pretty much just stole Israelite homes, farms, and personal property, and there wasn't a thing the Israelites could do about it. The new authorities imposed a total control on the land.
And of course, this has happened over and over again. Mugabe is not the only tyrant who has stolen farms from Christians and given them to his men. Land has been confiscated from Christians in Orissa State, India. Burmese routinely have their land stolen from them when they convert to Christianity. And it is done in the name of their religion.
Confiscation (v. 8)
Verse 8 continues. "So it happened the next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa." They had already confiscated everything that was left in the homes, but they also stripped the dead of anything valuable. One of our pastors in India was recently caught by Hindu thugs and beaten with metal rods breaking many bones and damaging internal organs. In fact, he was so thoroughly beaten that they took him for dead. They took all his money out of his pocket and put a note there saying that this would happen to all other Christians. Thousands of stories of such theft could be given – theft of children, money, furniture, and other property.
But it is not just thugs who steal from Christians; governments all over the world confiscate money and property as well. There are numerous reports of Chinese police confiscating the personal property of Christians, and never returning it. For example, on March 11 of last year, pastor Shi Enhao was arrested by the municipal PSB while he was preaching. He was beaten and detained. The officers then went to his house, confiscating everything of value, including a church vehicle, musical instruments, and 140,000 Yuan of church offerings (which is equivalent to a little over $22,000 US). It was confiscated. The financial suffering of Christians worldwide is an issue that we need to offer before the Lord, and ask God for fourfold restitution from Satan's kingdom.
Dishonoring bodies (v. 9,10)
Then there was dishonoring of the bodies. Verse 9 says, "And they cut off his head and stripped off his armor…" Verse 10 ends by saying, "and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan." They let these bodies rot on the walls. As already mentioned, 1 Chronicles 10:10 says that they fastened the head in the temple of Dagon. This again shows that their interest was not simply in winning a war. The demonic hatred continued to be expressed even after death. Over 400 years of Roman Catholic persecutions of Protestants give ample testimony to this demonic practice of abusing and dishonoring the human body both before and after death. And actually, it has occurred since then. Even in Mexico you can see this. There are reports of Roman Catholic persecution of Protestants and even dismemberment of their bodies. When you see that kind of stuff you can assume that demons are present. This is so contrary to Protestant respect for the image of God in even the worst of men. For example, in the War Between the States, both sides at least showed proper respect for bodies. But in demonically controlled countries, such respect is obliterated, and demons motivate people to grotesque acts that I will not get into this morning.
Premature declaration of the defeat of Christianity (vv. 9-10)
But perhaps the saddest aspect of this persecution is that the enemy thought that those successful persecutions showed the impotence of our God. What a dishonor to God's name! Verses 9-10:
1Samuel 31:9 "And they cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and sent word throughout the land of the Philistines, to proclaim it in the temple of their idols and among the people." [In other words, they wanted these deeds to be proclaimed in every Philistine temple in the land. This was a religious issue. Verse 10:]
1Samuel 31:10 "Then they put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan."
This was their testimony to the idea that their gods were more powerful than Yahweh. And you might wonder, "Why would God allow them to do this? Isn't this a bad testimony?" But from God's perspective, He is more interested in a pure church than in a happy church, and if temporary defeats can wake the church up, He will allow it. But it is interesting how frequently Hindus and Muslims announce the victory of their gods over our God when they persecute us. And this should stir us up to pray for God's honor and for the glory of His Son.
God Calls Some Christians To Acts of Valor (vv. 11-13)
And it is in the context of such hideous persecution that something rather remarkable happens. There are some like David who are stirred to trust God even more and to do all in their power to honor God in both life and death. Such were the men of Jabesh Gilead. In 2 Samuel chapter 1, David paid a great tribute to these men for their bravery and for the honor that they showed to king Saul. Though they picked the wrong side in the conflict between Ishbosheth and David (and even geographically, that is understandable), they were clearly men of God who trusted God in their acts of valor. And there are four acts of valor that I want to highlight in this chapter.
Though getting the same information as the men in verse 7, the men of Jabesh decide to stay put (v. 11)
The first act of valor was simply the decision to not run when they heard the news. Verse 11: "Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul…" Their decision to stay put was an incredible act of valor, because they were shortly to be an island in a sea of Philistines. Verse 7 says that most of the other Jews in the surrounding districts fled, and you can't blame them. There is a Biblical place for fleeing. Most of the cities that fled were unwalled cities. They really didn't have a choice. But God put something into the spirits of these men of Jabesh that made them determined to form part of a resistance.
And I personally know Christians in Iran who have refused to flee the persecution. Two of my friends have spent several months in prison there. In fact, their boldness in the face of possible death has made Muslims yearn for what they have, and to get converted. "Why do you not fear? What gives you such boldness? How can I have the peace and joy that you have?" That boldness that came to the citizens of Jabesh was a similar boldness that has made hundreds of thousands of Muslims become Christians in Iran. I'm amazed at their boldness. I am amazed at the boldness of Christians in China, who despite numerous beatings, continue to witness daily. I have been involved in the training of hundreds of pastors in India who daily face death threats. Most of these pastors have been beaten and have had friends who have been martyred. These are not empty death threats. But God has given them a boldness that makes them want to stay put and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It really does take the spirit of the men of Jabesh to keep the flame of Christianity alive in these various countries. If everyone fled persecution, there would be no witness in many countries – especially Muslim countries. One of the myths that you hear today is that the church always grows when persecuted. That is simply not true. It only grows when a good percentage of the Christians have the spirit of the men of Jabesh. The Christian population in Turkey has dropped from 32% to 0.2% in the past 100 years. Iraq has dropped from 35% to 5%. Iran had dropped from 15% to 2% since the Ayatollah took over. But praise the Lord, that is being reversed. Iran has become a country filled with valiant men, women, and children with the spirit of Jabesh Gilead – Christians who are willing to die to spread the Gospel. And as a result, the church is growing like wildfire. Open Doors says that it is "explosive growth." So there can be a reversal despite persecution. But it is not automatic. Pray that God's Spirit would come upon Christians and turn them into valiant soldiers of Christ – daring to do the impossible like the men of Jabesh dared to do. But at least that the church would stay put in these countries and form a beachhead against the False Religion of Islam.
They show incredible bravery by penetrating Philistine territory (v. 12a)
The second act of valor for these men was to deliberately penetrate deeper into Philistine territory in order to bring back the bodies of Saul and his sons. Verse 12 says, "all the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan…" The Philistines already controlled the territory all around the city of Jabesh Gilead, so it was risky for them to venture out. But these men did more than that. They crossed the Jordan River and went to the newly acquired city of Beth Shan, deep in Philistine controlled territory to engage in their mission.
And we can pray for the valiant men and women around the world who not only stay put, but who press deeply into enemy territory in order to preach the Gospel, and to rescue the dead souls of men. Many know that they might not come back alive to their families that evening, but God has given these sons of valor hearts that are brave and totally devoted to Him.
One of the trips that Jonathan and I took to India in 2008 involved a long drive deep into Maoist guerilla controlled territory in Orissa State. This was doubly dangerous because it was not only the territory of the most dangerous violence by Hindus against Christians (the place where thousands of Christians were hiding in the forest – we drove through that forest), but it was also the most dangerous place in India in terms of violence by the Moaist guerillas. Many Christians had been killed there. I'll have to admit that we went there in ignorance. We didn't even know that we were going into Moaist guerilla territory, so I can't claim that we were courageous.
But these guys were. They took us to new villages of Hindus and we would all start singing in the public square until a crowd started forming and then we would take turns preaching our hearts out, calling upon them to throw away their idols and to embrace Jesus. And when one of the team members later asked why in the world they had taken us into such dangerous territory, the pastor looked at this person with a puzzled face, as if that was the stupidest question he had ever heard. I don't remember the exact words, but he said something to the effect of this: "But Christians are ready to die every day." He was puzzled. He couldn't even understand why anybody would ask that question. "Of course we should go into new areas that haven't heard the Gospel. That's what you are here for, isn't it?" And in the ensuing conversation it became clear that he would invade this territory even if it guaranteed that he would be martyred that day. That's the spirit of the valiant men of Jabesh. And we need to pray that God would multiply the seed sown by such valiant men. But it would be awesome if we could share in their ministry financially.
They honor the king who had rescued them (v. 12-13 with chapter 11)
Part of the reason some pastors have given to me as to why they are willing to risk death daily as they preach the Gospel, is that Christ has given his all for them, and they believe they must give their all for Him. There was certainly gratitude that these men of Jabesh Gilead had for the heroic protection that Saul had given to them years before. Verses 12-13 make it clear that they were honoring Saul. They were doing this out of gratitude to Saul and his valiant sons. Let's begin reading at verse 11:
1Samuel 31:11 "Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul,"
1Samuel 31:12 "all the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there." [And I believe they burned the bodies to get rid of the smell of the decaying flesh, not to cremate them. They buried the bones. So they believed in burial. Anyway, verse 13 continues:]
1Samuel 31:13 "Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days."
They risked their lives to honor the bodies of Saul and his sons. Why would they do that? Well, the town of Jabesh was grateful to Saul for his heroic service for them. Turn to chapter 11, and let's read that amazing story. You can sort of see why they felt indebted to Saul. Beginning to read at verse 1:
1Samuel 11:1 "Then Nahash the Ammonite came up and encamped against Jabesh Gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, "Make a covenant with us, and we will serve you."
1Samuel 11:2 And Nahash the Ammonite answered them, "On this condition I will make a covenant with you, that I may put out all your right eyes, and bring reproach on all Israel."
1Samuel 11:3 "Then the elders of Jabesh said to him, "Hold off for seven days, that we may send messengers to all the territory of Israel. And then, if there is no one to save us, we will come out to you."
1Samuel 11:4 "So the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and told the news in the hearing of the people. And all the people lifted up their voices and wept."
1Samuel 11:5 "Now there was Saul, coming behind the herd from the field; and Saul said, "What troubles the people, that they weep?" And they told him the words of the men of Jabesh."
1Samuel 11:6 "Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news, and his anger was greatly aroused."
1Samuel 11:7 "So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, "Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen." And the fear of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out with one consent."
1Samuel 11:8 "When he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand."
1Samuel 11:9 "And they said to the messengers who came, "Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh Gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have help.' " Then the messengers came and reported it to the men of Jabesh, and they were glad."
1Samuel 11:10 "Therefore the men of Jabesh said, "Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do with us whatever seems good to you."
1Samuel 11:11 "So it was, on the next day, that Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch, and killed Ammonites until the heat of the day. And it happened that those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together."
Now, if you were a citizen of the town of Jabesh, would you not be grateful? Saul had rescued them from having their right eyes gouged out and becoming lifetime slaves to the Ammonites. They were so grateful to him.
And there are Christians all around the world who are so grateful to Jesus for rescuing them from far greater bondage and for rescuing them from far greater pain - hellfire, that it is a no-brainer to risk their lives to honor Jesus. Their gratitude drives them to take risks for King Jesus. Their hearts are bound to King Jesus. And honestly, those Christians from these third world countries stand as a rebuke to our unwillingness to even take a risk of being thought weird if we witness. We don't even have the courage to witness, do we? We don't have the same Spirit as those men of Jabesh Gilead. We don't have the same Spirit that Saul had when he burned for a zeal for God's name. When we are filled with the Spirit, what does He do? Well, Acts chapter 2, and Acts chapter 4 says that the Spirit gives us boldness and zeal for witnessing. The Spirit gives us generosity to share our wealth with those in need.
And it should be our prayer: "Oh, Lord, may Your Spirit come upon Your whole Church. Please, give us the Spirit of the early Saul; please give us the spirit of the later men of Jabesh Gilead. Give us the same Holy Spirit as came upon the church in Acts chapter 4." Jabesh had learned much more than valuing their freedom. The citizens of Jabesh learned not to cave in to fear, not to give up hope in God, and to be valiant in the cause of Christ.
They humble themselves before the Lord (v. 13)
And that this wasn't a humanistic act of bravery can be seen not only from David's tribute in the next chapter, but also from the last phrase of verse 13, which says that they "fasted seven days." The last act of valor was the ultimate recognition of where their help came from. It did not come from their own right hand, or they would not have humbled themselves before God. It did not come from some human King like Saul, as it had years before in chapter 11. No, they had come to have boldness in God alone. At this point He was their only hope and stay. I believe that was why verse 13 says that they fasted seven days. They knew that God alone was their strength, their shield, and the hope of Israel. They humbled themselves before God.
And let me tell you something brothers and sisters – humbling yourself is the biggest battle that you will ever face. When Jesus called His disciples to deny themselves, to pick up their cross, and to follow Him, He was calling them to do something that only God's grace can accomplish. And once God's grace has accomplished the humbling of your flesh, you are prepared to be bold in any venture that God calls you to; you will be ready to be like the valiant men of Jabesh.
Conclusion – Eight things we can we do (Psalm 69; 1 Sam. 30-31)
Please turn with me to Psalm 69, and I am going to conclude with eight things that you can do in the face of this worldwide persecution. This was the Psalm that David wrote two days after this battle, and it shows what drove him. And let me reminded you that the New Testament declares over and over that this Psalm represents the words of Jesus. Whatever interpretive problems that causes, we must submit to the apostolic interpretation that these are the words of Jesus, and anybody who prays this Psalm is coming into agreement with Jesus. So what can we do?
Verses 1-4 of this Psalm show me first of all that we must be aware of the intense hatred for Jesus that is represented in the persecution David faced. Yes, David was being persecuted, but according to apostolic interpretation, it was ultimately Jesus who was being persecuted. Isn't that what Jesus told Saul? "Why are you persecuting Me?" We must look at this persecution Christocentrically. This is not purely an ethnic, sociological, economic, or national issue. The worldwide persecution of Christians is a demonic hatred of Jesus. It is Jesus who says verse 4 – "They have hated Me without a cause." Those Philistines hated everything that Jesus stood for because they were being moved by the demons of Ashtoreth and Dagon. When God's people are being persecuted, Jesus is being persecuted. When we help the persecuted church, we are blessing Jesus. Matthew 25 makes that crystal clear: "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." So the first point is that we must be Christocentric in our view of persecution.
The second point is that we cannot ignore that persecution without ignoring Jesus. That's what this Psalm drives home to me. If you care about Jesus, you need to start reading up on the persecuted church and caring about her.
The third thing is that Jesus the head of the bride, confesses the sins of His body, the bride. He's the head and we are the body. He doesn't sin, but He is the head of the body, isn't He? So when He confesses the sins of the body in verses 5-12 He is doing so simply because of His union with the body. But it is clear that John 2:17 quotes this section of the Psalm as being the words of Jesus. Romans 15:3 does the same thing. And the way Romans 15:3 words it is interesting. It says, "For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.'" During our corporate confession time you might think that you cannot confess sins you have not personally committed. But the point is, we are confessing this as representatives of the body of Christ. And it is important that we learn to confess the sins of the bride as a whole, since we are covenantally connected to her. If Christ could take this Psalm as His prayer, then surely we can. So those of you who have difficulties with corporate confessions of sin, align your perspective with this Psalm. The persecuted church needs you to.
The fourth thing we can do is ask for deliverance of the bride out of her persecutions as verses 13-18 do. Don't ask for persecutions as some Chinese Christians do. Ask to be saved from them. This is intercession. We must be an intercessory people. But don't invite persecution. Ask for the bride to be delivered.
The fifth thing we can do is to offer up the grief of the persecuted church as if suffering with her. If there is one thing you get from this Psalm, the one who prays this feels the suffering. You can see that in verses 19-20 and several other verses. If there is one thing that is clear from the conversion of Saul, Jesus felt the sufferings. How can we show sorrow such as David did here? By learning to see yourself as part of the body of Christ. Hebrews 13:3 says, "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also." You've got to see yourself corporately as connected to the whole bride. That's tough for American individualists, and it is where we need to become more eastern in our thinking and feeling. Let me read that again: "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also."
The sixth thing we can do is to start praying the curses of God against the persecutors of the church like David did in verses 22-28, and like Christ does, since the New Testament says that these are His Words. But if you have read James Adams' book, the War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, you know that Jesus only prays these prayers as the church is willing to take these prayers upon our own lips. He prays them from within the congregation. It's no wonder that the persecutors have very little blowback when the church us unwilling to call for blowback. During the rare times that the church has done so in a unified way, God's has brought judgments. He does, and He does so powerfully. So one action that this Psalm calls us to take is to come into agreement with Christ's imprecatory Psalms, and call down His judgments upon the church's persecutors.
The seventh thing we can do is to constantly affirm God's future victory and vindication of the name and cause of King Jesus. And you can see that in verses 29-36. It's an awesome statement of faith that the cities that were destroyed two days earlier would be rebuilt and reinhabited by the saints, and that the righteous would take dominion. We must not allow persecution to rob us of our faith. Instead, we should realize that the reason there is so much persecution is because Christ is indeed winning the war. Before I tell you the last thing we can do, let's read together verses 22-36, coming into agreement with the God who wrote this Psalm. Beginning at verse 22 together:
Psalms 69:22 "Let their table become a snare before them, And their well-being a trap."
Psalms 69:23 "Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; And make their loins shake continually."
Psalms 69:24 "Pour out Your indignation upon them, And let Your wrathful anger take hold of them."
Psalms 69:25 "Let their dwelling place be desolate; Let no one live in their tents."
Psalms 69:26 "For they persecute the ones You have struck, And talk of the grief of those You have wounded."
Psalms 69:27 "Add iniquity to their iniquity, And let them not come into Your righteousness."
Psalms 69:28 "Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, And not be written with the righteous."
Psalms 69:29 "But I am poor and sorrowful; Let Your salvation, O God, set me up on high."
Psalms 69:30 "I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving."
Psalms 69:31 "This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bull, Which has horns and hooves."
Psalms 69:32 "The humble shall see this and be glad; And you who seek God, your hearts shall live."
Psalms 69:33 "For the LORD hears the poor, And does not despise His prisoners."
Psalms 69:34 "Let heaven and earth praise Him, The seas and everything that moves in them."
Psalms 69:35 "For God will save Zion And build the cities of Judah, That they may dwell there and possess it."
Psalms 69:36 "Also, the descendants of His servants shall inherit it, And those who love His name shall dwell in it."
- The last thing we can do is what David did in 1 Samuel 30. He sent messages and food to those throughout southern Judah who had just been so devastated. He did what he could to strengthen the hands of those who had been persecuted by the Philistines and the Amalekites.
If you will take those eight steps of David, I think you can approach the whole subject of persecution realistically without getting depressed. Let's commit ourselves to blessing the persecuted church. Amen.