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Archive for the ‘1 & 2 Chronicles’ Category

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There are very few resources out there on 2 Chronicles so I thought I’d try to draw together the stuff that came out of our series at the First Priority prayer meeting and encourage preaching through the book – no really – it is great!

And…

 

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And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to enquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart. (2 Chron. 32:31)

And what is in my heart left to itself?

O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much about man’s creaturely power and goodness, when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incarnate. This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself. (from A Bennett ed., Valley of Vision, p.4)

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In 2 Chronicles 26 at the last First Priority prayer meeting we saw King Uzziah’s reign go through a very clear trajectory:

Slide1

It had been exactly the same with his father Amaziah (2 Chron. 25) and his father Joash (2 Chron. 22-24). A wonderful rise and then a terrible fall. Throughout history it’s been the shape of world empires and nations, of companies and organisations, sadly of churches and revivals, and of countless politicians and personalities. Why?

Surely the deep answer is that it’s the shape of Adam. The first word of the book(s) of Chronicles signals that search for a second Adam –  the one who will reverse the fall, bring blessing, crush evil, restore all things. And in Uzziah it looks like we may have found him: restorer (v2), crusher of evil (v6, 11-15), a great ‘name’ and spreading dominion (v8, 15 cf. Gen. 12:2; 15:18), the builder of Jerusalem (v9), a gardener (v10). But then, like Adam he breaks faith (v16), enters into a living death (v19 cf. Num. 12:12), and is separated from God’s presence (v21).

This is the pattern of Adam and it happens again and again at every level of society because we are all born in Adam. My real problem is not that I have an ‘Uzziah’ in my life (e.g. pride) that I need to kill. The problem is that I am Uzziah – I’m born in the man of death and decay and I deserve to die eternally.

What I need is the true King whom Isaiah saw the year Uzziah died (Isa. 6); the second Adam who would bring in a new Eden (Isa. 11). What was the shape of his life? Look at Isaiah 52:13-53:12:

Slide2

Instead of a meteoric rise and a terrible fall, this King starts in exalted glory, descends to take human flesh, descends to a humiliating execution and then is exalted to the throne above all thrones (Phil. 2; John 13).

That is the shape of our salvation. That is what absorbs and reverses the shape of our Adamic curse. And it is also the shape of those who are in Christ Jesus. It is the shape of servant leadership. A few of the OT greats were clearly conformed to this U-shape – e.g. Joseph, Job, Daniel. And it is for us to whom Paul says: “have this mind” (Phil. 2:5).

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MTC2 group work

At the last Ministry Training Course we were looking at the Gospel according to Matthew with the apprentices and I’m due to preach on Matthew a few times in the next month so back into the first Gospel for the next few posts…

Matthew is very often called the Gospel of Fulfillment – for very good reason (e.g. Matt. 1:22; 2:15,17,23; 5:17; 13:52). But what really caught my attention recently was Peter Mead’s observation of links between Matthew and Chronicles. A major theme of Chronicles is idolatry leading the hearts of Israel away from true devotion to Yahweh. By the time of Jesus, Judaism has turned away from physical idols but replaced them with slightly more subtle idols with the same function (Matt. 6:24). Building on this, here are a few more links and similarities:

  • Genealogies – Both Matthew and Chronicles start with genealogy.
  • David and Solomon – They take up almost half of the Chronicles saga and are very important to Matthew (e.g. 1:1,20; 12:23,42).
  • Kingdom – Just as Chronicles is very obviously the story of kings and their kingdoms, so Matthew is very obviously dominated by the theme of the King and his Kingdom.
  • Adam – Chronicles is concerned to find the second Adam (1 Chron. 1:1) but never finds him. Matthew has found the Son of Man who raises up children of the Kingdom in cursed, thorny ground (Matt. 13:6-7,37-38).
  • Now-and-not-yet – For people going home from Exile and experiencing the tension that they are home and yet it is not yet the New Eden that the prophets promised, Chronicles is full of encouragements about the extraordinary glory days of old. In the same way, Matthew encourages us in our similar now-and-not-yet tension with amazing stories demonstrating what the glorious Kingdom of the King will be like (e.g.Matt. 8-9; 11:4-5; 27:52-53).
  • Temple – Chronicles was obsessed with the Temple and turning towards the Temple for forgiveness and restoration. In Matthew it is the degradation and destruction of the Temple which are the backdrop throughout chapters 21-27. Instead of turning back to the physical Temple, Jesus calls people to himself for rest (Matt. 11:28).

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The theme of 2 Chronicles is ‘Christmas hangs by a thread’. The promise of a great forever king from David’s line (1 Chron. 17:11-14) is under serious threat. Ahaziah is on the throne and all his brothers have already been killed (v1). We’re down to one man. More bad news: He’s a evil king like his father (ch. 21) and an unwise king like his grandfather (v5 cf. ch. 18). God is sovereign over his hospital visit to Joram (v6-7) so that he intersects with Jehu (a.k.a. the Terminator) as he blazes through Israel destroying everyone in his way (v8-9). Jehu terminates Ahaziah and then the evil queen mother Athaliah – a forerunner for Herod the Great – seeks to terminate ‘all the royal family of the house of Judah’ (v10). From house to house and from room to room her hitmen go. Blood. Screams. Massacre. If she finishes the job there will be no Christmas. No chance of a king from David’s line. No Joseph, no manger, shepherds or wise men. And she gets very close. One baby away. ‘But…’ (v11). Jehosheba becomes (as Ralph Davis calls her) ‘the lady who saved Christmas’ as she smuggles one of the royal sons away and hides him in a broom cupboard.

We could spend time learning from Jehosheba (God has his servants in the right place at the right time; God uses women at strategic points in salvation history; she is a woman of faith and courage; she married well). But what about the Christmas that is saved? Let’s just look at the Christ child at the end of the chapter. Can you see three things as you look at him?

  • Humanness – ‘Joash the son of Ahaziah’ (v11) He’s of the Davidic line and he’s also of the Adamic line. He goes back to 1 Chronicles 1:1: ‘Adam’. Ever since Genesis 3:15 we’ve been looking for one born of woman to crush the serpent – not a superhero from the planet Krypton but a man like us. At Christmas we are given a fully human Christ, born of woman, the second Adam. In the early Church the most common heresy was not denying Christ’s deity but his humanity. Very easily people slipped into thinking of Jesus as superhero who floated two inches above the ground, who never really fully became flesh like us but just seemed to. Today, too, in our context we can easily slip into thinking of Jesus as a mighty spirit, just another name for God (e.g. praying ‘Father Lord Jesus’), and forget his humanness, forget that he was (and still is right now) just as flesh-and-blood as the person sitting next to you. Baby Joash (and baby Jesus) got thirsty, tired, hungry, had to have their nappies changed, got coughs and colds and fevers. Do we believe that? For some religions it would be blasphemy to talk about God like that but we glory in a God who really did fully take on our flesh, who fully and irrevocably connected himself to us.
  • Helplessness – ‘Jehosheba… stole him away… and she put him and his nurse in a bedroom… so that Athaliah did not put him to death’ (v11). The Christ child is completely defenceless. He can’t fight, he can’t even run. He has to be picked up carried out of harm’s way. It he hadn’t been he would have died like all his brothers. There is huge vulnerability here. And he’s put with his nurse – why? – presumably because he is still breast-feeding, still needing nappies changed, still completely dependent. Unable to do anything, even feed and dress himself. I think our tendency (certainly mine in the past) has been to tell people – “But remember, Jesus isn’t a baby anymore – he’s the risen conquering king, mighty God, sitting on the throne of heaven.” We fear that non-Christians will see the baby in the manger at Christmas and go away thinking that Christianity is sweet and sentimental and irrelevant after 26 December – what is needed is a strong God who controls the universe and demands obedience. But now I’m changing my mind. Don’t most people already have a view of God as big and strong and mighty, in control and demanding obedience? Don’t they need to see the radical God of the manger? The God who would willingly be small and weak and helpless? That’s where you find the gospel – that’s where you find the distinctively Christian God isn’t it – the God who be naked, weak and helpless (on a Cross) for us.

  • Hidden-ness – ‘Jehosheba… hid him from Athaliah… And he remained… for six years, hidden… while Athaliah reigned over the land’ (v11-12). The Christ lives. The David line has not been cut off. There is still a Christmas. But only a handful of people know it. Most of Israel assumes that it’s all over – no more Davidic kings, no hope, just keep your head down and get used to living in a dictatorship. The Christ is hidden. A few hundred years later another Christ is hidden away in Egypt from a latter day Athaliah. Then he spends most of his life hidden from history in the carpenter’s shop. Even when he launches his public ministry he is keen to keep his identity as Christ secret and is frequently hiding himself away from public view. He even rejoices that he is hidden from the wise and revealed only by the Father to children. Finally his glory is fully revealed on the Cross, though no-one recognises it as such at the time. Then he ascends and is hidden away in heaven till the day when – like Joash (2 Chron. 23) – he will suddenly appear in the temple (Malachi 3:1). Beware of showy, flashy, visible, tangible Christs/Christianities. We are still in the days of the hidden Christ who is seen only as we look into the craddle of the Scriptures and see Him lying there.

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At the last First Priority prayer meeting Harrison preached from 2 Chronicles 20. A few things that came across very clearly…

  • The story makes the point – As Harrison said, just reading the story, from impending disaster to amazing deliverance (with the final twist of another disaster) it preaches itself. The tension builds unbearably to the great turning point – the Word of God proclaiming, “You do not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf” (2 Chron. 20:17 cf. Exodus 14:13-14). What a great Bible theme – “Salvation belongs to the Lord”, “He saved us”, “Not by works”. And here it is beaten into our heads by a wonderful story.
  • The engagement of the whole person in prayer and worship – Earlier in the prayer meeting, Harrison exhorted us to engage our mind, body and emotions in prayer for the persecuted church and mission in Egypt and Algeria. We are to engage our mind – being well informed on what’s going on in our world (see 2 Chron. 20:2) and praying specific requests (2 Chron. 20:10). We are to engage our bodies – speaking aloud (2 Chron. 20:6), maybe standing or bowing down (2 Chron. 20:5,18). And we are to engage – our emotions, praying for persecuted brothers in N. Africa not in some cold disconnected way but as if we are there with them in prison, as suffering members of our body (Hebrews 13:3). It’s this engagement of emotions that most challenged me. Wary of whipped up emotions, wary of the frantic shouting of the Baal worshippers, and wary of the idea that volume equals power, I can tend to the other extreme of avoiding emotion. But in 2 Chronicles 20, the reason the story is so powerful is largely that it is full of raw emotion. Fear drives Jehoshaphat to prayer (v3 – and Harrison gave us a personal testimony of that experience). Jehoshaphat’s prayer is full of passion (why else the ‘redundant’ ‘O’ at v6 and v12?). The overjoyed praise of the Levites is with ‘a very loud voice’ (v19). Returning from the plunder there is a God-given joy (v27). So the question is not so much, “To shout or not to shout?” The question is, are we engaging our minds, bodies and emotions in genuine prayer and praise?
  • The contradictions of a true believer – Jehoshaphat is a true believer. In 2 Chronicles 17 he leads a greater revival than his father. In chapter 19 he again goes out among the people to ‘bring them back to the LORD (v4) and he rolls out the wonderful blessing of a God-honouring justice system. In chapter 20 he turns to the Temple and prays a model prayer of humble dependence on the Lord (fulfilling 2 Chron. 7:14). So Jehoshaphat is the real thing. Even a prototype of the great Jeho-Shaphat (Jehovah-Judges). And then you get 2 Chronicles 20:35-37 and he’s in league with a wicked king of Israel again (as in ch. 18). What do we say? “He obviously wasn’t a real believer after all” or “He’s fallen from grace”?  Do we tell him to “Get born again (again!)” I don’t think so. Aren’t all Christians contradictory? Don’t we all have contradictions in our lives? We believe one thing and we also believe something else that is completely contradictory. Or we say we believe one thing but our behaviour says something else completely. Talking personally, I am a mass of contradictions. Yes we should seek consistency – a consistent mind and consistent behaviour – our life’s work must be conforming ourselves to the Word of God – but at the same time the Word itself tells me that until I die I will always be fighting the sinful nature which desires what is contrary to the Spirit. Which is why 2 Chronicles 20:17 is such good news. It’s not about me – it’s God’s salvation of sinners all the way home.

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The post on Micaiah ben Imlah and the Diet of Worms received this comment (which starts by quoting the question raised in the post by the antics of Zedekiah ben Kenaanah (2 Chr. 18:10)):

Are we more concerned for passion or for truth?

Here’s The Turth,

http://www.youtube.com/****************

what da ya FEEL about that?

I decided not to accept the comment, partly because of the rather aggressive tone, partly because the atheist video to which it linked is not particularly edifying (or good), and partly because I didn’t want the blog to be hijacked by an atheist-theist debate which could distract from our focus and was unlikely to get anyone anywhere (but see here on an atheist converted through online witness).

But then, as I thought about it a bit more and watched the video, I felt there are a few points that might be worth interacting with.

  1. Finding Truth – At least we’re in agreement with our atheist friend about the importance of truth over emotion. Not that there should not be passion – there must be – but it must flow from truth rather than ignore truth. I fear that sometimes we’ve not particularly interested in whether the Bible is true so long as it works. Which means that the force of John 20:30-31 (for example) is lost on us. The whole point of John’s Gospel is to provide testimony, bring forward witnesses in the law court, to prove the case that Jesus really is the Christ, the Son of God. Atheists are right – it really does matter whether or not Jesus historically existed, historically performed miracles, historically died and rose from the dead. We don’t follow cleverly invented stories but eye-witness testimony (2 Pet. 1:16). If you just want a motivational boost or tips for business then an invented story will do. If you want Jesus you need to turn from lies to face the Truth.
  2. Finding Jesus – The video to which the comment linked is a parody of George Harrison’s ‘Awaiting on You All’. It mocks two main claims of Harrison’s song and the first is that the route to peace is to “open up your heart”. Harrison sings, “If you open up your heart, You’ll see [Jesus is] right there, Always was and will be, He’ll relieve your cares”. It’s close to the Quaker belief in a divine inner light that everyone has and just needs to look within and rekindle. The video parody points out, rather crudely, that “If you open up your heart, Blood will gush right out”. There’s some truth there. There is nothing in our hearts but blood to gush out, nothing in our natural selves but filth to gush out. There is an opening of the heart that has to happen (Acts 16:14) but it is God’s sovereign action (“the Lord opened her heart”) and it is an opening not to find something good inside but to receive something/someone good from outside.
  3. Finding Salvation – The second big thing that the video mocks is the way in which believers in different religions think that if they chant the name of their god they will be free/saved. Harrison’s original song had the chorus, “By chanting the names of the lord and you’ll be free, The lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see”. The video lampoons this idea of a god who passively sits there waiting for people to chant his name (or names): “They’re equally worthless to help you, That’s for sure.” Interestingly, as we saw in 1 Kings 18, the Bible mocks those who chant to passive gods as viciously as the most militant atheist. The difference is only that the Bible also introduces us to the true Lord God, who doesn’t need hours of chanting, who doesn’t sit there “awaiting on you all” but comes down to save, to be the sacrifice for his people, to accomplish a unilateral and complete victory, to raise the dead, to clean the dirty, to lift us up into his divine life to enjoy him for eternity.

I’m still going to click ‘Trash’ to his comment but I’m grateful to our atheist friend for a reminder that it’s not about what works for me, it’s not about looking inside me, it’s not about my prayers, my repentance, my feelings – it’s about Jesus, the saviour who comes from outside, who came in history, to set us free. How do you feel about that?

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