The ultimate test of any civilisation, any culture, any community and indeed any church, must surely be, not how long it has existed, or its size or influence, but rather, the way it treats its most vulnerable members. Whether they are the unborn, the young, the elderly, sick, widowed, orphaned, in prison, on probation, ex-offenders, unemployed, addicts, from an ethnic minority, of another faith, a foreigner, an outsider, a stranger or just a visitor. It doesn’t matter. A society is judged by how it treats its weakest, most powerless, most vulnerable members. As Christians, the quality of our faith will also, says Jesus, be tested by how we treat our weaker sisters and brothers.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…. The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:35-40).
Because ultimately how we treat others is a reflection of how we treat Jesus. Outsiders who look in, will be envious of our love for one another and want to know more about Jesus, the source of our love. Or, they will be repelled by our lack of love and reject Jesus because of us. The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, quoted by the Apostle Paul warn:
“God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:24; Isaiah 52:5 (see Septuagint); Ezekiel 36:20,22)
It’s why Jesus insists:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another… everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Nothing else really matters. God expects us to treat others the same way he treats us with grace. In Jesus we see the perfect expression of God’s grace. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). In September we began a teaching series entitled “Christ in all the Scriptures” based on the classic by A.M. Hodgkin. So far we have discovered Jesus in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and Ruth. We have encountered the Lord Jesus in the types and images God introduced to prepare his people for the day when he would come in person to rescue them. We have seen the Lord Jesus in the Passover Lamb (Genesis), in the Bronze Snake (Leviticus), in the Day of Atonement (Numbers) in the Prophet Moses promised God would send (Deuteronomy), in the Commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua) and in the wonderful story of Ruth and Boaz, the Kinsman Redeemer (Ruth). Today we come to the two books of Samuel and the story of David the Anointed King. There is much we could discover about Jesus in the person of David. In his selection to replace Saul, his life as a shepherd, his song writing and faith.
This is clearly seen in the Messianic Psalms:
Psalm 22 – the Good Shepherd in death (John 10:11);
Psalm 23 – the Good Shepherd in resurrection (John 13:20);
Psalm 24 – the Good Shepherd in glory (1 Peter 5:4).
No wonder Jesus is called the Son of David 17 times in the New Testament. Once David had been crowned King of Israel, the Lord sent Nathan the prophet with this message,
“‘The LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son…Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:11-16)
Clearly the Lord is referring to Solomon, but beyond him to someone even greater. Indeed, David foresaw the day when one of his descendants would supersede him.
“The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (Psalm 110:1)
Jesus quotes this Psalm in his debate with the religious leaders:
“Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:41-46).
This morning I want us to reflect on one of the highpoints in David’s life. You may think it a surprising choice but I believe the story we had read from 2 Samuel 9, and David’s search for Mephibosheth, marks the high point in David’s life. This was his greatest hour. Tragedy and decline soon followed. But at this point, David had captured all the land God promised; he had defeated all their enemies; undisputed king over the whole nation. It was at this moment, when he had everything he ever wanted, that he paused to reflect on his early life. The days of testing, suffering and rejection. Then he remembers Jonathan his friend and the solemn covenant they had made to look after each other’s relatives. That is where our story begins.
“David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Sam 9:1)
This is one of the most moving chapters in the whole of the Old Testament. It is a vivid illustration of the gospel. The way David treated Mephibosheth is the way God shows us grace, and therefore how we should treat others. Let’s see,
The Condition Grace Meets
The Salvation Grace Provides
The Thankfulness Grace Inspires
1. The Condition Grace Meets
“Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled.” (2 Sam. 4:4)
Mephibosheth is first mentioned in 2 Samuel 4:4. He was five. As Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth was heir to the throne. That is why he was in danger. That is why his nurse panicked and dropped him in her haste to escape. David has been anointed king. The little boy was a threat so his life was in danger. When we meet him again he is a grown man with a son of his own. He is living in Lo Debar, keeping his head down. Mephibosheth is actually a good picture of you and me before we experience God’s grace.
1.1 Apart from the King
David married Michal, Jonathan’s sister. So Mephibosheth is one of David’s nephews. They are related in name but their relationship is broken. They are enemies. Mephibosheth is hiding in Lo Debar in the hills, east of the Jordan river. It means “a place of no pasture” or “no communication”. It was a remote, barrenness place. That is a pretty accurate description of life without Jesus who said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Where are you living right now? In Lo Debar or Shangri La? The desert or paradise? If it feels like a desert, it maybe because you are living far away from the King. Mephibosheth was living apart from the king.
1.2 Afraid of the King
That is why Mephibosheth is living so far away. He’s afraid. David was the most powerful man in the world.
He had the power of life and death over his subjects. Mephibosheth had every reason to fear David. And there is a sense in which a right respect, or healthy fear of Almighty God is appropriate. He is a consuming fire. He holds our lives and destiny in his hands. But Mephibosheth was also probably afraid of David because of what others had told him and because he had never got to know David personally. He didn’t know that David perhaps could identify with him when he too had run away and hid from Saul. Mephibosheth probably did not know of the binding covenant David had made with his father, to provide for his descendants if Jonathan should die first. He didn’t know David’s covenant or his character. Isn’t that another reason, why people are afraid of God? They don’t know God’s character? Remember it was David who wrote:
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:13)
They don’t know his character and they don’t know about his covenant, a covenant so solemn it was sealed in Jesus blood.
Mephibosheth was apart from the king and afraid of the king.
1.3 Antagonistic toward the King
Mephibosheth had plenty of reasons to resent the person who stood in the way of his claim to the throne and life of luxury. David was responsible, in part for his father’s death, for his exile and poverty, and indirectly, for his physical disabilities too.
A while later when David is fleeing Absalom, he meets Mephibosheth’s servant. Ziba has come out to provide David with food and supplies, David asks:
“Where is your master’s grandson?” Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’” (2 Samuel 16:3)
Even after David has shown Mephibosheth kindness and grace, because of his covenant with Jonathan, Mephibosheth still harbours antagonism toward his Lord and Saviour, David.
You know not far below the surface in us all is an antagonism toward God. Sometimes its manifest in apathy. At other times in arrogance. Both are a sign of rebellion as it was in Mephibosheth. True, sometimes it is compounded by fear and ignorance but its roots lie deeper. Like Mephibosheth, when we learn of the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ, when we learn of the covenant God has made with us through the death of Jesus Christ, we have a choice. We have a decision to make. Loyal servants feasting at his table, or defiant rebels living in our own Lo Debar, apart from the king, afraid of the king, antagonistic toward the king. The condition grace meets.
2. The Salvation Grace Provides
Remember how the story began? At the moment of David’s greatest triumph he reflected, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul… that I may taken vengeance on him? That I may pay him back for the way his grandfather persecuted me? That I may crush any rival claims to my throne? No, he asked,
“Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1)
The salvation grace provides is beautifully described in David’s invitation and Mephibosheth’s reply.
“When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honour. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied. “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:6-8)
2:1 Grace takes the Initiative
David took the initiative. He wanted to show his personal favour. What were his first words? “Don’t be afraid.” The most frequent command in Scripture? “Don’t be afraid”.
The message of the New Testament is God saying “Is there anyone who is far away from me, who is afraid of me, who is antagonistic toward me, that I may show kindness, for Jesus sake? That’s the gospel. God took the initiative. We didn’t.
“For God so loved the world that….” Grace takes the initiative.
2.2 Grace Humbles Pride
How did Mephibosheth respond to David’s gracious initiative?
“Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:8)
David’s kindness brought Mephibosheth to a recognition of his own unworthiness. Grace always does that. Grace never leaves our pride intact. The cross brings us to our knees as we realise the depth of God’s love revealed, as we realise that without him, we are lost and helpless.
“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died; my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”
Has grace produced this effect in you? Grace takes the initiative. Grace humbles pride and
2.3 Grace Showers Blessings
“Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (2 Samuel 9:9-10).
And if you have your Bible open, notice the little phrase repeated in verses 7, verse 10, verse 11 and verse 13.
When the Holy Spirit says something four times, it is to tell us this is important. Four times David assures Mephibosheth what? That he will always feast at the King’s table.
“Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet.” (2 Samuel 9:13)
God wants us to know that although he may have been lame in both feet, at his Lord’s table, they were hidden. They were hidden. We have seen in this beautiful story, the condition grace meets. We have, I hope, realised how similar our condition is to that of Mephibosheth. Apart from the king, afraid of the king and maybe even antagonistic to the king. We have also seen the salvation grace provides. How grace takes the initiative, grace humbles pride and grace showers blessings.
In the grace of God revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ, all the resources of heaven are available to meet our needs and keep us safe on our walk through life until the day when we shall be presented faultless before the throne of God, and eat at his table for ever and ever and ever and ever. Amen.
The condition grace meets points us to the salvation grace provides and to the application of this passage – the Thankfulness Grace Inspires. 2 Samuel 9 does not tell us how Mephibosheth responded to the grace shown him. How will you respond? Lets say together:
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 1:24-25)