Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on Aug 2, 2015

2 Chronicles 16:1-14

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If you would turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Chronicles chapter 16 found on pages 369 and 370 of your pew Bibles. A few weeks ago we looked at 2 Chronicles 14 and we considered those memorable words of King Asa, “We rest on thee and in thy name we go against this multitude.” The early years of Asa’s reign were positive. Actually, the overall picture of his whole reign were marked by God’s blessing and tonight we turn to chapter 16 of 2 Chronicles to look towards the end of Asa’s reign and we find in a lot of ways the complete contrast to what we saw in chapter 14. Now you may be wondering what happened with 2 Chronicles 15. Well, we looked at that in prayer meeting a few weeks ago and if you missed that you may want to go back and read through that chapter just to see the complete story of Asa’s reign.

The Challenge to Finish Well

But tonight, our passage really reminds us of the important challenge of finishing well, of finishing well. One scholar, one writer has studied and written about leaders in the Bible and he wrote that only one in three finish well. He says that one-third finish fairly, one-third finish poorly, and then one-third finish well, continuing to grow in godliness and engaging their gifts in service and ministry to God’s kingdom and who face trials and disappointments and even death with grace and with confidence. Our passage is about finishing well but I think it’s more than that also. I think it’s about other stages of life on top of that. There may be many of us here in this room who are facing transitions. Maybe it’s a new school or a new job. Perhaps you got a promotion or you’re just married. Maybe you’re new parents or you’re empty nesters. You’re going through a transition. This passage helps us there. Perhaps you’re going through a severe trial, a difficulty in your life. Will you persevere and stay faithful to the Lord? Will you give Him your worship and trust Him to give you His blessing no matter what comes your way? Asa didn’t finish well. He faltered toward the end of his life and the lessons that we find here, they’re helpful and they’re realistic warnings that we would live by faith and not by sight, that we would be able to say with the psalmist, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory.” With that in mind, let’s pray and then read our passage.

Father, we do give You thanks for this Your Word. You have not left us uninformed or helpless in living the Christian life and serving You and doing good for Your kingdom in experiencing Your blessing. So we ask that You would open our hearts and our minds to hear Your Word, to apply it to our lives, that we would glorify You and praise You in all that we do. We pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.

2 Chronicles 16:

“In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord and the king's house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, ‘There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.’ And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store cities of Naphtali. And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah and let his work cease. Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them he built Geba and Mizpah.

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, ‘Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.’ Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in the stocks in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time. The acts of Asa, from first to last, are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign. They buried him in the tomb that he had cut for himself in the city of David. They laid him on a bier that had been filled with various kinds of spices prepared by the perfumer's art, and they made a very great fire in his honor.”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

I want us to notice three lessons from this passage about finishing well or about persevering in the faith. One is the dangers of success, second is the deficiencies of the flesh, and then third the demand for loyalty.

The Dangers of Success

What’s the greatest challenge, the greatest threat that Asa faces in this passage? There are two obvious challenges that come to mind, that jump out in this passage. One is the opposition that he faces from Baasha, King of Israel. Second is the decline or breakdown of his own health. But neither of these do I believe is the greatest threat that Asa faces. Instead, the thing that poses the greatest challenge to him is his own success. That’s what we see here - the dangers of success. He was the king, after all. He had enjoyed a long reign on the throne of Judah, longer in fact than his father or his grandfather before him. By the end of his reign he would have been on the throne longer than most of the kings of Judah throughout its history. Verse 1 tells us that it was in the thirty-sixth year in the reign of Asa. That number, thirty-six, actually poses a bit of a challenge for us as far as chronology goes because if we were to go back and look at 1 Kings, the parallel passage here in 1 Kings 15 and 16, we’re told that Baasha actually died and was replaced by his son in the twenty-sixth year of Asa’s reign. So what’s possible to have happened here is that an error was made in the process of copying the text of Chronicles so that what we would expect to read here is that this event occurred in the twenty-sixth year of Asa’s reign. Now don’t let that shake your confidence in the reliability of God’s Word. We can still hold to the inspiration, the infallibility, and the inerrancy of God’s Word as it was originally recorded while also acknowledging that minor variances or differences could have occurred in the copying of the manuscripts. And at the same time we can be confident that there is not one single difference that affects the message of God’s Word or the essential doctrines of the faith.

And so with that in mind and with that being said, Asa had been reigning for over a quarter of a century by this point. His reign was marked by peace and prosperity. If you look there in verse 2 it talks about the silver and gold that he took from his own house and from the king’s house. He had extended the boundaries of Judah and built up defenses in the fortified cities, he won impressive and unlikely military victories, demonstrated sincere spiritual character in that he initiated reform in the kingdom of Judah and as men and women from Israel saw what was going on, they saw God’s goodness to Asa, they saw the blessing that he was enjoying, they came from Israel and actually relocated into Judah because they wanted to be a part of that. Asa was a complete success - materially, spiritually, politically. He would have been on the “Who’s Who?” of ancient near eastern monarchs. He was at the top of his game, the peak of his powers. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine the conversations would have been like at his house and among his confidants. You can imagine people coming up to him, “Asa, would you tell us again about how you won the battle of Mareshah? What was it like taking down that huge Ethiopian army? How could you be so brave, so courageous? And your prayer, it was so powerful! And what about when you led the nation through that time of reformation? You showed spiritual maturity and wisdom beyond your years. You deserve to enjoy the fruit of you labor, to take a little bit of time to unwind and to think about yourself for a change.” It wouldn’t take long for Asa to get used to others following his orders and telling him what he wanted to hear and it would be easy for those stories of success that God had given to him to evolve over time and to make himself look more important and to have a bigger role in them until he would start to believe some of the lies of success, the lies of self sufficiency, the lies of invincibility, the lie of superiority, the lie of staking his identity in his worth, in the things that he had accomplished and achieved.

I heard an interview once with one of the major tennis stars in the 1980s and the interviewer asked him, “What was the key to your success?” And he said, “It was that I was smart enough to prepare and play the right way and foolish enough to think that it was the only thing that mattered.” Those are some of the lies of success. And Asa could have grown accustomed to these things, to grow accustomed to the royal lifestyle and to a certain level of comfort and security until then he began to experience some of the pressures of success - the pressure to keep it going; the pressure to do it again. Some of you may be aware that before going into full time ministry I was working in the fixed income investments in Memphis and during my time there, there was a fund manager who had impressive returns on his investments. He was a superstar as far as financial analysts go. Everyone wanted to be a part of his success. He was on TV and in newspapers until at some point some of his returns started diminishing; the value of his funds fell as the economy changed and he started hiding some of those losses. And when he was found out, he was given a lifetime ban within the securities industry. It’s a story we’ve heard many times with financial fraud but it comes with the pressures of success - the pressure to keep it going and the pressure to do it again. And it’s with these pressures and with these lies, the dangers of success, that Asa gets word, he gets a report that Baasha, King of Israel, had come down to Ramah, six miles north of Jerusalem, and he was not permitting anyone to come in or to go out, no military expansion, no commercial exchange to occur. And here is Asa, as established and as successful as he is, and he is nervously and anxiously devising a way to deal with this challenge that is presented to him.

There is a line in the second part of Shakespeare’s Henry IV I think describes King Asa right here. See, King Henry, he was concerned with some of the events in his past, the circumstances in his kingdom, and he was unable to sleep. And he’s complaining that “There are men mariners who are able to sleep in the mast of a ship in the midst of a storm and yet I can’t sleep!” And he says this, he says, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” That’s Asa. That describes Asa in this passage.

Being a Christian in Success and Suffering

And before we consider Asa’s response to these challenges based on his success, let me just say a couple of things about success. And number one is that his success isn’t bad; on the contrary, the successes that Asa experienced were actually evidences of God’s blessing to him. But what was important was the way that he would handle that blessing. What was important is that the one who blesses is adored and cherished and worshiped more than the blessing. J. I. Packer helpfully says, “When Satan tempts, God is always present, just as when God blesses, Satan is never absent.” We must be careful to consider what it is that we are pursuing, what are people saying to us, who are we listening to, and realize that the success we desire may actually open us up to temptation. This is where this passage becomes relevant not just to those who are finishing well but to those who some people call “the danger years” - thirty-five to fifty-five. You could extend it past that or earlier than that. The years of pursuing success and staking our claim; finding out who we are. When we pursue that success to the lack of pursuing and relying on God - that’s the danger of success even though the success itself isn’t bad.

Secondly is that suffering and burdens may actually spare us from some of the dangers of success. The hymn writer says, “The clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.” Those burdens, those challenges are there to humble us and to push us into dependence upon God. In fact, as they do that they are actually evidences of God’s grace as opposed to barriers to His blessing. We should remember as we think about the dangers of success the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” So that’s the significant challenge for Asa, the significant challenge for him to finish well, to transition into the next stage of life.

The Deficiency of the Flesh

Let’s now look at his response. That’s where we see the deficiency of the flesh. What we notice is that Asa is so reliant on the flesh that he becomes consumed with the immediate and with the external to the disregard for his past and for the disregard for the future and to the neglect of spiritual realities. Now as far as military strategy goes, his actions, his plan is actually very effective. He goes to Ben-hadad, King of Syria, offers him a substantial sum of money and convinces him to attack the northern border of Israel. So here’s Baasha, he’s in the south of Israel and as Ben-hadad comes and attacks the north Baasha has to come back up, out of the south, to defend the north and Ramah is open and free for Asa and for Judah. That’s exactly what happens. Ben-hadad attacks these cities, Baasha flees, Asa comes in, takes Ramah, takes the supplies and builds up Geba and Mizpah - problem solved; back to life as usual. You know as far as military strategy goes, it’s actually a pretty classic strategy. In fact, I think I’ve seen it in my house a few times. You know, little sister starts to play with her brothers’ Lego’s and one brother goes here and distracts with something more pressing and more appealing so that she is taken away and the Lego’s are restored back to their rightful owners. I’ve seen it happen many times; works like a charm.

But here’s the problem. In the case with Asa it’s folly, and that’s what Hanani the prophet says to him if you look there in verse 9. He says, “You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” And then on top of that if we go down into verse 12 and read about when Asa contracts this disease, the disease in his feet, and it says that “even in his disease he did not seek the Lord but he sought help from the physicians.” Asa rested his confidence in the flesh, in man’s resources, instead of relying on the Lord and there were consequences for that. There were consequences for his actions. It left a blot on his character, on his testimony, it caused him to miss God’s blessings. Look back again there in verse 7. The prophet says, “You did not rely on the Lord your God and because of that the army of the King of Syria has escaped you.” So what the prophet’s saying there is that if Asa had trusted in the Lord he would have gained victory over Israel and over Syria and because he trusted in Syria he missed God’s blessing; he missed a greater blessing that God had in store for him. And also he brought about turmoil. He brought about turmoil to himself and to his kingdom.

Now the mistakes that Asa made should be pretty familiar to us. And I just want to point out a few ways in which his confidence in the flesh proved deficient as he faltered in these points in his life. And one of those things is that he relied upon the unreliable. He looked to silver and gold. He looked to alliances with the kingdoms of this world and in building bigger and better and stronger cities to solve his problems. Yet how much could he trust a covenant with a king who had just broken another covenant for the right price? What would stop Ben-hadad, King of Syria, from breaking this covenant with Asa when a higher bidder came along? I think Asa realized that; I think he recognized that. I think that’s why he built Geba and Mizpah because he realizes “Once Syria is done with Israel, what’s to stop them from coming down to me and attacking me and Judah?” and he had to be ready for that.

The Demand for Loyalty

And yet how often do we look for reassurance in the very things that cause us to worry? Maybe we struggle with worry about our finances and yet we think that more money will be the answer. We read that in Ecclesiastes chapter 5 today. “Those who love money will not be satisfied with more money.” Maybe we’re prone to seek the approval of others and yet we chase after trends and we try to position ourselves to secure popularity. Maybe it could be our health that concerns us and we obsessively think that a better diet and more exercise is going to erase that concern from our minds. But if we rely on the flesh instead of on God it will only dishonor Him, it will cause us to miss His blessing, and it will bring about frustration for ourselves. That’s what Asa does and we often do the same thing.

Our Disease: Spiritual Amnesia

But also, notice that Asa forgot God’s past deliverances and blessings. If you look back at verse 8 he says, “Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen, yet because you relied on the Lord he gave them into your hand.” The prophets telling him that God’s faithfulness, His power in the past, should have given him confidence to face the challenges that were right there in front of him. God had demonstrated great power in the past and He was ready and willing and able to do it again for Asa. It’s the same message that we heard last week from Jeff preaching from Psalm 126. Remember. “Remember the Lord has done great things for us.” You’ve heard me quote from time to time from Ralph Davis where he says that “the greatest enemy of faith may be forgetfulness.” The greatest enemy of faith may be forgetfulness. You see, Asa became so consumed in the immediate, so dependent on his own plans, that he forgot about God’s mighty acts in the past and he doubted God’s power to deliver him in the present. I think we can all relate to that forgetfulness all too well.

Not only that, not only a forgetfulness of the past but he shows an apathy towards the future. Look at verse 10. He says, “Asa was angry with the seer and put him in the stocks in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time.” Asa refused to hear what the prophet had to say to him. He would not allow God’s Word to rebuke him or to correct him. He had become so stubbornly set in his ways he became intolerable to those around him and instead of being characterized by wisdom and maturity and humility, he became irritable and angry, impatient and lacking self-control. Ultimately he was so focused on himself that he could not tolerate any rivals or any pressure or pushback against himself and his own ways. What this calls for is to change and to continue to change, to continue to grow and to be sanctified by God’s Word throughout our lives. There’s no such thing as a cruise control Christianity. We are to follow God and to pursue God and to grow in our faith by God’s grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives, seeking the Lord, being shaped by His Word. Asa neglected that. He was apathetic towards his future.

Our Neglect: Spiritual Realities

Another thing is, he neglected spiritual realities. I wish I could spend more time on verse 12. I love that verse where he says “he did not seek the Lord but sought help from the physicians.” That’s a pastoral care verse. It points to the reality that we are body and soul, that in our physical suffering it’s not enough to depend on doctors. It’s good and it’s right and we can and should benefit from doctors for sure, but illness is much more than physical suffering. It may very well be there to send us to God in prayer, to examine ourselves, to trust in the Lord. In every physical illness there’s always a spiritual component. That’s why James says in James chapter 5 that “if any of you are sick let him call for the elders and they will pray over you.” In our day, one thing I’ve noticed is our lives are lived out in front of people so much through social media or whatever it is, that I’ve noticed that there’s actually a pulling in or a heightened sense or desire for privacy when we go through sicknesses and illnesses. We don’t want to let others know we are suffering. And yet because there is a spiritual dimension to our physical illness, we need others to pray for us and to be there to hold us accountable and to walk with us through God’s Word through physical challenges, recognizing the spiritual realities that are there. We cannot become so enamored by modern medicine that we lose sight of what God is doing even when we suffer, even when we’re sick.

So those four things - relying on the unreliable, forgetting God’s blessings in the past, hardening against God’s Word, and neglecting the spiritual realities, those all contribute to Asa’s folly. And so the message of this passage then is the third thing is the demand for loyalty. Verse 9 says, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” You see what’s going on here is this passage was written and recorded for the generation living in Judah after the exile. It was a weak and a fragile community - unimpressive, surrounded by adversity. They would have been tempted to forget what God had done for them. They would have been tempted to become impatient with God’s timing, to become intimidated by the opposition around them. And they can either lose heart or they can just go with whatever works best and do that, but the writer is calling them to commit to the Lord. That word that we read there, “blameless,” it’s related to the Hebrew word, shalom. There’s a wholeness, completeness. You could translate it as “loyalty.” He’s calling for them to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, to trust in the Lord with all their heart and lean not on their own understanding.

God’s Call for Us

That’s the call for us today too as we read this passage and we hear this word from the writer of Chronicles. I wonder for us, “How often is it that we can go through a day or maybe even days at a time with little thought of God?” Where is God in the way that we talk to our spouse? Where is God in the way that we plan our kids activities and the way we spend our money? Where is He when we react to hostility and opposition? Where is God even when we worship, when we serve in the church? Are we more focused on our own success and our own security or are we relying on our knowledge and our training, our planning and our networking? Are we trying to build our résumé or are we relying on God and seeking to promote His glory in every thought of our mind and every word that we say, in ever action that we do to love Him and to love our neighbor, even as unglamorous as that may seem by the world’s standards?

I think David Strain was sharing the story of a pastor who many of you would know. He’s been at the same church for over thirty years. He has a radio show. And someone asked him in an interview, “What is your claim to fame?” And he said, “I’m still in the saddle.” He’s saying he hasn’t been bucked off, he hasn’t put up the reigns, but he’s continuing to faithfully serve God and do what God calls him to do - seeking God’s glory. Still in the saddle. To operate in any other way is going to cause us to falter. It’s going to bring dishonor upon God’s name, it’s going to spoil our witness, rob our joy, and cause grief to our self and to others. This passage is demanding from us loyalty to our great God and Savior.

Let me close then with one other message from this passage; that’s the Gospel message. You see, when this passage was written there was no king in Jerusalem. Obviously Asa was a fallen, vulnerable, insufficient king and when he died, although he was honored as we read there, he was honored for his overall testimony of his life, but he was buried just like every king before him and like every king after him - and his body saw corruption and returned to the dust. And yet even after the exile, the seed of David, the seed of God’s promise had not been exterminated. And when Jesus was born of the seed of David, according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, He was and is the true and living King of God’s people just like Jonathan taught the children earlier. He is holy, just, and right before God the Father. He will not break His covenant. And when He was buried and placed in the tomb His body did not see corruption but He overcame sin and death and rose from the dead on the third day so that all who trust Him and call Him King are forgiven from sin and made right with God.

And so the promise of this passage, the promise of the Lord’s strong support, the promise of His steadfast love, His unflinching faithfulness is for those who trust in Jesus and follow His ways. In the end this passage shows us, I think, more about God’s loyalty to His people. It shows us about God’s commitment to His promise. And so if you want to finish well, if you want to make that transition into the next stage of your life and through the challenges that you face, we need grace, we need to keep trusting in Jesus and to depend on the power of the Holy Spirit in relying upon Him to do things His way and for His glory. Maybe you’re at the point, “I can’t even think about finishing well; I haven’t even started well,” well you need God’s grace to turn from your own sin, to turn from your best and yet futile efforts and rest in the finished work of salvation that Christ accomplished through His cross and by His resurrection. Walk in His ways. The Lord will support you; He will support you. That’s who He is. The Lord is so committed to our support that He gave His own Son. Christ pursued us in love to the cross, to death. You can trust in Him. You can’t afford to trust in anything else. Let’s go to Him in prayer.

Father, we confess that we are weak and flawed and sinful people. So often we are tempted to turn away and to look to ourselves and to look to those things around us. Forgive us, Father. Stir us by Your grace, stir us by Your love, by Your compassion and Your mercy and Your faithfulness and help us to cling to You and walk with You in faithfulness and to enjoy that blessing that You have promised to us. We pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.

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