Text: Matthew 15-16
Observe: In Chapter15, we see Jesus challenged three times by different people, in different ways, and we see the unexpected ways in which He responds to each.
First, the Pharisees ask Him why his disciples don’t follow the traditions of the elders by not washing their hands before eating. But Jesus rebukes them by asking if it is worse to disobey a human tradition, or one of the 10 Commandments of God. He calls them hypocrites and quotes Isaiah saying, ‘“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules”. He explains to the people that it is what comes out of their mouth that defiles them, not what goes in.
Second, a Canaanite woman who shouldn’t even be talking to Jesus, asks Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. At first Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge her, saying that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. But she persists, and so Jesus says that it isn’t right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs. She answers yes, but even dogs eat the scraps from the master’s table. At that, Jesus recognizes her great faith and grants her request.
Third, after a great crowd had followed Jesus bringing their sick friends and relatives to Him, He performed many miracles of healing and restoration among them, and at the end, they all praised God. But, it was late and Jesus told His disciples to feed them before they went home. They just looked at Him and asked what they were supposed to feed the more than 4,000 people gathered around with. All they had were 7 loaves of bread and a few small fish, but once again, Jesus performed a miracle. After giving thanks to His Heavenly Father, He broke up the loaves and fish to pass around, and there more than enough to feed everyone, with plenty left over besides.
In Chapter 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees, ever on the look-out to try to trap Jesus, demanded that He give a sign from heaven. Jesus replied that this wicked generation could forecast the weather by seeing the signs in nature, but refused to see what was in front of them. The only sign they would get was the sign of Jonah. Then later as Jesus gathered with His disciples, he warned them to guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which they immediately misunderstood as a rebuke because they hadn’t brought any bread with them. He had to explain that He meant that they had to be wary of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Later, Jesus asks them who they believe He is, and after telling Him who they heard various people say He was, Peter answers correctly and says that He is the Messiah, the Living God. Jesus tells them that Peter knew this because it was revealed to him by His Father in heaven, and that He would build His church on Peter, the Rock, and nothing would be able to stand against it. Jesus then goes on to explain what must happen to Him in order for all this to take place, including His suffering, death and resurrection. At once Peter says “Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” at which Jesus turned to Peter and says, “‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’” The chapter closes with Jesus telling them that if they want to be His disciple, they must take up their cross and follow Him.
Interpret: The challenges to Jesus’ teaching and authority are an on-going and constant barrage that He must deal with on daily basis. They are often blatant and obvious such as the conflict with the religious leaders of the day, or more subtle in the form of persistent requests from ordinary people, and even in the misunderstandings of His own disciples. These challenges come from every direction and in every form, all the time. “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him” John 1:11. But being in nature God, Jesus was always able to give irrefutable answer to the hypocrite leaders of the day. He had compassion on those who were suffering from the injustices and ills of the world who turned to Him for relief. He had patience to explain His ways to the disciples who were steeped in the ways of the world and didn’t always understand the deeper meaning of His teachings. And He displayed His power and authority over creation by performing miracles that healed the sick and desperate people in humility, ascribing all the praise and glory to His Father in heaven.
Application: In John 17 it says that though we are in this world, we are not of this world. We are disciples of Jesus Christ, and as such, we are to read and study His Holy Word, spend time in prayer with our heavenly Father, and carry out His will in our lives by spreading the good news of salvation we have been given. But, just like the people of Jesus’ day, we challenge His authority in our lives all the time. Sometimes we challenge Him in bold and blasphemous ways, and other times we challenge Him by ignoring Him and shrugging Him off. When we forget to give thanks to God for our successes, we challenge His blessings in our lives. When we give in to our temptations, we challenge His plan for our well-being. When we don’t seek the wisdom of His Holy Spirit, we challenge His trustworthiness. In so many ways throughout the day, we challenge Jesus. But, being in nature, God, with all the glorious and good attributes of a loving God, Jesus answers our challenges with patience, forgiveness, mercy and grace. When we challenge Jesus, we lose, but when we keep His word, we have His sure promise of eternal life.
Questions: What are some of the ways that your behaviours challenge Jesus? Do you spend time with Him daily? Do you seek His wisdom in your daily decisions?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the example of the divine humility that Jesus displayed in becoming human and living as one of us. Thank you for the sacrifice He made in order to allow us to be called your children. Help us to see the righteousness of seeking your voice and following Your will as He so faithfully did. This we pray in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
Song: I Will Follow: Chris Tomlin
Text: Matthew Chapters 13-14
OBSERVE: Throughout chapter 13 we see Jesus speaking to the people through many parables. Jesus begins with the parable of the sower, which depicts a farmer scattering seed which fell on different types of ground. This is followed by the parable of the weeds in which weeds grow amongst the good soil. The parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast are next with both emphasizing the enormity of the Kingdom. The parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the great pearl displayed the great value of the kingdom of heaven. The parables in chapter 13 end with the parable of the net which resembles the parable of the weeds.
Chapter 14 tells us about two amazing miracles of Jesus. Firstly, we see the feeding of the five thousand in which Jesus multiples food for five thousand with just five loaves and two fish. This is followed by Jesus walking on water with Peter attempting to do the same.
INTERPRET: Jesus always used stories as illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. This fulfilled what God spoke through the prophet Asaph in Psalm 78: “O my people listen to my instructions. Open your ears to what I am saying, for I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past, stories we have heard and known, and stories our ancestors handed down to us” (Psalm 78: 1-3).
Jesus spoke in this way to provoke the imagination of the people. He was sharing about his mission to bring about the Kingdom of God. The parables helped people hear that his kingdom was upside-down to many of their pre-conceived thoughts and notions. These truths would be concealed from many who would not try to understand. To understand these teachings they needed ears to hear.
APPLICATION: Jesus solves the riddle and answers the question left unanswered in Asaph’s psalm. “I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world” (Matthew 13: 34-35). Jesus was the answer to Israel’s repeated disobedience, for his work gave the people hearts to want to obey. He is the culmination of Israel’s history, for it all has led to his coming. He is the fulfillment of God’s good intentions toward his people. He is the hidden secret, and he shares this secret with us as he reveals himself to us. The miracles that followed clearly reinforced what Jesus was teaching in the parables.
Today, we have access to both God’s Word and God’s Spirit to teach us. Even though scripture and the Spirit’s teaching are both very coherent, we often do not listen or obey. Without the openness to the Spirit’s guidance and teaching, God’s Word can often seem like a confusing parable. When we do open our ears to God’s Spirit, we then come to understand that Jesus is the answer to our repeated disobedience and he gives us hearts to want to obey. We see that Jesus is the culmination of God’s rescue plan for us as he has always been the fulfillment of God’s good intentions toward his people. Jesus is the hidden secret, and he shares this secret with us as he reveals himself to us. The greatest secret being the miracle he accomplished on the cross; for all who believe.
REFLECTION: Do you have ears to hear what God is saying and revealing to you?
PRAYER: Jesus; you have revealed to me the hidden lesson of Israel’s history as I see that you are where the story was leading all along. You have revealed the greatest mystery of all in what you accomplished at Calvary. Please continue to keep my ears open to hear your voice and may your Word always be a wonderful illustration to me. AMEN.
Chapter 7 is the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. There are six famous paragraphs of red-letter teachings in this chapter of my Bible, so I will give a sentence or so from each. See if you can fill in the blanks around them from memory!
Following this, Jesus healed many people including Peter’s mother-in-law, and two men with demons. There is also the well-known account of Jesus sleeping in a boat being sailed by His disciples when a storm arose, threatening the vessel. The disciples woke Jesus, fearing for their lives. Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” and rebuked the storm, calming it immediately.
Oh goodness, how is one supposed to keep it brief when expounding upon the teachings of Christ? I’ll recall in this minute the teaching of Pastor Dave here when he said that we ought to focus first on the big picture. I have titled this blog Enter by the Narrow Gate for Jesus makes several points about truly living for God with one’s entire heart and soul.
It’s no secret that by now we’ve seen how much God detests those who claim to serve the Lord yet only do so in their actions, never with their hearts. Those who would offer sacrifices on one day and extort their neighbours the next, or those who would administer justice in public yet be an adulterer, slanderer, or cheater in private were in a class of disgrace all their own. To have received the revelation of God Almighty only to deliberately profane it was a cause of righteous wrath, and we see it played out repeatedly in the Old Testament. Remember what the Lord said in Isaiah 29: “The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” We can draw a line from there to the words of 2 Peter 2:21: “ For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.”
God is not in need of our material goods. He is not like a pagan god of old who needed food given via burnt offering. He has always been after the hearts of His people and their lives and worship are meant to be the result of a surrendered life, not the cover-up for a corrupt one. It is the heart and not the works that please God. Jesus pulls no punches in Matthew 7:21-23, outlining this exactly. He says that even those who call upon His name, who prophesy and cast out demons in His name will not enter the kingdom of heaven if they do not know God and God does not know them. This should instill a right and healthy fear in us. We should let the works of our hands be evidence of His Spirit in us, not a basis on which we might hope to receive His Spirit!
What truly matters is that we give Him our hearts. Anything we could do with our own hands He could do with anyone else’s, but He has made our hearts the object of His desire. He has set His love on us and wants to make good our nature by adopting us as sons and daughters, yet a lukewarm relationship is no relationship at all. What matters is that, after giving Him our hearts, we live in a way that reflects that commitment! Don’t get caught up in how someone speaks or how much they might know – let us all examine ourselves and others to see if there is a life truly surrendered to the Lord.
1 Samuel 16 speaks of this clearly: “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” We are not only to know God, but to build our lives on the rock which Jesus says in the next sentence. Anything else is folly and will ultimately be swept away. There is no point being halfway here, we are all in or not in at all! No wonder Jesus said in this same chapter that “… For the Gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Application and question:
Look back on your walk with Christ and ask yourself what sorts of things have changed in the way you act, live, and think (especially in private). Examine yourself and recall the ways in which you have had to lay down your own will and pursue His.
It is not enough to love the Lord in our heads or hearts but to put that love into action. If we claim we love Him but don’t keep His commandments, it turns out we might not love Him at all. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t! Just imagine if I said I loved my wife but was regularly mean and distant and unfaithful – nobody could see my behaviour and say that I love her. Why would it be different with Christ? We seem to think that it is enough to acknowledge Christ as Lord with our lips but then wander off and do whatever we feel, never wondering if this is something that is sinful!
Matthew 7 tells us that false prophets (and we can extrapolate the intended meaning here) will be all around us like ravenous wolves, but that they can be recognized by their fruits. What sort of fruits has your walk with Christ yielded so far? What does it mean to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Him?
Father God, we bring before you our own hypocrisy and double-mindedness. Please forgive us for living with one foot in step with you and one foot out, for honouring you with our lips but keeping our hearts far from you. We ask for the conviction of your Holy Spirit in our lives this weekend, that you might show us how we need to honour you with our actions and our hearts. Let us pursue you above our own comforts and interests so that we might bear good fruit for this hurting world. Thank you for your infinite patience and forbearance! Amen.
Song: His Mercy is More (Shane & Shane)
Text: Matthew 5 and 6 (Psalm 83)
Observe Jesus looks at the crowd at the base of the hill, continues walking up, sits down to teach. Kingdom teaching declares its nature to His disciples who recognize Him as Messiah, but ‘the crowd’ is ever present, curious about what He has to say but uncommitted. And He says many controversial things.
The Beatitudes: how to live, how to see, what to be, upending the expectations of both hearers and disciples. The spiritually bankrupt, the sorrowful, the hungry for right, the persecuted, the wallflowers, the peaceful, the pure – blessed? Oh, blessed indeed in His Kingdom when hearts are directed to Him.
Metaphors: salt and light. Such simple images speak to the disciples about the impact they will have on the world by their pervasive good, and their testimony of Kingdom light.
The Law: Jesus declares the Law is fulfilled in Him, and as such remains, but points to a new sacrificial system – His own life. The commandments cannot be misinterpreted or softened, as He slings a barb to the ‘righteous’ scribes and Pharisees.
Attitudes I: Anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, enemies – all receive Jesus’ new perspective on these sins and behaviours. “You have heard that it was said…” The old system becomes the new, true Law: “but I say to you…” Looking out for others in exercising God’s love becomes the norm.
Attitudes 2: Giving, praying, fasting, hoarding, mundane anxieties – these, too, are reversed in Jesus. “Do not…” introduces another “but…” as He urges His followers to love others and singleheartedly trust in Him.
Interpret Jesus’ Sermon comprises a number of His teachings, possibly given at different times. He often references the Hebrew Bible, especially Psalms, with veiled comments against the scribes’ and Pharisees’ ‘look-at-me’ religion – the praying, giving, fasting, observing onerous details of the Law. Publicly, anyway. Not so, says Jesus. His followers are quiet, out of the spotlight, moving from mere performing to true worship and sacrifice, from duty to love.
Change of heart underlies this deep and wonderful instruction, an outcome only made possible by humbly bending to His grace. The Holy Spirit, not our ideas or speculations, guides our living out His will.
Apply Perhaps the Beatitudes suffer from overfamiliarity, so we need the Spirit to invigorate Jesus’ strong teaching on being His followers, what to practice and avoid, how to go deep into the meaning of the words. As we read and reread these chapters, ponder and practice, we see how difficult it is to ‘be perfect as Your Father is perfect.’ (5:48). Thanks to our Jesus and His mercy, we don’t struggle to acquire perfection by gritting our teeth and trying harder. Lifting our hearts to Him daily, asking for His grace, we take wobbly, hesitant baby steps towards His waiting arms, right into the middle of His Kingdom.
(When I write these blogs I wonder at my nerve. This one has been the hardest so far, distilling His perfect teaching into imperfect paragraphs, from my imperfect understanding – and doing!)
Ask Lord, will You help me to look and look until I see what You teach me in these chapters? In my imagination, am I one of the disciples, one of the crowd, a scribe or Pharisee, or those on the periphery with no sense of becoming His?
Pray Lord, let me be not just a hearer of Your Word, but a doer by Your grace and by the Holy Spirit moving in my mind, heart, will and life. You have made me Your child and brought me into Your unshakeable Kingdom. Let me always be Your obedient follower, Your child, loving others by loving You, my King and Lord.
Song Ps 83 O God do not be silent Wendell Kimbrough
Ps 83 Psalms Project
‘From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.”’
Matthew 4: 17 (and Matthew 3: 2)
Matthew 3-4 (Psalm 82)
Both John the Baptist and Jesus begin their ministry by calling people to “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near,” (3: 2, 4: 17). In doing so they are declaring God's priority and the absolute truth of our existence and purpose; to be in a relationship with the Father. In the same sentence they are clearly identifying the blockage to that relationship, our sin and denial of God; repentance (turning) is essential. Judgement and consequence are, unashamedly described; we are for or against God. The Triune God is present at Jesus’ baptism in which His identity and mission (ministry) is confirmed and affirmed by the Holy Spirit and God the Father. Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to complete His preparation for His ministry; Satan is defeated by faith and the Word of God. Jesus then begins His Kingdom based preaching. Such is His presence, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that the first disciples respond to His call to follow. The power of the Kingdom is further demonstrated by the healing of the sick and casting out of demons; the Kingdom rules over the physical and spiritual world.
Of interest to us, having just read the Old Testament, Matthew is keen to point out how both John and Jesus fulfil prophecies (3: 3, 4: 14-16).
The Kingdom of God, the King’s domain, is where we are meant to be. Today we are able to spiritually live within His domain in this world. On Christ’s return, we will be able to live fully within His Kingdom; HALLELUJAH! Entrance to His Kingdom, both now and for eternity, is through repentance for the forgiveness of sins and by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; it is a very clear and definite situation. The world, Satan, principalities and powers will lure us away from God’s Kingdom. Satan tempted Jesus in the physical (food), with regards His position (the Son of God) and in relation to His pride (glorifying self rather than God). Jesus’ faith coupled with His knowledge and use of God’s Word, empowered by the Holy Spirit ensured He overcame. We are called, like the disciples, to follow Jesus and live within the Kingdom. We are then called to share this truth in word and deed, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Knowing God’s Word, written and living, will enable us to overcome the temptations we may face and the principalities and powers that are opposed to God.
The Question of Application
Are you living in the wonder of God’s Kingdom? What physical, positional and pride based temptations are you facing; how might God’s Word empowered by the Holy Spirit help?
Most merciful God, we confess to you, before the whole company of heaven and one another, that we have sinned in thought, word and deed and in what we have failed to do. Forgive us our sins, heal us by your Spirit and raise us to new life in your Kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen
King of Kings sung by St. Aidan’s (Nikita Labdon)
Finally – we come to the time of Jesus! The prophets looked forward to and longed to see the Messiah who would bring the triumphant kingdom back to Israel. The coming of the Messiah, the “unique one, who is himself God” (John 1:18) is the central point of human history and of eternity.
Some of us have been “hanging on” through our readings of the prophets and the kings and the stories that describe recurring turning away from God. Thankfully there were also those kings whose heart was ‘bent toward’ following the true God. We are so ready to receive what Jesus says. Although the whole of Scripture directs us to truth and to Christian living, it is Jesus who is central to our relationship with the Almighty God.
Our first clue that this is the same God of the Old Testament is the genealogy of Jesus. Here are some of the same people we’ve been reading about, and they are all pointing to the birth of Jesus Christ – the Messiah foretold by the prophets.
Chapters 1 & 2 – After the genealogical list, we are given some details about Jesus’ birth and early years as prophesied in the prophets. We find out that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), his mother was a virgin, (Isaiah 7:14), and he lived some years in Egypt (Hosea 11:1).
We also learn more about his significance from the announcement of his birth to Mary, to the circumstances of his birth in Bethlehem to the angels’ proclamation to the Shepherds and then to the guidance of the Magi to his home. Notice that the announcement to the Magi goes beyond the boundaries of the Hebrew people, fulfilling God’s instructions to the Hebrews to be a blessing to all nations.
We might wonder why it is so important that we connect the history of the Hebrew scriptures (from the Pentateuch through to the post-exilic period) to the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—and through to the early church history. It is because it is one story—the story of God and God’s revelation and relationship with humankind.
We are also introduced to the absolute uniqueness of Jesus, the Messiah, from his birth through his ministry here on earth, and ultimate sending of the Holy Spirit.
I suggest you put yourself into the story of Jesus and imagine your response to God’s prompting, and to the people surrounding you. What is your place within the circle of people surrounding God’s son, Jesus? Perhaps you are one person in that genealogy of Jesus- how would you have responded to God?
Perhaps you are one of the shepherds who first heard the angels’ message of Jesus’ birth. Or perhaps you are one of the Magi.
Using your imagination in this way helps to clarify in our minds how we might have responded to Jesus in the Biblical time and context. If we pay close attention, we may also better understand how we are responding to Jesus within our own circumstances, here and now.
Let me ask you, how are you approaching this time of transition from Old to New Testament. How will you let the Holy Spirit guide you through our transition time from Covid19 protection to opening up to family, friends and neighbours? How is Jesus coming to you in your school or your workplace? What is Jesus saying to you for today, for this fall?
Dear Lord Jesus Christ, Thank You for coming to earth. Thank you for bringing salvation. Thank for forgiveness (Romans 8:1- “there is no condemnation”. Please come and fill us with your Spirit, fill us with hope and joy once again.
Jesus Can By Austin French
Text: 2 Chronicles Chapters 35-36
OBSERVE: Chapter 35 begins with King Josiah celebrating the Passover. When the Law was read to young King Josiah and he realized just how far the people of Israel had fallen away, he was determined to obey all the commands of God, which included the celebration of the Passover. We read that the Passover had not been celebrated with this much faithfulness for a long time and that this celebration was followed by the return of the Ark to the Temple. Josiah brought a lot of hope to the people through his faithful reign, however, he is killed when he goes to fight in a military battle that the Lord warned him not to engage in.
Chapter 36 takes us through the failure and fall of many kings. Jehoahaz is taken away captive to Egypt, Jehoiakim is taken off captive to Babylon along with the vessels of God while Jehoiachin is also taken off captive to Babylon. Eventually Zedekiah fails to listen to the prophet Jeremiah and watches as Jerusalem is defeated. Zedekiah eventually meets his end at the hands of the Babylonians. All of these kings were unfaithful to their God and were evil in the ways of the Lord. The book of Chronicles does however end on a positive note, as the Decree of Cyrus is mentioned which is meant to provide hope to the readers of the post-exilic period.
INTERPRET: The writer of Chronicles needed to explain the failure of Israel as a kingdom. So the chronicler started and ended the narrative by describing the unfaithfulness of Israel’s rulers as seen in the following verses:
So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord. He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he even consulted a medium. (1 Chronicles 10:13)
Likewise, all the leaders of the priests and people became more and more unfaithful. They followed the pagan practices of the surrounding nations, desecrating the Temple of the Lord that had been consecrated in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 36: 14)
Over and over again, Israel’s prophets, priests, and kings were unfaithful. God’s people longed for someone to rule over them who would not chase after idols, who would persevere in loving God’s law, who would rule with righteousness that would last. But no human has the power to be that faithful. King Josiah was the closest to achieving this, but even his heart and passion for God was not enough to keep him faithful all the way to death. Nor did his kingship create any long lasting effect - as we clearly read in chapter 36.
APPLICATION: This is why the Israelites needed the Promised Faithful King; this is why we need Jesus. Jesus is the faithful leader that the people of God had always longed for. In fact, at the end of history, in the book of Revelation, Jesus is called by the name Faithful. “Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war” (Revelation 19:11).
As followers of Jesus, we can have great faith in the faithfulness of the faithful one. Not only is Jesus faithful but he also empowers us by his Spirit to be faithful like he is. It is his faithfulness at work in us that will allow us to enjoy hearing him one day say to us: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25: 21). And when we doubt that his will ever happen, we remember, “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (Thessalonians 5: 24). Great is thy faithfulness!
REFLECTION: Upon reflection, do you recognize any comparisons to the failures of the kingdom of Israel and your own personal kingdom? How much more than do you recognize your need for the one who is truly faithful? Do you still doubt in the faithfulness of The Faithful One?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus; you are faithful and true. I am holding on to your faithful promise that you will keep me strong to the end so that I will be blameless on that day when you bring everything to light. How I long to hear you say “well done” on that day. It’s your Spirit at work inside me that makes me confident that this day will surely come. AMEN.
SONG: Great Is Thy Faithfulness
2 Chronicles 25:27
After the assassination of Joash king of Judah, Amaziah his son became king at the age of twenty-five, reigning in Jerusalem and doing what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet he did not do this with a whole heart. Amaziah consolidated his rule, then took up arms and began a large military campaign during which he tried to hire 100,000 Israelite warriors to help him, but he was rebuked by the Lord for doing so and sent them home. Amaziah grew arrogant and began the worship of idols which would result in his ultimate demise at the hands of those same Israelite warrior he tried to hire earlier.
Uzziah was the son of Amaziah who became king at sixteen years of age. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and it is indicated that he received instruction in honouring and fearing the Lord with the help of the prophet Zechariah. He made many great strides over the Philistines and developed a variety of engines of war which dotted the walls of Jerusalem. He grew proud in his strength and became unfaithful towards the Lord, going so far as to enter the temple to burn incense on the altar. He was confronted by Azariah the priest and eighty other priests. They warned him of the great transgression he was about to commit, and when the king grew angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead! He was hurried out into a separate house where he lived out the rest of his days.
Jotham was his son and successor, and he did well in the eyes of the Lord and did not try to enter the temple. He completed much building in Jerusalem and on her walls especially and then went on to build many cities in the surrounding country side. He fought and prevailed against the ammonites and exacted annual tribute of silver and food stuffs from them and thus became great in the land, for he had ordered his ways before the Lord his God. He reigned sixteen years and was laid to rest. Ahaz succeeded him.
Let’s focus on Uzziah and his punishment – that is, despite his good works and obedience to the Lord, he was stricken with a disease that made his body decay even as he lived for only a moment of sin. Seems a bit extreme, doesn’t it? I thought so too. Let’s look a little closer at what happened, for on one hand we have this smiting, and on the other we have a God who is slow to anger. So, what’s going on?
It is true that Uzziah had done much that was good and pleasing not only to the people over which he ruled but to the Lord as well. Many and mighty were his victories in battle, his fame and prowess spreading to the very borders of Egypt. He built many huge towers along the fortified walls of Jerusalem and also in the wilderness around it which acted as lookout and protection for the farmers and herders there. This meant they could live their lives in peace knowing the might of their king is watching vigilantly for their protection. He cut cisterns in the wilderness for the vinedressers and farmers so that their work would flourish. God helped him defeat the Arabians, Philistines, and many others. On top of this the Ammonites paid tribute to the king increasing his wealth and influence. He feared the Lord and had properly honoured Him.
With all this on his resume, you would be tempted to think that God’s punishment of leprosy at Uzziah entering the temple to burn incense a bit of an overreaction, but there is more to it than that. First of all, I do not believe that Uzziah’s pride was the beginning of his sin against God but the culmination and expression of sin that had been growing in the shadows for a long time already. We do not only sin against God in our physical actions but in our heart, mind, and spirit. It is safe to say that such an epic reputation as Uzziah’s gave him an inflated sense of self worth and he had begun to place his own importance in front of that of God’s.
As is common in scripture, a lot is said with few words, so we must read carefully. 2 Chron. 26:16a says, “But when he was strong, he grew proud ….” There is a wealth of meaning in that partial verse alone and we need to understand what it meant. We can safely assume that pride for a man such as Uzziah meant arrogance and flippancy with more and more focus on honouring himself instead of God. He would have credited himself for his many successes instead of properly seeing them as the blessings of the God to whom he was subservient. This happened slowly and carefully, like spiritual erosion, until his sin became such a part of his thinking and doing that he dared to approach the holy place of God and take upon himself the duties of the priest.
We must also consider the significance of what Uzziah had done. For him to try and burn incense himself was to subvert and abolish the holy order and covenant of God Almighty and set himself up as the ultimate authority! It was a transgression of the most extreme order and amounted to treachery and betrayal. Uzziah desired to exalt himself and defy God. Remember, too, that Korah tried to rebel against Moses and was swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16). Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, offered strange fire to the Lord and were struck down for it (Lev. 10). With this as the expectation, it is more kind to only be struck with leprosy!
Consider the severe mercy at play here: the only way for Uzziah to return to a place of humility was to have his pride and arrogance broke. Would we rather have a healthy body whose soul is cut off from God, or the gift and joy of everlasting life no matter our condition here on earth? Uzziah would have been able to speak with such clarity to his son and successor Jotham about the joy of fearing the Lord as well as the danger of pride. We see in Jotham’s account that special reference was made to the fact that he did not enter the house of God, committing the same folly as his father. It was by these means of mercy that God protected His people from an arrogant leader, the dangers of which are writ large throughout the pages of scripture.
Application and question:
Pride comes before the fall. Do you harbour pride in your heart? If you hear this question and instantly think “there’s no way I’m proud, I’m a humble person! It’s other people that are prideful, not me. In fact, I can think of a few right now,” then you may be guilty of pride. It is not always obvious, nor is it rare. In fact, Pastor Dave rightfully pointed out that pride was the underlying cause for the fall of mankind, and it is that same pride at work within each of our hearts that say we know better, we behave better, and we deserve better than others. It is that very sin that softens us towards other sins, then turns around and justifies them while blocking our ears to wiser counsel.
I challenge each one of us (don’t worry, I’m right there with you!) to make an effort to examine ourselves before the Lord, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and see where pride and arrogance has put down roots in our hearts. Are you willing to accept correction? We confess our sins regularly to the Lord and might think ourselves humbled and chastened, but there can be pride even in our humility! In the light of our God’s holy presence let us submit ourselves to His good discipline and guidance, not ever leaning on our own understanding, but only on that which is from the Lord as revealed in His word. Then we will be sure that our lives honour Him as highest in our lives, are symbols of our love and submission to Him, and fulfill the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Lord, I thank you for your discipline and patience. I thank you for calling me unto yourself, and I pray that no matter how much I know about you, I would never think myself above your good counsel. Please teach me to honour you in all that I do so that others may look and see Christ as the one who lives in me. Amen!
Song: Gracefully Broken - Tasha Cobbs Leonard
Text: 2 Chronicles 21-24
After Jehoshaphat’s reign in Judah, we read of his son, the evil king Jehoram, who establishes his kingdom and then kills all his brothers. He marries a daughter of Israel’s king, Ahab and does much evil in God’s sight.
When Jehoram forsook the Lord, God struck him and his kingdom. Edom and Libnah rebelled against Judah, the Philistines and Arabs attacked and Jehoram’s wives and sons were carried off. He himself becomes very ill and dies in great pain. Only his youngest son, Ahaziah is left to become king. Ahaziah keeps his father’s advisors and continues in the evil path of Jehoram.
The Lord raised up Jehu to execute judgment on the house of Ahab and since Ahaziah joined Israel’s king Joram in battle against Jehu, he was killed. Upon his death, Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, saw a window of opportunity and killed all his sons and proceeded to take the throne for herself. She ruled 6 years.
But secretly, Ahaziah’s youngest son, baby Joash, was rescued and hidden in the temple of God, safe from Athaliah’s murderous hand. Under the guidance of the priest Jehoiada, Joash becomes king at 7 years old and Athaliah is put to death. As long as Jehoiada is alive, Joash does well and even leads the effort to restore and reinforce the original design of the temple.
But after Jehoiada the priest dies, the officials of Judah take his place in advising impressionable Joash. Together they abandon the temple and worship Asherah poles and idols so God sends prophets to warn against their guilt. Despite all he had done for him, Joash kills Jehoiada’s son, the prophet Zechariah.
Consequently, God allows a small Aramean army to attack and take Judah, even though they had the larger army. Joash was left severely wounded and his officials conspired against him and killed him. His son Amaziah then came to power.
The author of Chronicles is laying out the correlation between the success of the king and the prosperity of Judah with the faithfulness of their hearts to God, the temple and the covenant. Writing to the returned exiles who have recently rebuilt the temple, it is so important that they remember this correlation so they remain faithful to God and so prosper.
We can see the success of the kings of Judah depended greatly on their advisory relationships. Jehoram’s downfall was his relationship with Ahab, the king of Israel’s northern kingdom. Ahaziah’s downfall was in keeping his father’s advisors. Athaliah had no legitimate claim to the throne and her own selfish and tyrannical nature was her downfall (much like her mother, Jezebel). Only Joash, when he was advised according to the covenant of God by the priest Jehoiada, was able to prosper. But he too was corrupted by bad advisors after Jehoiada died.
Regardless of the nation’s faithfulness, God kept His promise to David that a ruler from his bloodline would continually be on the throne. Even when it seemed like Judah’s line was cut off and tyranny was prevailing during the rule of Athaliah, the daughter of Israel’s king Ahab and his wife Jezebel, God was moving behind the scenes, using a man of God (Jehoiada) to raise up a child in David’s dynasty (Joash) to take back the throne. Of course God's promise to David was, and is, ultimately fulfilled in the everlasting King, Jesus.
We see from today’s reading how God sometimes moves behind the scenes. For the 6 years of Athaliah's tyrannical reign, no one in Israel knew the hidden hope of the baby king being raised and prepared for his rightful throne until the day Joash's kingdom was restored to him. Likewise, in today’s world there is no shortage of tyranny and corruption and some may feel desperate and abandoned to chaos. Despite all the madness, the truth is God is active and on the move—sometimes hidden behind the scenes, sometimes gloriously out in the open—to spread the knowledge of King Jesus in the world to spread the dominion of His Kingdom.
So too in our personal lives we experience seasons of God’s hiddenness and God’s manifestation. We might refer to the manifestation seasons as “mountain top experiences” and they inspire and prepare us for the hidden season, “valley” times that may look like ordinary, daily living.
Are you experiencing God’s hiddenness or His manifestation in your life right now? Why do you think God works this way?
Lord, thank you that no evil plot in the world is hidden from you. You are not surprised by tyranny and you are prepared for it. Thank you for the hope of Jesus. May our relationship with Jesus be our hope and may our dedication to making Jesus known to those around us be hope for the world.
Song: Jesus, Hope of the Nations
Text: 2 Chronicles 18-20
Observe: There is a lot going on in Chapter 18. We see wicked King Ahab of Israel ask the good King Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him in going to war to recover Ramoth Gilead in the tribe of Gad from the Arameans. King Jehoshaphat agrees to the alliance, but insists that they first seek the Lord’s will about whether they should or shouldn’t go to war. So Ahab calls together all the prophets in Israel and asks them what they should do. Being false prophets in a wicked kingdom, they all respond by telling the king what he wants to hear, saying God would give them victory in the battle. Then, Jehoshaphat asks if there are any other prophets who haven’t been heard and Ahab calls on Micaiah, whom he hates because he always prophecies against him and his wicked ways.
The messenger sent to get Micaiah tells him to say exactly the same thing the other false prophets have said, so in a facetious manner, that’s what he does. However, the king insists that he relay exactly what the Lord says, and Micaiah then describes a vision wherein the Lord sends a deceiving spirit to speak through all the false prophets in order to bring about the death of Ahab in a losing battle. Furious with Micaiah’s true prophecy of the battle’s outcome, Ahab throws him into prison until he returns safely.
As they prepare for battle, Ahab tells Jehoshaphat to wear his royal armour while Ahab goes into the battle dressed as a common soldier. At first, the Arameans try to engage Jehoshaphat thinking that he was the king of Israel, but when he calls out to God for help, they break of their pursuit, and so he is saved. Meanwhile, a random arrow fired by the Arameans strikes Ahab and he is mortally wounded. He dies by sunset that day, fulfilling Micaiah’s prophecy.
In Chapter 19, King Jehoshaphat returns safely to Judah where he is immediately rebuked by the prophet Jehu, who asks him why he would align himself with evil-doers, meaning King Ahab, who go against the Lord’s will. For that, the Lord was angry with him. However, Jehu does see some of the good in him, as he removed the Asherah poles from his kingdom, and had set his heart on doing the Lord’s will. To make amends for his sins, Jehoshaphat then goes about the land turning the people back to worshiping the Lord. He also assigns judges in each of the cities to administer justice to the people, and he assigned Levites to administer the laws of the Lord in Jerusalem. They were all to administer real justice in the name of the Lord.
In Chapter 20, the Moabites and Ammonites come against Judah with an overwhelming force, and King Jehoshaphat is alarmed. In fact, he declares a fast for the whole kingdom, and comes before the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem to seek His help. All the people of Judah prayed with him. In response to these prayers, the Spirit of the Lord came to Jehaziel, a Levite, and he stood up in the assembly. He told the king and all the people to not be afraid, that the coming battle was not theirs, but the Lord’s. He told them to march out, take up their battle stations, and then hold fast while they see the deliverance of the Lord. King Jehoshaphat led his army out to the battlefield and encouraged his soldiers to have faith in God. As they began to sing praises to God, the Lord set each of the enemy armies against each other so that they destroyed one another. When the army of Judah arrived on the scene, all they found were the dead soldiers, with no survivors. There was so much plunder that it took three days to carry it all away. On the fourth day, they gathered and praised the Lord for His deliverance. From that day on, Judah was at peace because the other nations feared their God.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last word on King Jehoshaphat. In his final years, he made an alliance with another wicked king of the northern Kingdom of Israel, Ahaziah. They were to jointly build a fleet of trading ships, but because of King Azahiah’s wickedness, God destroyed the entire fleet before they could set sail.
Interpret: King Jehoshaphat is generally regarded as being a good and just king of Judah because he had set his heart on the Lord. But, being human, he also made some bad decisions. He appears to have been deceived by King Ahab into thinking that an alliance with him would be beneficial to Judah, while Ahab may have tried to have him killed in the battle with the Arameans by dressing as the obvious king while Ahab went in disguise. When Jehoshaphat returned to Judah, he tried to make amends by encouraging the people to return to their worship of the Lord, their God, which was good thing, but he neglected to remove the Asherah poles from the high places in the land. And nearing the end of his reign, he again made another alliance with another wicked Israelite king which ended in disaster. All these bad choices diminished whatever good he was able to accomplish as king, and led to the establishment another unjust king ruling after him.
Application: All our decisions, good or bad, have consequences. Sometimes we make the right decision by focusing on the things we know God wants for us, and things turn out well. Other times, we forget to seek Him and are persuaded by our own vanity or by deceitful smooth talkers to do what seems expedient in the moment, or we listen to the words that we want to hear instead of what we need to hear, and it often leads to our own downfall. We might even try to elude punishment for our misdeeds, but as Ahab discovered, there is no way to hide from God.
But our God is a faithful God, and when we call out to Him for guidance, He will provide it. When we call out to Him for help, He will provide a way. When we follow His will, He provides a life that is more meaningful and fulfilling than anything we can hope to accomplish on our own.
Questions: Have you ever looked back on some of your decisions and realized how badly things went because you did things your way instead of God’s way? Do you regularly come before God in prayer and ask His guidance for living your life according to His will for you? How often do you come before the Lord in thankfulness for His great mercies?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your faithfulness to us, even when we make bad choices. We thank you for the reminders of what happens when we follow your will or when we rebel and follow our own wisdom. Help us not be led astray by vanity or false and deceitful advice. Give us hearts and minds to follow you alone in all our decisions. This we pray in the mighty name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Song: Thy Word: Amy Grant
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.