1 Samuel 31:1-13 (Part 3) – The Church Play That Changed Everything For Me

Posted: April 25, 2018 in 09-1 Samuel
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1 Samuel 31:1-13
The Death of Saul (Part 3 of 5)

I remember my day of salvation like it was yesterday. I remember living my life before that, knowing of Jesus Christ and calling myself a Christian but not really having a relationship with Him. I was born into a preacher’s family. My dad was a preacher in the United Methodist Church, South Carolina Annual Conference, for 53 years when he retired, just a few years ago. I was raised in the church. Every time the church doors were open, I was there. Often the church or churches that my dad served over the years of my brother and me growing up were our playgrounds. We used to run around the church building playing cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. Sometimes, since we were big Star Trek fans, the church and it’s, if it had one, educational building or wing would be our USS Enterprise. The pulpit area would be our “bridge” or control room where we would be Spock, Bones, Capt. Kirk, and so on. The rest of the church and educational wings of the buildings would become the rest of the ship. Outside the church would be our alien planets where we would be the landing party or away team. We had quite the imaginations.

Church was sometimes just next door to the parsonage. Church was our life. I guess I became numb to it because it was like the family business. So after leaving home and getting married at 18 and going to college, my faith was just nominal and certainly was not saved. I knew all about Jesus but little about the Bible. I continued to go to church after marriage but the church I went to was my first wife’s family church and it was more of a social club than it was a discipling church. There was no discipleship at all. It was just a small three main families church that got together on Sundays and had potluck dinners at the drop of hat. It was fellowship for sure but challenging anyone to go deeper in their faith, it was not. Between the liberal arts “question everything, including religion” education that I got at Furman University, it rocked my world and my belief systems. My life after that became increasingly secular. Living for the moment. Living for the weekend. Living for myself. It was not until I was in my late 30’s in December 2001 that I came to Christ.

On that night that I came to Christ, there was a play at the church that I attended at that time, Abundant Life Church (a non-denominational church) in the Berea area of Greenville, SC, that was part of the church’s lead-up to Christmas. It was a play about this guy, who happened to be named Mark in the play, who lived a party lifestyle. Even though he had kids, he was all about the party, hanging out with his buddies at the bars, and just living a very self-centered life. He was blaming everybody else for whatever hardship he had in life. He never took responsibility for anything. The irony of the main character in the play being named Mark was that the Holy Spirit made me realize that the play on stage was matching the track of MY life. It was like watching a movie of my life. I was him and he was me. In the play, a little over halfway through it, the main character got into a car accident. During the time that the main character was unconscious, he was able to see the eternity that was awaiting him. Even though he was not a believer, the reality of hell became very real. He got revisit via video the first half of the play to show how arrogant and self-centered and self-seeking that he was. Of course, he tried to argue his way out of hell but there was no disputing the facts and ultimately he falls to his knees and cries out to God to give him another chance. The guy playing the part really sold it. He was literally sobbing like a baby on stage with real tears. He finally just goes out cold again and the lights go dark. Next thing you see when the lights come back up are the EMTs on top of him jolting him back to life. After that experience in hell, the character, Mark, was a changed man. He became a Christ follower from that moment forward and restored his marriage, his relationship with his kids, and just became a true disciple. We see him turn down opportunities to go bar hopping with his old friends, turn down opportunities to be unfaithful and so on. His attitude this time around was not that he HAD to turn down these opportunities, he WANTED to.
For me, that was it. It was my moment to come face to face with who I was and where I was headed. My heart was pounding. I could hear myself breathe. I could hear my heartbeat. I knew this play was FOR me. It was about me. It was the Holy Spirit finally getting through to me about my need for a Savior. I gave my life to the Lord then and there. I was baptized the following summer in 2002.

As all Christ followers know, salvation is just the beginning of the journey. Things did not suddenly get better in my life because of salvation. In those early years after salvation, the circumstances of my life actually got worse in some ways. I would like to say that, even in the troubled times, that I continued an upward trajectory toward spiritual adulthood, but I was a spiritual baby for a long time. There were idols in my life that the Holy Spirit had to get rid of before I could begin maturing. That took a while and was painful at times. I think I really didn’t start growing up in Jesus Christ until 2009 while I was living in California and met Luke and Felisha Brower, my pastor and his wife. They became our close friends and each of them were instrumental in the growth of Elena and me. Even though they were younger than us by an average of 10 years, they grew me with hard confrontations about my faith and cherry picking what I wanted to believe. They led Elena to the cross while we were under their spiritual care. Then the growth that we had at LifeSong when we moved back to South Carolina between late 2010 and early 2018. We became leaders in the local church there. We became ravenous for Christ there. We went deeper and stronger there. Now, we are here in Illinois serving the Lord full-time and waiting to see what the Lord will do with it – with excitement, we can’t wait to see what God is going to do!

What a journey it has been since December 2001 for me. Back then, I would have laughed at you if you had told me that I would end up in Illinois and being a pastor. I would have laughed at you if you had told me that I would have a wife that was all-in for what God was calling us to do. I am amazed at what God has done in my life since salvation. When I look back on that night at that play, it was indeed the biggest decision of my life. It changed everything. Who knows where I would be now if it were not for that night. That night I realized that I needed a Savior not just behavior modification. I needed Jesus to change me from the inside out. Through the Holy Spirit, He is still working on it. I am by no means perfect now. Still a bunch of things that God has to do in me and will continue to have to do in me until the day that I am called home to heaven. Before that night in December 2001, I thought I could will myself into being a better person. I thought if I just did more good than bad then I’d be OK. That night changed all that. I needed an intercessor. I needed Jesus.

Being presented with that moment where we have to make a moral choice is what I thought of this morning as I read this passage/chapter, this final chapter of the book of 1 Samuel. That’s what I thought of this morning as we see the end of Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 31. Let’s read about it now:

31 Now the Philistines attacked Israel, and the men of Israel fled before them. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. 3 The fighting grew very fierce around Saul, and the Philistine archers caught up with him and wounded him severely.

4 Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “Take your sword and kill me before these pagan Philistines come to run me through and taunt and torture me.”

But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer realized that Saul was dead, he fell on his own sword and died beside the king. 6 So Saul, his three sons, his armor bearer, and his troops all died together that same day.

7 When the Israelites on the other side of the Jezreel Valley and beyond the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. So the Philistines moved in and occupied their towns.

8 The next day, when the Philistines went out to strip the dead, they found the bodies of Saul and his three sons on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they cut off Saul’s head and stripped off his armor. Then they proclaimed the good news of Saul’s death in their pagan temple and to the people throughout the land of Philistia. 10 They placed his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths, and they fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth-shan.

11 But when the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their mighty warriors traveled through the night to Beth-shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies. 13 Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.

In this passage, we see that Saul hasn’t changed a bit. Saul is being that Saul that he has always been throughout the book of 1 Samuel – always taking matters into his own hands without thinking of God or asking for His guidance. Even with regard to his death, Saul responded the same way he responded to things during his life. Often we think we will change how we act later, always later in life rather than now. None of us knows when our end is going to come. Why do we think we have time to change our ways? We will get our act together and then we will come to Christ … later. Saul did not change even at the end.

Are you the character in the play? Are you living for yourself and for your selfish desires and not caring about how you impact others or about your eternal destiny? Do you think you’ve got time? Do you think that you’ve got time to get right later? Are you of the mind that you have to give up something to become a Christ follower and you are not willing to do that yet? Those were all yes answers for me at one time in my life. Later. Later. Later. The play that night showed me that we are not guaranteed anything in this life. We have no guarantee of later. The time is now. The urgency is now. You need Jesus now. Don’t wait til later! Your eternity is now. Don’t be like me and wait til you are almost 40 years old to come to Jesus. What you are living for now is a hopeless search for something to fill the hole in your soul that only God can fill and the hole was only designed for Him! Don’t waste any more time. The time is now. Eternity is now. Tomorrow may be too late.

Amen and Amen.

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