Pastor Shim Habte's sermon on October 24, 2010
Pastor Shim usually begins his message with a history of how a hymn came to be written. This week it was about the hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul."
Psalm 23 & Luke 16: 19-31
A man named Horatio G. Spafford arranged to take his family to Europe in 1873. He planned to attend D.L. Moody and Ira Snakey’s evangelistic meetings in England and then take a vacation. At the last minute, urgent business kept him home, but he sent his wife and four daughters ahead, planning to soon follow. The night of November 22, 1873, the ship they were on was struck and sunk by an English vessel. Mrs. Spafford was found clinging to a piece of the wreckage, but their four daughters didn’t survive. When she reached Wales, she cabled home, "Saved alone, what I shall do?" Grief-stricken, Horatio immediately started to Europe to join his wife. En route, the captain pointed out the place where he believed the ship had gone down. Returning to his cabin, he wrote, "It is well; the will of God be done." He later wrote the hymn "It Is Well with My Soul", based on these words.
Although the hymn tells of the comfort that God gives, no matter the circumstance, Spafford does not dwell on tragedy. In the third stanza he directs our attention on Christ's redemptive work on the cross, and in stanza four anticipates His Second Coming. As we through faith understand these things, we too can say, "It is well with my soul.”
David, too, experienced heartbreaks and losses. Like Spafford, he found comfort in his Shepherd. In Psalm 23, King David shares his nightmare of one of the darkest moments of his life when his son Absalom rebelled against him, took over the crown, and drove David into the wilderness. There he found himself, his family, and his supporters hungry and thirsty. God in his mercy heard David’s cry and sent him help from the nearby cities, according to 2 Samuel 17:27-29.
David expressed the Lord's care for His people when he said, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." By the grace of God, David was able to withstand whatever evil he faced from his enemies, to witness their defeat, and to celebrate the victory he experienced. His enemies could watch the bountiful blessings that God put before him, but they were not allowed to partake at the table. They were captives of the Good Shepherd.
The Lord's care for his people includes healing from the valley of the shadow of death. David said to the Lord, "You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows". No matter what abuse we suffer, God's healing touch will restore us to fullness of joy. That's why we ought to bless when we are persecuted .Our Lord Jesus Christ, our chief shepherd, also promised us blessings beyond measure. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10: 10)
The Lord's care for His people's destiny is secured in Him, as David said, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." This assurance is also good for those who have perished in the valley of the shadow of death. Those who were burned by fire, drowned in the river or ocean, killed at the battlefield, and those have suffered misfortune and pain; or those who are alive and well, as poor Lazarus did on this earth according to Luke 16:19-24.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.
The question is, why is Lazarus in Paradise and the rich man in hell? Was Lazarus in Paradise because of his poverty and suffering and the rich man in hell because he was rich? The case is before us; what do you think?
The only way to go to heaven is by believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord and the only reason to go to hell is rejecting God’s saving grace offered through His son. The problem with the rich man was that he lived for himself – he did not care about Lazarus or God. Even in hell he did not call on God—he called on Abraham, a mere man. He made up his own religion that did not help him.
But for those who accept Jesus as their savior, God's plan is to shepherd his children in times of joy and sorrow and to lead them to his home in Heaven. Nothing can separate us from God if we have put our trust in His Son for our eternal safety. Jesus said, "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:29-30) Since God promised it, there is no chance of it failing!
The valley of the shadow of death is only a gate to God's banquet hall in Heaven.
If we look at David’s testimony in Psalm 23: 5-6 as well as the story of poor Lazarus, they point us to the same conclusion, that God will shepherd us through the storms of life and lead us into everlasting joy in his presence. There is no more sorrow or pain, or as Revelation 21:3-4 says, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”
I want to tell you a heartwarming story of Ernie Harwell, a Hall of Fame sports announcer for 50 years for Detroit Tigers and a follower of Christ since 1961. In September 30, 2009, while he was dying of cancer at age 91, he said, “ I do not know how many days I’ve got left, but I know this, whose arms I’m going to end up in, and what a great thing heaven is going to be.”
That is real victory in the face of death. We too can claim the same undying hope by putting our trust in Jesus and walking with Him daily. Let us follow Ernie’s example and help others to find Christ, the Way to Eternal Life.
Pastor Shim Habte
Willows United Methodist Church
544 N. Shasta
Willows, California 95988