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The Lord looks on the Heart

May 9th, 2021

Just two weeks or so ago an important event in the sports calendar took place, it was the annual NFL Draft. Every year a couple hundred or so the best collegiate football players get drafted by professional football teams across the country.

This year there were 259 players taken, and with seven rounds total, the whole thing is a long and tedious affair that takes place over three days. As you’d imagine, most of the attention and fanfare are given to those first few picks because those, as you’d expect are when the best of the best get picked, franchise altering type players. And as you get further and further into the draft, further and further down the list of remaining players, you move into greater and greater obscurity, where the players taken are ones that most of us have never heard of before and frankly, they are players you’ll likely never hear from again.

In fact, there’s a nickname given to the last pick in each year’s NFL Draft, that points to and makes light of this person’s relative obscurity. He’s given the name Mr. Irrelevant.

This morning, we’re starting a new sermon series on the Life of King David, someone who though he rose to great prominence, began his life in relative obscurity, who with the final and highly unexpected pick in the who will be the next king of Israel draft, David began his reign as king as the very first Mr. Irrelevant.

Our passage this morning is where we are first introduced to David in scripture, and yet before we dive into our passage today, because we are starting a new series this morning, one that will carry us for the next 8-10 weeks or so, it’s worth first taking a moment or two to set the stage as to why we’re going to study David in the first place.

On one hand, it’s a way for us to immerse ourselves in the Old Testament storyline. I don’t know about you, but I find often find the Old Testament a somewhat more difficult read, more mysterious and at first glance less relatable and relevant to my everyday life when compared to the New Testament. And yet, scripture tells us that all scripture, yes all scripture is inspired by God, all scripture is living and active and relevant to our lives today, and yeah, that includes the Old Testament too, though sometimes we may have to work a little harder to see it. And with David as one of the bible’s central characters, will help us get at the heart of the Old Testament story.

Secondly though, and maybe more importantly, by studying the life of King David, we’ll immerse ourselves in a deep character study of sorts. There is much to be admired in King David. He’s the only person in the bible of whom it’s said “was a man after God’s own heart.” It’s phrase that every Christian ought to aspire to. A man after God’s own heart. Next week we’ll study the famous story of David and Goliath, where David shows great courage and unbelievable faith in God. Down the road, we’ll learn more about his relationship with King Saul, the King before David, who out of jealously seeks to kill David, but yet David shows him mercy time and time again, David is the living embodiment of Jesus’s command to “Love our enemies.” In so many ways, David is to be admired and we would be wise to follow his example.

And yet, he’s also deeply, deeply flawed. He is human after all. Later in his life, David commits the terrible and destructive sin of adultery, by sleeping with Bathsheba, and then in an attempt to cover it, doubles down on his sin by arranging for the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah.

He is in many ways to be admired and an example to be followed and yet, also a cautionary tale to be learned from. And in both his successes and failures, reflects back to us who we are, and through David we will in turn see ourselves more clearly

Finally, there’s a third reason we’re studying King David, but I’ll save that one for the end.

For now, let’s dive into our passage this morning. This is where we are first introduced to David in scripture. And right away were given some clues that help to provide us with some helpful background context.

16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel.

There was a time in Israel long ago where they didn’t have a king. God’s people had entered the promised land, key figures such as Abraham and Moses and Joshua were long gone at this point. Israel was now kingless and some later the people of Israel demand a king. They say, “Give us a king to lead us.” They notice that every other nation has a king and they want one for themselves. And so God speaking to Samuel, who was a key leader in Israel at the time, effectively says to Samuel, “Fine, if the people want a king, I’ll give them a king. I’d rather they see me (God) as their true king, but fine, I’ll give them what they want. And he points Samuel to Saul, who and this is a key detail, was as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.” Saul fits the profile and has the look of a king. But yet, as the years go by, Saul’s deep character flaws begin to show, he’s dishonest, prideful, lacks integrity. And God years later says to Samuel that it’s time for a new king for this Saul has turned away from me he says.

And that’s where we pick up our passage today. It’s time for a new king. And once again, Samuel is called to help with the hiring process, called to anoint the future king of Israel.

God says to him, Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

And so Samuel set out to find a new king. Who would God choose as Israel’s next king? Surely, it would be someone who looked like a king, right? Someone who had that royal look to them, tall and handsome and someone who could command a room, right?

And so we’re told that Samuel first saw Jesse’s son Eliab, who we are to assume is the firstborn son, which would make him a prime candidate for kingship, and he’s likely an attractive guy, he must have had that “wow” factor, as Samuel’s initial response on seeing Eliab was, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord,” as if it could not be clearer, that standing before Samuel was the next king of Israel.

But yet, the Lord said to Samuel, and we get to kind of the central theme of our passage today,

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Here God gives Samuel new and different criteria in what he ought to be looking for a king. It’s not about physical stature or looks or prowess. After all, they’ve been down this road before with Saul and it did not go well. Rather, the Lord looks beyond skin deep, he looks on the heart.

And so son after son of Jesse’s passes by, each one on paper and by stature likely more qualified in the world’s eyes that the one that comes after them. And the Lord keeps saying to Samuel, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.”

At this point we’re moving further and further into obscurity, deeper and deeper into the who will be the next king of Israel draft, things seem to be preposterous at this point, until Samuel throwing his hands up in despair asks Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” Turns out, there’s one more, it’s Mr. Irrelevant himself, David, the youngest, who’s out keeping the sheep, the least desirable of the family chores, bottom of the totem pole.

And as David came in from the fields, likely smelly and dirty and worn out, wearing hand me down clothes that younger kids so often do, the Lord said to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him, for this is the one.”

The most unlikely of picks, yet the perfect fit in God’s eyes, for as we’ll see in the weeks to come, David, though he was indeed handsome, was first and foremost, “a man after God’s own heart.”

Now, what can we take away from our story today. What can we learn from this and what principles can we apply from this story in our lives today? Here are a couple takeaways:

We ought to give greater value to what the Lord values rather than what the world values, first in our lives, and also in one another. That is we ought to give greater value to our heart and character rather than any outward or external criteria, first in our own lives and also in one another.

Friends, what are we putting our weight on, what is our confidence based in – is it in the external – our appearance, our resume, our accolades, our accomplishments, things that the world values, or is it in the internal – our heart, our character, our love for the Lord? It’s not that the external is of no importance, but simply that the internal is far greater.

And so it’s worth considering, are we and how are we cultivating and prioritizing through our time and energy a deeper heart for the Lord? Maybe it’s through the basic spiritual disciples of bible reading and prayer, silence and solitude, maybe it’s through the weekly rhythm of the Sabbath as we talked about last week. We’ll have lots of opportunities to consider this one in the weeks ahead as we study David further, a man after God’s own heart.

Secondly, with one another, what do we value and look for in one another? Are we making judgments and vetting people purely on the basis of external factors or also internal ones?

Now to be clear, I don’t suggest this with the intent that we should always be sizing another up and scrutinizing each other, but rather, to ensure that were not falling in the trap of prioritizing or giving preference simply based on who the world deems valuable and important, rather than who God does.

I recognize this is all a bit abstract, so let me see if I can bring this home with a story.

This past year, I’ve been a part of a year long small group with Ron Loge and a couple other guys from our church and a few weeks ago, Ron a long time and now retired doctor here in town and member of our church, shared a story with us about one of his experiences interviewing medical school applicants and gave me permission to share this story.

There was one applicant, who had average grades and test scores and letters of recommendation, nothing extraordinary. No “wow” factor. Not a sure thing on paper.

To even put him further behind, he was clearly nervous as the interview began, sweating bullets, stumbling through answers. The interview went on for a bit like that and Ron eventually suggested they all take a short break, to allow the student to collect himself and try again. Eventually, they come back together, restart the interview, and some time later, Ron, speaking from real life experience, asked this question,

"Imagine you're on call and you get called in the middle of the night to come to the ER, you've got to suture up someone, he's highly intoxicated, the accident was clearly avoidable. Then imagine, it happens again the next night, the same person, similar avoidable kind of accident, then again the next night ... How would you deal with that, how would you process that, how would you feel about that?"

Note: What I love about this question is that it's not the standard ability or proficiency kind of question (it’s not, please describe for me step by step how you would perform triple bypass surgery), rather it's an attitude question, a heart question.

The student thinks about it for a second, takes a long pause to collect himself and eventually says, "I'll look for the face of Jesus."

A beautiful answer, right? It's an allusion and application of a story that Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 25, when he said in effect, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for [the hungry, or thirsty, a stranger, or sick, or prisoner], the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

This average nervous applicant said, "I'll look for the face of Jesus." What an answer.

Ron tells me part of what made the moment so poignant is that one of the other interviews was Jewish, with a very different understanding of who Jesus is. And yet after the interview, they were debriefing together and this Jewish woman said something to the effect of, "This kid gets it. He gets it." And the applicant was accepted into medical school.

Though he may not have had the external criteria, or at first glance the look or composure of a doctor, he had the heart of one. And based on that answer alone, that applicant was positioned in that very moment to become an excellent doctor, one led by incredible care and compassion.

for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

We ought to give greater value to what the Lord values rather than what the world values, first in our lives, and also in one another.

For example, for parents and educators, are we more interested in how much our kids are learning and how much they are accomplishing, or are we more focused on the kinds of people they are becoming?

Or consider the dating world, our culture places so much value on attractiveness and physical chemistry, have we given enough attention to a potential spouse’s character and heart?

Or consider the process of nominating elders, our leaders here at church. The direction that we’re given throughout the bible on eldership places far more emphasis on character rather than competency. Far more attention to the character of a person than the skills or abilities they bring into it.

We ought to give greater value to what the Lord values rather than what the world values, first in our lives, and also in one another. We ought to give greater value to our heart and character rather than any outward or external criteria, first in our own lives and also in one another.

I’ll finish with this … here’s the third and final reason why we’re studying David these next few weeks. And that is, David points us to Jesus himself.

And throughout his earthly life he’s given all sorts of names and titles. To the disciples and his closest friends and followers, he was the Christ and Messiah and Lord. He was known as Master, Teacher, Physician, Redeemer. He is the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, Son of Man, Lamb of God. And yet, there’s another … he was and is Son of David. David is a foreshadowing a greater king, King Jesus.

In fact, the first words out of Matthew’s gospel go like this, “The genealogy of Jesus, son of David”

Over these next few weeks, when we see David succeed, may he point us to Jesus, who is an even better King.

And when we see him fail and fall flat on his face, may he yet again point us to Jesus, the better King, who shows us.

Of even Jesus himself, the Prophet Isaiah said, He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

But yet we can certainly say he was a man after God’s own heart.

In the end, my hope isn’t so much that you grow in your love and admiration for David, thought good as that might be, but rather that you would grow in your love and admiration for Jesus himself, the true Son of David, our true and better King.

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