We probably will not die for the faith. But we face opposition, even if not fatal. How do we handle such opposition? How do we face others when they stand against us because of the faith?
We have a number of examples in our Readings tonight. Both David and Saint Paul faced opposition of different kinds.
David first of all faced opposition from his eldest brother, Eliab. So this is not an enemy of the faith. When David was asking questions about the Goliath situation, Eliab became angry and asked, “I know your presumption and the evil in your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.”
This is an example of someone putting the worst construction on thoughts and actions. Eliab should have known better because, as a member of a pious Israelite family, he knew the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” To bear witness to a person’s motives is to claim to know something that is not revealed, and is a form of slander.
We could speculate here about Eliab’s motives. Perhaps he was jealous that David, the youngest, was anointed to be king, instead of himself, the firstborn. But we should not assume we know Eliab’s motives any more than Eliab should have assumed David’s.
We may encounter similar opposition from fellow members of our family, or the family of faith. We in the Church put the worst construction on others far too often. This can be deeply divisive, and can lead to people leaving the faith.
David responds to this opposition by calmly pointing out that he was merely asking questions. He asked if he had done anything that would merit such a reaction. Then he turned away and left Eliab.
We also should not allow ourselves to be deeply angered when others slander us. A calm response getting at the objective facts is wise. Understand, however, that once a person has engaged in slander, they may not be open to reason. They may forever paint you as a wicked person in their mind for whatever sin they imagine you guilty of.
We are not told what Eliab did next. Perhaps he saw that he was needlessly angered at David and repented. Perhaps not.
May we repent when shown our sins.
Secondly, David faces another opposition from someone who should not be an enemy. When David announces that he will face Goliath, King Saul says, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.”
Now I should say at this point that sometimes a person should be cautioned about their age or their lack of abilities. For example, a man who has no understanding of Scripture should be discouraged from becoming a pastor of God’s flock. Similarly, a child who wants to drink alcohol should be told in no uncertain terms that they are too young.
But David is no mere child. He has faced lions and bears, and he was confident he could face Goliath. Notice that David does not say that he is highly skilled, so he can defeat Goliath. No, he says that the Lord would deliver him.
So we can see Saul as someone who is making a purely human caution which is reasonable, but is ignoring the truth that the Lord gives the victory. Such purely human reasoning can take away the confidence of Christians. In essence, Saul’s caution showed his mistrust of God.
In a similar way, a person might say, “You are not able to be saved by Baptism, because it is only water,” or “You do not eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, because bread and wine cannot do that,” or “You should not rely on the Pastor’s Absolution, because a man is not able to forgive sins.” These are reasonable objections, from a purely human perspective. But they are also evidence of mistrust of God. He has promised these things, so He will not fail. We can put our confidence in them.
Thirdly, David faces Goliath. Our text does not say what ultimately happened, but I think we all know the result. In our text, Goliath cursed David by his gods, and disdained him. He thought David was nothing. He promised that he would feed David’s body to the birds and beasts.
Here we have an outright unbeliever threatening a Christian with death. Make no mistake - we have many millions of people around the world who have pledged themselves to killing infidels (That’s us.). Although right now they are not threatening you personally, a day may come when someone may speak such words as Goliath spoke to you. May it never be so, and yet, it may happen. Surely any of us would feel fear at that moment, even if the man who threatened us was not nine feet tall.
I would assume that David felt some fear, but perhaps he did not, by the Spirit’s grace. In any case, he did not show fear. He did not give a gentle answer here, but told Goliath in no uncertain terms that he had come in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, whom Goliath defied. The same Lord would give David the victory, and he would cut off Goliath’s head.
This exact speech is not what you should say when confronted with a hostile unbeliever. But the general lesson is still there. Be courageous in the Lord. Although you may feel fear inside of you, remember that God is with you and will give you the victory. The victory may not look pretty. It may end in you dying a martyr’s death. Yet that is victory for us, because we are lifted to Paradise in our death. We cannot lose, because of the death and resurrection of Christ. No Goliath, not even satan, is strong enough to destroy us, because Christ has already crushed the giant’s head. He has won the victory in which we share.
In confidence, we can confess openly our faith, even before the most hostile enemies. That is what it is to be a martyr, which means witness. If necessary, we may lose our earthly lives. But even that will be restored at the resurrection to immortality.
Next we look briefly at Saint Paul. He was bearing witness to the Roman governor Festus, as well as King Agrippa and his wife Bernice. Paul was literally in chains because of accusations of the Jews. Of course, Paul was not in chains for crimes he committed. Instead, it was because of the hatred of the Jews because Paul was a Christian.
Paul spoke to them about how Christ fulfilled prophecy by dying and rising. Festus declared that Paul was insane. Here is the opposition. Festus did not threaten Paul with punishment. But he opposed his teaching about Christ as if it was crazy talk.
We might think of the atheists who mock our faith as being ludicrous or irrational.
Paul responded by speaking about the public nature of the events he described. These things were not done in a corner. Christ was publicly executed, and showed His resurrected body to hundreds of witnesses. Paul mentioned that Agrippa knew about these events. He also called upon Agrippa to admit that he believed the prophets.
Agrippa responded, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” Here we have a more passive opposition to Paul. We have a man who knows the events and the prophets, and has heard the Gospel message proclaimed clearly to him. Yet he resists the message, although not in a hostile way.
Here we might imagine people who are not hostile to Christianity, but indifferent to it, although they resist being converted.
Paul responded, very fervently, that he hoped to persuade Agrippa, and all those present, whether it took a long time or a short time.
We are not told whether anyone was converted that day, or if they were ever converted. This may encourage us when we do not see results to our efforts when we speak the Gospel to others. We cannot always expect results, if even Paul, the great evangelist, sometimes got none.
But we should earnestly desire to persuade people to believe. Of course, our persuasive powers do not really convert anyone. The power of the Spirit working in and with the Word does. But He decides who and when to convert, not us.
We also should try to persuade them to be as we are. This means that we should notice what a wonderful gift we have received. We should dwell upon the glory of the redemption we have received in Christ. We share in His victory over death and the devil. We are triumphant in life and in death, whatever our earthly lives may look like. So we should also want others to share in this victory and redemption.
In this way, we may be bold enough to stand before governors and kings, as Paul did. Although in ourselves we are timid and weak, in Christ and the Gospel we may speak out without fear. Chains and prison cannot defeat us. The ridicule of men who think we are crazy cannot defeat us. The mightiest Goliaths cannot defeat us. For we are in Christ the Lord, and He gives us the victory.
In His Name, the only true God, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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