Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
No doubt, we have all heard and perhaps even used the saying, “The bigger they come, the harder they fall.” As a young Sunday School student, I thought it was a saying attributed to the shepherd David before he defeated Goliath stone and sling. “Yes, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.” The expression is actually believed to have come from boxing world and gained popularity when boxer Robert Fitzsimmons used it in a 1902 newspaper interview before fighting the much heavier James J. Jeffries. “The bigger they come, the harder they fall.” Over the course of this past century, that phrase has come to take on multiple meanings. It is no longer about physical weight alone; it is about power and authority. The more powerful and successful people are, the more they suffer when they experience defeat and disaster.
This certainly would be true of King David. He was once revered throughout Israel as the giant slayer, but in the story we have heard today, David has fallen more heavily than any other character. David was once a man after God’s heart, a courageous man of faith and a beloved psalm writer, but now he has become a fallen hero guilty of the sins of adultery, deception, murder, and hypocrisy. Perhaps, most troubling, however, was that this did not happen when David was in his teens or early twenties, such that we could attribute his actions to youthful indiscretion. King David was middle-aged in the prime of his life who had walked faithfully with God for years. So what happened? How could he fall so tragically to sin and temptation? That is the focus of my sermon today.
Let me begin by saying that I wish there was a vaccine to protect us from sin. No doubt, we would all be standing in line for a Pfizer, Moderna or a one-shot Johnson and Johnson to protect us from sin and temptation. Of course, some believe that going to Sunday School, worshiping regularly, and participating in Bible study and prayer groups, builds up an immunity to sin. Even Lutheran might joke that they needn’t worry about resisting evil. They learned everything they need to know in confirmation. “This is most certainly.” Like Martin Luther, they can boldly state, “Here I stand. I can do no other. Amen.” You too might think that that is enough to make invulnerable and invincible, and the devil would like you to believe that deceptive lie. Why? Because if you aren’t aware of your own susceptibility to sin, you won’t be on guard against it. Thinking that you’re beyond temptation is the first step toward falling. After all, “The bigger they come, the harder they fall.” And if it could happen to David, who was close to God’s heart, it could happen to you or me as well.
Whenever somebody, especially a faithful person like David, falls into self-destructive sin, we tend to think that it happened suddenly and without warning. We might blame someone. We might blame Bathsheba for David’s fall, or we might blame some other victim. But that’s the way it works. Nobody I know falls into serious moral failure in one sudden, impulsive outburst. No, slowly, they’ve been lured into accepting and believing the views of the world. They hear voices. “You deserve, it’s not really that serious, it’s only a problem if you get caught. Don’t worry, you’re the boss. Others have done worse.” As I have observed in the course of the pandemic, nobody took on the dreaded Covid 15 pounds at one dinner. It’s came on one pizza after another, one ice cream cone after another. And you hardly notice it until one of your grandchildren comes up, pokes you in the stomach and says, “Grandpa, you’ve got a big belly.”
David was a man who trusted, obeyed, and worshiped the Lord, and God accomplished many great things through him. Unfortunately, David had also begun to believe that he had accomplished these things on his own without the help of God. David was at the zenith of his success. He had solidified the kingdom. He had won battle after battle. He was the most powerful monarch in the Near East and the greatest leader Israel had known since Joshua. Success, however, also made him vulnerable. When you are still on your way to the top, you’re on guard. But when you’ve made it, you’re inclined to let your guard down. You start believing in yourself. That is what happened to David.
Success often carries with it another danger: A lack of accountability. David was a powerful man and few dared to confront him. Joab, the commander of the army, stood up to him on occasion. Nathan the prophet later had the risky job of confronting David, but obviously it wasn’t an easy task. None of the king’s servants dared to challenge his behavior even when they knew what was happening. It is hard to walk rightly, when there is no accountability in your life- especially when you have made it to the top.
Power and authority had also allowed David to become self-indulgent. Springtime had arrived, the time when kings led their armies to war, but David had chosen to stay behind and leave his commander Joab in charge. Powerful, successful people often rationalize and justify that they have sacrificed and worked hard to get where they’re at, and so they have a right to enjoy themselves. They’re in the habit of getting what they want when they want it.
And so we meet King David, the perfect candidate for temptation and the abuse of power. He was vulnerable, self-indulgent and lacking accountability to others. Plus, he was at the pinnacle of success. What could go wrong? And there before him was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, innocently sunbathing. So, like Emperor Julius Caesar uttered 1,000 year later, “Veni, vidi, vici.” David said, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” And several months later through the Temple grapevine, King David heard word that Bathsheba was pregnant. David was shocked, terrified and dismayed at the news. “The bigger they come, the harder they fall.”
So what does this story of King David’s great fall have to teach us? The rest of the story we well have to wait for until next Sunday. But I think that so far, it is a cautionary word of what can happen to life when you choose not to stop your temptations while they are still manageable, and instead allow the immoral to seem moral, the unethical to sound ethical and the potential evil to become acceptable. It is a warning that we must learn to be on the defensive and stop temptation when it is still recognizable and beatable.
There is a legend that when Martin Luther was judged a heretic, a man was hired to hunt him down. Luther, however, had been given a sketch of the would-be assailant, so that, wherever he went, he was on his guard. Using this incident as an illustration, Luther said, “God knows that there are sins that would destroy us, and He has therefore given us portraits of them in His Word, so that, wherever we see them, we may say, ‘That is a sin that would stab me; I must beware of that evil thing ,and keep out of its way.’”
My friends, I believe the story of David and Bathsheba is to make us aware of the temptations which are always near us and the possibility of sin within every one of, unless checked, has the power to destroy our lives and the lives of those we love. After all, “The bigger they come, the harder they fall.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.