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Symbols of Hope

Last week we started looking at the Christmas story. Mind you, we didn’t get very far. We started in Genesis chapter one and we made it all the way to Genesis chapter 3. There’s just 927 chapters to go before we get to the part about the baby in a manger. But that’s ok. You’ve probably heard that part of the Christmas story before anyway.

You see, most people are familiar with the shepherds and the wisemen and the angels – but they might not have heard the parts of the Christmas story that come before all that.

Because as we talked about last week, the whole Bible is the Christmas story. It begins in Genesis with Adam and Eve and it goes right through to the end of time in Revelation. All of history is the Christmas story. 

And so we started in the Beginning – when God created the heavens and the earth. And He set up the perfect design for the perfect life. God designed life to operate by three basic principles that would make life on earth awesome and amazing. And these were the three principles.

#1. God is the source. #2. God is the authority. #3. Life is all about relationships.

And with these three principles in place, Adam & Eve enjoyed a perfect life. 

With God as the source, Adam & Eve had everything they needed. God gave them life, God gave them an amazing place to live, God gave them delicious food to eat, a fulfilling job to do – He gave them close relationships – both with Himself and with each other. It was really the perfect life.

As long as Adam & Eve looked to God as the source of all they needed and as long as they recognized that God was their authority (living within the bounds that He had set), their relationships would be sweet and life would continue to be amazing. That was God’s design. That’s how God intended the human experience to be. That’s the kind of life that God wanted you and I to live.

But unfortunately, as we talked about last week, one day that all changed. Adam & Eve decided to reject God as their source and to reject God as their authority by taking and eating the fruit from the tree that God commanded them not to eat – and as a result, their relationship with God and their relationship with each other was broken. Life would become very painful and hard for Adam and Eve, and all of Creation would suffer.

In fact, to this very day, we suffer the effects of sin in the world. All of us have broken relationships both with God and with each other. Our experience is far from the perfect life that God intended for us to live! But the good news is – there is Hope. The entire Bible is a History of Hope. One day, God would undo the damage that was done in the garden of Eden and we would again experience life as God intended it.

And that part comes a little later in the story, but today, we’re going to continue looking at God’s story, the Christmas story – to see how God continued to give mankind hope throughout the course of history – even as they struggled with the consequences of their sin.

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The Need for Hope

We are now just two days away from December and the Christmas season is upon us. We’ve got snow on the ground, some of you have your Christmas trees up already, and as we just witnessed moments ago, today is the first Sunday of Advent. And so rather than continuing our study of Samuel through December – I thought I’d take a short break and do a series of Christmas messages.

Quite often I shy away from a lot of seasonal-type messages – just because we hear the same things year after year after year. But this Christmas, I do want to take the next four weeks to tell you the Christmas story – the whole Christmas story. I think sometimes we get gypped and we only hear part of the story. We hear about the angels, about the shepherds, about having no room at the inn, about the wisemen, but we miss out on all the stuff that happens before that.

So I want to start us off today, not with the wisemen, not with the shepherds, not with Mary & Joseph – not even with the prophets that foretold the birth of Jesus. Instead, I want us to start in the beginning. Literally. In the beginning – Genesis 1:1 

Because that’s truly the beginning of the Christmas story. In fact, the entire Bible is the Christmas story. Everything that happens in the Old Testament is a lead up to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everything that happens in the New Testament is the result of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So this Christmas I want us to take a look at the big picture. I want us to try to see what God was doing right from day one. Because Jesus’ birth didn’t just happen. In fact, all of history didn’t just happen. God wasn’t just making stuff up as He went along. Before He even created the world, God had a plan. And that plan involved all the stuff that we read about in the Bible – everything from Adam & Eve in Genesis all the way to the end of time in Revelation. God had and still has a plan. 

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Getting Right With God

For the past couple of months we have been looking at the book of 1 Samuel. And even though the book is named after Samuel, so far, much of the story has focused on other characters. First, the story revolved around Hannah (Samuel’s mother) as she prayed and pleaded with God to give her a son – which God did! And in response, Hannah dedicated her little boy Samuel to live in the service of God for the rest of his life.

Then the story focused in on the priest Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas – as they lived in blatant disregard for God and his commands – prompting God to warn them of impending judgement. Sadly, they chose not to heed God’s warning, and God carried out that judgement shortly thereafter when Hophni and Phinehas were killed in a battle with the Philistines. 

At this point, the story shifts it’s focus onto the Ark of the Covenant, as, in the same battle, the Israelite army foolishly tried to manipulate God by bringing the Ark of the Covenant with them onto the battlefield. But God would not be manipulated and as a result, the Israelites were soundly defeated and the Ark was captured by the Philistines.

The next few chapters of the book follow the Ark into Philistine territory and we see God displaying his might and his sovereignty over the Philistine god, Dagon, and even over nature as the Philistines struggle to contain and control the God of the Israelites. In the end, they want nothing to do with the Ark of of the Lord, and they send it back to the Israelites on cart pulled by a couple of cows.

And so by now, we’ve seen a very strong theme emerging from this book and I think 1 Samuel chapter 2 verse 30 says it best. In that verse God says:

“I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me.” 1 Samuel 2:30b

This has been a clear theme through this book so far. We see God honouring Hannah as she humbles herself before God in prayer – and as she keeps a difficult promise and sends her young son Samuel to live at the Tabernacle to serve God. God honours that and blesses both Hannah and Samuel.

But God certainly does not honor the pride and arrogance of Eli’s sons – as they dishonour Him and steal from the temple sacrifices. God executes judgment on Eli and all his family because of their sin. God despises those who think lightly of Him.

And God does not honor the Israelite army as they treat him like a vending machine – living for years in disobedience to Him with no desire to please and honor God, but yet expecting God to save them from their enemies just because they bring out the Ark of the Covenant. God certainly doesn’t honor that and the Israelites are soundly defeated.

And God doesn’t honor the Philistines either – as He strikes the them with tumours and plagues.  They were treating God as if he was just another idol – just another god conquered by their god Dagon! But they quickly learned that wasn’t the case! In fact, they seemed to learn a little quicker than the Israelites that God honours those who honor Him, but He despises those who think lightly of Him.

And that’s the same lesson that we’re going to see in today’s passage too. The Israelites seem to be a little slow to learn the lesson, but they do seem to get it in the end! So perhaps there’s hope for us too!

As I mentioned, the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Lord in battle, but because of the plagues that God sent upon them, they returned the Ark to the Israelites by sending it along with some gifts on a cart pulled by a couple of cows. The cows took it straight to the nearby Israelite town of Beth-shemesh. We read last week in 1 Samuel 6:13…

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What To Do With An Uncontrollable God

Last Sunday we read about the first of many battles recorded in the book of 1 Samuel. And at this time in Israel’s history – their main enemy was the Philistines! The Philistines had been a thorn in Israel’s side throughout their early history – battling first with Shamgar and then Samson – later on they would battle against King Saul and against David…. but at this time there was no judge or king to lead the Israelites into battle against the Philistines. Although Samuel was widely recognized as the prophet of God by this time – He had not yet become Isreal’s judge – that would happen shortly, but at this time, Israel was led primarily by the elders – the older, supposedly wiser leaders of the different clans and tribes of Israel.

But these elders didn’t seem to be particularly in-tune with God. And as we’ve noted over the past few weeks, the nation of Israel as a whole had kinda drifted away from following God. Their relationship with God had become a religion rather than a relationship, even though they were God’s specially choose people. Out of all the people on earth, God had specifically chosen them to be His holy nation – and they would be His people and He would be their God! He even promised to dwell among them… We saw last week how the Ark of the Covenant would identify God’s presence among his people. It was from the Ark that God promised meet his people and speak to them from above the cover of the Ark.

But as we’ve noted, the people of Israel weren’t all that interested in hearing from God at this point. They chose to ignore God’s commands – and everyone did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. They had no interest in serving and pleasing God – they really just kept God around because of what God could do for them!

And last week’s battle with the Philistines was a prime example of that. After being defeated in the first battle against the Philistines, the elders of Israelites decide to go get the Ark of the Lord and carry it into battle with them. We read in 1 Samuel 4 verse 3…

Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:3b

And I think it’s very telling that they say “IT will save us from our enemies” – Not, “GOD” will save us from our enemies – but “IT” – the Ark of the Covenant – will save us from our enemies.

Their faith was in a gold box, rather than in the God who spoke to them from the gold box. They had been disobedient to God for years and really had no interest in changing their ways, but yet, they thought they could harness and manipulate the power of God by trotting out the Ark of the Covenant and carrying it into battle with them.

But one of the main themes that comes out of the book of Samuel – and we’ve seen this several times already – is that God will honor those who honor Him, but he will despise those who think lightly of Him. And we see that playing out clearly in this story.

The Israelites carry the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle – hoping to manipulate the power of God in their favour, but God does not honor those who refuse to honor Him and the Israelites are soundly defeated. 30,000 men are killed and the Ark of the Covenant is captured by the Philistines!

And that leads us into our passage today. As I mentioned last week, the story of 1 Samuel doesn’t revolve around Samuel – it doesn’t even revolve around the Israelites – it revolves around God! This is His story, and so the camera pans away from the defeated Israelites and it follows the Ark of the Covenant carried by the victorious Philistines into the nearby Philistine town of Ashdod.

We pick up the story in 1 Samuel chapter 5, verse 1.

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God’s Not Your Lucky Charm

This morning we are continuing on in our study of First Samuel. For the first 3 chapters of this book, the author has focused mainly on the birth and early life of Samuel, but for the next three chapters, the focus shifts and the story revolves mainly around the Ark of the Covenant (or the Ark of the Lord.) Samuel isn’t even mentioned again until chapter 7.

And in some ways, this next part about the Ark of the Lord might seem like a bit of a rabbit trail from the story of Samuel – but it’s not a rabbit trail at all. It actually reminds us who this story is really about – this is not a story about Samuel – this is a story about God!

And that’s important to remember when we read through any of these great old testament stories! These stories are not about Daniel and the lions or David & Goliath or Moses or Jonah or any of those guys – the entire Bible is the story of God. He is the main character. These fantastic stories are only in the Bible because they teach us about God – Who He is, what’s He’s like, what He’s done, and what He’s going to do! 

So today’s passage about the Ark of the Lord is most certainly not a rabbit trail from the story of Samuel – but rather it conveys to us some very important information about who God is and how we are to interact with Him! As we go through it, we’ll see that it fits very much within the themes of the book of First Samuel!

First Samuel chapter 3 ends on the note of little Samuel growing up to a confirmed prophet of the Lord. His messages proved to be true and reliable as He faithfully delivered the Word of God to all the people of Israel.

But after saying that, the scene totally changes and we are told in chapter 4 verse 1…

At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek. The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men. 3 After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:1b-3

Now just for a little bit of background here, the Philistines are probably the most well-known enemies of the Israelites. We first hear about the Philistines way back in Genesis – during the the time of Abraham. But of course, there was no nation of Israel to fight with at that time – there was just Abraham’s family!

But the real fighting between the Philistines and the Israelites began during the time of the judges. We’re told that one of the first Judges, Shamgar, once killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad! The strongman, Samson, fought his many battles against the Philistines – burning down their crops, killing them with a jawbone of a donkey, pulling down their temple on top of them! Most of Saul’s battles, as the first king of Israel, were fought against the Philistines. David’s first battle was against the Philistine giant, Goliath. And so its not unusual to see Israel at war with the Philistines! But this particular war was going to be unusual.

As we read in the passage, the first battle in this war was a total loss for the Israelites. They were soundly defeated and 4,000 men were killed. So they go back to their camp and regroup. It’s at this point that the elders of Israel ask a very important question. They say “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?”

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Responding to the Voice of God

Over the past month or so, we’ve been looking at the life of Samuel. And chances are, if you’ve only ever heard one story about Samuel – today’s story is likely the one. If you attended Sunday school as a kid, this would be the story that your Sunday school teacher would have had up on the flannelgraph. (And if you don’t know what a flannel graph is, talk to Randall. He’ll tell you all about it!)

But our story takes place when little Samuel was probably about 12 years old. And it’s been really interesting to me to see how frequently the Bible talks about how Samuel is growing up serving the Lord. He’s only a kid, but look what the Bible has already said about him…

1 Samuel 2:11 it says…

And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest. 1 Samuel 2:11  (7 vs later…)

But Samuel, though he was only a boy, served the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:18 (3 vs later…)

Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:21 (5 vs later…)

Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people. 1 Samuel 2:26

And then finally to begin today’s passage:

Meanwhile, the boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. 1 Samuel 3:1

For a kid who is probably only about 12 years old, the Bible sure has a lot of positive things to say about Samuel! In fact, I don’t think there are any other children in the Bible that receive so many positive comments.

But I think that’s a great reminder to all you kids! Even while you’re young, you can serve the Lord. All you kids can learn to love Him and please Him and honor him with how you live your life!

I mean, wouldn’t it be great to have your name in those verses? it could read something like this:

“But Caleb, though he was only a boy, served the Lord.”

“Meanwhile, Sophia grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.”

“Meanwhile, Logan served the Lord by assisting Pastor Dave.”

Wouldn’t that be awesome? And you guys can do that! You can serve and honor the Lord even when you’re a kid – just like Samuel.

But anyway, that’s how our story begins.

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