Our stone of help

Happy Sunday to Rock Sidney congregations! I have heard a lot of good things about you. Your church is going into the right direction of becoming a gospel-centered church. That’s a good news. Our Triune God has greatly blessed you by giving you Pastor Samuel, Pastor Lydia and Pastor Yosia as your spiritual leaders. They are so passionate in studying theology, preaching the Gospel, and nurturing your faith with truth and love.

I also want to thank them for inviting me to share the Gospel with you. This is a privilege and honor for me. I will never take it for granted. I know God is extending his grace to me through their generosity.

And finally, before I begin my sermon, I would like to congratulate all of you. Happy anniversary for this wonderful church! I am aso glad to be a part of this joyous moment.


Every anniversary celebration is and should be a commemoration of God’s grace and faithfulness. The word “commemoration” implies togetherness. We, as God’s children and recipients of His grace, are in one heart and mind confessing that the history and the journey of this church is only possible by His grace. In this celebration we take time to remember and be amazed with the extraordinary nature of God’s goodness to us. We really don’t deserve it.

Remembering has to be accompanied by understanding. That is the reason why we come together today. Through prayers we express our total surrender to His power. Through praises we sing out our gratitude to Him. Through the preaching of the Word we want to dive deeper into the mystery and majesty of God’s grace. In this regard we will never come to a destination. We are always in our journey trying to understand divine grace. I believe even when we arrive in the heavens, we will still be on the same journey. Being given an eternity long to know God personally will not change the fact that God in all of His nature and attributes is infinite. His grace will always be amazing, beyond understanding, now and forever.

I believe this church has witnessed various manifestations of God’s grace. I am convinced that God always provides His sustaining grace for this church. Situation keeps changing, but God remains the same. New challenges come and go, but God is always with this church. Here we are today. We are standing on God’s unfailing love. We may boldly say: “Till now the Lord has helped us.”


Today I would like to share the word of God with you from 1 Samuel 7:3-12. If you are familiar with the word “Ebenezer,” you will know where you get that word from. Let us open our Bible and read this passage together:


3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only. 5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the LORD and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. 7 Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. 8 And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. And Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him. 10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. 11 And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car. 12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”


This story happened at a very crucial time in Israel history. The Israelites were defeated badly in battles by the Philistines. They were being subjugated by one of their chief enemies. The ark of the covenant, understood as the symbol of God’s mighty presence among His people, was captured by the enemy. The Israelites also lost their promiment leaders, Eli, the priest and his sons.

Among these various calamities, the loss of the ark has become the main focus of the whole narrative. This tragic event occurs consistently from 4:1 till 7:2. The Israelites had a hard time understanding the importance of the ark of the covenant. In chapter 4 they thought that the presence of the ark was identical to the presence of God himself. That’s why they brought the ark to the battle ground hoping that God was with them. The result was very disappointing. They were heavily defeated. Even the ark itself was taken into captivity. How could this happen? Why did not the Lord God of Israel intervene and prevent that tragedy to happen? 

This tragedy, nevertheless, does not mean that God was powerless or the ark of the covenant was nothing more than just a ritualistic symbol. When the ark was in the land of the Phillistines, God demonstrated His powerful hands. He embarrassed the gods of the Phillistines. The war of gods was won by the Lord, the God of Israel. This victory even happened at the house of Dagon, the chief god of the Phillistines (5:1-5). The Lord also punished the people of Gath (4:8-12). In other words, God won the battle by Himself and for Himself. His sovereignty covers the whole earth, not just Israel’s territory.

After seven months in foreign country, by the sovereign power of God, the ark eventually went back to the land of Israel (6:1-12). No one brought it back. God himself did. He did not need any help. He restored his reputation among the gentiles.

God’s people were in a great joy seeing the ark of the covenant was finally at home (6:13-21). They made a huge celebration and gave Him offerings. Unfortunately, some people disregarded the Torah. They unworthily touched the ark. As a response to this, God killed them. One more time, the pople of God was forced to reconsider the importance of the ark (or of God’s presence). Is it a source of blessing or curse? Of joy or suffering? This confusion stayed for another 20 years (7:2 “From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD”).


From the standpoint of the readers, we know how to answer this puzzle. The real problems are idolatry and ritualism. Both problems are inseparable. The Israelites had a fatal misunderstanding. God was not identical to anything else. He is identical to neither His blessings or symbols of His presence. The ark symbolizes His presence, but it will be a mere symbol without the very presence of God. When God was no longer with the Israelites because of their disobedience, bringing the ark into a battle wouldn’t matter at all. The same point applies to the preceding episodes. Having the ark in their midst would not have any significance if the people of God did not honor God by obeying His commandments. They did not love God. They just wanted to use Him for their own interest and benefit. In other words, they worship God’s blessings, not God himself. The gifts, not the giver.

With such an idolatrous heart it is not surprising to see that the Israelites also worshiped other gods. They worshiped Baal and Ashtaroth. They just wanted to get something from these gods. They did not care who the real God is. Truthfulness was traded for usefulness.

That is why in our text today Samuel addressed this issue. He made a huge challenge to the Isralites: “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines” (7:3). The heart of the problem is the problem of heart. We worship what we love. We become what we worship.

Upon hearing this rebuke and challenge, the Israelites repented before the Lord (7:4-6). They put away other gods. They renewed their commitment to the Lord.


This new commitment was soon to be put into test. The Philistines went up against them. This unexpected move of course frightened the Israelites. They were not ready for battle. No weapon. No preparation. Even if they had weapons, it is doubtful that they dared to face the enemies. Old memories might still haunt them. In the last battle they were beaten immensely. In short, they were in a situation where they had nothing to rely on other than the Lord. Other gods had been thrown away. They did not bring any weapon. They had not prepared any war strategy. Their only hope was the Lord. If the Lord did nothing, that would be the end of their lives or the beginning of their much worse troubles.

Their faith was on the line. Samuel has just stated that by wholeheartedly turning back to God the Israelites would be given victory over the Philistines. Now it would be a perfect time to test that faith. Do they really believe that God was able to fulfill His promise? Would they run away to save themselves? Fortunately, they opted for the former option. They kept praying. They stayed. They did not do anything else other than waiting for the Lord’s help (7:8-9). They had won their spiritual battle even before they won the military battle.

God fought for them. He granted them a victory. But it was not an ordinary triumph. The way God did it was interesting. Verse 10 says: “But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel.” God used thunder to defeat the Philistines. There were so many ways God could have won this battle. Why did he choose that particular way?

God wanted to teach His people that worshipping Baal, the god of thunders and rains, was in vain. Thunders belong to God. The Israelites’ commitment to put away Baal from their midst was a correct decision. There was no such a thing as god of thunder.  

The Israelites also did not need to worship the Ashtaroth, the gods of sex and war. God is the Allmighty Warrior. All battles belong to God alone. A spectacular victory. At a perfect moment. By the Almighty God.

God was cleansing all possible idols in the heart of his people by showing to them how foolish and useless idolatry was. He was the One who is in full control of everything. He needed neither friend nor partner to run the whole universe.


To celebrate and observe this triumph Samuel took a stone and set it up as a reminder for the Israelites throughout generations. The stone was called “Ebenezer,” which means “the stone of help.” While setting up this monument, Samuel testified: “Till now the LORD has helped us” (7:12).

This very statement implies two things related to our past and future. The phrase “Till now” reminds us that the Lord has always been faithful to us, especially during stormy days. He has not given up with all of our failures and foolishness. Nothing in the past could stop God for loving us unconditionally.

The phrase “Till now” also tells us that this divine help is not the last one. This is neither the last battle nor victory. As there will be other battles awaiting for us in the future, so there will be God’s help along the way. When we get discouraged we are reminded to look back at our stone of help. God was, is, and will be forever faithful to us.           


As we all learn from this story we know that idolatry has also become a prominent danger among Christians. Prosperity Gospel has enticed people with worldly concept of success. Words of faith preachers put the faith of many Christians into jeopardy. Uncritical Christians may become the lovers of God’s blessing rather than the lover of God. They want the blessings so badly. God’s presence in someone’s else is judged by the amount of God’s blessings bestowed upon that person. Good gifts from the good God have become the rival of God. The proponents of Prosperity Gospel or the Word of Faith movement tend to love the gifts more than the Giver.

Through this story we learn that God often uses certain troubles in our life to refine our faith. He wants us to see Him more clearly and to enjoy His goodness personally. He does not want us to depend on something else that is less reliable. That will only disappoint us. When we insist to depend on something or someone other than God, He sometimes has to take that away from our life. The purpose is not to make us suffer or to ruin our life. On the contrary, He prevents us from being ruined by our false hope.

To put it differently, God cleanses idols in our heart. Our loss is often our discovery. We loose something in order to gain God. Our fake treasures are thrown away so that we may have Him as our only treasure. We find our ultimate satisfaction in Him alone.

That’s exactly what God did to the people of Israel in our text. They had nothing to rely on. There was no backup plan whatsoever. Their weakness was so exposed. Dangers were so close. God was their only hope.

Have you been in that kind of situation? Maybe this pandemic has brought you to the lowest point of your life. You lost beloved ones. You have nothing to hold on. You even don’t dare to hope anymore. You no longer can take any disappointment. You are crushed and broken into pieces.

This brokenness is, however, not the end of your journey. When you honestly embrace your weakness and earnestly seek the Lord, you will find your strength in Him. Like the apostle Paul, you will be able to say: “When I am weak, I am strong” (2Cor. 12:10). Like Asaf, you will sing this out: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psa. 73:25-26).

Whoever is in Christ, that person will always have a good reason to rejoice and be hopeful. Through the giving of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins we know that “God is for us” (Rm. 8:31). The Giver has become the gift. This is the best victory ever! Together with the apostle Paul we confidently say: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The cross of Christ in the Calvary hills is our new Ebenezer, the unmoved stone of help. There we have nothing to boast in. There our sins and failures were exposed to their extreme. Yet on the same place we also find our victory. Christ won the battle against sins for us. Now we can joyfully declare: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).


Rock Sidney congregation, what do you like most in this church? Why are you so hopeful about the bright future of this church? What are you proud of? If your answer has nothing to do with Jesus Christ and His precious Gospel, you have missed the point of this anniversary celebration.

Let us rejoice on the fact this church has taken a strong commitment to put the Gospel at the center of everything. We know that unless a church is firmly built upon the Gospel, everything done in that church will be in vain. Let us rejoice on the fact that this church consistently and clearly preaches and lives out the Gospel. Through the power of the Gospel we gladly embrace our imperfections. Through His grace we celebrate the power of Christ manifested in our weaknesses. To Him all the glory and power forever and ever. Amen.



Discussion questions:


  1. What is the meaning of the ark of the covenant and how did the people of Israel misunderstood it? Can you see the same tendency in you?
  2. “The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.” What does it teach us about our primary problem and the solution to our problem?
  3. What is the purpose of “Ebenezer”?
  4. “Our loss is often our discovery.” Can you see how God often used your loss to bring you to him? Share with one another.
  5. How does the cross of Christ become our new Ebenezer, the stone of help?
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