Friday, August 18, 2006

Man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart: A talk given at 'SPEAK' youth outreach in Newtownards on 18/08/06. 1 Samuel 16:7

Does anyone like the Royal Family? Any of the girls fancy Prince William, or Prince Harry? Tonight we’re going to think about a king, one of the superheroes of the Bible. We’re going to go back about 3000 years, when Israel had its first king.

You can imagine the scene. Paparazzi were everywhere, all the TV cameras and photographers… King Saul leading his troops back from war. They had won an important battle against the Amalekites, and King Saul was the hero of the day.

Until Samuel showed up. Samuel was the prophet, God’s spokesman. He had anointed Saul to be king – that is, putting oil on his head to show that he had been consecrated and chosen to be king. But while everyone else was in party mood, Samuel was furious.

Saul had disobeyed God’s orders, by allowing some of the animals to live, and taking the enemy king prisoner. And God’s verdict, which Samuel came to deliver, was that Saul was rejected. No more could he be king with God’s approval.

In fact, this was the second time Saul had disobeyed God’s word. After the first time, Samuel’s verdict had been the same – God will reject you… Here’s what God said, as Samuel told Saul: ‘Now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.’ (1 Sam 13:14)

You can imagine the excitement… Saul was no longer going to be king. A new king would be chosen. But who would it be? Would they have a sort of ‘king idol’ competition, to see who could be chosen? Would there be auditions across the land, and the funny programmes showing hopefuls making eejits of themselves?

But remember, Samuel had anointed Saul to be king. It would be Samuel who would anoint and appoint the next king. So all eyes were on Samuel. Where would he go? Who would he meet with and anoint?

Let’s read from the Bible, 1 Samuel 16, to hear what happens as Samuel is told where to go with the anointing oil…

Samuel arrives at Bethlehem, at the house of Jesse, as God told him to. Suddenly, ‘King Idol’ is in production. We’re down to the final seven, as Jesse’s sons are in front of Samuel. Samuel sees the oldest, the strongest, the tallest, the best looking – surely it must be Eliab!

‘But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”’

But what does God mean when he says this? Let’s see what it meant for David, first of all, before we think about ourselves.

So Eliab is out of King Idol. He won’t be king, because God has rejected him. So then Jesse tries Abinadab, but still no; then Shammah, but still no. All the big strong ones have been in front of Samuel – Jesse’s favourites, and yet they aren’t chosen. Altogether, the seven sons are paraded in front of Samuel, and still, Samuel is saying no, no…

And they’re at the end of the sons. Or are they? Samuel asks ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ Jesse answers, ‘There is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.’

And who was the youngest? David. Samuel had told Jesse to bring his sons in front of him, yet David wasn’t even thought of by his dad. He was stuck out in the field looking after the sheep. He wasn’t even in the competition – he was the youngest, how could he be king?

But remember, ‘Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’ David was the one Samuel had spoken about to Saul – ‘the man after God’s own heart’ – who wanted to please God, and serve him. Who was concerned about the things God is concerned about.

‘Rise and anoint him; he is the one.’ It didn’t matter what his father thought of him, or what his brothers thought of him, or even what Samuel might have thought of his appearance – it was what was on the inside that counted, and David was God’s choice, because David wanted to please God.

So you might be thinking – why are we thinking about David? How was he a superhero? Just think about his battle with Goliath – David, the young shepherd boy, taking on the 9 feet tall man… In those days, instead of having the whole army fighting, sometimes one soldier from each side would fight, and whoever won, their side won the battle.

Goliath, one of the Philistines, challenged the Israelites to war… This happened for forty days, but no one was brave enough h to go and fight. Until David came to visit the army, to bring supplies to his brothers. He heard Goliath’s challenge, and realised that Goliath wasn’t only defying the armies of Israel, but because Israel were God’s people, he was defying God.

You know the story – David challenged him, stood against him in the name of God, and defeated him, with one stone fired from his slingshot. But the reason he could win, and beat Goliath was because he was the man after God’s own heart. David wanted to please God, and couldn’t stand by as Goliath opposed God.

So what does this mean for us, today, in Newtownards? How can something that happened to David 3000 years ago be relevant for us today? God doesn’t change, and what he said then still applies for us today – ‘Man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks at the heart.’

Maybe people look down on you, or make fun of you, or call you names because of how you look. Those names are cruel, and you try to forget them, but they find a way of getting inside you, and you hear them when you’re on your own.

God says to you that you are beautiful – because he made you. As Psalm 139 tells us – ‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’ (Ps 139:13-14).

There was a TV programme on BBC 1 a while back called ‘Son of God’. They tried to recreate Jesus’ face by reconstructing a Jewish 1st century skeleton. The result was something very ordinary. There’s no description of Jesus in the New Testament, saying he was so high, or had brown eyes or whatever. But in the Old Testament, in Isaiah, we read this about Jesus: ‘He had no beauty of majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’ (Isaiah 53:2-3).

Or maybe people look down on you because of who you are. Maybe things are tough in your family, because you’re the youngest. Or maybe you just aren’t thought of as part of the family. Remember David – he wasn’t even brought along when Jesse called his sons. But while he was forgotten by his family, God remembered him, and God had a purpose for his life – to be king, and to be the great-great-great…. Grandfather of Jesus. Man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart.

In the cross, Jesus went through all that you have gone through. People hurled abuse at him, and attacked him. They made false accusations against him, and hated him. But again – they were looking only at the outward appearance. God knew Jesus’ heart, committed to serving God and obeying him because it was the heart of God, as Jesus was fully obedient to death.

God says that what matters is inside – he looks on the heart. He knows the hopes and fears you have, and if you want to please him.

Maybe you have issues about your identity, or about self-esteem. You think that nobody likes you, that nobody cares about you. God does. God loves you so much that he gave his only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for you, to bring you back to God.

God says all these things to you, about you. But it doesn’t stop there. Because he also says those things about the person sitting beside you, and loves them too. So who are you to call other people names? Or to judge them because of how they look or act or talk?

I’m going to close with a verse from Zephaniah. This verse is for you, if you are trusting in Jesus – and show how God thinks of you. ‘The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.’ (Zephaniah 3:17)

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