narrative sermon

((SAUL, FALLEN ON HIS SWORD))

One of those cursed Philistine arrows found its way into my side, and as I felt the searing heat, I knew that not only this battle was over, but also the life of this king was over. I would not give them have the satisfaction of finishing me off! They would find me having already fallen on my own sword.

It would only be a matter of seconds before my enemies would reach me, but how eternal those seconds would seem! More than long enough to remember my life. Long enough to regret the wasted years. Someone might one day sing about how I felt in that moment: “just a puppet on a lonely string – oh, who would ever want to be King!?” How different this sadness now feels from the confidence I once felt!

After all, I was, of course, the obvious choice to be Israel’s first anointed king. Samuel sons were unsuitable, and I was handsome and a head taller than anyone else in Israel. And we needed a strong leader like me to defeat those dirty Philistines that were becoming such a problem. All the people wanted it to happen. A strong kingdom needed a strong King! And if the other nations had strong Kings, then we needed one all the more.

What a divine appointment that happened as I was looking for my father’s donkeys! We met Samuel and he anointed me. But how quickly things went downward! I’m not sure he ever fully supported me. As I was publicly announced as King at Gilgal, Samuel quite clearly thought that Israel was wicked in asking for a king, because the Lord was already our King. Not exactly a glorious induction service for me.

First was the fiasco over me not waiting the full 7 days for Samuel to meet me before going to war. The people were freaking out, and scattering, and we needed to make a move. What’s more I was totally capable of offering the sacrifices. Goodness was he upset when he got there. That was the first time he said my kingdom wouldn’t last.

He was even more upset after we took back Ahag, the king of the Amalekites, and some of the best livestock – which we were going to sacrifice anyway! Nope, everything meant everything, for Samuel. Every last memory of these womb-desecraters, child-killers must be wiped from existence. Even when I realised my mistake, and asked Samuel to forgive me, he still was firm: I was being rejected as King.

And then there was that shepherd boy David. I only grew to despise him more and more as I knew him. After he killed Goliath, wearing MY armour!!!, people started to like him more. “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten-thousands”, they sang… to my ever-growing fury.

I remember being surprised at myself for hurling that spear at him – his music had been so soothing for my evil moods – now it seemed to just provoke me. He was so good at everything and people began just waiting for me to disappear so he could be King.

Lying here with my own sword through me, it all seems such a waste… such an utter, embarrassing failure. Look now! Here is my end! This uncircumcised Philistine approaches to finish me off… I cannot move, let alone scream, but he recognises who I am, and pauses briefly to look at me with disgust. In the split second before his sword strikes, I lament not grasping sooner the truth that was certainly also hidden from the mind of my killer. Perhaps Samuel was right. How foolish indeed it was
to ever think that anyone but God could ever truly be King!

((SAUL, NOW CALLED PAUL, ABOUT TO BE BEHEADED))

The wood against my neck was hard and indifferent. It would all be over now, in a matter of seconds, and I would finally depart and be with the Lord… Death was the penalty for all who pledged allegiance to any King other than the Emperor – in this case, Nero – whom everyone knew was growing more insane by the minute.

But unlike the other apostles and co-workers, there would be no cross for this Roman citizen. I would have a noble and ‘clean’ death; but it was still death, nonetheless. As the executioner stepped forward with sword in hand, these mere few seconds seemed an eternity – more than sufficient to remember the road that led me here.

I was a Hebrew of Hebrews, of the tribe of Benjamin, zealous for God and his Law – and named after Saul, the first king of Israel. So zealous, that I passionately persecuted this new, radical sect which was so blatantly blasphemous, and opposed to the Law of Moses and all that was holy. This Nazarene they hailed as Messiah (even calling him Lord!) was most evidently not the anointed King we all were waiting for. For starters, the Romans were still here, and as well, Messiah’s, by definition, don’t die on crosses. This crucified criminal was hardly fit for David’s throne.

I was headed to Damascus to round up more of these followers of the Way, when it happened. Jesus himself appeared to me in a bright vision, and turned my whole world upside down – including my sight for a few days. He was indeed still alive. The stories were really true and not just fabrications. What’s more, we had been expecting the wrong kind of anointed King – the wrong kind of Messiah.

As I regained sight and strength, more and more became clear to me. Not only was Jesus the fulfilment of all of our false and failed human Kings from ages past, right down to Saul, but He was also the True King of the whole world, which was the office claimed by Caesar.

That kind of talk would get you killed. And it had got Jesus killed. When Pilate had asked if Jesus was the King of the Jews, they were so intent on having him killed that they even shouted out “We have no King but Caesar!” Not words that should be found on the lips of a Jew! Instead, “We have no King but God!” should have been heard.

It had got Jesus killed, and now it was my turn. As the sword of my executioner was lifted, ready to be wielded swiftly and decisively, I felt unusually calm and content. I now knew, and had lived the last thirty years testifying to the fact that Jesus was the only true King. No Jewish king had every brought freedom. No Roman king ever achieved peace for the world. Nor could they have. For we have no other King, and will give our allegiance to no other King but the true King – Jesus!!