Mission Terrible
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Mission Terrible

1 Samuel 15:1–3  (ID: 3387)

Beware the deceitfulness of sin! Although Saul disobeyed the Lord’s command to annihilate the Amalekites, he still expected blessing, even erecting a monument in his own honor. Instead of blessing, though, God rejected Saul as Israel’s king. A final day of judgment awaits us all, warns Alistair Begg. Only by listening to the Lord and obeying His Word can we prepare for Christ’s return and resist sin’s blinding power.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 2

Saul, Israel’s First King 1 Samuel 8:1–15:35 Series ID: 109012

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me, to follow along as I read from part of 1 Samuel chapter 15. First Samuel 15, and we read from verse 1:

“And Samuel said to Saul, ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”’

“So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. Then Saul said to the Kenites, ‘Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.’ So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.

“The word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.’ And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, ‘Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.’ And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, ‘Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.’ And Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?’ Saul said, ‘They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.’ Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.’ And he said to him, ‘Speak.’”

Gracious God, we pray that we might now bow down before the authority and truthfulness of the Bible. Help us not simply to listen but to hear, not simply to hear but to believe, not simply to believe but to act. Fulfill your purposes in us and through us, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, here in chapter 15, we come to what might arguably be described as the defining incident in the rejection of Saul as Israel’s king. You may recall that back in chapter 13, we had it made very clear to us—he had it made clear to him—that as a result of his foolishness which was displayed in his disobedience to God, there was no possibility now of him having a dynasty, that it would not fall to his son Jonathan to perpetuate his kingship, but that God had in his heart a man, another man[1]—pointing forward to David, who would come. And then, in chapter 14, there is the absence of Samuel, and then, in chapter 15, once again Samuel reappears. And Samuel comes to make clear to him in verse 26—which we didn’t read but which, if your Bible is open, you can see—in verse 26, Samuel said to Saul, “[I’m not going to] return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” And then, in the little drama that follows, with the tearing of the skirt of the robe and so on, a metaphor is there: the kingdom of Israel has been torn away from Saul, and his reign now is over.[2]

Now, it is this which is the preoccupation of this fifteenth chapter. And yet, in the midst of this, which is another great display of Saul’s unwillingness to do what God told him to do, in the middle of all of that, in verse 12 we’re told that when he came out to meet Samuel, he was able to do somewhat joyfully, despite the fact that he had gone off and had “set up a monument for himself” at that very moment. And quite remarkable, isn’t it, that just at the time that he has decided not to do what God has told him to do, he thinks, “I think a nice monument would be just the kind of thing that would be perfect”? And so he is off building a monument for himself, or building a monument perhaps even to himself.

It is actually a reminder, just in passing, of the way in which sin blinds us to what is actually the case. Many times, we want to say, “Well, my conscience is clear, and therefore, I’m innocent.” Well, that may be the case, but sometimes our clear conscience is not an indication of our innocence; it is an indication of the fact that we have been disobedient, and our sin has blinded us to the reality of what it is we face. The Bible is clear concerning this. Remarkably, again and again in Hebrews, it comes to us: “See to it that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”[3] It’s surely the deceitfulness of sin which takes a straightforward command of God, changes it to suit myself, and then decides, “This is a perfect time for me to build a monument so that everybody can see how significant I am.”

When I read it this week and read it again, I said, “Perhaps the title for the entire chapter, then, should be ‘A Monumental Collapse.’” “A Monumental Collapse”—just keying off this crazy idea, this ironic notion of this monument being built. When I wrote that down in my notes a while ago now, I had in mind that I was going all the way through the chapter, as I’ve tried to do before. I got a day or so into it, then I decided, well, I wouldn’t be going all the way through. I got a little further into it, and I decided, “I’m not going to be going through it hardly at all.” And so, this is kind of, this morning, the sermon I never planned to preach. At least I didn’t plan to preach it on Monday; I still had it in mind on Tuesday, but by the time I got to Thursday and Friday, it was over. I think that will become apparent as I proceed.

Sometimes our clear conscience is not an indication of our innocence; it is an indication of the fact that we have been disobedient, and our sin has blinded us to the reality of what it is we face.

The monumental collapse is covered in a number of phases. Phase one, verses 1–3, which I’m going to look at under the heading “Mission Terrible.” “Mission Terrible.” We’re familiar with Mission: Impossible, but this is not an impossible mission, but it is a terrible mission.

Now, once again, the chronology between these chapters is not something that we ought to become preoccupied with, because it is hard to determine just what part is fitting where. Clearly, chronology is not the big issue for the one who is writing. But what we are reminded of is the fact that the role that was given to Samuel in the anointing of Saul as king was a prophetic role, and that the effectiveness of Saul’s kingship was going to be directly related to his willingness to submit to the word of God, the word of God that came to him through the servant of God—namely, Samuel, who in this case is the prophet. And so he reiterates that. He says to Saul, “The Lord, you will remember, sent me to anoint you as king over his people Israel. Now, therefore, in light of that, listen to the words of the Lord.” It is absolutely essential that he does so.

Now, what is this word that he is to listen to? Well, it is there in verse 3: “Go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.” Completely bury it. “Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” So, in a sentence, he is commissioned to carry out the wholesale destruction of the Amalekites. Let that settle in your mind.

In verse 2, we have pointed out to us that historically, the Amalekites had opposed the people of God from the very beginning. And as a result of that, they were from the very beginning under the judgment of God. Now, you can research this on your own, but I can get you started. For example, in Exodus and in chapter 17, at the time of the exodus, Moses is able to let the people hear. “The Lord said to Moses,” Exodus 17:14, “‘Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, ‘A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’”

You fast-forward into the people of God in Deuteronomy then arriving at the threshold of the promised land, and Moses once again reiterates what had happened. He says to them, “Now, you need to remember what happened some eighty or so years ago”:

Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; [and] you shall not forget.[4]

So the picture is very, very clear. The Amalekites were brutal. They sacrificed to their own gods. They sacrificed children. They were guilty of some of the most heinous acts of atrocity and brutal sexuality. And God wanted them to be destroyed—not because they were Amalekites but because of their sinful opposition to his plan, to his people, and to his purposes. But still they continued to pick off the weak, the sick, the elderly. They brutally murdered the stragglers.

Now here we are in 1 Samuel, and the time has been filled up, if you like. Many years have gone by—many years of opportunity for them to change their ways, to turn from the idols of their own creating, and to turn to the true and the living God, but again and again, reinforcing from generation to generation, “We will not have this man, we will not have this king,” and so on.

And here we find it. The time has come to obey “the Lord of hosts.” That’s why we sang this morning, “O Lord of hosts, how lovely is your dwelling place.” This is the third time in 1 Samuel that we have come on this phrase. I’ll let you go and look for them yourselves later on. You will be able to enjoy that this afternoon. But the solemnity of the terminology is for us to pick up and understand: “It is to the Lord of hosts that you must listen as you are called now to execute the divine judgment on the enemy.”

Well, there we have it. There we have it. It’s not very pleasant, is it? In fact, it’s not pleasant at all. Some of you are saying, “Goodness gracious, Labor Day weekend, and I was just thinking of a picnic, and look at what we’ve got.” Well, as I say to you, this is the sermon that I was not planning to preach.

But let me say to you, loved ones, there is no way to soften the impact of this, apart from cutting your Bible up with scissors. It is absolutely terrible. And any attempt to minimize it or to sanitize it crumbles before the truth of Scripture. The one who stands behind this mission terrible is God. Samuel knows it. Saul knows it. Look at verse 13: “And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, ‘Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.’” Now, as we will see, he changed it to his own benefit. But at least he knew that what he had been called upon to do to the Amalekites came directly from God, because Samuel the prophet had said, “Listen to what God says. This is what God says.” So the reason that he was doing what he was doing was because it was the commandment of God. You have the same thing, don’t you—where is it?—down in verse 18: “And the Lord sent you,” says Samuel. “And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’”

Now, you got to understand that unless there is a complete annihilation… If you want to think about it in terms of a cancer, for the moment: the treatment will demand, often, the amputation of significant parts of tissue in order to prevent the increase and the development of the illness. And in an ultimate sense, sin cannot be tolerated by God. He is of purer eyes to look on iniquity.[5] Therefore, there is no way for him to say, “Well, we’ll just moderate it a little bit.” No, because from generation to generation, the opposition against Almighty God and the opposition to his people—and remember, his plan through his people was eventually a King who was coming, called Jesus. And when that King came, what did he immediately face? In his very birth, he faced the opposition of evil, in the activities of Herod and so on, all the way through the line. So, keep that in mind as you look at this. The one who is calling for this to happen is the righteous “Judge of all the earth,”[6] as we read in Genesis 18. And this episode and other episodes like it occur at the command of God.

The destruction of the Amalekites is not called for on the basis of their ethnicity. Do not let anybody tell you, as the contemporary atheists love to do… Dawkins, at the very forefront of it all, he loves to go to passages like this and say, “You see, in the Bible, what you have, you have these dreadful forms of ethnic cleansing.” This is not ethnic cleansing. This has nothing to do with the ethnicity of the Amalekites. It has to do with the fact that they are sinners against God. And so, for example, the great pile of stones that was heaped on top of Achan back in Joshua, who himself was a member of the Israelite family—the great heap of stones that descended upon him was not because of his ethnicity but was because of his rebellion against God.[7]

And so, it is a judgment on sin. And therefore, we are alarmed by it, and we struggle with it. And we struggle with it particularly, first of all, because we say to ourselves, “I don’t think it’s fair,” and then when we think about it, we realize, “No, I struggle with it because I believe it is fair.” You see, we are not Amalekites, but what we have in common is that we’re sinners. The fate of the Amalekites here is not an exception from a bygone era. The fate of the Amalekites is, if you like, a thumbnail sketch pointing to a coming day of judgment. And one reason that we immediately recoil from this is because we don’t know the Bible; secondly, because we don’t believe the Bible; thirdly, because we only believe the bits in the Bible that seem to fit us and make us feel comfortable, so in actuality we don’t believe the Bible at all. If I believe only what I want to believe in the Bible, then what I actually believe is myself and not the Bible. No. The God who commanded the destruction of the Amalekites is the God who has determined that eventually, on that Day, the wicked will be destroyed. “Sinners will not stand in the judgment, nor in the congregation of the righteous,”[8] says the God who is perfect in his wisdom and in his justice, who’s too kind to be cruel, and who is too wise to make a mistake.

Another reason that we find great difficulty with it is because of the philosophical climate in which we live. Those of you under a certain age know nothing other than this kind of egalitarianism that is part and parcel of life—a sort of philosophical neutrality base. It goes like this: “All right, children, we’re going to have sports day today. And before we begin, I want you to know that you are all winners. All right?” Well, how wonderfully comforting. And what a load of nonsense. You see, these people can’t tolerate the Olympic Games, because the Olympic Games have times; they have medals; they have someone coming first, someone coming second, someone coming last. But as soon as we have imbibed the spirit of the age that says, “But you know, those things, they don’t really matter; you know, we’re all absolutely fine”—as soon as you import that into your psyche, into your frame of reference, and then come to the Bible, unless you’re going to allow the Bible to adjudicate on that faulty thinking, then you’re gonna discover that that kind of faulty thinking will flavor the way in which you read the Bible.

The God who commanded the destruction of the Amalekites is the God who has determined that eventually on that Day, the wicked will be destroyed.

There’s a classic illustration of it, actually, this week in The Times of London, where a lady from Poland who is a cabin crew trainer for LOT, the Polish airline, took a flight from London to Warsaw on British Airways. And given that she trains flight attendants, she had some comments to make on the British Airways flight attendants. And she should really have kept them to herself, I think, but I don’t say that in judgment; my wife tells me that most of the day. But she pointed out on social media that as she watched and sat there as a passenger, she had comments on the British Airways cabin crew. She noted that their shoes were unpolished, they had holes in their tights, their uniforms seemed to be somewhat too tight for them, and it didn’t look as though many of them had actually combed their hair.

Well, what was the reaction? The headline in the paper was, “Polish Flight Attendant to Be Fired.” And the reaction of one of the British Airways flight attendants? “How dare she! She should be sacked. She is a disgrace.”[9] Now, how do you respond to that? Why is she a disgrace? The shoes were filthy, the hair was messy, the teeth were crooked, the service was bad, the whole thing was a disaster—and she should be fired for pointing it out! Everybody gets ribbons. Everybody’s shoes are lovely. Everybody comes first. There’s no exam. There’s no end. There’s no judgment. Frankly, the moon’s a balloon.

Now, loved ones, that is an influencing philosophical framework in our culture. And so, we come as people who have one foot planted in the culture and one foot planted in the Bible, asking God to make clear to us how to navigate this kind of world. And it is the role of the prophets, it’s the role of Samuel here, to say, “Listen to the words of the Lord.” God has revealed himself in action; he has revealed himself in word; and he has revealed himself in person, in the person of his Son. And that’s why as we’ve been doing 1 Samuel, we’ve been saying that the things that were written in the past were written so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.[10] That we might realize that God’s revelation of himself is first of all historical; it is grounded in his act of creation and in the facts of history. That that same revelation is then verbal; that he has reserved it and kept it for himself, giving to us the Bible. That that same revelation of himself is then cumulative, or it is progressive; that as we read through the Bible, we will find that these things are not actually disjointed but that they’re actually forming up finally in a picture. And that final picture is, of course, in a person, in the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

And you see what a difference it makes, then, to be students of the Bible. Weigel, writing in the introduction to a book called Light of the World, which was by Ratzinger, a Roman Catholic theologian, he comments on the world in which we live. He says we live in

a world that … has lost its story: a world in which the progress [that was] promised by the humanisms of the past three centuries is now gravely threatened by [an understanding] of the human person that reduce[s] our humanity to a congeries of … chemical accidents: a humanity with no intentional origin, no noble destiny, and thus no path to take through history.[11]

So, putting it down at sixth-grade level, we live in a generation that doesn’t know where it came from, that doesn’t know where it’s going, and therefore, it is dispossessed of any ability to navigate the arc of life, to make sense of the passage of time, to deal with the realities about which we have already sung this morning and words that we’ve already used that speak to us of the finitude of our existence. And the role of the prophet—the role of the prophet—remains: “Listen to what God says. Listen to what God says.”

So when you read on through the Bible, you would expect that this would continue. The great cop-out, of course, is, “Well, no, this was of a different time. The Old Testament is a whole different deal. When you get into the New Testament, you get free from all of this.” Well, no, not so fast! When you come to the time of the prophets, they are doing the very same thing. I can illustrate it for you, not tediously but purposefully, in Isaiah 61, a prophetic passage that if you know your Bible, you will recall: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” You say, “There we go. Things are picking up already.” Then, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted”—that’s lovely too—and “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and [to open the doors] of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[12] It’s all turning now, isn’t it? It’s all getting super.

Wait a minute! “And the day of vengeance of our God.”[13] Well, why would you have to slip that in there? I mean, it was going so nicely till we got there.

Loved ones, there is no deliverance by way of salvation outside the reality of the vengeance of God, which is expressed in the judgment of God, which is foreshadowed throughout all of the dealings, historically, of the people of God.

Now, if you know that passage, you know that that is the passage that Jesus picked up and spoke from or read from in the synagogue in Nazareth, which is recorded for us in Luke, I think in chapter 4. Yes, it is. Luke 4. And you remember on that occasion, they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and the scroll was unrolled for him, and he began to read. And when you read that Luke 4 passage, something will strike you, and that is that Jesus stopped at the end of the first line of verse 2. In other words, he said, “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,”[14] but then he stopped, and he didn’t add, “And the day of vengeance of our God.”

Some of you are going, “Oh, there you are, you see? You’re making my point for me. There you have it exactly.” No! You’re too quick to judgment. He omitted “the day of [the] vengeance of our God” presumably because judgment was not the purpose of his first coming. Judgment was not the purpose of his first coming. Remember, in John he says, “I did not come to judge the world. I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.[15] I came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. I came to open my arms wide and say, ‘Come to me. Take my yoke. Learn from me. Find rest in me.’[16] That is what I’ve come to do.”

That, incidentally, is why John the Baptist had a problem with what Jesus was saying. That’s why when he ended up in jail, he sent somebody to inquire about the actual authenticity of Jesus. Why? Because John the Baptist was giving it the usual business, the Old Testament prophet: that the ax is at the root of the tree, the fire is already burning.[17] And then he gets in jail, and he finds out there’s no ax and there’s no burning. And Jesus is being nice to the woman at the well,[18] and he’s calling to Zacchaeus up a tree,[19] and he’s hanging out with Levi at his house.[20] And so John the Baptist says, “What went wrong here? Go and check and see if he is the one or if there is another one.”[21]

Well, see, what John the Baptist needed to learn is what we need to learn, and that is that in his first coming, Jesus instituted, if you like, “the year of the Lord’s favor.” In his second coming, he will bring in “the day of vengeance.” And when he brings in the day of vengeance, then the door of God’s grace will close forever. That’s why on that day there will be shouts of joy, and there will be cries of anguish. You remember the story of the five wives and the five foolish virgins? “Open up to us. Open up to us. We were just going to… We were just going to…” “Sorry. The door is closed.”[22]

Now, loved ones, here is the great impact of it. This is what I say to you. I got stuck on this. I said, “I cannot go on from here until I address this with the people.” Because we live in the interval between the expression of his favor and of the prospect of his coming vengeance and judgment. Therefore, we live in the same environment as Peter lived in when, as he, along with those who were following Jesus, told people about these things—because, you see, not only were the prophets clear about this, but the apostles themselves were clear about it.

And if you remember 2 Peter—if you don’t, you can find it—but Peter says, “You know, the people are going to come, and they’ll say things like ‘Listen, this Jesus is not coming back again. He’s an interesting person in the past, but it’s over. He was a good example,’ and so on. Where is the promise of his coming? Everything has been going on as normal for a very long time, ever since the beginning of creation.”[23] Isn’t that what people say? “Well, we’ve had many, many generations come and go. And you strange people with your Bible, you’re here about this Jesus, that Jesus is going to be coming again as a great King and Lord, and he’s going to settle the affairs.”

We live in the interval between the expression of God’s favor and of the prospect of his coming vengeance and judgment.

Interestingly, the same people that want to deny any prospect of any kind of coming day of judgment are, many of them, the same people that want me to get so stirred up about the fact that in, you know, a couple hundred million years we’re all gonna die as a result of ingesting plastic straws. And that’s not a comment on my view on ecology; I don’t really have a very good one. But it is a comment on the amazing irony of the fact that every day I read the newspaper, they tell me, “Look out, look out, it’s coming!” And I say to them, “Hang on, let me just tell you: there is a day coming…” And they say, “Don’t be so ridiculous.”

Beware of the deceitfulness of sin! Sin blinds man to the reality of things and comes again and again to say, “You don’t need to believe that. It’s been like this for hundreds of years, thousands of years; it’ll be millions of years.” What’s the answer of the apostle? Well, “they deliberately overlook this fact”—notice, “fact”; the revelation of God is historical—“this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth … formed out of water and through water by the word of God”[24]—John 1:1—“and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.”[25] The flood. Noah and the ark. The righteous man. “He has set a way for you to escape.” “Forget it, Noah! It’s never gonna happen. You’re a crazy man! You’re a crazy preacher! You and your ark. You and your cry for safety. Get outta here!” “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”[26]

What do you have when [Paul] goes to the intelligentsia? He starts beautifully: “You’re a religious people. I can see it all.” Where does he go in the end? “God has set a day. God has set a day when he will judge the world. And he has given proof of this by the man he has appointed, by raising Jesus from the dead.”[27] Historical, verbal, progressive, Christ-centered. And it doesn’t end with the apostles. For they were simply the exponents of what Jesus had said so clearly: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”[28]

Any attempt on my part to keep the story line of the Bible free from this terrible truth is a make-believe—is a make-believe. And I say it with deep sadness and no spirit of judgment that swathes of contemporary Protestant Christianity stumble over this very issue—understandably, because it is mission terrible. Which of us has not stood at the graveside of an unbeliever, pronouncing the words of committal and not somehow wishing that one could be a universalist, and not somehow wishing that it could possibly be that there is a second chance, that everybody does get a ribbon, that no one’s shoes are dirty, that every uniform fits perfectly, even when it doesn’t? What prevents us from that? Listen to what God’s Word says.

If, like me, you read the Murray M’Cheyne readings in the morning, then during the week, you would have encountered God’s word to Ezekiel the prophet. And as I sat at my desk, this was what finally settled it for me. Because I remembered when I had read earlier in the week Ezekiel chapter 2, and I was struck by the fact that the word of God to the prophet was so clear: “Stand up on your feet,” he says, “Ezekiel. Eat the words that I give you. Ingest them, digest them, so that out of your mouth may come my word.”[29] So it’s the same thing. The word of Samuel to Saul: “Listen to the [word] of the Lord.” It is the word of the prophet. I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet. But it is a prophetic ministry to bring the Word of God, settled as it is, to our unsettled generation in a way that says, “This is true, and this matters.”

Well, that is no different from what God had said to Moses: “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they might … fear me all the days [of their lives], and that they may teach their children [to do the same].”[30] So, in other words, the reason that we come is so that we might hear and submit to the voice of God.

And as I sat there, I said, “Oh, but couldn’t it be a nicer word for Sunday? Couldn’t it be a less terrible word? How did I get caught up in this mission, Father?” And then I said, “Oh well, it’s that Ezekiel thing.” “I send you,” says God, “to a rebellious people. And you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that a prophet has been amongst them. Don’t be afraid of them, afraid of their words, nor dismayed by how they look at you. All my words, receive them in your heart and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.”[31]

And so I say to you, this is the word of the Lord; “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”[32] Do not store up wrath for yourself on the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed, when the door of grace will close with finality. Would you presume on the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience? Don’t you know that his kindness is to lead you to repentance?[33]

Thus endeth the sermon that I didn’t plan to preach.

Just a moment of silence.

Father, we commend ourselves to you. We thank you for your Word. We pray that that which is helpful, true, might find a resting place in our hearts; that which is unclear, confusing, or wrong, that it might be banished—not your Word wrong but mine, my interpretation. Lord, we want to listen to your Word, and then we want to do what it says. Grant that on that Day we will have songs of joy because you have come in your mercy and told us these hard things to save us from cries of anguish.

May grace, mercy, and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest upon all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] See 1 Samuel 13:14.

[2] See 1 Samuel 15:27–28.

[3] Hebrews 3:13 (paraphrased).

[4] Deuteronomy 25:17–19 (ESV).

[5] See Habakkuk 1:13.

[6] Genesis 18:25 (ESV).

[7] See Joshua 7:26.

[8] Psalm 1:5 (paraphrased).

[9] Will Humphries, “Airline Official Fired for Mocking BA Cabin Crew’s ‘Rotten Teeth,’” The Times, August 31, 2019. Paraphrased.

[10] See Romans 15:4.

[11] George Weigel, foreword to Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times; A Conversation with Peter Seewald, by Benedict XVI (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2010), x.

[12] Isaiah 61:1–2 (ESV).

[13] Isaiah 61:2 (ESV).

[14] Luke 4:19 (ESV).

[15] John 3:17 (paraphrased).

[16] Matthew 11:28–29 (paraphrased).

[17] Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9 (paraphrased).

[18] See John 4:7–26.

[19] See Luke 19:5.

[20] See Matthew 9:9–10; Mark 2:14–15; Luke 5:29.

[21] Matthew 11:2–3; Luke 7:18–19 (paraphrased).

[22] See Matthew 25:1–13.

[23] 2 Peter 3:4 (paraphrased).

[24] 2 Peter 3:5 (ESV).

[25] 2 Peter 3:6 (ESV).

[26] 2 Peter 3:7 (ESV)

[27] Acts 17:22, 31 (paraphrased).

[28] Matthew 10:28 (ESV).

[29] Ezekiel 2:1, 8 (paraphrased).

[30] Deuteronomy 4:10 (ESV).

[31] Ezekiel 2:3–7 (paraphrased).

[32] Hebrews 3:15 (ESV).

[33] See Romans 2:4–5.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.