A sermon delivered by David Hughes, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, Nc., on April 3, 2011.
1 Samuel 16:1-13
A few days ago a good friend of mine a year older than I was working out in a local gym when he began to feel tightness in his chest. He kept on grinding it out, finished his workout in a fair amount of pain, showered and went home, confident that his chest pain was a fluke, no nig deal. He didn’t think much more about it until the following Monday when he was working out again. Very quickly his chest pain returned.
Now he was concerned enough to stop his workout immediately, contact his doctor, and hastily arrange an appointment. What my friend didn’t know at the time is that he actually suffered a heart attack while waiting to see his doctor. When his doctor conducted a preliminary exam later in the day, he determined that my friend was having a significant heart problem, and should be admitted to the hospital as soon as possible.
At first my friend and his doctor were thinking he had a blocked artery or two that could be opened up with a couple of stents. But when doctors ran the usual heart scans they learned my friend had three arteries so blocked he would require open heart surgery! And then when the heart surgeon operated he found still another blocked artery, necessitating a quadruple by-pass!
Today my friend is on his way to a complete recovery, and all his friends are deeply grateful that he was spared from what could have easily been a fatal heart attack. What’s so sobering, of course, is that over a weekend my friend could exercise in his gym, work in his office, and worship in his church not knowing his heart was so diseased he could die at any moment.
I can’t help but wonder if this story does not illustrate the spiritual heart disease many of us have. We’re feeling fine, looking fine, and around others acting fine. But inside our souls it’s another story.
These days we are in the season of the Christian year called Lent. Lent, done correctly, is a challenging time for every Christ-follower because in this season of soul-searching we voluntarily submit ourselves to a spiritual heart scan. We go down deep inside ourselves and give God permission to do the surgery necessary to clean our hearts of the sin build-up that inevitably occurs over time. It’s a necessary procedure that we ignore at our own peril, since God is far more concerned about our spiritual heart than our outer appearance.
Our scripture for today makes that point with unmistakable power. I Samuel 16 finds the Old Testament character Samuel heartbroken. Samuel, you may recall was the last of a long line of judges who presided over Israel before Israel instituted a monarchy. One day the Israelites came to Samuel and said they were ready for a king to rule over them. Very reluctantly, Samuel agreed to their request. After consulting with God, Samuel tapped Saul to be the first king of Israel, in large measure because of Saul’s impressive appearance. 1 Samuel 9 describes Saul as a handsome man without equal who literally stood head and shoulders above every other man in Israel.
But Saul was a disaster as king almost from the start. He repeatedly disobeyed God and disappointed Samuel and his people. Eventually God was ready to identify a new king whose primary trait, as we read in 1 Samuel 13, was that he would be a man after God’s own heart.
So God recruits Samuel to once again assist in the task of appointing a new king, instructing him to journey to Bethlehem to visit Jesse because God has pre-selected one of Jesse’s boys to be king. Interestingly enough, we have no evidence that Jesse knows the purpose of Samuel’s visit. But when Samuel arrives, Jesse starts acting like he’s in charge of a beauty contest, parading on cue his oldest and most physically impressive son named Eliab before Samuel, as if to nail down the throne of Israel as quickly as possible.
Samuel is duly impressed by Eliab. He looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”(vv.6-7).
So Samuel shakes his head and asks Jesse to send in his next boy, and he’s not acceptable either. Altogether God and Samuel perform a “spiritual heart scan” on seven of Jesse’s sons, and none of them pass the test. Now it’s Jesse’s turn to be heartbroken—none of his sons will be the next king of Israel. But wait a minute! It turns out Jesse has one more boy, his youngest and smallest who’s tending the sheep on the back 40. Samuel insists Jesse bring the boy in, and when the eighth son arrives, Samuel’s heart skips a beat. Now David was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise, and anoint him; for this is the one”(v.12)
Commentators have a field day, of course, with the glaring contradiction in the story. One minute we’re being told appearance doesn’t matter. The next minute we’re being told what a “hunk” David is. But the contradiction is only apparent. You don’t have to be physically ugly to serve God. It is possible to have a handsome face and a spiritually healthy heart.
The point is—God is far more concerned with our hearts than our external appearance, and he has X-ray vision when it comes to the condition of our souls. When the author of 1 Samuel says in chapter 16 that God has “provided for himself a king,” he’s saying in the literal Hebrew that he has seen the heart of a man who is truly after God’s own heart. That man, despite flaws that will become painfully obvious, is David.
God’s obsession with and knowledge of our hearts is well-documented throughout the scriptures. In 1 Chronicles 28, a much older and wiser King David will tell his son and future king Solomon to serve God with single mind and willing heart; for the Lord searches every mind and understands every plan and thought (v.9).
Centuries later, another Son of David, Jesus the Christ, will demonstrate that he knows the human heart as well as his Heavenly Father. In John 2, we read that lots of people believed in Jesus after watching him perform many miracles. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, John says, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone, for he himself knew what was in everyone (vv. 24-25).
My friends, listen to this challenging Lenten truth—God knows what is in your heart today, and so does the Son of God. And unless you are very exceptional, what appears in your heart is not a pretty picture.
Think of the time, effort, and expense we invest in making ourselves look good on the outside. If constant dieting and fancy dressing and expensive makeup can get you to heaven, we Americans will get there first! I wonder, though, how many people today within the sound of my voice are looking good on the outside, but dying of spiritual heart disease on the inside.
Today as we take communion together, we will have a few moments to get to the heart of the matter with God. We are so fortunate that two thousand years ago Jesus, the original cardiologist “who knew what was in everyone,” recognized we had a potentially fatal spiritual heart problem. So he died on a cross to atone for our sins, shedding his blood so the sinful blockage of our hearts might be cleared away.
But we have our part to play. And that part is to routinely and regularly examine our hearts before the one who searches every mind and understands every thought. Our part is to honestly admit our sins, ask God to forgive us and cleanse us so that we might have clean hearts and renewed minds. If we undergo this kind of heart scan on a regular basis, it won’t matter if our bodies fall apart, which they eventually will. Because our hearts and minds will be whole and healed, thriving forever with God.