Seek Ye First

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on Jun 28, 2015

2 Chronicles 14:1-15

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We turn tonight to 2 Chronicles chapter 14. “The Times They Are A Changin’” - that was the title and the refrain of a 1963 song written by Bob Dylan. The lyrics speak of the changes that were occurring in the culture of his time and the need to get on board with those changes. In that song Dylan wrote the following. He says, “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticize what you can’t understand. Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, for the times they are a changin’.” Written over fifty years ago to different circumstances and yet the message is a familiar one in our own day - that the times are changing and you can get on board or you can get out of the way. Well the times were changing in the time of 2 Chronicles chapter 14 as well. In fact, we could say that the ways of the world will always oppose the ways of God and of His people. The world is always turning away from God. That’s nothing new. It’s been that way ever since the Fall. And so we have a couple of questions as we come to this text tonight. How do God’s people live faithfully in the midst of worldly pressures and opposition? How can God’s people enjoy peace and rest that is provided to us in our salvation? We find some answers to those in 2 Chronicles chapter 14. Let me pray for us and then we’ll read that passage.

Father we thank You for Your Word. We thank You that it is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting to the division of bone and marrow, soul and spirit. We pray that You would open us up tonight that we would hear Your Word, that we would apply it to our lives, and that we would experience Your peace and Your rest that is ours in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. And we pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.

2 Chronicles 14:

“Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land had rest for ten years. And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.  He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him. He built fortified cities in Judah, for the land had rest. He had no war in those years, for the Lord gave him peace. And he said to Judah, ‘Let us build these cities and surround them with walls and towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God. We have sought him, and he has given us peace on every side.’ So they built and prospered. And Asa had an army of 300,000 from Judah, armed with large shields and spears, and 280,000 men from Benjamin that carried shields and drew bows. All these were mighty men of valor.

 

Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, and came as far as Mareshah. And Asa went out to meet him, and they drew up their lines of battle in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah. And Asa cried to the LORD his God, ‘O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.’ So the LORD defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar, and the Ethiopians fell until none remained alive, for they were broken before the Lord and his army. The men of Judah carried away very much spoil. And they attacked all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the Lord was upon them. They plundered all the cities, for there was much plunder in them. And they struck down the tents of those who had livestock and carried away sheep in abundance and camels. Then they returned to Jerusalem.”

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

Most of us do not have a very firm grip on the events or the details of the reign of Asa King of Judah. This happened 3000 years ago. It’s in a place that few of us have ever been and in a culture and in an economy and in a religious practice and traditions that are unfamiliar and alien to us. So what could this possibly have to do with us? Well here’s the thing - the living God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And as Paul wrote down in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, “These things were written down for our instruction.” Well this passage has instruction for us that I believe we desperately need. So what is that? What exactly is going on in this passage? Well if you look back at verse 1 you see that Abijah slept with his fathers. Abijah King of Judah had died and he was buried in Jerusalem and Asa, his son, now reigns in his place. This is taking us back to the days of division and broken ties. This is the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah. You know the story of Israel that after the reigns of David and Solomon where they experienced prosperity and peace and great power that the kingdom divided, that Judah and Benjamin stayed together in the southern kingdom of Judah while the rest of the tribes congregated as the nation of Israel in the north. Their capital was at Samaria and they participated in the all too familiar worship of golden calves that were set up by Jeroboam. Asa himself would later be involved in conflict with Israel. This was a disappointing turn in the events of the history of God’s people.

But Asa also takes the throne in the midst of spiritual corruption and moral decay. Look at verse 3. It says they took away the foreign altars and the high places. He broke the pillars and cut down the Asherim. These were leftovers from the previous nations living in the land of Canaan before God had given them the Promised Land. Or these were also elements of the worship of Baal that they had taken in from the nations around them. This was a practice of syncretistic worship in the nation of Judah. So internally and close to him, Asa and Judah faced challenges but they also faced challenges on the international stage. If you look at verse 9 you see where this huge Ethiopian army approaches as far as Mareshah. Mareshah was probably around twenty-two miles southwest of Jerusalem so the threat had come close to home. It’s not quite clear, or there are different views on the actually sizes of these armies. Some would say that this reads in the thousands, 300,000, or possibly it’s 300 units, 300 military units. Whatever the case, we see that Judah is outnumbered nearly two to one by this army in Ethiopia. This is a difficult time for Judah. By worldly standards, Judah would have appeared unimpressive and fragile. And yet what was it in this passage that characterizes the kingdom of Judah during this period under the reign of Asa? It was peace and it was rest. Look at how many times the writer impresses this upon our minds in this passage. If you look back at verse 1 it says that “in his days the land had rest for ten years.” Verse 5, “the kingdom had rest under him.” Down to verse 6, “He fortified cities in Judah for the land had rest. He had no war in those years for the Lord gave him peace.” And then finally in verse 7 it says, “He has given us peace on every side.”

You get the picture? This is the fulfillment of God’s promises. This is the enjoyment of God’s blessings that He’s given to His people. What is the goal for God’s people? As He has delivered them out of bondage in Egypt, as He led them into the Promised Land, He gave them His law and put His name on them and made His glory to dwell among them. It was that they might experience and enjoy His peace. And that’s not just a freedom from forced labor. It’s not just absence of conflict and war but it’s a complete and total way of life which was marked by a fellowship with the Lord, with the Creator, their Deliverer. It was marked by fellowship with one another so that the community was characterized by justice and righteousness and prosperity and joy. This was no doubt the goal, the ideal for God’s people.

And as the Chronicler, the writer of Chronicles is preserving this into history, he’s telling us very clearly that the early years of Asa’s reign were marked by peace. Why is he saying that to us? Why is he writing that down? Why is he recording that? Why is it so important? Well you see, at the time that he’s writing and for the first readers of this book everybody knows that this peace doesn’t exist anymore; it’s gone. In the history of Judah, they had persisted and they kept going back to those stubborn idols; they kept ignoring God’s warnings through the prophets and eventually God, He delivered Judah over to the opposition. He delivered them into exile in Babylon. Their continued rebellion and their refusal to repent and turn to God resulted in the loss of this peace that they experienced in the early days of Asa’s reign.

But again, the exile wasn’t the end of the story either because as Persia came in and conquered Babylon, the people of God were released from Babylon and sent back into the land. This is what we read about in the resettlement of the land in Ezra and Nehemiah. And the writer of Chronicles is actually writing to the generations after the exile. And what is he holding up for them? He is holding up for them that peace could be enjoyed in the land. You see, they faced the same threats that the people faced in Asa’s day - a fragmented community, idolatry and disobedience to God, the pressures and opposition from powerful outside forces. And as he puts his finger on the pulse of the people, what was it they longed for? What did they desperately need? It was peace and it was rest, to enjoy God’s blessing throughout their congregation and to bring glory to His name.

What about you? What about us? Do we desire peace in the church among God’s people? Do we long for peace in our relationships? Do we seek physical and spiritual and emotional rest? Do we look for peace during worldly pressures and persecutions? Well the writer of Chronicles has something to teach us as well tonight. And quite simply he’s calling us to be loyal to the Lord. He’s calling us to seek the Lord and to rely upon the Lord. Notice there how he points us there to how Asa sought the Lord. Verse 3 and verse 5 we see again that he was removing the altars and he was removing the high places. He was rooting out and removing the places of idolatry. And then in verse 4 he’s commanding Judah to seek the Lord, to seek the God of their fathers, to keep the law and to keep the commandments. There’s two sides here. There’s two sides of seeking the Lord. It’s repentance and it’s faith. It requires an examination of our hearts to identify the sins and the idols that are there and it requires a turning to the Lord in faith, a faith which is active. It involves obedience. It produces fruit.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been removing some weeds and vines out of our backyard. We’ve come across some especially mean vines. They’re thick and they’re everywhere and they’re covered in sharp thorns. We have the scratches to prove it. But they’ll wrap around anything they can find. They’ll take over trees, they’ll cover the trees, and eventually sap the life out of them. And it’s nearly impossible to pull them up. You can’t find the roots to them. In fact, I was out yesterday and I’m pretty sure I saw some new growth on one that we had cut back not that long ago. It reminds me it’s going to be a constant struggle to keep those vines from taking over our backyard. Well in the same way our idols, the idols in our heart are stubborn and they’re sneaky and they’re destructive and they require constant attention to uproot them and to tear them out.

And what do we put in their place? That’s the second part of seeking the Lord. It’s to commit to God and to His ways. You see, worship in this passage, it involves a removing of the foreign idols and to worship the true God, to worship Him alone, to seek Him by following His Word, by doing His commands. It’s calling us to obedience to the Lord. There are some challenges for us here, aren’t there? You know it’s one thing to identify some of the more obvious idols in our lives. You know we may admit that oftentimes our time can be absorbed by our work and our hobbies and by sports and by our children’s activities. But what about the more subtle effects of idolatry when we start to notice that our schedules have squeezed God to the margins so we have a hard time finding an hour for Him every week or so? What about, we can identify the idols of luxury and fine food and drink. We can identify elaborate vacations. But what about in our hearts when we start to notice an indifference and an insensitivity to the poor and to the lost? And even as we identify and uproot idols do we look to God’s Word? Do we know our Bibles so that we can grow in our love for God and grow in our love for one another? These are difficult things that this passage is calling us to do as we seek the Lord. That we would examine our hearts and root out our idols and in its place to put obedient worship of God. You know we actually had a wonderful picture of that, a wonderful illustration of that with the baptism earlier tonight .That’s what baptism is showing to us. It’s a sign that we are washed of our sins, that we are cleansed of our idols and that we are initiated into a new way of life, energized and motivated by the gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as we trust in Christ. So that’s the first thing that Asa does. He seeks the Lord.

Secondly, we see that he’s relying on the Lord. Verse 8 and following we read about this army and the tension is building as they come to meet the Ethiopians in battle with Zerah. In verse 11 we really get to the climax and the turning point of this passage. He says, “Asa cries out to his God, ‘O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.’” There’re several things we see here, the way that Asa is relying on the Lord. He’s relying on the Lord and he’s going out against the opposition and the Lord is providing victory in this account. Look at how he’s relying on the Lord. His first move, his first motion is to go to God in prayer. He submits and he acknowledges his dependence upon God. And then he recognizes the power and the goodness of God, that God can and does help. He also is utilizing the resources that are available to him. Asa’s not going out and trying to make alliances with more impressive nations that are around him, but he’s going on the Lord’s name. And then he proceeds for the Lord’s glory, for God’s glory. He says, “Let not man prevail against you.” This isn’t Asa’s battle and it’s not for Asa’s glory but it’s the Lord’s fame and the Lord’s honor that takes priority here. And then he goes boldly. If you look there he prays and he says, “You are our God.” He’s going in the boldness of his relationship with his God that he can say, “This is our God and we go boldly against this foe” And we see that the Lord gives him victory.

We sang that hymn just a moment ago, “We Rest On Thee.” That was a hymn that Jim Elliot and Nate Saint and the other missionaries in Ecuador sang before they went out into the jungles to share the Gospel with the Auca Indians. They sang that song based on this text. It’s where they lost their life and yet their example has served as an encouragement to thousands and thousands who go to share the Gospel in difficult places. And even Jim’s widow, Elisabeth, remained in Ecuador and saw that eventually the members of the Auca Indians came to faith in Christ and trusted in Him for salvation. We were talking about this last week after the service with one of you and we were thinking about Elisabeth Elliot’s life, that she recently passed away. And one of you shared with me something that had impacted you that even as she faced dementia at the end of her life, that she faced that with the same attitude and perspective that she had faced the loss of not only Jim Elliot but her second husband as well. And that was that she wanted to take what the Lord gives and let go of what the Lord takes away. She wanted to take what the Lord gives to her and let go of what God takes away. That’s a powerful example, a powerful picture of resting in Christ, of relying on God, and going boldly and faithfully in the face of challenges.

That’s the picture that we have in the early years of Asa in Judah. He sought the Lord, he relied on the Lord, and the Lord blessed him with peace. You see, the writer of the Chronicles wants his readers to see that as they come back into the land. How can they enjoy peace in their own day? It’s by being loyal to their God, by seeking Him and relying on Him. Now this is not some kind of mechanical cause and effect situation. This is all coming out of God’s grace and unmerited favor to them in that He had restored them to the land but in that favor and in that grace they can seek Him and rely on Him and experience His peace.

We could apply that to our own circumstances. We’ve been bought with the blood of Christ. All who trust in Jesus have been redeemed from sin and death, we’ve been made right with God, we have been restored into fellowship with Him and with one another, and now we enjoy God’s blessing - how? By seeking Him and by relying on Him. What about when we’re trying to make a difficult decision in suffering or in trial? What about when we’re facing temptations or pressures from our friends to go the wrong way? What about when we experience persecution or when we’re marginalized for our faith? Seek the Lord. Seek the Lord. Put away the idols in your heart and live obediently to His Word, loving Him and loving our neighbor, loving the sinner, even loving those who are against us, and rely on the Lord. Cry out to the heavenly Father, recognize His power, recognize His goodness, use the resources that He has provided to us and go, go for His glory and not our own. If we do those things we can go out with confidence and with courage and with boldness and wait for God to provide the peace.

That’s the thing that we see in this passage. You notice that Asa didn’t fix his problems; Asa didn’t earn the victory. We can’t fix our problems. We can’t solve the issues around us but we can seek the Lord and rest on Him and go faithfully where He calls us and wait for Him to provide peace to us. I know at times it may not seem like peace; it probably didn’t for Asa either. I’m sure he experienced conflict. There was resistance to his reforms. He experienced sickness and death around him. But the writer can look back on this time in the history of Israel, in the history of Judah, and he says that it was characterized by peace. That reminds us that as one of the Puritan writers said that we have to view God’s providence like we would read Hebrew. You know Hebrew you read from right to left. He said we have to view God’s providence by reading it backwards. And that’s how the writer of Chronicles is doing it. He’s looking back over the early years of Asa’s reign and he sees that it was marked by peace. We must do that too at times. Read our own history back to ourselves and look at the ways that God has brought us and carried us and delivered us through trials and through suffering and through difficulties. He’s blessed us and He’s bringing us home to the place where we will enjoy true and lasting peace - uninterrupted, unpolluted peace, all in the presence of our true and all powerful King, our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s go to Him in prayer.

Father, we give You thanks again for Your Word. We ask that You would draw us by Your grace to seek You and to rely on You and to go boldly as we expect and wait for Your blessing. We pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.

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