Tear-Away Jerseys and Other Acts of Repentance

Fourth in a Series on 1 Samuel 15,
Delivered November 21, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
1 Samuel 15:24-31
24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s
command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and
so I gave in to them.
25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I
may worship the LORD.”
26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have
rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as
king over Israel!”
27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his
robe, and it tore.
28 Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from
you today and has given it to one of your neighbors–to one better than you.
29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for
he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”
30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders
of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may
worship the LORD your God.”
31 So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD.

It was the Rose Bowl, January 1, 1929. The University of California against Georgia Tech. Late in the second quarter, still no score, Georgia Tech has the ball on their own 36 yard line. The ball is handed off to a Georgia Tech half-back. He fumbles, the ball squirts loose and bounds up to the forty-yard line, where Roy Regals, a lineman for the University of California picked up the ball and began to head for the Georgia Tech end zone. He got to about the about the thirty-yard line, and a Georgia Tech player hit him. Regals spun off of him, and as he spun he seemed to lose his sense of direction, and he began to head the opposite way. He ran for ninety yards trailed by one of the University California defensive backs. He finally caught up with him at the five yard line, and grabbed onto him and turned him around and said, “You’ve been running the wrong way!” But it was too late, suddenly Georgia Tech players smothered them and Roy Regals was downed on the one yard-line. California now had the ball. Georgia Tech held them. California punts. The punt is blocked, a California player recovers the ball in his own end zone, and it is a safety. And that was all it took for Georgia Tech to beat the University of California 8 to 7. And Roy Regals would forever more be known as “Wrong Way Roy Regals.”

And as he set out on that infamous run in the opposite direction, do you know what his teammates were screaming on the sideline? They were screaming, ‘Repent, repent!’ Not exactly, but what they were screaming was, ‘Turn around, turn around, you are going the wrong way!’ Which is exactly and literally what the word repent means in Scripture. And that is exactly what King Saul needed to do.

Over the past three weeks now, we have watched as King Saul has disobeyed God. He has tried to deceive the prophet Samuel. And now having been caught in a lie, Saul finally turns around. He does a one-eighty, he repents. In the text we are about to read, we get some great insight into what repentance truly is, and how you and I might apply some of these insights to our lives today.

I would invite you to open your Bible and keep it open during the sermon to 1 Samuel, chapter 15. Let’s look this morning at verses 24-31, as we finish up our sermon series on 1 Samuel 15. 1 Samuel 15, beginning to read at verse 24, this is the Word of God:

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I have violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people, and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to one of your neighbors – to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”

Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord.

Join me as we pray: And now Father as my words are true to your word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

What do you do when what is most important in your life is suddenly taken from you, torn from you? Take a moment and think. First of all, what is it that is most important in your life? Is it your health? I often times think of Christopher Reeve, one minute jumping horses, the next minute a quadriplegic. What goes on in his mind? Or maybe it is your career. What would happen to you if your company downsized? Or you were fired? Or maybe if you are faced with retirement? Did you know that the average retired American male dies two years after he retires?

Or maybe the most important thing in your life is a child. What would you do if that child was taken form you? I have been there. What about those dozen Texas A&M parents, who as I speak are in tremendous grief because their children were killed Thursday as that structure for the big bonfire at College Station came crashing down on top of them?

Or maybe your home is the most important thing to you. What if you were to talk to flood victims in North Carolina? Earthquake victims in Turkey? Refugees in Kosavo, who had their homes either destroyed or taken from them. How do they feel? What do they do? How would you react? What is it that is most important to you, and what would you do, where would you turn if that was suddenly taken from you?

What was most important to King Saul was being king. And now Samuel has told him that the Lord has rejected you as king. Saul, no longer will his blessing be upon your kingship. What is most important has now been ripped out of Saul’s grasp. And so what does he do? He finally turns around and does a one-eighty, he repents.

In verse 24, Saul begins to come clean with Samuel. He confesses his sin. But then he goes far beyond that. He actually becomes vulnerable, and says something here that your average king would never ever want to say. And that is that Saul, the king that people are to look up to and fear, actually fears the people more than they fear him. He fears the people more than he fears God.

There is a warning and lesson here for all of us as Christians in general, but for Christian leaders in particular. The lesson is this, that you and I need to pursue and cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord. When you and I cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord, it is then that you and I are less likely to get off track. It is then that you and I are able to face the tough issues of life, without giving in to the post-Christian culture around us. It is then that you and I are less apt to be tempted to become people pleasers, and stay God pleasers.

But how do you and I cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord? The only way that I know of doing that is to pursue a daily personal relationship with Jesus Christ that centers in the Word of God and prayer. And as you get to know God more, your respect for God, a healthy reverence and fear begins to escalate.

Sometimes people say to me in our Presbytery, ‘Ron, you are so brave. You stand on the floor of the Presbytery and take all these stands, and you get all kinds of flack for it. You are so courageous.’ I am really a coward. I am just more afraid of God than I am of man. You and I are to cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord.

We have got to ask a question at this point. Is Saul’s repentance in this text before us genuine? Is it true? Is he trying to snooker one more thing over on Samuel? Or is what is happening here for real?

I think it is for real. Certainly Saul’s repentance here is more genuine than that of convicted “Unabomber,” Ted Kasinski. Listen to this excerpt from an interview with him on May 4, 1998. Kasinski says, “Guilty feelings? Yes, a little. Occasionally I have bad dreams in which the police are after me. Or in which I am threatened with punishment from some supernatural source, such as the devil. But these don’t occur often. I am definitely glad to have done what I have done.”

Certainly Saul is much further down the repentance track than is Ted Kasinski. But I really believe that Saul’s repentance here is true. But I can’t help but also think that Saul is a little bit like you and me. I have a hunch that part of Saul’s repentance revolves around a deep-seated hope that if he is genuinely repentant, then the two things that mean most to him in life that have been torn from him will be restored. Number one, the kingship; and secondly, his relationship with Samuel.

Verse 25, reveals to us that sin always destroys relationships. That is why Saul is also saying, ‘Samuel, will you come back with me and we can worship the Lord together?’ But Saul has got to learn a hard lesson. It is a hard lesson that you and I need to learn. It is a lesson that this text teaches us. And the lesson is this: genuine repentance does not necessarily mean restoration.

There was once a little girl with a fiery temper, and she just had a habit of doing and saying all kinds of nasty things to her parents and her friends. And one day after she had beat up one of her playmates, her father decided to teach her a lesson. He said, “Every time you do or say something mean, I am going to take one of these big nails, and I am going to nail it into the fence post out in front of our house. And every time you do or say something nice, then I am going to pull one of those nails out.”

Well after about a month, that fencepost was just filled with nails. It looked like a porcupine. But you know what? That visual image got to that little girl. She saw that, became ashamed of it, and actually began to turn around and head in another direction. In fact, she took it on as a challenge to get every one of those nails out of there.

So week upon week, she began to do nice things, say nice things to her friends and her family. And one by one the nails started coming out, until the day finally arrived when there was only one nail left in the post. So she went out and did something nice for someone, and then she watched with a great sense of accomplishment as her father pulled out that final nail. She began to dance around with glee, and proudly exclaimed, “See daddy, see daddy, all the nails are gone!” And her father gazing at the fencepost said, “Yes honey, all the nails are gone but the scars remain.”

When you and I sin, one of the realities of life even when we are repentant, is that there are still repercussions. When you and I sin, even when we are genuinely repentant and are forgiven, we have got to learn to live with the fact that there may not be restoration. Things can not be exactly how they were before. And that is what Saul has got to learn. That is what Samuel is teaching him.

Look at verse 26 of your text. Not only has Saul asked Samuel for forgiveness because he wants that relationship restored, but he also wants his kingship back. But Samuel reveals to him that none of those two things are going to be restored. He said, ‘I am not going to go back with you. That relationship is not going to be restored. You have blown it Saul, and God’s blessing upon your kingship is going to be forever removed.’

Genuine repentance does not necessarily mean restoration. But bless Saul’s heart. This is why I really think Saul is genuine in his repentance here. Look at verse 30 of your text. Saul says again, “I have sinned.” But also look at verses 27-29. He does something very desperate here. When you and I have something torn away from us, we tend to act in desperate ways don’t we? Samuel after telling Saul that he is not going to go back with him, turns around to leave. And Saul like a banshee on a safety blitz, with wild-eyed desperation chases after Samuel. Chases him out of the pocket and is about to sack him, when Samuel is saved by his tear-away jersey.

We are told that Saul lunges for him, and grabs his robe. That is not something you do to a prophet. The robe tears, and Saul is left with a hunk of robe in his hand. And Samuel, ever the preacher as well as prophet, able to find a sermon illustration in anything, shows Saul that this the way that his life is always going to be from then on. The kingdom has been torn from Saul.

This is why I say that I think that Saul is genuine in his repentance. Because in verse 30, his reply to that is not, ‘Well then, I’m not really sorry for all the things I have done. In fact, you can take your kingship, and you can take your God, and go jump in a lake, Samuel.’ That is not what Saul says, look at the text. He says, ‘Okay, I have sinned.’ But almost pathetically, pitifully, he pleads with Samuel, ‘But Samuel, can I at least save a little bit of face? Will you come back with me so that we can worship the Lord your God together’ And here is where the ray of grace begins to break into the text.

Yes, genuine repentance does not always mean restoration. But here the grace of God begins to work through Samuel and into the life of Saul, and at least one thing is restored. At least partially, at least for a moment, Samuel’s relationship with Saul is restored. Now we see Samuel repent, turn around, and make the decision to go back with Saul to worship. To worship a God that for the third time now Saul has referred to as “your God.” Do you remember those other two times a few weeks ago when Saul referred to God as “your God,” because of his distance from God, his disobedience, his partial obedience has disconnected him from God. “God is your God, Samuel.” But here something different is happening. I think that this is a part of genuine repentance. That because our partial obedience equals disobedience, which equals disconnection from the one true living God, Saul is actually very accurate in his description here. He has gained great insight into the fact that when we disobey God, we give up the right to refer to God in the first person possessive. Your God.

But he is going back to worship. And you know what friends? I think the message of Scripture here to you and me is that when you and I genuinely repent, there is guaranteed, slam-dunk, a restoration of a relationship. Not the relationship necessarily between Samuel and Saul. That is not the most important relationship. Really the most important thing in Saul’s life, whether he knows it or not; the most important thing in your life and my life, whether we know it or not, is our relationship with the Lord. And when you and I are genuinely repentant, then eventually the grace of God works in our lives so that “your God” becomes once again “my God.”

One more thing that I want you and me to take away from these four sermons from 1 Samuel 15, and it is this: Saul is enabled to repent because he has the blessing in his life of a prophet. A prophet who loves God, and who loves Saul enough to confront him when he is off base. Well you might be saying, ‘Yeah, that’s Saul, he is lucky, I don’t have that advantage.’

Oh really? Let me leave you with two things to think about. Who in your life is your Samuel? Do you have a relationship with someone, a spiritually mature godly man or woman, who loves God enough and loves you enough to confront you and call you when you are off base? If you don’t, then why? This is particularly important for men. Because when you and I are not accountable to someone, and we don’t have someone in our life who loves us enough and is willing enough to confront us, then partial obedience tends to always win out over obedience to the call of God. Most women seem to already have accountability relationships of some kind.

That is why I am in a covenant group here in Baltimore. Not just my national covenant group, but with three other pastors here in town. With Frank Boswell, who is pastor of the Hunt Valley Presbyterian Church; and Sandy Mason ,who is the pastor of Grace Fellowship; and Craig Garriott, who is a pastor of Faith Christian Fellowship. We have been meeting together for about seven years, and we confront each other. We hold each other accountable. We ask each other tough questions in order to hold ourselves to a greater standard of integrity and authenticity and love, in our marriages, in our families, in our ministries, in our churches, and in the larger Christian community in Baltimore and beyond. That is one of my most precious things in my life, my relationship with those guys. Those guys are my Samuels, and hopefully I am theirs.

Even beyond that, you and I do have a prophet in our lives. It is right here, the Word of God. When you and I commit ourselves not just to have a lot of respect for the Word of God, but to really delve into the Word of God, then you know what happens? Samuel begins to walk into our lives.

This is why every year at this time I challenge you, I exhort you, I encourage you to read through the Bible with me. Because when we daily bring our lives up against the text of the Word of God, day in and day out, Samuel appears, and he begins to walk into our lives. He begins to walk with us, and he begins to confront us, and challenge us in those areas where we may not be totally obedient to God.

You know what is even greater than that? As we immerse ourselves in the Word on a daily basis. Somebody greater than Samuel shows up. Nothing less than Jesus Christ himself comes more and more into our lives, and begins to walk the journey with us, unconditionally loving us. Confronting us. Molding and shaping, transforming us so that you and I might look like him. My friends, that is the only reason that I am not known as Wrong-Way Scates.

Join me as we pray:
Father, we thank you for men and women in our lives like Samuel, who have been encouraged by you to come to us and call us on the carpet when we need it. Lord, create in our hearts a tremendous hunger and thirst for your Word. A commitment to delve into it on a daily basis, that our partial obedience might blossom into full obedience. That we might find that exciting life that you have created for us in Christ Jesus, and might know the joy of integrity and authenticity, and deep-seated love for Jesus Christ. Lord, use your word to continue to transform us and this congregation, that we might be a light shining in a very dark world. We ask these things in the name of, and for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.