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cover of 6-2-2024 | The Ark Returned! |  1 Samuel 6 (Mark Evans)
6-2-2024 | The Ark Returned! |  1 Samuel 6 (Mark Evans)

6-2-2024 | The Ark Returned! | 1 Samuel 6 (Mark Evans)


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The sermon is based on 1 Samuel chapter 6, where the ark of the Lord is in the Philistines' country for seven months, causing plagues. The Philistines consult their priests and diviners on what to do with the ark. They are advised to send it back with a guilt offering. The Philistines make images of tumors and mice out of gold and send them along with the ark. The ark is placed on a cart pulled by two milk cows, which go straight to Beth Shemesh. The people of Beth Shemesh rejoice upon seeing the ark. The sermon then discusses the deep need of man and the question of who can stand before the Lord. It emphasizes the importance of the ark in the covenant relationship between Israel and God. The Philistines' reaction reveals their knowledge and ignorance of God. The sermon concludes with the main point of the chapter: who can stand before the Lord. If you have your Bibles, do make your way to the book of 1 Samuel as we continue our sermon series through this book. And today we'll be covering Chapter 6 of 1 Samuel in its entirety. And to get us going, I will read the first 13 verses of Chapter 6. And these are the words of the God who was, who is, and who is to come. The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us. With what shall we send it to its place? And they said, If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty. But by all means, return him a guilt offering, then you will be healed. And it will be known to you why his hand does not turn away from you. And they said, What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden tumors and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines. For the same plague was on all of you and on your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off of you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts after he had dealt severely with them? Did they not send the people away and they departed? Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke. And yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart and put it in a box at its side of the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way. And watch, if it goes up on the way to its own land to Beth Shemesh, then it is he who has done this great harm. But if not, then we shall know that it is not by his hand that struck us. It happened to us by coincidence. The men did so and took two milk cows and yoked them to a cart and shut up their calves at home. And they put the ark of the Lord on the cart and the box with the golden mice and the images of their tumors. And the cows went straight in the direction of Beth Shemesh, along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh. Now the people of Beth Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley. And when they lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, they rejoiced to see it. When the grass withers and the flower fades, let us pray. Heavenly Father, indeed it is our great privilege, our delight, that we can lift up our eyes and behold the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of glory, in all of His splendor and His majesty. And yet we pray because we know we cannot do this of our own doing, of human eyesight, that we must have the work of Your Spirit, to giving us the eyes to see, to giving us the ears to hear, that here we are, completely dependent upon You. And so we pray once again that You would bless us, make Your face shine upon us, that You would be gracious to us, for You have covenanted with us in Jesus Christ to do exactly that. And so we pray Your blessing upon this time. In Jesus' name, amen. Amen. You may be seated. Well, the great Pee Wee Reese of the Brooklyn Dodgers was once pulled over by a police officer for speeding. If you're not familiar with who that is, Pee Wee Reese was a ten-time all-star professional baseball player. But Pee Wee Reese was not alone because he also had with him the eight-time all-star Duke Snyder, and he had two other famous Brooklyn Dodgers with him. And so that said, as soon as the officer realized that he was in the presence of baseball greatness, the officer was just thrilled to be a part of it all, and so he let them off without a speeding ticket. And you hear stories like that all the time, don't you, that a given authority bends and bows and makes exceptions based off man's fame and his accolade. Now, one wonders, do we ever expect God to behave in a similar way, that yes, God has great authority, God has great power, but once God considers the greatness of man, He too might be impressed, just like that officer was. Now if that sounds sacrilegious, you'd be correct. And yet a recent 2021 survey found that three out of every four persons believe that they are fundamentally a good person. And it gets worse still. It found that nearly half of all Americans believe that they are the best person that they know. It's no wonder as just this month, the Pope, that is Pope Francis, the leader of the largest denomination in the world declared that humans are fundamentally good, saying, quote, yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good. And so maybe we might expect that God would judge the Philistines, like we saw last week. Maybe they are the rogues and the sinners that Francis refers to. But when it comes to Israel, we might expect that she will get some special treatment from the Lord. But our text this morning raises a most serious question. It actually comes not from the Philistine camp, but from Israel. It's the sober question of who can stand before the Lord? It's a question to ask yourself even now, am I able to stand before the Lord? Because that's a question that every single person will have to answer. And so we'll walk through this chapter in just two parts. We'll look firstly at man's deep need, and secondly, what is God's answer to man's great need? I'll let the main point that is simply a question, who can stand before the Lord? And so diving into man's deep need, starting in verse 1, we read, the ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. So just a reminder, and in case you weren't here, where we left off, last week, we saw that the Philistines captured the ark of God, but they captured it to their own destruction because our God cut off the head and the hands of the God Dagon in order to show himself to be the supreme God. Then Yahweh afflicted the Philistines with plagues. The Philistines anxiously responded by moving the ark from city to city to city in hopes of stopping those plagues, but it was to no avail. And we left off with the Philistines crying out to heaven for some relief. And all this all over one single ark. And maybe you've been wondering, you know, why is the ark such a big deal, right? Here we are in the 21st century. This is now our third Sunday to talk about the ark. And maybe you're sitting there wondering, I don't understand all the drama, all the obsession about the ark of the covenant. Well, you need to know, just appreciate, that the ark was not just some neat religious artifact or trinket. Losing the ark would not at all be like, oh no, I lost my favorite Bible, oh no, I lost my special prayer journal. No, no, no. God himself was said to sit enthroned above the ark. The high priest of Israel would sprinkle blood on the mercy seat on top of the ark in order to make atonement for Israel. So in other words, no ark, no atonement, right? The ark was where God came down to be with his people. So that the ark is gone would have all the feel that Israel's covenant relationship with God is in jeopardy. That is why it is such a big deal. When you add to that despair, here in verse 1, we learn that the ark's absence was a seven-month period. Seven months of plagues for the Philistines, seven months of dead religion for Israel. That is a big deal. But verse 2, the Philistines can only take so much pain, and so they ring up their clergy in verse 2, and it reads this, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and they said, what shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Please just tell us what to do. Now that reaction is fascinating. At first you'll notice echoes of exodus all throughout this section, that just as Pharaoh had to let go Israel due to the plagues, now the Philistines have to let go of the ark due to their plagues. And secondly, this Philistine reaction reveals both their knowledge of God and their ignorance of God. Firstly, it's clear they've got some working knowledge of the true God. They know enough to know. We have offended God, and we are experiencing God's wrath because of our offenses towards Him, even though He is not our God that we worship. It's a popular idea today that God is no longer wrathful. That God's wrath is an Old Testament thing. But in the New Testament, God undergoes a kind of personality makeover. You know, God is more relaxed now. He's not so wrathful now. Let's just consider Paul's words in Ephesians when Paul says, for you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, who is covetous, that is an idolater, has no inheritance in the kingdom of God. And then just to make it ultra clear, Paul says, let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things, the things he just listed, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. That is in the New Testament. And so the Philistines know enough to know that they have done something wrong, and they might have brought God's wrath upon them. But they don't even stop there. You see in verse 3, they say, if you send the ark away, whatever you do, don't send it empty. You see, not only do they realize they've offended God, they've got this instinct to make a guilt offering in hopes of turning away God's wrath. Now that is fascinating. Because just remember, God's law did require guilt offerings, and yet God's law was not given to the Philistines. God gave his law directly to Moses, directly to Israel alone. And so it raises the question, how did the Philistines know to make this guilt offering? Where does this instinct come from? Well, it's just as we read from Romans 2 earlier, that the Gentiles, that those who do not have the law still manage to do what the law requires by nature, that on some level, God's law is written upon their hearts. Now that is an amazing truth when you think of it. Just think of what that means, that when you encounter a non-Christian, you are looking at someone who on some level knows God's law. Certainly not in a sanctified or in a saving way, but they have a working conscience. They have some awareness of right and wrong. They have a knowledge of God's moral obligation upon their life. And that, of course, gives you a thread to pull on, because people today still make their own guilt offerings. We just covered it in the introduction. I'm a good person. I make it my aim to be nice to people. I support charities. I care for the environment, and on and on. These are just snippets of man's attempts to assuage his guilt and to stand before a holy God. And, of course, apart from Jesus Christ, these are just vain and damning attempts that are not only unsatisfactory, but as Paul said, will even accuse man on the final day. And you see it here with the Philistines. They've got this instinct. All right. Let's bring this guilt offering. But verse 3 continues. You even see the optimism of the pagan priests. They say, do this, and then you will be healed, and now you'll know why his hand does not turn away from you. And you'll notice from this point onward that their offering takes on more the form of an experiment rather than true religion. Right? The experiment's pretty simple. If our plagues stop, then we know the offering worked. Right? We were able to bribe God, as it were. But there's even more. They also know that their sacrifice should be costly and complete, because verse 4, they say, here's what we're going to offer. Five golden tumors, five golden mice, according to the numbers of the lords of the Philistines. And remember last week, the plagues hit the five major cities of Philistia. So they cook up this idea. Let's roll out a five-fold sacrifice of precious gold that speaks right to our diseases. And later in the chapter, you see those sacrifices correspond to the five major Philistine cities. And so you put all this together, and you've got all the right instincts, and yet all the right instincts in the world do not amount to true religion, true reconciliation with the living God. Because God's law absolutely does call for guilt offerings. But it's that of an unblemished ram, not of golden mice. Had they asked an Israelite priest, not a pagan priest, this offering would look far different. It's not unlike today, that man invents all kinds of works righteousness, and yet never consults the truth, the certainty of God's Word. It's the great pride of man to think that he would be appeased by our man-made schemes. But there's even more. They even mouth the right words to go along with this offering. You see verse 5, the priests say, when you do this, give glory, give weight, give honor to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off of you. Kids, if you've ever played a pickup football game, you might know the term to throw a Hail Mary. Kids, when do you throw a Hail Mary in football? Well, it's when you're losing the game in a big way, right? All hope is lost, and you think, well, it's worth a shot. What do we have to lose? Let's just chunk the ball downfield, and we'll see what happens. You can kind of think of this like the Philistines' Hail Mary, right? It's worth a shot. Let's roll out our golden mice to God, and who knows, maybe, just maybe, he will lighten his hand upon us. But you see, even deeper still, it's just as the psalmist says, that so great is God's power that even his enemies come cringing before him. And just as God said in the Exodus, I will get glory over Pharaoh. Here too, God says, I will have glory from the Philistines. Just as Revelation says, the kings of the earth will bring their glory into the new Jerusalem. We're all familiar with man's chief end, but let us ask, what is God's chief end? And we're taught here, once again, the most profound truth, that our God will be glorified. That the main purpose of all of human history is the glory of God. That all peoples, all events, all kingdoms, all history is oriented towards this, the glory of the one true and living God, who is summing up everything in the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the whole earth would be full of his glory. And you've seen that rich tapestry in the Ark story. And it's mesmerizing if you follow the turn of events. Israel is defeated. The Ark is captured. The Philistines seem to have won the day. And yet, beyond all human calculation, out of the mouths of pagan priests come these words, let's give glory to God. We don't even know him as our God, but let's give him glory. And so fearful are they, they say in verse 6, why should you harden your hearts as did the Egyptians and Pharaoh who hardened their hearts? As is rightly said, those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. And so the Philistines are shrewd enough to say, don't you remember mighty Pharaoh and all those dead bodies washing up on the Red Sea? Why do you think you're going to fare any better than they did? And so with that caution, verses 7 through 9, the priests now instruct them, okay, here's how we're going to execute this offering. And you can scan those verses and it might seem bizarre to us, but here's the basic idea. They say, get two ordinary milk cows, separate those cows from their calves, load up the cows with the ark and with our offerings, and then let those cows go and just watch and observe. Now I'm guessing that might sound a little strange to you, okay, but just think what an untrained milk cow would naturally do is return to her calves, right? You don't have to be a West Texas rancher to know mama wants to go home and be with her kids and feed them and care for them, right? That makes sense. That is to be expected. That's why, they reason in verse 9, that if amateur milk cows make a beeline to the city of Beth Shemesh all while pulling a cart, you know that something strange is up. Again, if these cows are doing anything, they're heading home. They're certainly not going to pull a cart uphill, yoked together to a faraway city that they'd never even been to because the city of Beth Shemesh would take us out of Philistia and back into Israel. And so you see at the end of this section in verse 9, there they are trying desperately to answer this one question, this seven-month-long question, a most human question when they say, is all of this wrath just a coincidence or is the hand of God against us? So you see this whole drama speaks right to the heart of man's most vexing question. It's the awareness that every single person has. Here I am, made in the image of God. Perhaps I have offended Him by my sins and my idolatry. Could it be that I am under the wrath of God? And we've seen man's proposed solution to that question, that a sacrifice, indeed a costly sacrifice, is required to appease the wrath of God and to remove my guilt. And yet when done man's way, He offers up a sacrifice of His own doing and His own making. And sadly, you see just how experimental, how inadequate, what a lack of confidence the religion of man brings. It's nothing more than acts of desperation that do nothing to cleanse the conscience and bring me to the true and living God. John, verses 10 and 11, you see now the execution of this experimental offering. They load up the milk cows and they send them off. And then verse 12, even the most dim-witted, dole-minded scientist would have his conclusion because sure enough, verse 12, those cows go straight in the direction of Beth Shemesh. One highway, lowing as they go, they do not turn to the right, they do not turn to the left. So it's immediate confirmation for the Philistines that yes, the God of Israel is against us. That yes, every single plague, every single death, every single affliction that we have suffered for these last seven months is the heavy hand of the true and living God who is able to stand before the Lord. Friends, it is a fearful thing to ask that question only to then supply your own answer. So there's a word on man's deep need. But next, you'll see shockingly, the very same question makes its way even to Israel. And just to set up the next verse, verse 13, know that our setting, now we're out of Philistia and now we're back into the land of Israel. Now, work with me here. Just put yourself in the sandals of a normal Israelite, okay? There you are, doing a normal day's work out on the farm, right? There you are, bending over backwards, harvesting wheat in the fields. You know the ark's been gone for seven months. The glory of God has departed from Israel. Your high priest Eli and his two sons have both died. As a nation, you've suffered multiple military defeats. There's not a ton to be happy about. And so with that doom and gloom in mind, verse 13 makes a lot of sense, because there you are, just working the fields, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you hear the sound of a lowing cow off in the distance, and you think, that's kind of weird. Then you hear the sound of a second lowing cow off in the distance, and you think, this is very strange. Then you look up over the horizon to what kind of looks like the ark of God riding on the back of two milk cows, and you think, nah, I need more coffee, right? This simply cannot be. But sure enough, in rides, two milk cows yoked together, carrying of all things, your ark that was captured by bloody force seven months ago. And so now, let's appreciate verse 13 when it says, they were reaping wheat in the valley. They lifted up their eyes and saw the ark, and they rejoiced to see it. Of course it's joy, right? What other reaction would it be? You're rubbing your eyes in disbelief that the captured ark now returns on the backs of bovines. It is a burst of joy. Now just think, if you were to make out a list of all the ways that the glory of God would return to Israel, what is surely not on your list is two milk cows lowing, transporting the ark with the Philistine leaders sheepishly trailing behind them. No, your only reaction would be, this joy of mine is now complete. It's kind of like in the New Testament, when there you have Mary weeping in the garden at the death of her Lord. And then comes the question, Mary, why are you weeping? And she says, what? I'm weeping because they have taken away my Lord. He's gone. And all Jesus has to say is her name, Mary. And she knows it's him, and she runs off with joy saying, I have seen the Lord. C.S. Lewis once wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. And if ever there was surprising joy, you have it right here with this cow pulled cart carrying an ark. Our God is a God of surprising joy. Because once again, you are meant to see that not one single Israelite had even the slightest role, the slightest contribution in reclaiming the ark. This is entirely of God's doing from beginning to middle to end. God is the one that single-handedly reclaiming the ark from exile and restoring it back to his people. And so let's just ask the question, why would God orchestrate it this way? Because it so plainly maximizes his glory so that our joy would be found in him and in him alone. Friends, do you have that kind of joy? Do you know that kind of joy? Because we dare not say, well, sure, yeah, if something amazing like this happened today, well, yes, then I would be joyful. No, no, no. Because we have something far better than they had. We have the full joy that the ark merely points to. We have the joy of Jesus Christ. Because the ark, what does it symbolize? It symbolizes the forgiveness of sin, mercy, God's presence, God's power, atonement. We have everything that the ark pointed to in full measure in Jesus Christ. And so if you are in Christ, you have that joy right now by the Spirit. And so you're right to ask yourself, am I marked by joy? Is the joy of the Lord my strength? As Christians, we should stand out from our joy. We are a peculiar people who know the secret of an empty tomb, the joyful truth that nothing, not one thing, not famine, not sword, not death could separate me from the love of God in Christ. Well, as joy does, joy now produces sacrifice and worship. You can skim verses 14 through 15 and see that the first thing they do in their joy is they take down the ark and they offer sacrifice to God. Verse 15 even says how immediate this was, that on that very day, they sacrificed to God. Because that is what joy does, right? Joy issues in sacrifice. Now we might think, well, joy and sacrifice are more competing with each other. I can either have joy or I can sacrifice, but I cannot do both. But of course, Scripture says it's just the opposite. As was said of the Lord Jesus, for the joy set before him, he endured the cross. That is how you know that joy is real joy. True joy propels us in worship of the Lord. It compels us to sacrifice. Indeed, we often confuse joy to be a kind of fleeting emotion, a circumstantial happiness. But joy is this deep-seated satisfaction in the Lord. This is why Paul can even say that he is sorrowful, yet also rejoicing. The joy doesn't erase the sorrow, doesn't erase the sadness, but it's the joy is deeper. It's this immovable satisfaction that he is mine and I am his. Well, joy alone is not enough, right? Our aim is maturity in every area of the Christian life, because the story does take a very wrong turn at the very end. Because at this point, with all this joy, with the returned ark, it would be nice to put a bow on this and for me to say, and they all lived happily ever after. But you can look at verse 19 and you can see it says otherwise. Seemingly out of nowhere, it reads, and he, that is God, struck some of the men of Beth Shemesh. And why? Because they looked upon the ark. He struck 70 men of them and the people mourned because God struck them with a great blow. Literally the word for plague. And they sent the ark to Kiriath-Jerom. Well, you'll probably get some whiplash from this chapter, right? You're probably asking, well, what just happened? I thought we were bathing and basking in joy and now the Lord is striking his own people with a plague. Why the sudden change? Because the first time, they see the ark and they rejoice. And yet here, with this second look at the ark, something is off. Something is wrong. And the simple reason is because they failed to worship God rightly. And you can see that in a few ways. Firstly, they offered up females, that is cows, for sacrifice, which is prohibited by God's law. They also failed to cover the ark, which is prohibited by God's law. On top of it, this is a Levitical city. If anyone should know how to handle the ark, it is the Levites. That would be like bringing a semiconductor to Silicon Valley. You would expect competence in this area. And even worse, it seems now they're parading the ark around like it's a tourist attraction. Because notice verse 19 says that the men were struck because they looked upon the ark. And so we've got to make some inferences here because it doesn't outright tell us. But we do know the simple truth, that what we do with our eyes simply reveals what is in our heart. We cover this in 1 John. And John said, part of worldliness is the lust of the eyes. Of course, need only go back to the garden and see that the way that Eve looked at the fruit, that it was a delight to her eyes. It's as old as Eden. It's as relevant today that what we do with our eyes reveals our hearts. And so here, the likely inference is that these men are looking upon or even inside of the ark in a gawking, lustful, idolatrous way, maybe thinking this is my once-in-a-lifetime chance to steal a glance at God's ark. Because remember that the ark's right position was in the Holy of Holies, and that only the high priest could enter, and that not even the high priest was allowed to peer into the ark. As God warned them, they shall not go in and look at the holy things lest they die. And yet here, you've got the ark, naked, exposed, no curtains, no veils, come and take a look. And to treat that which is holy as if it were common, to treat that which is holy as for my personal consumption. It's the very lesson God just taught them when they treated the ark like it was their good luck charm in battle. And our God will be upheld as holy. This is why we want to make it our aim at Cornerstone that every Lord's Day, we would come and worship God with the reverence, with the awe that He is due, the glory that is due His name. Because whenever you see a lack of reverence for worship of God, no matter how great it might seem, you know that is a sure sign of spiritual decline. Jocko Willink once said, all of our problems are leadership problems. I mean, that's superficially true, but you'd want to go one step further back and say, you know, actually, all of our problems start with worship problems. Because only as we worship God in spirit and in truth are we conformed to the image of Christ. And so let's add it all up. The Philistines were struck by God. Now Israel is struck by God. And so now they both have to answer the same question. Who can stand before the Lord? Whether you are religious or irreligious, pagan or priestly, everyone is summoned to answer this question. And you see the men of the land cry out in verse 20 that exact question. They cry out, who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God? And what have we seen in 1 Samuel? That the false god Dagon cannot stand before the Lord. That the Philistines cannot stand before the Lord. You see today that even chosen Israel cannot stand before the Lord. The Levites cannot stand before the Lord. And friend, you cannot stand before the Lord. If man dares to come as he is, he cannot stand before the Lord. And so if you're here this morning and not a Christian, this is the question to ask. The question that will be asked at final judgment. Who can stand before the Lord? And the truth of Scripture is there is none righteous, no not one. And we've seen why this morning. That our God is of purer eyes than can behold evil. That in His essence He is so set apart and above and against all sin and sinners. And that if God were to count our iniquities, we cannot stand. And friends, that is what makes the good news so good. The trustworthy thing that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. That He is the one and only answer to that question. That only He who has clean hands and a pure heart, only the Lord Jesus can stand. Because the truth is, it's not that God stops counting sin. It's that in Christ our sins are counted, but they're counted against Him. That upon Him is the chastisement that brought us peace. That by His stripes we are healed. That our sins have been satisfied, judged through the sacrifice of another. So that He might have all of our sin, that we might have all of His righteousness and truly stand before a holy God clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Who can stand before the Lord? Only the Lord Jesus Christ and all those who are united to Him by faith. Let us pray. Our gracious God and heavenly Father, indeed it speaks to Your majesty, Your glory, Your supremacy that the whole earth resounds with the question, who is able to stand before the Lord? We praise You that You have answered that very question, that You have given the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is able to stand before You and that He stood in our place to bear our sin, to carry our iniquities, that through Him we might be cleansed, that united to Him we might be able to stand. And so we pray, Father, we will respond in giving You all the worship and glory and honor that is due Your name. And we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

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