II Samuel 16:5-14
Imagine someone putting up a new building. The design is beautiful. It has spacious rooms that give an open feel. It has rich wood paneling lining those rooms. It has large windows to let in ample sunlight. It has a roofline that sets it apart from other buildings.
Imagine at the same time that the builder wants to cut on costs. In order to do that, he cheats. That is, he uses substandard materials. The substandard materials do not have the strength and flexility needed to stand up under stressful conditions. The building will become structurally unsound. In the time of stress it will buckle and be declared “condemned.”
In a way that is what the pharisees of whom Jesus spoke did. They built beautiful lives on the outside. They were church-goers, family men, community volunteers. Their good lives set them apart from others. The trouble is, they thought that was good enough for God.
By looking only on the outside they, in essence, were trying to cheat the law. By cheating the law they reduced God’s standard. By reducing God’s standard, they thought they could attain to it. The trouble with that is that they were forgetting that what was on the inside – their thoughts – was substandard. It would not hold up under God’s judgment.
Today’s lesson from Samuel helps illustrate how what is on the inside does not hold up under God’s judgment. So, let’s turn to it.
…but first a little bit of context. If you remember, Absalom had led a campaign to take the throne from his father, David. The campaign worked and Absalom declared himself king. When David learned of Absalom’s treason, he fled Jerusalem. His family and loyal servants followed.
To be sure, it was a sad day as they went out the city gates; down into the Kidron Valley outside the gates; and then up the Mount of Olives on the other side of the valley. Now, today, we catch up with King David and his followers as they descend the far side of the Mount of Olives.
On their way down a man named, Shimei, confronts King David. Shimei was a distant relative of former King Saul. Shimei angrily came at David pelting him with stones and clods of dirt. As he did, he cursed David:
“The LORD brought on you the blood of the house of Saul in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil.”
In so many words Shimei said: You have come to ruin because you stole the throne from my relative King Saul. You did by murdering him and his sons.
The thing is – none of it was true. Saul took his own life. His sons died in battle.
In any event, Shimei reminds us of those who take delight in another’s misfortune. They like to kick another when he is down. Have you ever done that? – broken a smile when a person you do not like gets hurt? – felt a little bit of glee when you heard of an opponent’s misfortune? – called them an idiot or fool when they fell? – proudly patted yourself on the back saying they had it coming? If you have – and who of us has not – that is a little bit of Shimei in us.
Then there was Abishai. He was one of David’s loyal followers. He served as one of David’s soldiers. Here we see him acting as David’s bodyguard. When he saw Shimei’s actions and heard his words, he made an offer to David:
“Why should this dead dog curse my king? Please let me go over and take off his head.”
Abishai offered to go and end Shimei’s life. Right then. Right there. On the spot.
Abishai reminds us of those who coax another to get even. They encourage you to “settle the score.” Have you ever felt like that? – wanted to get even with someone who hurt you? – wanted to settle the score with your spouse by bringing up past wrongs? – wanted to put that arrogant – you name him – in his place? – made a rude gesture at that careless driver? If you have – and who of us has not – that is a little bit of Abishai in us too.
Whether we have a little bit of Abishai’s wanting to get even attitude or Shimei’s taking delight in another’s misfortune, they are sins against the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not kill.”
When it comes to the Fifth Commandment, though, we tend to externalize it. We tend to think that we have kept it. After all, we have not committed murder – we have not aborted a baby – we have not euthanized a loved one – we have not maimed anyone.
When we think like that, we just focus on the outward. Focusing on the outward, the little pharisee in us thinks that we are good people and that good people go to heaven. To be sure, that is how the self-righteous Pharisee thought.
It is like that person who cheats to put up a building. It may be beautiful to behold, but it has substandard materials. On the outside it looks great; but on the inside it does not have the ability to stand up under stress.
That’s why Jesus goes deeper, like a building inspector, and makes an inspection of our lives. He says:
You have heard it said, “Whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” But I say to you whoever is angry with his brother without a cause will be in danger of the judgment.
In these words Jesus admits that there is such a thing as righteous anger. Righteous anger is concerned about setting wrongs right. For that God gives us authorities in local government – lawyers, jururors and judges. The anger Jesus is talking about, however, is a self-righteous anger. It is anger that seeks to get even on a personal level – that delights in another’s misfortune.
The point is: self-righteous anger is a matter of the heart. Sin starts in our hearts. Out of the heart come self-righteous angry words…and that self-righteous anger is a sin against the Fifth Commandment. Anyone sinning against the Fifth Commandment – be it by action or word or thought – is guilty of judgment.
In short, if you or I put any trust in our outward actions as a contribution on our part to be in God’s kingdom, we fail to recognize that on the inside of us is substandard material. The result: we would not make the grade but be condemned.
Let’s go back to our text and consider how David reacted to Abishai’s offer to end Shimei’s life. David had two choices. 1) He could have become offended by Shimei’s words. Offended, he could let the hurt take hold of him and become angry. 2) He could deal with the offense. He could by keeping if from taking hold of him.
David did the latter. He restrained Abishai from getting even. He told Abishai:
See how my son from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this [relative of Saul]? Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction and repay me with good.
In short, Shimei’s words did not hurt David as much as his own son’s, Absalom’s, actions. Absalom was stabbing him in the back. What’s more – for all David knew – someday God might turn Shimei’s curse into blessing.
Here, someone pointed out that David is a type of Christ. To be sure, David was not without sin. We have seen how hard he fell into sin. Yet, God in his mercy, put away David’s sin. No, David is not a type of Christ in respect to sin, but in how David dealt with provocation in this case. David did not seek to get even. In that, David is a type of Christ.
The apostle put it like this:
[Christ] committed no sin. When he was reviled he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but committed himself to him who judges righteously.
Imagine that! When Jesus was before Pilate, Pilate gave Jesus over to his soldiers. They spit on him – beat his body with rods – mocked him as a King. Jesus took it silently. When Jesus hung on the cross, his enemies beneath the cross delighted in his “misfortune.” They mocked him – taunted him – made fun of him. Jesus did not react in kind. Instead, he put the whole matter into his Father’s hands.
That is to say, though Jesus was cursed for the world’s sin, he trusted that his Father would turn his death into blessing … and how he did! He blessed Jesus by raising him from the dead.
The fact that the Father raised Jesus from the dead is his stamp of approval. That is to say, Jesus’ resurrection says that he kept the Fifth Commandment perfectly. In short, Jesus has the righteousness that you and I need to get into heaven.
No. You and I do not have it in ourselves. It is a fallacy to think that by keeping the law outwardly we are good enough for God – good enough to contribute getting into the kingdom of God. But that is to make our own standards; and our standards are substandards. They fail to meet God’s code.
So, Jesus, in his mercy, provided the standard we need to meet by living a perfect life for you and me. Then, he credited that standard to you. He did in your baptism:
You were buried with Christ by baptism into death; that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even you should walk in the newness of life.
That is to say, baptism linked you to Jesus’ death. All your sins of failing to meet God’s standard, were buried in his death. Baptism linked you to Jesus’ resurrection. You were wrapped in the righteous robe of Jesus. Now God looks at you and does not see your sin. He looks at you and sees the righteous robe of Jesus in which you are wrapped. Wrapped in it, God gives you entrance into his kingdom.
Wrapped in the righteous robe of Jesus, you were also created anew. Created anew in him, you need not rejoice in the misfortune of another. Instead, the new man prays that God use the misfortune of another to bring him to repentance and faith. Created anew in Christ, you need not take matters into your own hands and get even with another. Instead, the new man commits the misdeed into God’s hands, trusting he will right the wrong…and he did at the cross!
Now, come and get that righteous robe of Jesus at his table. As he gives you his body and blood, he wraps you up in his righteous robe. By means of it – and it alone – you enter the Kingdom of God – and one day heaven. Jesus’ righteousness is God’s standard by which you enter his kingdom. So, cling to that righteous robe of Jesus and pull it tightly around you. Amen!