I was watching a baseball broadcast the other day and heard the announcers ask a question which stuck me. They asked, “Who was your favorite baseball player when you were growing up?” My memory went back to my early childhood, to the 1960’s, to Boston Red Sox players Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk. Later in life in the 1980’s and 90’s I watched Ozzie Smith play many games in person for the St. Louis Cardinals. I enjoyed thinking of the answer to that question. I also enjoyed remembering the great plays of these gifted athletes.
I began to think about a Christian corollary to that sports question. “Who is your favorite person in the Bible?” In the New Testament I’ve grown to appreciate the struggles and the faith of the apostle Peter. He was impetuous, bold, and flawed. But he lived by the grace of God which he found in Jesus. However, in my daily devotions right now I am reading in the Old Testament, in 1 Samuel. I have recently read God’s word about King David. Like Peter, David was a flawed and sinful follower of God. But, like Peter, David also sought, by God’s grace, to follow God faithfully. I choose both Peter and David as people whose mistakes and whose faith instruct me.
So, in 1 Samuel 16, when King Saul had failed to follow the Lord in obedience, God directs Samuel to find a replacement for Saul. The Lord sends Samuel to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem. Samuel at first wants to anoint Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, as the new king. But God prevents Samuel. We are told in verse 7, “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.” Listen to this wisdom from God! The Lord is primarily concerned about the heart of His people.
Ultimately, God directs Samuel to anoint Jesse’s youngest son, David, as the next king of Israel.
Then, in chapter 17 we get a look at this heart of David which God saw. The Israelite army has gathered for battle against their enemies, the Philistines. But, when David visits his brothers in the army, the soldiers of Israel are, somewhat understandably, paralyzed in fear because of the Philistine giant, Goliath. David, in contrast to the soldiers, trusts the Lord to give victory to the people of God. When others shrink in fear, David speaks word of faith and courage. “David said to Saul, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.’” (1 Samuel 17:32) David trusts God, and the Lord gives him courage.
The youth, David, does face the Philistine giant. Only, David does not trust in his own strength or skill. David points to and trusts in God. We read later in chapter 17, “45 David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.’” (1 Samuel 17:45-47) David does not trust himself. In his heart David trusts the strength and the faithfulness of God to win the battle.
This week St. John children are attending Vacation Bible School. Daily VBS lessons focus on Daniel, on Esther, on Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, on Jesus healing the 10 lepers, and on Jesus speaking promises of hope to disciples on the road to Emmaus. The lessons use these accounts from Scripture to teach “heart lessons.” The children are encouraged to develop faith, to grow in boldness, to put on kindness, to live in thankfulness, and to have hope. But these are not traits any of us develop by ourselves. When these fruits of God’s Spirit are found in our hearts, they are grown through the power, the love, and the faithfulness, which God shows to His people. So, the VBS children are taught about God’s love, and THEN called to faith, boldness, kindness, thankfulness, and hope. It is God who grows these qualities in us.
Amazingly, God still shows His power, and love and faithfulness even to and through sinners like us. We are children of God by creation. But, we each have our warts and our struggles. Like Peter and David, we are sinners. So, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus. We may be sinful, but Jesus lived a righteous life. We deserve punishment, but God forgives us in the sacrificial death of His Son on the cross. We all face death, but God gives eternal life in heaven through the resurrection of Jesus. We are called to live for God, therefore Jesus sends us His Spirit to give us faith and boldness, kindness and thankfulness and hope. It is God Who works His righteous purposes in sinners like us, through His grace in Jesus.
So, who is your favorite Bible character? Do you find encouragement from stories about David or Peter, Daniel, or Esther, Abraham or Moses? In the Biblical accounts of all these people, the real hero the Bible is God. The Lord took sinful people like David and Peter, and worked His grace in their lives. Thankfully, God also works in us, through Jesus.