Samson: A Tragedy in Four Acts: A Long Day’s Journey Into Light
Today we come to the last act in this “Tragedy in Four Acts.” Today we come to the last day of Samson’s life. The set is darkened so that in the shadows we can see only the barest outline of a once mighty man, now pathetically weakened, in chains, grinding at a mill. And yet, if the scene seems dark and despairing to us, how much more so it must have been for Samson. For Samson not only knew the darkness of human blindness, he also knew the even darker night of the human soul. This would be the last day in his life. Yet I think it is worth remembering that while the day began in darkness, it ended in the light. And as the light begins to fill the stage, it becomes quite clear that there are certain truths revealed in the story of Samson in his last day—truths which we do well to see. I invite you, please, to open up your minds and your hearts and to look with me at three truths which shine so clearly out of the shadows. Here they are…
First, we need to see the cost of sin.
Samson began his life with the special blessing of God. He possessed extraordinary gifts. He had almost unlimited potential. He was surrounded with a wonderful family. His life at the beginning was as bright as the shining sun. But he made one very crucial and disastrous decision in his life. He decided that he would live his life for Samson rather than for God. It was a costly decision. But it always is. For the story of Samson tells us unmistakably that the result of evil, self-centered living is always the same—darkness and despair.
We look at the world in which we live and we wonder why it is the way it is. But what else can we expect? For the Bible, speaking through Samson, teaches us that if we want to live our lives for ourselves alone, then all we will have to do is to look at the results. And that’s what we are seeing in the world today—results. Here is a husband who decides that he will mortgage everything in his life for the sake of his job and he feels that that is not at all unreasonable until later on he discovers that the price of that mortgage was his wife and his family. Or here is a woman who decides that she will invest herself in the pursuit of beauty. The problem is that she has never taken the time to look behind the frills of Hollywood in order to see the bills of Hollywood. Or here is the young woman who says to me: “In that democracy has failed, it has not solved our human problems, and therefore we ought to be open to other ways like the way of Socialism or the way of Communism.” And she says it without ever having taken the time to read the tragic testimony following those ways of life—a testimony which is written in red ink—blood red. The fact of the matter is, my friends, we can follow any God we choose to follow in life. That’s what Samson teaches us. Choose whatever God you wish. You have the freedom; you can do it. Samson could do it; you can do it. Choose whatever God you wish. You may want to choose Venus and pursue beauty; then do it. Or you may want it to be Croesus and go after gold; then do it. You may want it to be Bacchus and fill your life with sensual pleasure; then make that your choice. Or you may want it to be Zeus and surround yourself with all the trappings of power. Have at it. But what I want you to remember is this: that whatever your choice may be, there will always be a price to be paid. Ultimately the bill will come due.
That is why I could never stand in this pulpit and invite you to become a follower of Jesus Christ without at the same time urging you to count the cost. Because I want to tell you something. It will cost you something to follow Jesus Christ in your life. There is no such thing as “cheap grace.” But what I want you to remember is that if you choose to follow some other God in your life, then you will have to pay infinitely more because the result of evil, self-centered living is always the same—darkness and despair.
Come to your senses, America! Come to your senses, all of you who have not yet decided whom you will follow in life. I think here of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. She was beginning to feel guilty about the murders which were on her hands. Her conscience was troubling her, so much in fact that she began to walk in her sleep. On one such occasion, her doctor and her maid encountered her in that condition and the doctor said: “Aye, see, her eyes are open.” And the maid said: “Aye, but their sense is shut.” Come to your senses. Take a long, hard look at Samson, please, and see the cost of serving evil in this world. Take a long, hard look at Samson and see that the results of evil, self-centered living is always the same—darkness and despair. Make no mistake about it. There is a cost to sin and it runs so high.
But then secondly, we need to see the pain of repentance.
The Bible tells us that the Philistines wanted to celebrate the capture of Samson. They had a huge party in the temple of their God, Dagon. The people crowded in so much so that the Bible says there were 3,000 people on the roof trying to watch this sickening spectacle. They proceeded to give themselves over to a drunken revelry and to add the spice of cruelty to their celebration, they demanded that Samson be brought in. And he was, led by a little boy. He was blind. He was in chains. He was pathetically weakened. They brought him into this place and “made sport” of him. They made fun of him. They made him dance. They turned him into a kind of pathetic clown—a pitiful buffoon at whom they could laugh in the midst of their drunken glee. When at last their sadistic cruelty was satiated, Samson said to this little boy: “Please take me to the pillars that I may lean against them and rest.” And the little boy did. As Samson leaned against the pillars he could feel the tension. The weight on top of the roof was putting them under intense strain, and Samson could feel that.
It was at that moment for the first time since childhood, Samson turned to God. You know it’s said that sometimes people must be brought low before they ever look up. Yes, sometimes that’s true and it was certainly true of Samson. It wasn’t until he reached the lowest moment of his life that he then looked up and proceeded to pray a prayer. It is a prayer of repentance. It is a prayer which we would do well to echo in our own lives. I want to show you what I mean by that.
The first thing that Samson said was: “Lord, remember me…” Don’t ever apologize for that. You see, I know there are people outside the faith who attack prayer as being a crutch for the weak—an escape mechanism for those who just can’t quite cope with life. There are some Christians who try to respond to that. Don’t do it. Don’t ever apologize for that. Much prayer is a cry for help. Much prayer is leaning upon the crutch, which is the Holy Spirit of God. We ought never to apologize for that; we ought to celebrate it. The fact is that you and I have this great, all-powerful God who loves us and cares for us so much that He is not only willing to hear us, but He is also willing to help us. Don’t ever apologize for that. It took Samson a long, long time in his life to recognize his need for help and it took him even longer to ask for it. But when he did, when he said: “Lord, remember me,” he took the first step from the darkness into the light.
The second thing Samson said was: “Lord, strengthen me.” He was admitting his own weakness. Now think about that for a moment. Remember all of his life the one thing Samson had been the proudest of was his muscle, his strength that was his hallmark, that was the source of his pride and his arrogance. And yet now we see him crying out “Lord, God, strengthen me. My own strength is nothing. I must have the strength which comes from you alone.” He was admitting his weakness, his sin, his misdirected love. You know that is what sin really is. It’s misdirected love. The sin of indolence is loving ourselves so much that we refuse to work. The sin of lust is loving our desires so much that we are perfectly willing to debase someone else. The sin of cowardice is loving our lives so much that we would refuse to run the risk of defending anyone else. That’s what sin is—misdirected love. When Samson realized that, when he acknowledged his own weakness, when he cried out to God for strength, he took the second step from the darkness into the light.
The third thing Samson said was: “Lord, let me die with the Philistines.” He was willing to pay the price for his sin. He was saying, “Lord, whatever it takes, even if it takes my own death, let me be restored to you.” Sometimes along the highway there are signs saying: “Salvation is free.” Don’t believe it. That’s not true. Salvation is not free. In the first place, it cost the death of God’s only begotten Son. But not only that, it also costs us. It is not enough for us to walk down the aisle in response to the invitation of some preacher. It’s not enough for us to light some candle of dedication around the fire at church camp. It’s not enough for us to get on our knees by the bed at night and say: “Lord, I want to begin again.” Those are first steps, but that is all they are. There must be something more. There must be a conscious, deliberate turning away from that which is evil in life. That’s what repentance means. It’s painful, but repentance means turning away from evil. Repentance means about-face. It doesn’t mean right-face or left-face. It doesn’t mean happy face or smiling face. It means about-face. Jesus said: “If your right hand offend you, cut it off.” In other words, if there is anything that keeps you away from Jesus, get rid of it in your life.
I am not saying that at the moment of repentance we become perfect and never sin again. That is not the case at all. But what I am saying is this: that when we truly repent, from that moment on sin becomes the great hatred of our lives. From that, moment on we use every bit of energy we’ve got in life directed toward getting rid of those things in life that keep us away from Jesus. That’s what it means to repent.
I want to say this slowly and deliberately so that no one can miss it. If we are still harboring in our hearts the sin of prejudice against people of another color and if we are not working for all we are worth to rid ourselves of that sin once and for all, then we cannot claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ. If we have lying tongues and gossiping lips that cut and wound and hurt and slash other people, and if we are not struggling for all we are worth to learn how to master what we say, then we cannot speak of our conversion, because we have not repented. And without repentance there is no conversion. If we are not being faithful physically and mentally to the significant relationships in our lives, and if we are not working for all we are worth to put those relationships right, then we cannot look for our names on the list of Christ’s disciples. If we are not struggling to bring every single dimension of our living into harmony with the way Jesus Christ wants us to live in life, then we are kidding ourselves by trying to claim His name as our own. Samson cried out to God: “Lord, whatever it takes, even if it takes my own death, let me be returned to you.” When he prayed that prayer, he took the final step from the darkness of sin into the great, glorious light of God’s redeeming grace.
Then thirdly, we must see the glory of redemption.
The story of Samson teaches us the greatest secret of all—that God heeds the cry of those who acknowledge their own helplessness. Whatever other truths you may catch from the story of Samson, don’t miss this one. Samson, after all those broken vows, after all those missed chances, when he cried out to God, God answered him. When he prayed, God came to him with power. The world says you only go around once in life, you’ve only got one chance. The Bible says “no.” Our God is not just the God of one chance, our God is the God of the second chance and the third chance and the fourth chance and the fifth chance and…and…and…Samson cried out and God came to him. And he grasped the columns of the tempie—they were made of cedarwood, archaeologists have unearthed them, and they shattered to splinters. He grasped those columns and with the strength which God alone possesses, he smashed those columns to pieces and the whole structure fell in upon itself, and the Philistines perished and Samson perished with them. The Bible adds a perfectly beautiful little note. The Bible says that Samson’s whole family went down to Philistia, and they picked up his body and brought it home. They buried him in the grave beside his father, Manoah. Isn’t it beautiful that in death Samson returned not only to his Heavenly Father, but also to his earthly father?
The curtain rings down, the house lights go up, and we turn away. But as we do, I hope that we shall focus, not upon the sun child’s dark days, but upon his one moment of brilliance—not upon the years spent stumbling in the night, but upon his last day spent in the light—not upon all of the experience of eclipse, but upon one bright, shining moment when Samson returned to the Lord, the Lord who had loved him from the start—the Lord who loved him still.
I cannot help remembering that it was years later that Simon Peter, another strong man, overcame his weakness by turning to the Lord. Simon Peter said: “Repent, and be baptized, everyone of you, for the forgiveness of your sin and the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you.” And that promise is “for you and for your children and for all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord, our God, shall call.” The promise still holds. It was not too late for Samson; it is not too late for you and for me. If we claim that promise—if we are willing to undergo the pain of true repentance, then we shall know the glorious light of God’s redeeming grace, and any darkness which exists in your life or in mine, will begin to give way to the bright, shining light of Jesus Christ—alive and living in us.