Most recent sermon from Grace Presbyterian Church in Gisborne, 27th September 2015, by Logan Hagoort
O LORD, I have heard the report of you,
and your work, O LORD, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2, ESV.)
I wonder how many of you enjoy meditating on the minor prophets? They, sadly, are often books that are skipped over and ignored. This is a terrible thing, for the minor prophets are the very word of God, they are infallible and perfect, full of power and sharper than any two edged sword, just like every other word of scripture. Yet we tend to ignore them a bit. The fascinating thing is that when we start to look and meditate on the minor prophets what we quickly discover is that many of them are very relevant to what is going on in our society today. Habakkuk is a classic example of this. He was facing a very similar context to us, he was serving in a society which had all but rejected true faith and had taken to worshipping idols and living life as one well pleases. Is this very different to today in our 21st century context? The church has been rejected by almost all in society. We are seen as nothing but old folks and bigots, riding our hobby horses into town wielding our old fashioned ‘rules and laws’ that have nothing to do with post-modern relativism. Granted, God’s declared action to Habakkuk cannot be directly correlated to our society, God has not prophesied that he will bring a foreign nation to come and destroy western world. But the cry of Habakkuk that he brings to God in our text is a very powerful cry that we as the western church must take up.
You see, Habakkuk was deeply troubled by the fact that Israel would face God’s wrath and that it was by the hands of the Chaldean’s, yet he looked back to the previous works of God and declared, “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear.” He is reminded of the works of old, the way that the LORD delivered Israel from Egypt, how he brought them across the red sea, how he helped them in the wilderness, how he defeated kings and armies in their journey into the promised land, how he defeated all those that opposed them, how he protected his new nation and governed them justly. How he didn’t just destroy them in their wickedness and a thousand other things that the LORD of hosts had done. And when Habakkuk stopped and meditated on the works of God he was filled with a holy fear of the LORD. He was filled with awe and reverence for the LORD almighty. And my dear brothers and sisters, this is where we too should be at, when we consider all that the LORD has done. Did our God not create the heavens and the earth? Did he not create mankind? Did he not deal justly with a sinful humanity? Did he not provide a way for salvation? Did he not come down in the form of a servant in order to justify his elect? Did he not awaken your soul through the regenerating power of the Spirit? Does he not sanctify you through and through? Will he not carry you home to be with him? This is just the beginning of the works of our LORD, consider his works and be filled with awe and fear! Recognise that if he did not plan together each and every part of history you yourself would never have even been born or existed! Yet you are fearfully and wonderfully made, this is our LORD. If you are not filled with awe when you consider the works of his hands then I must ask whether you truly know the LORD, for our LORD is the one before whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is LORD, no one can boldly stand before him by his own rights.
It is from this position of holy fear, reverence and awe that we come before the LORD with Habakkuk and cry out in our broken society for God’s works to be done once more. When we consider the way he has worked before through men like Luther and Calvin, Whitefield and Spurgeon, Carey and Marsden, we cry out that the LORD would work once more. We cry out for God’s works now, based not on ourselves, but based on his previous works, we cry out, “You worked once before O LORD, work again!” And we cry out with Habakkuk for his works to be revived, made known, and done in mercy.
Habakkuk asked in the midst of the years, meaning in our time, now, not in later years, but in today’s years, that the LORD would revive it; it referring to his works. What does Habakkuk want? He wants the LORD’s works revived. To revive something, means to bring something that is dying back to life. He wants the LORD’s works to be aroused, to be resurrected, to be rekindled. Habakkuk sees the works of the LORD as being a bit like a fire. When the fire burns down low it smolders down into just embers and there is no flame and little heat. But when one crouches over the fire and blows gently, what happens? The flames of fire and heat roar back to life, and when it is stoked and cared for and fuel is added it roars into life and soon enough one cannot even bear to stand near it. This is what Habakkuk wants God to do with his works, he wants the LORD to crouch over his works and tenderly bring them back to life, fueling them until they rage with power and might. And is this not what we want? Is this what you want? O I tell you the truth this is what I want! O how I long to see God crouching over his works and reviving his might deeds of old to life. I long to see his church worked upon and revived to life, I long to see his church refined and renewed, strengthened and polished, that his glory may be displayed. The church in the west has withered down to embers through the neglect of men, through corruption and sin, through all sorts of atrocities committed by us. We care for the world more than the things of God, we, like Israel, chase after idols while ignoring the one who made us. LORD bring your works and make us knew! Is this your desire brother, is this your desire sister? Is this the cry of your heart when you see the church? Or are you happy being like Laodicea saying, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing”, recognise the words of the Lamb, “You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked,” “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3.)
But Habakkuk doesn’t just ask God to revive and make new his works, but he asks God to make his works known. This goes hand in hand with the last point doesn’t it? Return to the image of the fire, if the fire of the LORD’s work is raging, if it is stoked and fed fuel and is roasting hot, will not men from all around see and hear of it? Will they not feel the heat it gives off? And the bigger the fire gets and the hotter it gets, the further off it is seen and felt. Habakkuk longs for the works of the LORD to be so big and mighty that all around will know and see that he is God! That his glory will be displayed on high! See, we do not come to the LORD and cry out for works so that we may be honored, so that we might be seen as a strong people, or an awesome church, or great preachers, teachers, evangelists, workers of God, rather we cry to God for his works so that his glory might be displayed before all men! The world is very good at this, you cannot move or do anything in this world without seeing men declaring their own glory and products. Is this not what advertisement is? It is men declaring the glory of their works. They declare, ‘come and I will fix your car’, ‘come and I will sell you a house’. The world has mastered this technique. The question is, have we? Have we mastered the old art of declaring the works of God? We play a part in this! If we are crying to God to make his works known, then we play a part in declaring his works. Are his works on your lips? Or are you ashamed to declared what he has done? Do you go about in life with an advertisement on you that shows what God has done? Or do you hide your fire under the bushel? Do you turn your light off and remove your salt from the earth? We tell each other our testimonies, we tell each other – sometimes – what God has done, yet we go to work and spend life with lost damned souls and do not open our mouth to tell them of the LORD who does wondrous things! Shame upon us brothers and sisters for we hold hidden in our hearts what should be declared allowed. LORD make your works known!
Lastly, Habakkuk asks that God would remember mercy in wrath. What a stunning request, Habakkuk recognises the punishment that is due upon Israel, he knows that God is going to punish Israel, he does not ask that God would change his works, but rather asks that God would remember mercy. One of you asks, ‘But how is that relevant to us, God is not punishing the church like he did Israel, you already said that?’ See and understand the beautiful truth in Habakkuk’s words that he himself did not fully understand. Habakkuk looked forward to judgement and asked God for mercy. Brothers and Sisters, we look backwards to judgement and ask God for mercy. God judged the Israelites for their sins, but God in the future judged an Israelite for our sins! And while that Israelite, that Jew of Jew, that King of Kings hung upon the old rugged cross with judgement and wrath heaped upon him, do you know what held him their? Do you know what made it so that he would not come down? HE REMEMBERED MERCY! He knew what he was doing, the father and the son, both knew that they were doing it so that God’s mercy could be extended to you and me. If you do not know this mercy, turn and look at Jesus for he had the wrath of God poured upon him so that you could have God’s mercy! Take it, take it, take it! And if you have received his mercy, cry out with Habakkuk, LORD REMEMBER MERCY! Look at our nation O God, look at our people, look at our churches, look at our world, bring your mercy to rise! When you consider your friends, family, those dear souls who you see each day who know not the Lord, do you cry out for mercy for them? Look out the door brothers and sisters, we don’t have to look far to see men and women damned to eternity without hope, cry out for them, cry out to God for mercy on their souls and go and tell them the good news, that there is a God who remembers mercy in his anger!
Brothers, sisters, friends, I challenge you to join Habakkuk in crying out to God, cry to him each and every moment, cry out for him to revive his works, to make his works known, and to remember mercy. He did it in the past and he will do it again!
My most recent sermon I preached in Gisborne, New Zealand. Please be aware that certain aspects of the sermon are cultural and thus may be difficult to understand.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Luke 2:10, ESV.
One thing I have never been able to enjoy in my life is Christmas movies, not sure about you, but for me it is that scene where someone in the movie says, “The real meaning of Christmas is…” And then the actor proceeds to talk about being kind to people, showing love, family, giving gifts to others, or some form of heart felt sentiment. The problem is the reality of many peoples lives shows that Christmas is not always such a joyous occasion. For example, Christmas 2013, Tao Hsiao was shopping in East China with his girlfriend. After five hours of shopping with his girlfriend he had reached the point where he was sick of it and wanted to go home. Unfortunately his girlfriend insisted that he must go into another clothes shop. After continual insistence Tao Hsiao chucked the shopping bags to the floor and jumped off the balcony in order to commit suicide.
The fact of the matter is Christmas is often a hard time for many people: Families are reminded that their loved one is no longer present, parents struggle financially to give the gifts the world expects, people sit alone reminded that there is no one that cares, families descend into bitter arguments over pathetic issues over ‘who should cut the Christmas turkey’. Christmas is not always that joyous occasion that we get told it is in the media.
The problem is not that we face difficulties at Christmas, because the truth is we face problems all year round; they tend to just be intensified at Christmas. The problem is we do not have, or have not recognised what true joy is. While we follow in the worlds ways of focusing on the exteriors of the world – family, gifts, community service, friends – we will never find true joy.
The question then is, if our problem is that we do not have true joy, then obviously we know what we need; true joy. But what is true joy? And where do we get it from? In the story of the shepherds and the angels we find the answer to both of these questions. Interestingly we are not told anything about who those shepherds were. Were they happy shepherds or sad shepherds? Were they hired hands or owners? We have no clue, and I think Luke does not give us the information for a reason. It isn’t important for the story, but it also means we can apply what happens to the shepherds to us without reservation.
You see on that fateful night, things were probably the same as every other night, shepherds sitting quietly in the field watching their sheep. Only one thing we know of these shepherds and that is their reaction to what happens. We are told in verse 9 that an angel appeared and the glory of the Lord shone around them, their response – as is common when an angel appears to people – is fear. Just like when Manoah and his wife are visited by the angel in Judges, or when Zechariah was visited, or Mary, or Daniel. The response is always the same, one of terror. Why? Because when a sinner is confronted by the glory of the Lord the first reaction that comes to a sinners mind is judgement. Who of us can stand before the glory of God? The same response that the people of Beth Shemeth gave in 1 Samuel 6 would have gone through the minds of the shepherds, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?”
But the shepherds were not to remain in fear, the same God who commanded the angel to say to Zechariah, Manoah’s wife, Mary and Daniel, do not be afraid, also commanded the angel to say to the shepherds, “DO NOT BE AFRAID”. Why should they not be afraid? Because the angel has not come in judgement but the angel has come in peace, he has come to bring good news of great joy. Not just news, not just good news, not even just good news of joy, but good news of great joy. Yes, we have a great need, we need true gospel joy at this time of year and all year around, but we have a God who is greater then our need, for he promises as true joy that conquers all things.
Brothers and Sisters we must have joy, we must have true joy and we must have it in all situations. True joy only comes through the announcement of the gospel, it only comes through the birth of our faithful saviour. We can look to alcohol, work, family, friends, money, sport, cars, computers, internet, pornography, sex, drugs, or any other human creation, but we will never find true joy. We will always be left wanting, like a child opening an empty Christmas present. We will be left with tears in our eyes. Why? Because when we open those things and seek joy it is like grabbing a thorn bush for support, it gives support for a short time but it also destroys your hands, rips at your flesh and gives way eventually.
So what is true joy? It is beholding the birth of Christ, it is looking to the coming of our saviour, it is seeing God who came to be man, who came to live amongst us and to die for us. It is all these things but it is more, it is having a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact of the matter is when life gets tough, when life gets turned upside down like a carton of milk, nothing will sustain you, nothing will bring you joy other then your relationship with an all sovereign God. What does joy look like in different situations? Let us briefly consider that before concluding.
Life’s pretty normal? When you live life and everything seems normal it can be easy to become complacent and think to yourself that you need nothing more for your joy and peace. This is one of the most dangerous places to be. From here the person most commonly stops looking to Christ for joy, stops looking to the gospel of peace, the true joy that comes with having a right relationship with Christ. There is no rejoicing in what Christ has done, pride creeps in and our joy turns into selfish pride of what we have obtained. If your life feels like is going smoothly, safe guard yourself, you must make sure you joy is in God and not in yourself.
Life’s pretty hard? When your life is at its worst, maybe the death of a family member, a decision is made you disagree with, work is getting you down whatever it is. This is the time when you must look to God for your joy. This is when you must cry out with the Psalmist, “From where does my help come from?” And respond with,
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forever more.
Psalm 121, ESV.
When you turn to him in hardships he will provide what you need, and your joy will be great. Not because you will be happy, not because your hardships will instantly go away, but because your faithful God will come to you and be known by you. He will be your God and you will find all joy and peace in him!
Life’s end? Sickness and death, what joy can there be? Look to the stories of those faithful Christians who have died. Their testimonies abound, I remember the story of the death of a man who said, “I am seeing into heaven and I can see the saviour. He is with me.” When his wife began to cry he said, “Peggy, don’t cry. This is what I have been waiting for. This is my coronation day.” He remained like that until he passed into glory. Death can be a wonderful thing for those who are experiencing the joy of the gospel, because they view it with hope. But how atrocious is the death of the wicked, they die in utter fear and hopelessness. May your joy be found in Christ if your time is near!
Dear reader, the fact of the matter is, in all of your life you can look to yourself for your joy and be disappointed throughout your life. Or you can turn to the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ for your joy and you will NEVER be let down. You will experience joy in every area of your life, not because you are strong or great, but because you have a faithful Lord and saviour who will supply you with all your needs.
Our problem in life so often is that we do not have true joy, we need true gospel joy and that gospel joy is announced to us just like it was to the shepherds at the birth of Christ. Reader, the choice is yours, do you accept the joy on offer, the joy that comes only through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
Matthew 1:1–17, English Standard Version.
I wonder how many of you have read or heard sermons preached on the genealogies in scripture? I wonder how many will respond with a groan when the minister chooses a list of names to preach from? In our Western culture genealogies and ancestry are relatively unimportant. We are not particularly concerned with who our great, great, great grandfather was. Therefore, when we get to the genealogies of Scripture it can be easy to just view it as ‘just a list of names’. Unfortunately, because of our cultural mind set, we tend to not recognise the importance of these lists. Let us be reminded at this point that “[a]ll 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 Tim. 3:16–17) If that is the case, then these lists are profitable for making the man of God complete, equipped for every good work. If that is true, which without hesitation I would declare that it is, then we must put far more importance on these lists, see them for what they are, and allow the word of God to plunge into our souls.
It may seem odd to us that Matthew would start his gospel with a genealogy. I am not sure about you, but if I was writing something in order to declare Jesus to people I am not sure that I would consider starting with a genealogy. However, I would probably not be writing to the people that Matthew was writing to. You see, Matthew was writing to a mainly Jewish audience, and for Jewish people your ancestry was extremely important. Who you were, where you lived and your relationship with God was all based off your lineage. We see this in Chapter 3 when the Saducees and Pharisees came to John the Baptist, he says, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father'”. According to the Jew, you are who you are, based off your bloodline. And it was for this reason that the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to start his gospel with a genealogy. Because the fact of the matter is, for the Jewish person to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Christ, they had to see who he was. In order to set that foundation right Matthew starts by saying, ‘here is the one I am going to talk to you about, this is who he is’.
Now some of you may be thinking, that is all fine and good, why should us westerners care about the genealogy of Jesus? What does it really mean to me? We already answered the first question, we should care because it is the breathed Word of God, given to make us complete. What does it mean to me? Well, we are one week out from Christmas are we not? And at this time we celebrate the Lord’s ultimate provision in the gift of his son, in this genealogy we have the story of how God brought that about. How God gave us his son, and because of that gift we have hope. And that is our topic for today, The Hope of Jesus’ Genealogy. We will consider this topic under three headings: 1) Jesus’ Covenantal Genealogy, 2) Jesus’ Gracious Genealogy, 3) Jesus’ Sovereign Genealogy.
The first thing that we see when we look at Jesus’ genealogy is that it is a covenantal genealogy. Jews would have been taught from a young age that the coming Messiah would fulfil the great Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. It is for this reason that Matthew states in verse 1, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” For Jesus to be the Christ, he must be a son of Abraham and David, and he must fulfil the covenant that was made to Abraham and David. When the Jews read that Jesus Christ, Jesus Messiah, was the son of Abraham they would have instantly recognised the claim that Matthew was making for him. Matthew was claiming that Jesus as the son of Abraham and the son of David had brought about all that was promised to both the great patriarch and king.
What were those promises? We do not have the time nor the space to deeply go into this so we can only have a cursory consideration of the covenants. Abraham was promised that through him all nations would be blessed. And how did this happen? Did it happen through Israel? No! It happened when Christ came, for as the seed of Abraham through him all nations were offered salvation. Not just Israel could come to know Christ but all people. In him could Paul declare “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) David was promised that his throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16). One does not have to look far however to see that this does not appear to be the case. Where has Israel’s king been? Where is her royal head? This promise was only realised in Christ, for he has been seated at the Right Hand of God. Enthroned on high, he is he Lord of Heaven and Earth, all power has been given him in heaven above and on earth below.
But what does this mean for us? Dear reader, it means you are faced with a simple challenge, by fulfilling the Abrahamic and Davidic covenant, Jesus Christ he opens up a way for you to enter into a covenantal relationship with him! He says, come to me all who are heavy laden and I shall give them rest! He says, behold I knock at the door if anyone opens up I will come in! So the question you must answer is if you have not come to Jesus Christ, if you have hardened your heart, or turned away from the light of the gospel of Christ, will you come to him and receive the blessings of the covenant? You see every blessing has a covenant, the blessing offered is that you will be at peace with God, you will be included into the family of God and he will cause his face to shine upon you and give you peace. And there is only one way you can do this, by believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. I urge you, if you are reading this and you do not know the Lord do this now, for the truth is, this is a limited time offer. Once the book of eternal life is closed no name shall be added. Jesus’ genealogy is a covenantal genealogy he completed the covenants for you and me.
But his genealogy is also a gracious genealogy. What do I mean by that? When I say that it is a gracious genealogy I mean that God’s esteemable grace is shown in the lives of his ancestors. The beautiful thing is that Son of God could have kept his genealogy pure. But he came into the world to be marked as one of us, he took on flesh, he took on ancestry and he therefore did not refuse to allow the sinful into his genealogy. We cannot look at all of them but let us just briefly consider four of his ancestors; Tamar (vs. 3), Rahab (vs. 5), David (vs. 6) and Manasseh (vs. 10).
In Genesis 38 we have the story of Tamar. She married the son of Judah, Er, but Er was wicked in God’s sight so God destroyed him. So Judah gave her to his second son, Onan, in order to fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law. Unfortunately this fellow was not much better then Er, you see he didn’t want to have children with her, so whenever they lay together he would waste his semen on the ground. This was wicked in God’s sight so God put him to death also. Judah’s other son was to young to be given he thought so he sent Tamar back to her Father’s house to wait. Tamar, deciding to take things into her own hands dressed herself up as a prostitute and slept with Judah becoming pregnant in the process. And giving birth to twins Perez and Zerah. Tamar and Judah are the ancestors of Jesus by incest. Sexual sin deserving of death according to the law of Moses. Yet a part of the genealogy of Jesus, why? Because even incestuous, fornicators are welcomed by God through his grace and mercy.
Joshua 2 starts the story of Rahab and the spies. Rahab was a prostitute. You know, those woman which many look down upon, consider to be the scum of society? One of Jesus own grandmothers was a prostitute. And what do we see in her story? We see a woman who is willing to refuse to do what the king of Jericho says. Give me the slaves! He cried. But she refused, she hid them, she saved them, why?
I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
Her faith and trust was in the Lord. The Lord had shown Rahab who he was. And she was willing to do anything, all she asked was that God would spare her life. And what did he do? Not only did he spare her life, he brought her into the nation of Israel and chose to use her as an ancestor for his own Son.
David, David, David…murderer, adulterer, census taker, sinner. If any Old Testament figure is not worthy of being listed it is him. Yes, he was the promised king and he was a man after God’s own heart. But look at the sins he committed! It is amazing that Matthew doesn’t just write David the father of Solomon, but says “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah”. No Jewish person could read that without painfully remembering David’s sin. Why was it included here? To remind us that being accepted by God has nothing to do with our performance, but everything to do with the grace of God. David is included in the genealogy of Christ not because he was a good man, but because God loved him in spite of his sinful life, because he was forgiven, washed clean by the blood of his descendant.
The last is probably the most poignant example out of any of them. King Manasseh, have a read of 2 Chronicles 33. “And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.” (2 Chon. 33:2) In verse 9 it tells us that Manasseh led Israel to do more evil then the nations that were there before him. He even sacrificed his own sons! But yet, “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, 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 Chon. 33:12–13) The grace of God is sufficient for any.
These four people have one thing in common, sinners in need of forgiveness. So let me ask you, are you any different? Maybe you are like Manasseh and have not yet turned to God, maybe like David and have disobeyed. Either way you must do the same thing, repent and come to him when you have sinned. He calls you to repent because when you live a life of sin you lose out on fellowship with him, assurance of salvation, you miss out on his delight, but you can also expect discipline. Turn to him now and repent, for he is faithful and will forgive, we have seen that from his gracious genealogy.
We see in this passage that Jesus genealogy is also a sovereign genealogy. When we look at the genealogy of Jesus we see that God’s sovereignty over the events of history, from the big ones down to the little ones is absolutely supreme. That he is workings together in accordance with his plan. Just a cursory glance over Jesus’ genealogy will show baron woman, disobedience, non Israelites, and political turmoil. The stories of each person in Jesus genealogy probably all have tremendous hardships and difficulties, they face things they we do not even know, things not recorded in Scripture. Yet God was working through all of those things to bring about the birth of his son. In spite of the difficulties of history God has been working to bring about his perfect will. He ordained from before the foundations of the world that Esau and Jacob would fight, that Babylon would take Judah into captivity, that Joseph would marry Mary and not divorce her. And he did it all in order to bring Jesus out at the perfect time. That when the fullness of time had come Christ would arrive. And that is what we celebrate in a weeks time.
What does that mean for us? Well I am unsure what you have gone through in life, whether you have suffered as part of a horrible upbringing. We do not have to look far to find stories of children who have had the most horrendous upbringings that I dare not even repeat. Maybe you have suffered from friends betraying you, maybe deaths in your family, some pain that you bury deep inside and never forget. What Jesus’ genealogy declares to you is that you must trust God with your history; past, present and future. You see God is ordering all events, we may not understand why and we may never understand why, but if God can bring about the salvation for all of his people through some of the events that are seen in his genealogy, surely he can order your events for your good. What does Paul declare? God works all things together for your good. What is that good? That you would be made into the very image of Christ. So let me challenge you to change your attitude towards your life, your situation, your past and your present, for God is sovereignly in control over it all. I am not saying it is easy, in fact I know it is not. Having faith in God and believing that He is sovereignly in control of all things allows you to hand all of your difficulties over to him. It allows you to live a life of peace with God, knowing that he is doing what is right in his sight.
How can you do any of this? How can you be expect to turn to see the Jesus’ covenantal, gracious, sovereign genealogy and turn and act upon it? Only by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only by the inward work of God can you do this.
Hear, you who are far off, what I have done;
and you who are near, acknowledge my might.
The sinners in Zion are afraid;
trembling has seized the godless:
“Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?
Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?”
He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
who despises the gain of oppressions,
who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe,
who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed
and shuts his eyes from looking on evil.
(Isaiah 33:13–15, ESV.)
If I was to ask you what happens when people are faced with the living God, what would you say? What would come to mind? Maybe for some it would be the story of Isaiah 6. For others it might be the many times when the angel of the Lord appears to someone and they drop in fear. There are many times that people are confronted by God and in all the situations the response is virtually the same. One of fear and terror. Not because God is a scary God, nor because God is some kind of monster. But, because when God gives humanity a glimpse of his holiness, his pure goodness, his infinite power, the fullness of his love, the incomparable riches of his grace, when any sinful human being comes in contact with that there can only be one response. As Isaiah said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is. 6:5) In our passage today we have a very similar type of thing going on, however it is not a prophet facing God but the sinners and godless that are in Jerusalem. And what do these people declare when they are confronted with the Lord? They declare, “Who can dwell with the almighty LORD?” And that is the very question that we are going to consider today, who can stand before God?
Before we consider this question however, we need to look at what brought the sinners and godless to come to this question? Look at verse 13, God declares that all people near and far should see what he has done, and should acknowledge his might. You see up to this point Judah had been trying to find different ways to deal with Assyria. They had tried paying them off and they had tried political scheming. They had tried everything, except, the one thing they needed to do. Turn to God, humble themselves, cry out and be delivered. When this finally did happen – as we read in Isaiah 37 and 38 – God turned up, he arose and delivered his people. Out of his great power he slays 185,000 Assyrians and routs the army sending it fleeing back to Assyria. When the sinful and godless people in Judah are confronted with the all powerful living God, they are filled with dread, because who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? And who among us can dwell with the everlasting burnings? They are petrified that they too will be consumed by God. What they are ultimately asking is, who can stand before God? If God can do that by his power, how do we stand a chance? But God does not leave the question unanswered, he answers the people and it is to this that we now turn.
In order to answer the question, ‘who can stand before God?’ we need to ask several other questions.
(1) What is God’s requirement?
(2) Who can meet that requirement?
(3) How can we stand before God?
(4) How are we to respond?
So, what is God’s requirement? Who may dwell before the consuming fire? And God gives them his requirements in verse 15,
He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
who despises the gain of oppressions,
who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe,
who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed
and shuts his eyes from looking on evil.
You see the change that these sinners and godless people must undergo in order for them to be acceptable before God is not a change of essence, but a change of character. If they want to dwell before God, they must live in a way that is acceptable before God. What separates humanity from God is not that we are finite and he is infinite, that we are visible and he is invisible, what separates us is the fact that he is holy and we are unholy. The two cannot mingle, unholiness cannot come in contact with holiness. This was the lesson Isaiah himself learnt when he was confronted with God, he was unholy and from an unholy people and he could not stand before God as a sinner.
So what character changes must these people make?
Firstly, one must walk righteously. To walk righteously means to live a life characterised by righteous behaviour. Psalm 119 gives a great depiction of what it means to walk righteously, it means to walk in the law of the Lord, it means to treasure God’s law and keep it day and night. Ultimately it is to embrace God’s law in every aspect of your life. If you want to dwell before God your life must reflect the law.
Secondly, God requires that you speak uprightly. Your mouth must speak truth at all times, never let falsehoods come from your mouth. Your tongue must speak in purity. Gossip must be far from your lips. When you hear of a rumour at church it must stop in your mouth, you shall not pass it on to another. Jesus said, let your yes be yes and your no be no. Whatever you say you must be truthful to.
Thirdly, you must despise gain of oppressions. Literally it means to make financial gain in any way that is unrighteous. For the Israelites it was doing things like moving border stones or markers in order to gain, or gathering to the edge of the fields and leaving nothing for the widow. For us it is more like taking some cash out of the till at work. Or lying about the details of your insurance claim in order to get just a little bit more. Or maybe its lying about what the retail property is in order to close a sale. There are a myriad of ways we do this, but ultimately it means we must be content in what God has given us and not try to ‘get ahead’ by wrong ways.
Fourthly, you must despise bribes. This naturally follows along from the last one, but you must hate bribes so much that you perpetually shake your hands in order to ensure that if one falls into your hand you instantly drop it again! You may say, well I never accept bribes, what if a boss asked you to just lie about something, and he would increase your salary by 20%? It is the same thing, you cannot be accepting bribes if you want to stand before God.
Fifthly, you must despise violence. He who stops his ears from hearing bloodshed. Instead of celebrating or even entertaining any idea of violence we must stop up our ears and take no part in it what so ever.
Sixthly, you must close your eyes to all evil. This does not mean close your eyes and let it happen, but close your eyes to any involvement in evil. Literally it means that we must close our eyes to every bit of evil and bad going on, we will have nothing to do with it, we will hate it so much that we will not even want to see it present.
If you want to stand before God, ultimately you must obey the law constantly and abhor sin constantly in your life. You must live in perfect righteousness before God, only then can you dare to assume that you can stand before God. And let me remind you that if you break one part of the law you break the whole law (James 2:10), so if you want to stand before God you must keep ALL of it.
Now that we know what we must do in order to stand before God, our next question is who keeps the requirement? Let us be honest, none of us, no not one, can consider any aspect of the law and believe we have kept it perfectly. If God’s requirement is for us to keep the entirety of his law, then we should be filled with utter despair. Because none of us can stand before him, none of us can dwell with him, none of us can have a relationship with him. But here is the purpose of the law that we must recognise. One of the uses of the law is that it points us to our need. We are desperately in need, the Israelites were desperately in need, because we cannot and they could not keep the law perfectly. So what do we need in order to stand before God? We need someone to obey the law for us! And what did Jesus do when he came to earth? He obeyed the law perfectly. And what do we get when we put our faith in him? His righteousness imputed to us.
So how can we stand before God? We can stand before God by putting on the righteousness of Christ in faith. We can boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. We can come to this same God that these sinners and godless people were so terrified of and stand before him. Not by our own righteousness, because we have none but by the righteousness of Christ. You see, God, knowing that we could not keep the law, sent his son down to keep the law for us, when he died Jesus took our sin and gave us his righteous life. So that we can stand before him, not on our own merits, but on the merits of our saviour.
So what are we to do now that the requirement is kept and we can stand before God? We are called to live our life in accordance with the very thing that brought hopelessness before. Without Christ we are utterly hopeless for we see the law and it is a burden, it only brings death. Not because God’s law is powerless, but because we are powerless to keep it. However, once our faith has been put in Christ, and his righteousness has been imputed to us, the law of God becomes a thing of beauty to us, we begin to see it in the light that the Psalmist did in Psalm 119. It becomes our treasure and a fine possession. Not because by using it we can somehow become more fitting before God, but because the law gives us a way to show our thankfulness to God. If God has already opened the way for us to stand before him with out fear, if he has made us righteous in his site already, then we have no reason to keep the law except in thankfulness. We should be so thankful that we want to obey the law, out of love to our great provider.
Let me ask you, who can dwell with the consuming fire? Who can dwell with the everlasting burnings? Who can stand before God? You can! I can! Not through works of the law, for that only brings death. But by putting your faith in Jesus Christ, for he has provided you with a righteousness that you could not obtain yourself. So, brothers and sisters, stand, stand, STAND before the living God, clothed with the righteousness of Christ. And go forth and live out your life in obedience out of thankfulness for all that he has done.
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
(2 Chronicles 7:13–14, ESV)
The people of God have a need. The people who are called by his name have a great need. In fact His people have the greatest need that any people have ever had before. These people are facing God’s righteous and just punishment. They are facing locusts, pestilence, and even the very sky has closed its doors to them. What a dreadful thing to be faced with the wrath of God. To have God’s righteous judgements poured out upon you. These people have rebelled against God, they have set up false idols, have turned aside to the God’s of the nations. They have turned and rejected him as God and king. Who are they? Is it Israel? Is it America? Is it New Zealand? No. It is those who are called by his name. It was Israel yes, but now it is so much more then a nation, it is every single person who God has set his love upon before the foundations of the earth were laid (Eph. 1:4). It is you, it is me, it is all those out there in the world who have not heard the Gospel whom God has predestined to save. And all of them, ALL OF THEM, have the greatest need. They need God’s forgiveness and healing.
Some of them have not heard about the Lord yet. They live in sin, day in and day out, with no hope. They wander about in their life serving themselves and worshiping the things of this world instead of the one true God.
Some of them have seen the great light but have closed their eyes. They don’t want to believe it, they want to worship their god’s, they want to serve themselves.
Some have experienced the taste of the gospel but have become lost, wondering in the desert, trying to find somewhere to rest their head. Meanwhile their first love waits crying out ‘return to me and drink!’
Some believe and have had their needs filled, his name is firmly placed upon them, yet they have looked away from their Lord and feel as though the one who brings forgiveness and healing has gone.
Finally some believe and look continually upon the face of their Lord and come to him for their nourishment, for their healing and for their forgiveness. Yet they recognize that not a day goes by that they don’t need God’s forgiveness and healing. For as John says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)
Regardless of who you are and where you come from you have the very same need, you need the one who has placed his name upon you. For the one who chose you before the foundation of the earth has placed his seal upon you. His hand may rest heavily upon you in judgement, or it may not, but still you need his forgiveness and healing.
We have a great need, but we have a greater God, who has made available everything so that our needs may be met. For he has said that “I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” So the question for us then is, where must we go? And how must we go?
Where must we go to get this great need met? God promised Solomon that if the people would turn to him humbly in prayer, seeking and repentance that he would forgive them and heal their land. How did the Israelites go to God? The Israelites had to go to the temple, it was the place where God said he would dwell and in verse 15 he tells us that he would open his ears and eyes to the prayers made in that place. The Israelites must come to the place where God would dwell, the place where the representatives of God would mediate on his behalf, the place where sacrifices for atonement would be made. And where are the people of God to turn now, the very same place! But not the temple made with hands, for we
Have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:20–22, ESV)
We do not come to the physical temple any longer. We come to Christ, the ever lasting temple, for what did the temple and all its sacrifices do, but point to Christ? The sacrificial system had no power in itself, as Hebrews 10 tells us, “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins”. So where do we go for our needs to be met? We go to the same temple that ultimately the Israelites went to, Christ, the Great High Priest who would offer the one atoning sacrifice for the sins of all God’s people and bring healing from all the punishments of God.
Since we know where we must go, the question remaining is how must we go? The text tells us that we must go to him in humility by prayer, seeking and repentance. When God says to Solomon, “those who humble themselves”, he is not saying a separate command from those of prayer, seeking and repentance. But rather this is the overarching attitude that his people must have when they come to him. No one can come to God in pride and expect a hearing, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Hear that? He gives grace to the humble! Is that not what we started out by saying was our greatest need? Forgiveness and healing? It is through grace! An attitude of humility is essential and it completely embraces all three ways that we must go to him, like the shell of a clam encloses the pearl, so must humility enclose all our actions as we go to Christ to get our needs met, we must go in humility by prayer, seeking and repentance.
We must humbly pray. This humble crying out to God in prayer is seen in 2 Chronicles 13, Abijah and the people of Judah were surrounded by Jeroboam and it says, they cried to the LORD, and the priests blew the trumpets. Then the men of Judah raised the battle shout. And when the men of Judah shouted, God defeated Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. The people in need cried out to God, he heard them and defeated Jeroboam. Judah didn’t defeat Jeroboam GOD did! God intervened for his people and saved them from the enemy when they cried out to him. Does he not do the same for us? When we come to him in need of forgiveness and healing from punishment, when the enemy cries out against us SINNER, UNWORTHY, does Christ not answer? He surely does! If we cry out to him for deliverance in humility by prayer he will answer our prayer and give us the forgiveness and healing we so desperately need. And shut the mouth of the enemy for good!
We must humbly seek his face. God will give us what we need. However, we must seek him, for what does Christ say, seek and you shall find! Listen to what God declared to King Asa, Judah and Benjamin, “If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” And see the outcome, “For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law, but when in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them.” (2 Chronicles 15:2–4) They sought, and he made himself known to them, he met them in their need and brought them what they sought, a covenantal relationship with the one true God. You see, those who are not God’s people do not seek him. Paul tells us in Romans 3:11 that no one understands and no one seeks God. It is only those whom God places his name upon that seek him. If you are in need of forgiveness and healing – and who can say that they are not – then seek God for he will be found!
We must humbly repent, or in the words of our text, turn from our wicked ways. When you think of repentance what comes to mind? Saying sorry? Stopping doing what your doing? Literally the word in Hebrew means to turn from one thing to another. It doesn’t mean to sin and then feel bad about it, while sinning again. It is not like the dog who returns to its vomit. But rather it is the concept of a person who does an about face, turns 180 degrees and walks in a different direction. In Paul’s language it is taking off the old self and putting on the new self. It is so important to God that it must accompany praying and seeking. God’s people do not ask for forgiveness and then just keep living in sin. God seeks people who come for forgiveness and turn from their wicked ways. It is so important that Christ says, “Unless you repent , you will perish.” (Luke 13:3, my own emphasis) It is for this reason that God sent his prophets to call back his people to repentance (2 Chronicles 24:29). You see, ultimately the sign of forgiveness and healing is that our life will be changed; that we will be different then the world because repentance has come. Remember that in Revelation 16 the people who were being punished for their sin were those who did not repent and give God glory.
Now that we know where must go and how we must go, allow the Apostle Paul to ask you a question. If all of God’s people need forgiveness and healing, and if all of them must go to Christ, and if all of them must come to him in humility by praying, seeking and repenting. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:14–15) People of God, we do not know who God has called from before the foundations of the earth, we do not know who there is in our town, workplace, family, sports club and life that is waiting for their need to be met. God has given you life, he has met your need, now go forth and bring that amazing promise to all men, women and children. Share the gospel with all you meet, because God may use you this very day to meet someone’s need. Go out and declare to all people that there is a God who has sent his Son so that all his people may have forgiveness and healing, all they must do is come.