Who knew you could get so much out of 2 Chronicles?

When folks pick up the Bible looking for hope, encouragementBook of 2 Chronicles, and strength, people often go to the Psalms, or to the Gospels, or maybe an epistle.

They don’t go to 2 Chronicles.

2 Chronicles is not typically the “go-to” book for folks who are desperate to hear a word from God.  That’s too bad, because “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  When we skip over large sections of the Bible we are depriving ourselves of rich nourishment and help for our spiritual lives.

I’d like to draw your attention to a rather short but powerful story in the Bible which is recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20.  It is about an evil king named Manasseh.  This guy was awful, and he went from bad to worse.

imagesHe forsook God and instituted idol worship throughout the land (v. 3-4).  He built pagan altars in the temple itself (v. 4-5, 7).  He was deeply involved in the occult, sorcery, and necromancy, and he even he even sacrificed his own sons to his gods, offering them up as burnt offerings (v.6).

What’s more, he did not keep his evil to himself, but he led the people of Judah astray, enticing them into a level of evil worse than pagan nations (v.9).

So you’re probably thinking, “Ok Demer, this is a real downer…so why are we here?”  Hang with me.

In verse 10 we are told that, “The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.”  

Ok.  That should get our attention and signal something to us about God.  How amazing is it that even after all of the wickedness of Manasseh and after all of the wickedness of the people, God is calling out to them and urging them to repent through His prophets and through His Holy Scriptures?  This speaks to the incredible love and patience of God and His desire to show mercy.  But this verse also speaks to the hard heartedness of man.  As God, through His prophets and through His Word is speaking, the people “paid no attention.”  (v.10)

And yet in 2 Chronicles 33 we learn that God is relentless in His pursuit of those He is determined to save.  God continues to speak, with the intent of saving, but this time He speaks in another way…

Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. (2 Chronicles 33:11)

imagesNow, I suppose our instinct here would be to cheer!  And surely we should cheer when the wicked are defeated.  Manasseh is beginning to get what he deserves, and if he continues to get what he deserves he will be totally humiliated, suffer more, die, and then face an even worse fate in Hell forever.  That’s exactly what Manasseh deserves and God would be just to exact such vengeance upon him.  Now,  how do you think evil Manasseh responds to this affliction?  Often we see the wicked respond to affliction by using it as an excuse to further rage against God.  They intuitively know that God is sovereign over their suffering and so they use that to justify further rebellion against Him, as Elihu once wisely said,

“The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them. (Job 36:13)

Now here is Manasseh, who is literally bound!  What will he do?  And it is here where the story takes a surprising turn.And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  He prayed to him… (2 Chronicles 33:12-13)

What????

And how does God respond?…and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chronicles 33:13)

What????

Here are just a few observations, and then I’ll leave you to ponder and meditate on this passage on your own.

1. Affliction can be a blessing

God employs many means to save His own.  Sometimes God deems it necessary that suffering be one of those means.  We, being hard-hearted sinners, thick-skulled and spiritually deaf, have a hard time hearing God.  We need to hear the Word of God, but the noise of our own sin and rebellion tries to drown out that word.  Sinners by nature suppress the truth of God (Read Romans 1), sticking our fingers in our ears, so to speak, shouting “I can’t hear you!”  When God wants to get through to us, affliction is one way He turns up the volume.

And if they are bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction, then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.  He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity. (Job 36:8-10)

C.S. Lewis famously said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

imagesSometimes it is not until God graciously brings us to the very bottom that we will actually and finally look up.  If that’s what it takes, then God is loving us in that affliction.  The Scripture says of Manasseh, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD.”  It was the distress that broke him and led him to humbly cry out to God.

He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity. (Job 36:15)

It is the affliction itself that leads to God’s deliverance.  That’s exactly what happened to Manasseh.

2. God loves to save really bad people

How different the Bible’s message is from the false religions of this world.  The world will tell you, “God saves good people, so you better be good or else.”  The Bible says, “There is no one good, not one.”  So if you’re counting on being good to go to heaven, you’re doomed.  What man needs is not to try harder and do better, but to be saved by God’s grace.  Justice means getting what you deserve.  Grace means getting better than you deserve.  Manasseh deserved death.  As he burned up his sons in pagan sacrifice, Manasseh deserved to burn eternally in Hell.  The message of the Bible is that we deserve the same.  We may not have sinned like Manasseh, but our treason against God is manifest in a whole host of other ways, just as abominable and disgusting to God.

Maybe you are well aware of your sin.  Maybe you look back at the deeds you have done and you feel like you’ve been too awful to be saved by God. But the good news of 2 Chronicles 33 is that God loves to save abominable people like you and like me.  Manasseh, even in his evil, could be saved if he would but repent and call on the Lord.  That’s true for all today.

…for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13)

3. God only saves the humble

We are saved by grace through faith, but it takes humility to receive that grace.  Manasseh arrogantly disregarded the Lord and it almost cost him his soul.  It was only when he was humbled by his suffering that he called out to God, recognizing his need.  It takes humility to realize you were wrong, to repent, and acknowledge your need.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

4. God is compassionate and answers prayer

He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chronicles 33:13)

How different God is from the pagan gods.  God is not like the ancient false gods, like Baal imagesor Zeus.  Such gods are capricious, unfeeling towards humanity, cold.  In the mythological realm, if you cross the gods you’re a goner.  The lightning bolts will be hurled at you and you’ll be zapped.  Not so with the one true God.  After patiently enduring Manasseh’s rebellion for many years, after Manasseh shook his fist in God’s face over and over and over again, notice God’s response when Manasseh genuinely humbles himself and calls on God.  The text says that “God was moved” by Manasseh’s prayer.  Wow.  How beautiful is the heart of God?  And not only is God moved, and not only does God hear, but God responds.  Manasseh learned what his forefather King David learned many years before.  David, who also committed heinous and abominable sins before the Lord, humbled himself before God in repentance, and discovered that,

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

5. Genuine saving faith in God is evidenced by repentance 

Perhaps you’ve heard of “fox hole” conversions?  Sometimes people use that phrase to describe people who get into a real bad situation and out of desperation they call on God to get them out of this mess, but in their hearts they aren’t really repentant and they don’t really want God.  They just want relief.  That’s not the kind of faith that saves.  It’s not the kind of faith that receives God’s grace.

James, the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, said,

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19)

In other words, mere lip service means nothing.  A superficial acknowledgement of God does nothing.  Even demons do that and they certainly aren’t saved!  Instead, genuine faith is manifested in repentance, which is an acknowledgement of the sinfulness of doing life your way, combined with a desire to turn around and go God’s way.  If you don’t want to go God’s way, you don’t really trust God.  You lack faith.  That’s why James says,

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26)

As you keep reading through 2 Chronicles 33, you see that Manasseh wasn’t just experiencing a “fox-hole” conversion to get out of a tight spot.  He wasn’t like the demons who merely say they believe in God while remaining in their rebellion.  Manasseh was serious.  He began to reverse his evil deeds.  He cleared the temple of God of idols and threw them away (v. 15).  He restored the altar of God, he reinstated proper sacrifices to God, and he even became an evangelist, urging the people to return to the one true God. (v.16)

6. Christ must finally come for Manasseh, and us, to be saved

2 Chronicles 33 does not mention Jesus explicitly, but, like so much of the Old Testament, this story leaves us longing for something more.  The Kings of Judah were meant to be “Messiahs.” Messiah means “Anointed One.”  The King was to be God’s representative to the people and simultaneously be the people’s representative to God.  In the Old Testament, David was the greatest of these kings.  And yet the hope of Israel was that one even greater than David would come, bringing righteousness and justice, along with global blessing and worldwide rule.

Not only did Manasseh not live up to these expectations, but even David, the best of these kings, failed to be the perfect Messiah.  All of these “Messiahs” fell short.  It would take another to fulfill such Messianic expectations.  No mere man could do this.  It would take a God-Man. Years later Jesus, God in the flesh, would come into the world, and many believed that He was indeed the long promised Messiah and thus they believed the time for world-wide rule was at hand.  Jesus would bring justice to the evildoers and establish his global reign at long last.

imagesBut the shocking part of the story is that Jesus’ first step in bringing justice to the world was by dying on a cross for the sins of Manasseh, and for all of His people.  Surely you did not think that Manasseh’s sins of idolatry, sorcery, and child-sacrifice would go unpunished did you?  Surely you did not think that Manasseh or anyone else would be able to enjoy the blessings and joys of Jesus’ future, world-wide reign, while still being dirty and stained with sin?  Surely you did not think that the guilty would go free with God pretending that sin never happened?

No, our God is not like that.  The loving, compassionate, kind God who was moved by Manasseh’s prayer hates and despises sin.  He is a God of justice that must punish evil.  When God forgave Manasseh, he wasn’t sweeping all of his evil deeds under the rug.  The only reason He could forgive Manasseh for sacrificing his son is because God the Father was about to sacrifice His own Son.

On the cross we see the justice of God.  Jesus became a substitute for Manasseh and for millions of other sinners.  On the cross, the sin of His people was put on Himself, and those sins…all of them… were fully punished in Jesus.  Jesu
s experienced the Hell that Manasseh, and you, and me deserve, so that all who believe in Him don’t have to go there and pay for their sins themselves.

When Manasseh repented, one of the ways he would have shown that repentance would be by offering up a sacrifice in the temple.  As he offered up that sacrificial lamb, he, in essence, acknowledged that the wages of in is death and imagesit should be his throat slit and his body consumed by the flames, and that the only way he can live is if a substitute dies in his place.  He trusted that God would provide atonement for his sins and so when Jesus, the Lamb of God, came into the world and his blood was shed on the cross… and his body and soul endured the Hellish wrath of God… that payment was officially applied to Manasseh’s account.  God knew it would happen and so through Manasseh’s faith in that provision, God could count him as “not guilty.”

Manasseh looked forward to God’s provision.  Today we look back.  As you and I look back to Christ on the cross and trust in His provision, we too are acknowledging that the wages of sin is death and it should be us and not Jesus, enduring the wrath of God, but we recognize that the only way we can live and be at peace with God is because of the substitute that dies in our place.  And when we place our trust in that work on the cross, that payment is officially applied to our account.  We become “debt free” and therefore God can count us as not guilty.

And now you, me, and Manasseh, look forward to the day when the resurrected Jesus, the true and better Messiah, will come a second time and establish His kingdom fully and finally.  We look forward to the fulfillment of that great Messianic Psalm, Psalm 72, which declares,

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! …May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight…May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed! Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! (Psalm 72:8-19)

Who knew you could get so much out of 2 Chronicles 33?

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Structure of the Book of Job & Weekly Reading Guide

We are now a couple of sermonWebJPGOutoftheWhirlwinds in to our latest sermon series, “Job: Out of the Whirlwind.”  Because I’m planning on preaching a total of 10 messages from the book of Job, we won’t be able to cover every single detail of this book.  Hopefully, however, you will gain a helpful overview of the book and will better understand it’s story, purpose, and message when we’re done.

Because this series is short, I’d like to encourage you to supplement the weekly sermons by reading the entire book of Job over the next few weeks.

Now if tackling such a long and difficult book is intimidating, you’re not alone!  It can be a challenging read, but let me share some basic information about Job’s structure along with a suggested weekly reading guide that I think will make the book a little less daunting.

thomas_std_tJob contains a total of 42 chapters.  What you may not know is that the beginning (Chapters 1-2) and the end, (42:7-17) are written in prose.  Everything in the middle (Chapters 3-42:6) is written in poetry.  Why is this the case?  Well, there is a difference between how prose and poetry speaks to the reader.  JI Packer suggests that poems, “are always a personal ‘take’ on something, communicating not just from head to head but from heart to heart.” Job is very much a book that grapples with pain and suffering on a heart level, and the poetic style helps the reader to descend into Job’s trial with him.

After the brief section of prose (1-2:13), which we could call part 1 of the book, the longer poetry section begins with Job’s lament (chapter 3) followed by three cycles of speeches.  We could call this part II of the book.  In each cycle each of Job’s friends give a speech and Jthomas_std_tob replies.  The one exception is in the third cycle where Zophar is silent.  Perhaps he is so frustrated he has nothing more to say!

Here is the breakdown of the three cycles:

Cycle 1

  • Eliphaz—chapters 4 & 5     Job—chapters 6 & 7
  • Bildad—chapter 8                Job —chapters 9 & 10
  • Zophar—chapter 11             Job—chapters 12-14

Cycle 2

  • Eliphaz—chapter 15            Job—chapters 16&17
  • Bildad—chapter 18              Job—chapter 19
  • Zophar—chapter 20            Job—chapter 21

Cycle 3

  • Eliphaz—chapter 22            Job—chapters 23 & 24
  • Bildad—chapter 25              Job—chapters 26–31
  • Zophar—(silence)

I do believe chapter 28 is an interlude inserted by the author, but I’ll talk more about that when we get to that sermon in a few weeks.

After Job wraps up his final defense in chapter 31, the cycles are over.  And part III begins which focuse on the responses to Job’s arguments given by a mysterious new character named Elihu who speaks in chapters 32-37.  Finally, the Lord Himself arrives and addresses Job (and Job responds) in chapters 38-42:6.  Part III closes with an epilogue in 42:7-17 which, though quite short, is very important.

For me, just understanding that basic breakdown helped me get my arms around this book and made it less intimidating.  I hope it will be helpful to you.  In addition, I’d like to give you a basic reading plan to help you read through the entire book over the next few weeks.  While I hope with God’s grace to help you glean some nuggets of gold in my next few sermons on Job, you’ll get even more treasures from reading and praying through the bookthomas_std_t on your own.  Unless we need to briefly pause the sermon series, I expect to preach the final message on Sunday, August 23rd.  This reading plan will help you finish the book by then.

Week of July 5th: Job 1-3

Week of July 12th: Job 4-14 (The first cycle of speeches)

Week of July 19th: Job 15-21 (The second cycle of speeches)

Week of July 26th: Job 22-26 (The third cycle of speeches)

Week of August 2nd: Job 27-31 (Job’s final defense)

Week of August 9th: Job 32-37 (Elihu’s speech)

Week of of August 16th: Job 38-42 (God’s speech, Job’s reply, epilogue)

I’m looking forward to journeying through Job with you and learning together.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

The Sovereign Surgeon of the Soul

WebJPGOutoftheWhirlwindI am thankful to God that we now have two preaching/teaching pastors at Harbins. There are so many benefits that Harbins Community Baptist Church will reap from having pastors who routinely sit under the preaching of other pastors. The enumeration of those benefits is not the aim of this blog entry, perhaps that will be future post. Today’s entry is the first of what I hope will be many to come. Each week, either Demer or I, will post some additional pastoral reflections concerning the previous Sunday’s sermon. I imagine that the pastor not tasked with preaching that week will normally be the one writing the blog entry. This past Sunday Pastor Demer began a sermon series from the Old Testament book of Job called “Out of the Whirlwind.” You can listen to that first sermon here.

After sitting and absorbing and thoroughly enjoying the preached Word this past Sunday I began to think about how hard it is for the human mind to accept the very clear teaching of Job 1 and 2 that God is absolutely sovereign over human suffering. My finite brain is one that needs illustrations and analogies to help me along, so as I sat and pondered how a good God can be sovereign over evil the first line of the physician’s Hippocratic Oath came to mind: “First, do no harm.” As I found out through some research this week, that line is not actually the first line of the famous oath, however it is a summary of the overarching ethical concept contained within the corpus of the oath, which states that doctors should be committed to seeking their patients’ healing as opposed to their harm.

I, for one, rest much easier knowing that doctors take an ethical oath like the Hippocratic Oath when they enter into medical practice. But I also rest easier knowing that good doctors with high ethical standards do sometimes intentionally do harm and do so for very good reasons. A good doctor knows that sometimes short-term harm must be administered in order for long-term healing to be accomplished. ptg01509040The most obvious example of this is surgery. Running an extremely sharp blade across someones skin in order to cut into their body is indeed a very harmful thing (I’m getting squeamish as I write). But it is allowable, more than that, it is good and desirable if that cutting is happening in order to remove cancer or to fix something else that’s causing greater harm to the body. It is not evil for a good surgeon to cut his or her patients.

Job 1 and 2 are two of the most challenging chapters in all of Scripture. They are not challenging because they are hard to exegete. They are challenging because they are so easy to exegete. The challenge is found in what the text clearly says, namely that God is sovereign over suffering yet God is not in anyway evil or sinful. There is real evil in the world, and God really hates evil even though He is sovereign over it. This truth plays out in opening chapters of Job. We see that evil in the person of Satan, who has evil designs for Job’s life. Satan has no good in his purposes, his oath is to do only harm. But Satan is not sovereign. He is a creature, therefore he is limited and his will is subservient to God’s, his very existence is subject to God’s overarching, sovereign purposes.

Satan is actually a tool in God’s hands. The repeated focus on God’s “hand” is interesting in chapters 1 and 2 of Job. When Satan shows up in the heavenly council and accuses God of buying off Job’s loyalty in 1:11 he says this: “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” But one verse later God takes up Satan’s challenge saying, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand. So we see that God’s hands are clean. God’s hand is stretched out against Job by means of Satan’s hand. He is sovereign over, but not guilty of evil. We see it again in 2:5 where Satan says, “But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” To which the LORD replied, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” Two hands, two purposes, two designs but only one hand is sovereign. Satan’s hand is subservient to God’s!

Job-SufferingThe only way a person can be touched by the hand of Satan is through God’s sovereign permission, and God always has a design behind evil so that his hand is ultimate while still being innocent. This truth regarding the absolute sovereignty of God over good and evil is not a teaching confined to the first two chapters of Job. Joseph taught this to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Likewise, in Deuteronomy 32:39, God clearly proclaims these words:

‘See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’

The Lord God, like a surgeon, is permitting, allowing, even ordaining blades to cut. This does not diminish the evil of evil. Satan is real, and his hate is strong, but in God’s overall plan he is but a tool, a surgical instrument that will one day be discarded.

For the believer in Christ this is good news, for we know that our accuser’s power is limited and his time is short. Secondly, we see that all that our sovereign God ordains (both good and evil) in our lives is for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28). Though from the vantage point of a patient under anesthesia we cannot see it now, we will one day see how good His purposes actually were. One day we will see that He was doing the great surgical work of perfecting us through various trails (James 1:2ff).

God is not like a human surgeon who can err, who can make unethical decisions, who can harm for no reason. For those who belong to Him, God is the sovereign Surgeon of the Soul, always acting on our behalf, even when it means the razor-blade of suffering must come into our lives.