I have a love/hate relationship with Jesus’ disciples. I love ‘em because they’re just like me. I hate ‘em because they’re just like me.
All along they’re wanting the Romans physically overthrown and Jesus on a literal throne in Jerusalem, and all along Jesus is consistently telling them the kingdom of God isn’t like that. No swords and horses. Palm branches and donkeys. No ear chopping. Foot washing.
So he goes all the way to the cross, dies and is buried. He resurrects three days later. And as he’s ascending into heaven, they’re asking, “So, um, do we get that kingdom of Israel now?”
This is me. This is you.
“Gee, thanks for the cross and resurrection, Jesus, but do you think I could have a little more? Something for me?”
It’s sort of a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of faith, and none of us is immune.
We naturally and sinfully lose perspective. We put ourselves at the center.
Prime example: The story of David and Goliath.
Do you know where you and I are in that story?
Countless preachers, teachers, and inspirational writers have gone into 1 Samuel 17 with applicatory guns blazing. The story makes for some great applicational translation. Like so:
The Christian is David. Goliath can be all manner of personal problems and anxieties, social issues, anything plaguing us personally or the Church corporately. And then the five smooth stones David picks up lend themselves so easily to five points, keys, or tips.
Let’s say Goliath is financial insecurity. The expositor can neatly point out that the five smooth stones can be budgeting, saving, tithing, generosity, and investing. That was easy.
Or let’s say you want to be a bit more “spiritual” actually, and say Goliath is “your past.” Your five smooth stones can be prayer, forgiving others, self-forgiveness, positive attitude, and walking in freedom. Or some such thing. (Ideally your five smooth stones will each begin with the same letter, because alliteration is some kind of cardinal rule for preachers.)
Those are just two applicational approaches. I didn’t invent either one. And there are lots of other options.
And they all miss the point of the story.
You’re not David. I’m not David. Goliath isn’t some problem or issue or anxiety.
We do not know our place in this story (and most of the other biblical stories).
Here is where we are:
Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. (1 Sam. 17:10-11)
Did you see us? We’re the ones in the background, “dismayed and terrified.”
But we are not that way for long. David (not us) has been anointed to represent the children of God in battle. I don’t know why he needed five smooth stones, because it only took one. He kills Goliath, and then for good measure he chops off the dude’s head. It’s a pretty awesome story, honestly.
Then we show up again:
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. (1 Sam. 17:51a-53)
We’re not scared anymore. We’re chasing and plundering. Because someone else did the work.
We didn’t do the work; someone else did.
That’s the Christian life. The work is not ours. It’s Jesus’. Jesus did the work we were unwilling — and unable! — to do. He killed sin and murdered death.
And that is freedom. Knowing we’re not at the center of the story keeps the Christian life in perspective; it makes the yoke easy and the burden light, because Jesus is bearing them. This is the key to boldness: we can work because the work is already done.