Friday, December 28, 2012

One New Years Day Long Ago...

It has long been known that history repeats itself. The oft quoted quip of Santayana has been stated in many ways since, but it still stands that "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."

The things of the past are our tutors. We lean and trust on those with silver crowns because it's by their wisdom and experience that we learn the lessons of life and good decision making. We also learn from histories how nations stand and how they fall by searching out their strengths and weaknesses—what their leaders stood for and what they stood against. Those who fail to do so throw caution to the wind and their leadership is marked out by the fickleness of emotionalism, narcissism, the lusts of the flesh, and a thirst for success and power rather than the discipline of the soul; moreover, whether in their day or in the days that follow, destruction eventually ensues. God's creation cannot be forever ruled in truth, dignity, justice, righteousness, and grace by the whims and desires of the fallen soul; to survive, it must be ruled by the instruction and power that alone comes from the risen Lord.

One significant day long ago, an ancient King who ruled Israel had had enough of the fallout from the immoral living and the financial whirlwinds that plagued his nation. That King was Hezekiah. The Bible tells us that he had ascended the throne at the young age of twenty-five. Most likely, and for some time before his ascension, he had noticed the shape of the nation and more importantly the spiritual shape that had brought Israel, more specifically, Judah, to the brink of destruction. The Scripture tells us in 2 Chronicles 29:3 that the doors to the Lord's house (temple) were broken down and that it was he that had repaired them in the first month of the first year of his reign (the first day is inferred, see vs.17). Adding to this, 29:7 also tells us the sanctuary had not been used in sometime. The repairing and opening of the doors to the temple was his inaugural first step; moreover, he immediately called for the Priests and the Levites to come to him that first day for exhortation and instruction. Note: to begin to remedy the state of the nation he did not call the people, he did not call the builders, he did not call the financiers--he called the Priests and the Levites. The beginning of the repair of the nation started with the king and then the spiritual leaders. As they prepared their hearts in repentance God's restoration would then trickle down to the people that made up the nation.

Hezekiah knew that the Lord had allowed Jerusalem and Judah to deteriorate because of sin. The state of the nation as seen through the eyes of the king was declared to the spiritual leaders in the following way: 

“Therefore the wrath of the LORD fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering, as you see with your eyes. For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity,” 2 Chronicles 29:8-9 (NKJV).

Hezekiah’s assessment was a stinging rebuke to the spiritual leaders. Even though he pointed no finger they knew that they had not led the people in faith and were under the judgment of God. They had for too long listened to Hezekiah's predecessor wicked King Ahaz instead of standing firm and trusting in the Lord. Their failure to lead the people spiritually was the first and foremost reason that Ahaz had ruled in wickedness for so long. Had the spiritual leaders and the people of the Judah followed the Lord and insisted on keeping the covenant with Him then Ahaz would surely have been deposed and Judah would have prospered in God's hand.

Did this first day of the first month have any significance in Ancient Israel?

The Scripture goes on to say the following after Hezekiah had spoken to the leaders, "Then these Levites arose: ... And they gathered their brethren, sanctified themselves, and went according to the commandment of the king, at the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD. Then the priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and brought out all the debris that they found in the temple of the LORD to the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it out and carried it to the Brook Kidron. Now they began to sanctify on the first day of the first month, and on the eighth day of the month they came to the vestibule of the LORD. Then they sanctified the house of the LORD in eight days, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished. Then they went in to King Hezekiah and said, "We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offerings with all its articles, and the table of the showbread with all its articles. Moreover all the articles which King Ahaz in his reign had cast aside in his transgression we have prepared and sanctified; and there they are, before the altar of the LORD."" 2 Chronicles 29:12a, 15-19 (NKJV)

Every reform has a first day. In this case it was the first day of Nisan; the New Year called for new reform. Hezekiah’s assessment was threefold:

1. Judah and Jerusalem were under the wrath of the LORD. A glaring example of this and what happens when God's people forsake Him had just occurred to the Northern kingdom of Israel. They had been virtually wiped out as a nation and its inhabitants taken captive by Assyrian armies into other lands. He also knew these same armies had their eyes on Jerusalem and Judah. How much more of a warning does God need to give?

2. The Lord had given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering. This was widely known to all. The nation had become a byword and surrounding nations jeered at them in their trouble because the God they supposedly trusted must not be God at all in their eyes or He would fight for them and in turn, prosper them. In future years biblical prophets and psalmists would fear this being the case in their days as well.

3. Their rejection of God as their source of faith, worship, and strength had resulted in death, slavery, and captivity. "For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity," 2 Chron. 29:9.

What Judah's spiritual leaders needed was the advice of the prophet Joel who 75-100 years earlier had prophesied that Israel needed heartfelt repentance and to make supplications before the Lord: "Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ”" Joel 2:17 (ESV). Had these leaders took God's word to heart then the troubles and the self-inflicted trials—the separations, starvation's, and despair that resulted from disobedience would not have happened.

To be sure, there is such a thing as suffering trial in order to learn obedience. God is the master of this as He ever lives to change His people into what He has called us to be. That calls for discipline because of His deep love. Israel and Judah was not under that type of duress. Their Temple was sitting vacant and in shambles! That is the first indicator of the spiritual shape of the land. To suffer trouble for disciplinary reasons is one thing but to suffer needlessly because of intentional rejection is quite another. Hezekiah was well aware of that and because He knew that Israel was a covenant nation with the Creator and Sustainer of life, the Lord our God, he quickly started the preparations to get things right with God, starting with the priests and the temple. This only took around 16 days for phase one to come to fruition, 2 Chron. 29:17.

Like with Hezekiah the New Year is also upon us and the headlines of the past and present do not bode well for us. Our nation and our world are drowning. Although we are not Israel or Judah and we are not the covenant chosen nation of God, we have been blessed because of the foundational faith of our forefathers in laying the building blocks of America and the fiery preachers who spread the word across the land. We have also become privy to the blessing from the Abrahamic covenant of Gen. 12:2-3. Our treatment of Israel has shielded and hedged us in more so than all nations before us. But can it be sustained? Only if our Christian leadership repents and begins to lead by example. That first starts by believing, trusting, and fearing the Lord and His word. This is something that has been lost in many churches and seminaries in America.

America's Pastors, Teachers, and Spiritual leaders need to recognize that Christianity is a No-Compromise deal with God. We cannot bring before Him the tainted offerings of our lives and churches and expect Him to be ok with them. The Scripture is clear: 

"Who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully," Ps. 24:3, 4. 

"True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth," John 4:24.

We cannot continue in the following attitude toward God that is clearly seen by the psalmist, "Yet they say, "The LORD does not see, nor does the God of Jacob understand" Ps. 94:7.

God sees and He does understand. He knows when our hearts are far away from Him and when we are truly repentant. Ezekiel saw the same thing as the psalmist in his day: 

"Then He said to me, "Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, 'The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land,' "" Ezek. 8:12.

And again: 

"Then He said to me, "The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, 'The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see!' "" Ezek. 9:9.

Again, God does see. He sees our worship on Sunday and how we live our lives toward Him and others during the week. He sees what our idols are and where our heart lies. There is nothing hidden from His sight. Someone once said, “The sunshine falls on the dark places of earth to allow what is buried beneath the sod to grow out into the light.” God’s light is always shining and whatever seeds we sow are openly naked before Him. Look at the financial and spiritual shape of our nation. Look at our culture and immoral shape it is in. The larger picture is but a macrocosm of the neighborhoods in which we live.

This New Year we must start it correctly. Will you make it your aim to get to know the God of the Bible and call your congregations to do so as well? It's high time we quit playing Russian Roulette with God. It is time to get serious. Be bold and courageous.

God Bless
Bro. Mike

2 comments:

Ma Sands said...

(2nd para., 2nd sent., 2nd phrase: "its" needs an apostrophe before the "s". Sorry..... : )

Michael Henderson said...

Thank you for pointing that out! No need to be sorry. I want it to be professional!
God bless
Mike