The Lord Works Not as Man Works

Text: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Latin title for today is Quinquagesima and it means, “about fifty days” until Easter. This is the last Sunday before Lent begins. Ash Wednesday is this week; we’ve already sung the Gloria in Excelsis for the last time until we sing it joyfully at the Resurrection of our Lord. The tone of this Sunday is especially brought out in the Gospel reading, particularly in the beginning. In the first portion of the Gospel, Jesus said,

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.

Luke 18:31-33, English Standard Version

The second half of the Gospel is what pulls us into our theme for today. When Jesus drew near to Jericho, His last stop before Jerusalem, He encountered a blind man named Bartimeaus. Bartimeaus heard that it was Jesus passing by and cried out for healing to the Son of David. Jesus stopped and healed him, saying, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” (Lk. 16:42) Each of the last few weeks, we’ve looked at different aspects of the Reformation solas: Grace alone and Scripture alone. Today, we confess that our God does not work the way man does; He chooses us for salvation by His grace through the faith He Himself gives us in Christ. We ponder this from our Old Testament text.

I.

This week we’re in the book of 1 Samuel. The book is named after Samuel, who was a priest, prophet, and the last judge of Israel. The book, as a whole, focuses on the reign of Saul, which went poorly at many points; but there are spots that set us up for 2 Samuel, which focuses on the reign of David. Today is one of those spots. Our text takes place after the Lord rejected King Saul. This means that there would be no kingly line of Saul; none of his children would sit on the throne. Instead, because of his unfaithfulness before the Lord, the throne would pass to someone else. Samuel spoke these words to Saul, “Because you have rejected the Word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:23) The throne would pass from Saul to someone else, but whom?

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for Myself a king among his sons.’” (1 Sam. 16:1) In the text, the Lord sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the Lord’s chosen king. We know, of course, the True King who comes from Bethlehem – but that’s about 1,000 years after this text. Samuel met Jesse and invited him to sacrifice to the Lord. Jesse, in turn, made seven of his sons go before Samuel. But, one by one, each was rejected by the Lord. God said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (v. 7) Finally, Samuel asked if Jesse had any more sons. Turns out, he did – the smallest and youngest, who was out shepherding the sheep.

II.

When Jesse had David go before Samuel, the Lord said to him, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” (v. 12) David was the one chosen by the Lord to be king over Israel. Samuel anointed him in the midst of his brothers, it says, “and the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.” (v. 13) This brings us to the question of why David. Israel first received a king (Saul) because they wanted to be like all the nations around them. They grew tired of the Lord being their king and of the judges whom God sent. They wanted to be like everyone else, so the Lord allowed them a king like all the other kings, Saul; and it went very badly. Now, the Lord gets His chosen king; and He doesn’t work like man does. Even Samuel had to be told that when he thought Eliab was certainly going to be the one – perhaps because of his height. 

No, David was the one chosen by the Lord – but why? Here’s the clue, “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” There was something different about David. He had faith, which itself was given to him by God. Out of His own good will, the Lord revealed Himself to the world through the prophets. David had heard the Word of the Lord through said prophets and, by the work of the Spirit, held onto it in faith. Though he himself was, perhaps, nothing to write home about compared to his brothers, yet by God’s grace he was adopted into the salvation that is in Christ alone. It wasn’t because of anything in David that God chose him as king. God chose David by His grace through the faith He had already created in his heart. God doesn’t work like man does. When man wants a ruler, they look for strength or other outward characteristics; but God looks on the heart. He works by grace through faith. This is, of course, what St. Paul says. “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

III.

This is a good thing, too, that God doesn’t work the way man works. From an outward perspective, we don’t amount to too much. Not individually and not as congregations. I mean this from an outward perspective. There will always be other organizations out there that have more members, more money, more visible good works to their name, more organization, better facilities, better leaders. In fact, as far as the world is concerned, we don’t exist – except to those who wish us harm. As individuals, too, we don’t amount to much. None of us are international celebrities as far as I’m aware. None of us are particularly prestigious or decorated in the world’s eyes. In many other organizations, the longer you’re in the group the more you climb the ladder. Many of us have been members of the Church for decades, but every day we go back to the beginning when we die and rise with Christ in our Baptism.

But, you see, God doesn’t work the way the world works or the way man works. He looks on the heart. When He looks at us, He chooses to not to see the evil and sin that lurks in our hearts by nature, but the faith He has planted in there Himself. Our God is such a loving Father that He spared no expense to bring us back into His own good favor, not even His own Son. It is for our sake that, as He said, Jesus went up to Jerusalem to suffer, die and rise. He did this because deep in our hearts, according to our nature, there is not one good thing. There is only sin, evil, and death. But, by His death, Jesus made the payment for our evil sins. Then, by His grace, He sent out to us His Holy Word. He sent the Apostles out to preach and teach in all the world (like we heard last week), and through their writings we have been brought to faith. God the Holy Spirit has worked through the Word, to plant and grow the seed of faith in our hearts. This faith is what saves us.

That’s what Jesus really said to Bartimaeus in Jericho, by the way. English translations of the Bible commonly miss that. Jesus really said, “Recover your sight; your faith has saved you.” God doesn’t work the way man does. He doesn’t forgive, save, or choose based on anything that is in us. He didn’t choose David based on appearances, but because of the faith which He (God) created in David’s heart. Not even having faith is something we can do. It is the work of God the Holy Spirit in us. When we hear these words, that Jesus went to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise for us, and believe it, we can take comfort that God has chosen us for salvation in Christ. This is not because of anything in us; it is only by His grace through faith in Christ, who is revealed to us in Scripture alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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