Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Thought From My Bible Reading

As it seems that I am on a rather unplanned blogging break, I think I’ll go ahead and make it an official one for a little longer. The packers come next week so things are getting exciting around here. And busy, did I mention busy? I would appreciate prayers as the next few weeks will be stressful as we pack and relocate and get all the little details of moving finished and then begin to settle into our new home. Because of all that, I do not anticipate having much brain power for thoughtful blog posts until the boxes are unpacked, or at least unloaded, on the other side of this journey. Moving is hard. Exciting, yes, but hard. There’s a reason moving is ranked up there with some of life’s most intense stresses.

Before I go I wanted to share something encouraging I found while reading through 2 Chronicles a few days ago. I need to give a little background first. After the nation of Israel divided, the northern kingdom, Israel, had a series of kings - none of whom did what was right in the sight of the LORD. In fact they led the people in gross idolatry and wickedness. Consequently the northern kingdom was taken captive by Assyria. The southern kingdom, Judah, was some better, though the number of kings who did not do right in the sight of the LORD is distressingly high. But throughout its history there did arise kings who would repent and lead the people to restore true worship of the LORD God. Hezekiah was one such king.

In 2 Chronicles 29-32 we read about Hezekiah’s reign. He followed the wicked king Ahaz who was increasingly unfaithful to the LORD, and when Hezekiah became king, he repaired the doors of the temple and brought in the Levites and priests and called them to sanctify themselves and clean out the temple and restore proper worship. After consecrating the temple, he planned to keep the Passover, which had not been done for years. While the plans were being made, he sent letters to the remnant of those who were left in the northern part of Israel and invited them to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem.

Here is what he said: “Children of Israel, return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel; then He will return to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. And do not be like your fathers and your brethren, who trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, so that He gave them up to desolation, as you see. Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you. For if you return to the LORD, your brethren and your children will be treated with compassion by those who lead them captive, so that they may come back to this land; for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn His face from you if you return to Him.”

Some of the people who received this summons laughed and mocked. However, some from the tribes of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. It also says that the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders at the word of the LORD. In response, a large group of people assembled in Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month. They took away the pagan altars and cast them in the Brook Kidron and slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth day of the month.

But there was a problem. Many in the assembly had not sanctified themselves, so the Levites had the charge of slaughtering the Passover lambs for everyone who was not clean, to sanctify them to the LORD. It says that a multitude of the people, many from those northern tribes who came, had not cleansed themselves, but they ate the Passover contrary to what was written in the Law.

Now we come to the part I found so interesting. Hezekiah prayed for those people who were not properly cleansed to eat the Passover. Listen to his prayer: “May the good LORD provide atonement for everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.” And the LORD listened to Hezekiah and healed the people.

As I read through this account, I was struck with the mercy and grace that was shown to those northern tribes, first in being included in the call to the celebration of the Passover and then in the LORD’s willingness to accept their worship. This people who through their entire history had been characterized by apostasy and idolatry were offered grace and mercy. This remnant of all that was left of the kingdom of Israel was given opportunity to join in the worship of the God they had for so long rejected. Hezekiah could have just ignored them and focused on Judah, but he included his brothers in the north, not because of anything they had done but because of God’s covenant with His people, and they were given opportunity to be restored to their God as they prepared their hearts to seek Him.

What a picture this is which points to the grace we have been shown by God in Christ! I, who was a sinner lost in my sin with no thought for God, was given the grace to believe and repent and have been accepted and forgiven because of Christ. The atonement Hezekiah requested is ultimately accomplished through the blood Jesus shed on the cross. His resurrection is the proof of our hope. Not because of anything I had done, but because of His grace can I repent of my sin and rest all of my hope in Christ and be reconciled to God. He has cleansed me, who had no way to cleanse myself, and He has made me clean and holy to stand in His presence, clothed in His righteousness. What riches His grace bestows on this forgiven sinner!

No matter how many times I read through the Old Testament, I am continually amazed at the revelation of Himself that God gives us through the accounts of His interactions with His people. You so often hear people say that the God of the Old Testament is all wrath and judgement but the God of the New Testament is all love. This is a mischaracterization of God and a misreading of His word. There is not one God in the Old Testament and another in the New. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is eternal, the Alpha and Omega, without beginning or end, forever the same, forever worthy of worship and praise. Yes He is a God of justice and His wrath is real and awesome, but His mercy and grace and love and patient lovingkindness are also so evident the more I read and study His word. To miss those attributes in the Old Testament is to not read it with understanding. The more I read, the more I see that Jesus is the full revelation of God in all His attributes. Amazing grace!

And with that thought, I leave the blog until I get set up again in our new home. See you on the other side of our move!

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