When ‘Religious’ people place unnecessary burdens on others…

I have, in my Christian life, wondered how someone can claim to love Jesus but continue to dishonor Him. How can a person claim to love Christ and, yet, not be a committed member of a healthy local church body- the very body of Christ? I have wondered why there are so many preachers and teachers who claim to be members of God’s chosen family and, yet, misinterpret and misrepresent God’s scriptures in an unapologetic way. This sermon has two parts. The first part will be delivered today and the second will be delivered on November 17. Saul is such a person and such a king as this. He was chosen by God for service. He was even moved by the Holy Spirit. Yet, he walks in unrepentant sin and seems to be unable to follow God. In this two-part sermon, we will see what is going on with those who claim to be Christians but live contrarily to the doctrines that we have received in Scripture. We will see why there is great apostasy in the organized church today and why the younger generations have departed from the Christian worldview according to Scripture. The Bible answers these questions explicitly. We will see why there are so many preachers and teachers, according to the Bible, who are so convinced of their own salvation and their own teaching but constantly misinterpret and misrepresent God’s Holy Word. The Bible is clear on this, and we will take two Sundays to look at this Biblical doctrine as represented in this passage of God’s story.

1 Samuel 14:24-46

Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed on that day, for Saul had put the people under oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food.

All the people of the land entered the forest, and there was honey on the ground. When the people entered the forest, behold, there was a flow of honey; but no man put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard when his father put the people under oath; therefore, he put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened.

Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly put the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food today.’ ” And the people were weary.

Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”

They struck among the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very weary. The people rushed greedily upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slew them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood.

Then they told Saul, saying, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have acted treacherously; roll a great stone to me today.”

Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Each one of you bring me his ox or his sheep, and slaughter it here and eat; and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’ ” So all the people that night brought each one his ox with him and slaughtered it there. And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord. Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and take spoil among them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” So the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.”

Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You give them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him on that day.

Saul said, “Draw near here, all you chiefs of the people, and investigate and see how this sin has happened today. For as the Lord lives, who delivers Israel, though it is in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But not one of all the people answered him.

Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”

Therefore, Saul said to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.

Saul said, “Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.

Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” So Jonathan told him and said, “I indeed tasted a little honey with the end of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am, I must die!”

Saul said, “May God do this to me and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

But the people said to Saul, “Must Jonathan die, who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan and he did not die.

Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

Saul’s order to fast (v. 24-30)

Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed on that day, for Saul had put the people under oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food.

On Wednesday evenings during Bible study, we’ve been walking through Matthew’s Gospel. When we studied chapter 6, verses 16-18, we saw the God honoring way that the Old Testament describes fasting. Genuine, real fasting comes as a result of one having a personal relationship with God the Father in Christ (Matthew 6:3-4 in the singular), necessarily belong and are engaged in the body of Christ (Matthew 6:6 in the plural), and are drawn more deeply into a relationship with God the Father in Christ (Matthew 6:18 in the singular). Fasting, like prayer and like giving to those in need, is primarily personal and secret. There was no regular religious fasting until we see it with the Pharisees and John’s disciples as part of their outward religiosity (9:14). Fasting was practiced only on very special occasions- to seek the Lord’s will (Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 9:9, Ezra 8:21) and during times of mourning or deep repentance (Judges 20:26, 1 Samuel 31:13, 2 Samuel 1:12, Nehemiah 1:4, Zechariah 7:3-5, 8:19). Isaiah even rebukes Israel for fasting in order to accomplish some result or to move God to action (Isaiah 58:3-6), which is what we see Saul trying to accomplish in this part of the story. Notice the wording of the text. The men of Israel were hard-pressed because of Saul’s order to fast. Saul did not order the people to fast because there was need for repentance or preparation. This religious practice was an unnecessary burden placed on the congregation. Sadly, most human religion and many human-centered churches will do what Saul is doing, here, and what we have seen from the Israelites throughout 1 Samuel. We force people to try living in an acceptable way and it only causes them harm. This is why it is important for us not to be involved in merely any church, but a healthy local church that really believes in and practices the grace of God.

All the people of the land entered the forest, and there was honey on the ground. When the people entered the forest, behold, there was a flow of honey; but no man put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard when his father put the people under oath; therefore, he put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened.
Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly put the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food today.’ ” And the people were weary.
Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”

So, as a result of human-centered religion, the people are burdened. Without these unnecessary burdens, Jonathan recognizes that the people would have actually been able to follow God better in their pursuits. Because he didn’t know about the burden his father placed upon the people, Jonathan sinned against his father. He did not sin against God. Notice that Jonathan recognizes that his father has troubled the land. God is interested in revitalizing the lives of His people, not suppressing them like the world does or like worldly local ‘churches’ do or like worldly leaders do, especially worldly leaders who are convinced of their own Christianity but do not know Christ. Within the next couple months, we are going to have some ministry opportunities open up to us so that we might reach out to a demographic that is being neglected in our community by virtually every church. In order to do this well, we won’t be able to place unnecessary burdens on others, and we shouldn’t. It is counter-productive concerning the work of the Gospel.

Saul’s order to sacrifice (v. 31-36)

They struck among the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very weary. The people rushed greedily upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slew them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood.

Because Saul burdened the people with unnecessary hunger, they got to the point of desperation. In their desperation, they broke the Law as we read it in Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17:11, and Deuteronomy 12:16 by eating meat with the blood still in it. Why was it against God’s Law to eat meat with the blood still in it? We may hear a multitude of reasons why God might have given this command in His Law, including that it might have been given for health reasons and for humane treatment of animals (making sure they are really dead). Despite these popular claims, the Scripture only give one reason.

In Genesis 9:3-4, we see God instruct Noah, telling him that he can eat any animal but must first drain the blood. There are no restrictions or allowances listed concerning the consumption of meat before this passage in Scripture, so to say absolutely that God allowed or restricted the consumption of meat before this point would be to add our speculations to the Scriptures; though it is presumed that Noah had higher numbers of clean animals on the ark so that his family could be sustained. In Leviticus 17:10-11, God explains why.

“And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’”

The reason was not explicitly for health reasons or explicitly to ensure that animals would be treated humanely but explicitly because the blood of an animal represented atonement on behalf of God’s chosen people on God’s altar. So, abstinence from the consumption of blood from a fresh animal represented the lifeblood that is shed on behalf of God’s people, namely the blood of Jesus Christ. They did not eat the lifeblood because the power of atonement was to be recognized as separate from them, external to them. Gentiles receive the same instruction, in a way that is unqualified, in Acts 15:20. This is still the instruction of Scripture even to Christians who are not Jews. Since the instruction is unqualified, we find the reason for this instruction in Leviticus 17:10-11. Atonement must be made on the person’s behalf, and the lifeblood of the meat we eat still represents the perfect atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Then they told Saul, saying, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have acted treacherously; roll a great stone to me today.”
Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Each one of you bring me his ox or his sheep, and slaughter it here and eat; and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’” So all the people that night brought each one his ox with him and slaughtered it there. And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.

We’ve seen this process at work in human religion, haven’t we? Some well meaning person will, in an effort to try persuading people not to sin, entice them into a worse sin against God. Here, in order to make up for their sin of consuming raw, uncooked meat without draining the lifeblood, the people start making sacrifices to God like we saw in chapter 6. Their sacrifices were not Lawful and atonement was not being made on their behalf. Atonement must always be made on someone’s behalf. We cannot atone for our own sins. We cannot pay our way to heaven or give enough to appease God. The priest’s responsibility to make atonement for the people was, by design, another picture of the Gospel and of atonement in Christ alone. We can read the latter part of Romans 1 and the first part of Romans 2 to see how devastating this tendency is for all people and especially for false churches. In Romans 1, Paul will list all sorts of sins including homosexuality, other sexual perversions, greed, envy, murder, gossip, slander, arrogance, disobeying parents, etc… (Romans 1:18-32). In Romans 2, Paul will continue,

“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:1-5).

If the person judges another person on the basis of that person’s sin, then he or she is self-condemning on the same basis, the basis of his or her sin. This is what Saul is doing, and he takes it upon himself to try to correct the people’s sin even though he is living in worse sin. This sort of judgment is evidence that people don’t know Jesus and do not have a regenerate heart. Paul’s rhetorical question will even suggest that those who are condemning of others for whatever reason will not, themselves, escape the judgment of God. They are storing up wrath for themselves. It’s clear in Scripture. They are objects of wrath. They can’t even see the kingdom of heaven. They will be righteously judged on the basis of their self-righteousness. They are not Christians.

Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and take spoil among them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” So the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.”

After this religious show, and that is the only way I know how to describe it, Saul calls the people to action. Once again, Saul does something that seems religious but is committing an atrocity before the Lord and taking the whole nation with him.

Do we see how Saul’s sin continues to increase no matter how he tries to make things right or be good by his own power? No matter how hard he tries, Saul is unable to be good and unable to lead the people in a God-honoring direction, yet God is faithful to His own promise. The only time Saul was able to honor God was when the Holy Spirit enabled him, even though he was a ravenous wolf, to do something God-honoring. In Saul’s case, the words of the psalmist, his successor David, will ring true,

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1-3).

David will witness this vicious cycle in Saul’s life. He will recognize the basic truth of human depravity. Even though Saul proclaimed God with his lips, he said in his heart that there was no god. Without the Holy Spirit, no one can live righteously and no one can truly seek after God. This is why we don’t place too heavy a burden on others. It is why Paul will write that those who condemn others for their sin also stand condemned. We are not righteous and we cannot become righteous of ourselves. Without the intervening and/or regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we cannot even seek after God or honor Him with our lives no matter how hard we try or how many religious rules we keep. This is the doctrine that separates a truly biblical worldview from every other worldview present in our day and throughout history. Everyone is trying to seek after God even though that is impossible. God must reveal Himself and give us eyes to see. God, give us eyes to see. Give those in our community eyes to see. Give those in other local churches eyes to see. For we know that, unless we are born again, we cannot even see the kingdom of heaven.

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