II Samuel 15:1-16
In show called, Designated Survivor, the president and the first lady have a skeleton in the closet. They do not know if the president is the father of their 17 year old son or if the father is from a broken relationship the first lady had just before she met the president.
Somehow, a journalist learned about it and opened the door of the closet for all the country to see. It became an embarrassment for the president and the first lady to say nothing about the impact it had on the 17 year old. As in cases like these, the motivation of a journalist is often to get readers by writing a sensational story.
In the Bible there are skeletons in the closet. David had his skeleton in the closet. He got Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, pregnant and then tried to hide his sin. He did by sending Uriah to the front lines of a battle to die. After Uriah’s death, David took Bethsheba as his wife. The skeleton was as good as hid …
… until God sent David’s pastor, Nathan, to him. Nathan called David to repentance; and, upon David’s repentance, Nathan absolved David. But Nathan added that on account of David’s sin, David would suffer some sobering consequences. We see that in today’s lesson. God records this for us not to write a sensational story, but to teach us important truths of the faith.
So, let’s get into the account … but first a little more background. David had children from Bathsheba – a daughter, named Tamar and a son, named Absalom. David had other children, too, from other wives. His oldest son – from one of those other wives – was Amnon. Being oldest, Amnon was the presumptive heir to the throne.
Amnon had eyes for his half-sister Tamar; and he violated her. Tamar’s full brother, Absolom, was enraged. Enraged, he got revenge and murdered his half brother, Amnon. Then Absalom fled and went into exile.
Eventually, one of King David’s advisors persuaded David to show mercy to Absalom. Absalom returned to Jerusalem, there was an outward reconciliation between father and son, king and prince, but their hearts were far apart. That becomes apparent in today’s text.
David may have hoped that Absalom had made a change for the better … but that was not the case. Absalom thought only of himself. So, he began a campaign to win the approval of the people and discredit his father, the king.
The first thing Absalom did was to get for himself a royal entourage. Riding in a chariot, pulled by impressive horses, flanked by 50 men riding on horseback, Absolom looked the part. He looked regal.
Next, he acted as if he were genuinely interested in the people. Day by day he mingled with the people where they came to get a hearing. He indicated that though they might not get a fair hearing in the royal court, he would give them a fair hearing. The public display of affection and the handshakes were all designed to win the people’s favor. It worked.
Then Absalom was ready for his final move. He required permission from the king to go to Hebron. He used the excuse of keeping a religious vow. He invited 200 influential men to join him. None of them were aware of his plot. Then at the right moment, he took off his mask, as it were, and proclaimed himself king. It was high treason!
Absalom reminds us of our old Adam. Our old Adam is self-seeking. The old Adam goes after what he wants. He does not stop until he gets what he wants. He does, because he wants to be king.
It is like a young boy called “Bertie.” Bertie was the son of Queen Victoria and the presumptive heir to the throne. As you can imagine, lots of demands were put upon him – demands to study – demands to learn the part – demands to behave like royalty. Bertie resented the demands. He just wanted to play.
One day in frustration he blurted out to his father, Prince Albert: “I hope mom dies! Then, I can be king. Then I can do whatever I want.” Realizing what he said, Bertie broke down sobbing in his father’s arms, having regretted his words.
… but our old Adam does not. Our old Adam has no regrets. He does wish God were dead. If God were dead, then the old Adam can do whatever he wants. All you have to do is look at our culture to see that sinful wish in action. For example, in a recent Lutheran Sentinel our synod president wrote an article dealing with current cultural sexual challenges to the Word of God. He wrote:
One of the devious attacks Satan uses to [keep people from the saving gospel] is to soften the deadly impact of sin or even to have people call what is sin something to be embraced as acceptable or good.
In other words, modern culture does its best to get rid of the word “sin”. It does, because that is what the old Adam would love. With no sin, he would be free, as Bertie said, “to do whatever I want.”
… but if there is no sin, then grace is no longer needed. If we do not know that we are terminally ill with sin, then we do not know that we need the medicine of immortality. If there is no fear of God, then there is no need to trust God’s gracious declaration of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus.
Then the old Adam is convinced that he can do whatever he wants – that he is king. Then he falls right into the devil’s death trap of treasonous action, deserving eternal imprisonment with him.
When King David got word of Absalom’s treasonous act, he took immediate action. David ordered the palace staff to pack what could be packed. Once packed, they were to leave the palace and city immediately.
To be sure, it was a decision David made on the spot. He did not want to stay and fight. To stay and fight would risk the loss of many lives – including women and children – to say nothing of destroying the city.
So, David fled and many followed. They went through the city gates; from the gates down the path into the Kidron valley; and, then up the other side of the valley to the Mount of Olives. As they fled, you can image tears were shed. They were leaving all – their homes, their families, their work, their gardens, etc. They were to follow the king.
That action looked ahead to Jesus. Nearly 1,000 years later Jesus would walk the same path. He would, but in the opposite direction.
First he went to the Mount of Olives; and, at the Mount of Olives there was a garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus began his suffering as he prayed to his Father. His human nature shuddered at the thought of paying for the sins of the world. As he prayed, Jesus shed drops of blood.
Then, the authorities came to arrest Jesus. Bound, they lead him down the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley and up through the city gates to be put to a mock trial. At that mock trial he was falsely condemned to death. Condemned to death, Jesus went to the cross for you and me.
Nailed to the cross, Jesus paid for all the sins of your and my treasonous old Adam – all the sins of wanting to be king – of wanting to do whatever I want – of acting out those sinful wants – of any skeletons in the closet you or I may have. All of it was nailed to the cross in the body of Christ Jesus. It is paid for. All of it. Your sin is put away from you.
… and God delivered his pardon to you in your baptism. There you were set you free from condemnation with the devil – set you free for heaven.
It is no wonder, then, that we hear Jesus calls to the disciples into today’ gospel reading: “Follow me!” … and they left all – they left their homes, their families, their work as fishermen – they left all and followed Jesus. For three years they studied under Jesus. Then, he sent them to fish for people – to do so by casting out the net of the gospel. He called them to full time church work.
Jesus calls to you, too: “Follow me!” That call is a call to leave all. No. That does not mean that you have to leave your home, family or vocation to do full time church work like the disciples. It does mean to leave behind the desires of the old Adam, who wants to be king, doing whatever he wants.
Jesus explained what it means for you and me in another place. He said:
If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.
A cross is anything you suffer because of your faith. In the context of our lesson, it is what you suffer when your old Adam wants you to return to his sinful ways – to want to be king and do whatever you want.
There is only one way to deal with the wants and actions of the old Adam. We cannot coax him to make a change for the better. We cannot urge him to try hard to behave better. He cannot be reformed. The only way to deal with him is to put him to death. That means to return to our baptisms daily. The catechism puts it this way:
Baptism means that our old Adam should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and that the new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
That new man – created by the gracious delcaration of the forgiveness of sins – gladly follows Jesus.
That may mean suffering loss in our culture where the old Adam reigns as king – it may mean having your voice shut down – not making the team – not getting that advancement – suffering the loss of property and goods.
That is what David and those who followed him that day … and it must have been painful – painful to be turned on by his own flesh and blood – painful to be reminded of his skeleton in the closet. It all served to turn David to God in prayer. His prayer recorded in Psalm 3, which we, too, can take up on our lips:
LORD, how they have increased who trouble me!
Many are they who rise up against me.
I cried to the LORD with my voice,
And he heard me from His holy hill.
I will not be afraid of the thousands of people
Who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O LORD;
Save me, O my God!
Jesus does. Jesus saves. He saved you. He gives you heaven. Because he does, he calls to you: Follow me!” Amen!