Sermon: Epiphany 2, 14 January 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

David the Mad Man- 1Samuel 21:10-15, Psalm 34
-Have you ever been in such desperate straits that you’ve acted out of character through mere necessity?
-Desperation can drive a person to say or do things that they wouldn’t normally consider.
-Desperation can make the wise act foolishly,
-The brave behave cowardly,
-The strong show weakness.
-And as we follow the story of David in 1Samuel,
-We’re presented with the reality that ‘the man after God’s own heart’,
-Has human failings that are exacerbated by desperation.
-His behaviour shows that David is no superhero,
-Just like us,
-He get’s overwhelmed by his circumstances and does something which is totally crazy.
-But as he looks back upon the circumstance through the poetry of his Psalms,
-We glimpse why David is called ‘a man after God’s own heart’.

-Hindsight is often pejoratively labelled as ’20-20’,
-When we look back on events from our past we can see perfectly clearly,
-What we should’ve,
-Could’ve,
-Would’ve done,
-But the reality is we can’t go back.
-But experience can be a great teacher,
-And that’s how David comes to write his Psalms.
-He takes his experiences,
-But then stands them in the light of the character and nature of God.
-He reflects upon what he’s been through,
-Points us back to God,
-And tells us how we can learn from his experience,
-Without suffering the same pain that he endured.
-Experience is a great teacher,
-But the best teacher is someone else’s desperate experience.

-And boy was David desperate.
-Last week we left David on the run after Saul’s murderous intent is foiled by God’s long term providence.
-David escapes Saul’s clutches with the help of Michal,
-His wife and Saul’s daughter.
-That marriage was part of Saul’s plan to increase the threat to David going into battle as the king’s son-in-law,
-But God used Saul’s trap to spring David.
-Michal lowers David from their bedroom window,
-And buys time for him by disguising a statue in their bed as a sleeping David recovering from illness.

-We pick up the story with David now knowing the seriousness of his situation.
-Saul’s jealous rage isn’t just an anomalous symptom of his escalating depression,
-This is a deep and abiding envy and fear of David.
-There can be no going back,
-He’s now a high profile fugitive from the king,
-Fleeing with nothing.

-With no physical resources of any kind David heads to the town of Nob,
-Where there’s a worship site and a priest called Ahimelech.
-David tells a troubled and suspicious Ahimelech that he’s on a top secret mission for Saul,
-The urgency of which has made him leave without food or weapons.
-The priest asks him why he’s alone?
-David says his men are waiting at a secret rendezvous and asks for five loaves of bread.
-Remember David has a thousand men at his command,
-Such is the desperation of David that he’s not even able to put up a convincing story,
-Five loaves for a thousand men?
-Ahimelech gives him the bread that was put out at the beginning of each week as a sacrifice to God.
-David asks him if he has any weapons to which Ahimelech replies;
“The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, is here. . . If you want it, take it; there is no sword here but that one.” 1Samuel 21: 9
-So now armed and fed David continues his desperate escape.

-Remember last week, the frypan?
-Well David is about to leap from an increasingly hot frypan,
-Into an exceedingly blistering fire.
-In 1Samuel 21:10ff we read;
“David rose and fled that day from Saul; he went to King Achish of Gath. 11 The servants of Achish said to him, ‘Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands?’12 David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of King Achish of Gath.” 1Samuel 21:10-12
-As well he might.
-David is clearly so desperate that he’s not thinking straight.
-David’s fame has gone before him.
-The servants of Achish recognise David as the king of the land.
-That’s not a reference to any official status,
-It’s because of his stature as a warrior,
-He’s such a great soldier he rules the land.
-Now this would be an encouraging introduction,
-Except for the fact that Achish is a Philistine king.
-Who were the ‘ten thousands’ that David had slain?
-Philistines.
-And what’s he’s carrying into the Philistine’s citadel?
-The sword that belonged to Goliath!
-What desperation, pain and confusion must have driven David,
-To make him lose touch with reality to the point where he seeks a risky refuge from a Philistine king?

-David is only able to escape this predicament by feigning madness to the point where Achish declares;
“Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me? 15 Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” 1Samuel 21:14-15
-Carrying the sword of Goliath may have been the final piece of evidence that convinced Achish,
-That David really was out of his mind!
-That in desperation he had to undergo such a humiliating charade,
-Must have sharpened David’s mind to seek the divine perspective,
-A perspective he expresses in Psalm 34.

-David begins the Psalm with the praise of God.
-The great 19th century preacher C.H. Spurgeon wrote this about the beginning of Psalm 34;
“The confident expressions of tried believers are a rich solace to their brethren of less experience. We ought to talk of the Lord’s goodness on purpose that others may be confirmed in their trust in a faithful God.”
-Coming out the other side of desperation David praises God,
-This dark experience brings him first to the point of praising and worshipping God;
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.3 O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” Psalm 34:1-3
-Like the apostle Paul,
-David says he’ll bless the Lord at all times.
-He’s not a fair weather friend of God.
-How often have you heard someone say that they no longer believe in God because he let them down?
-When I hear this it so often confirms the thought that far from being disciples of Jesus,
-These people are religious consumers,
-Happy to identify as believers,
-Until God fails to deliver the comfort and blessings they’ve come to expect in our materialistic and self-centred culture.
-But David’s not like that,
-And he’s definitely not directing his words to those who have got it easy,
-Notice v2,
-‘Let the humble hear and be glad’

-Why should the humble hear and rejoice?
-Because David is going to point them to the source of comfort in even the most desperate of times;
“I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. 5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.” Psalm 34: 4-6
-Just as we saw last week in Psalm 59,
-God can be relied upon.
-Now it’s hard to see in the Samuel account at what point David did seek the Lord in prayer,
-Carrying the sword of Goliath into a Philistine stronghold would appear to be a problem of your own making,
-But how many of us turn to God for assistance immediately we face difficulties in our lives?

-Again it was Spurgeon who pointed out that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about trying to save ourselves till desperation strikes.
-When David says ‘this poor soul’ he wasn’t decrying his financial state, Psalm 34: 6
-It was a recognition of that bankrupt spiritual state that sought his own way of salvation,
-As humiliating as that was.
-And yet God didn’t hold that against him,
-David was confident that God did hear his prayer when it came.
-Spurgeon wrote these encouraging words about the prayers of those weighed down by their shattered self-confidence and sin;
“It must have been in a very confused manner that David prayed, and there must have been much of self-sufficiency in his prayer, or he would not have resorted to methods of such dubious morality as pretending to be mad and behaving as a lunatic . . . We may seek God even when we have sinned. If sin could blockade the mercy seat it would be all over with us, but the mercy is that there are gifts even for the rebellious, and an advocate for men who sin.” Spurgeon Psalm 34 p123

-You see prayer is not about us,
-The mistake of the consumer,
-It’s about God,
-Our God who hears and acts.
-In Psalm 34 we learn a lot about desperation and providence.
-Just listen to how David piles evidence upon evidence of God’s provision to those who trust him;
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. 8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. 9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. 10 The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34: 7-10
-If David hadn’t been brought to desperation,
-He wouldn’t have known the full extent of God’s provision.
-I’m always amazed by those faithful brothers and sisters in Christ,
-Who have been through the most horrific of circumstances,
-Yet when asked would they want that trial removed say no.
-That’s not because they’re masochists,
-But because they were able to experience the reality of God’s faithfulness,
-Where the religious consumer only experiences discomfort and self-pity.

-It’s only in those times of desperation and struggle that the believer can discover these truths that moves us from faith,
-Believing God could,
-To experience,
-Knowing God does.
-Just look at these words in vv 17-22 and ask yourself,
-‘How could I possibly know this provision of God, unless I experienced it for myself?’
“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.18 The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.21 Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” Psalm 34: 17-22
-But then I have heard of followers of Jesus being tortured and having bones broken.
-I’ve heard stories of persecutors escaping justice,
-And the Lord’s servants losing their lives.
-Is there something missing in this picture of God’s providence?
-It’s not that something is missing but the focus has changed.

-David’s Psalm concludes with those words,
-But they don’t conclude the good news,
-Rather they point forward to a greater purpose that God has in mind for the desperate straits we find ourselves in.
-In vv 11-14 David calls upon his readers to live a changed life,
-A life marked by the fear of the Lord.
-It’s the life exhorted by Jesus as he began his ministry saying;
“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1: 15
-David knew that he lived in a broken and fallen world,
-A world marred by his own and others’ sin.
-The desperate situations you and I often find ourselves in are not just the making of others.
-More often than we care to admit,
-The desperation we experience is caused by our own commission,
-It’s a consequence of our own sinfulness,
-And we can’t pass the buck on to the Sauls or Philistine kings in our life.
-Just like David we’re all ‘poor souls’ who are in need of rescue,
-Of redemption from our sins.
-We need to;
“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34: 14
-We can’t do that by ourselves,
-We need to hear the good news that Jesus brought,
-That the kingdom of God has come near,
-And it has come near through Jesus the king.
-His command to repent and believe is only made possible through the change of heart that comes through his saving death on the cross.

-Those final words of Psalm 34 are not about us,
-As much as the religious consumer in all of us would like.
-They’re about Jesus.
-The gospel writer John looked on as the Roman Centurion plunged a spear into Jesus’ dead body,
-Leading him to write many years later;
“These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’” John 19:36-37
-These final words of Psalm 34 are a prophecy of the death, resurrection and vindication of Jesus.
-The Lord did rescue his servant,
-And no-one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.
-Desperation need no longer control us,
-Rather we like David can turn in prayer and accept the salvation of Jesus,
-We can praise the Lord for his grace and provision,
-And we can enter into his purpose of redeeming this world for his eternal praise and glory.