Monday, September 21, 2009

Eyes See You

“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”
2 Chron. 16:9

Removed from its context our Scripture might simply be seen as a pleasant promise, a pithy proverb, an encouraging epithet, a refreshing reminder, or a soothing slogan intended to strengthen the souls of faithful but struggling saints. We see a watchful Lord, whose eyes “run to and fro.” We see a powerful defender who will “show Himself strong.” And we see the nature of true child of God revealed: “whose heart is loyal to Him.” All of this looks encouraging, helpful and hopeful. All these things are true, and one could assemble no small sum of evidence to support these statements from Scripture.

The problem with these observations, however, is that left alone they all entirely miss the point of the passage. It is easy for those who spend time reading and studying the Bible to grow lazy. We look at a verse, come up with a few helpful things to say, and think we have gotten to the heart of it. Our text becomes nothing more than a simple slice of bread in our sermon sandwich, which we then proceed to cover with any number of Delicious Doctrines and Covenant Cold Cuts plucked from the indolent ice box of our own imaginations. I fear that much teaching and preaching that goes on today is guilty of this sin. It is not enough to tell the truth when handling Scripture. It is not enough to steer clear of gross error when handling the Word of God. Faithful stewards of heavenly mysteries will not settle for sound doctrine alone, but aim for the truth or doctrine of that particular text as his target to shoot for. In other words, it is possible to be right, and still in some sense, be wrong. Souls can be ruined just as easily by misplaced truths as outright heresy. To put it in the words of the Puritan William Ames "Ministers impose upon their hearers and altogether forget themselves when they propound a certain text in the beginning at the start of the sermon and then speak many things about or simply by occasion of the text but for the most part draw nothing out of the text itself."

These things being said, what seems to be the point of our passage? I cannot pretend to plumb its depths. Every verse of God’s Word is a virtual ocean of instruction which the sails of our understanding can never entirely explore. But I would humbly suggest that there are at least two central ideas which must not be missed in the words of our text today. First, these words are essentially a rebuke. And second, they are a rebuke that is aimed at the church. Allow me a few moments then to explain and apply these words to our souls.

Every Christian finds himself or herself in the midst of various trying and troubling times. We are, in many ways, always walking in the midst of the fiery furnace of affliction. And these afflictions come in many forms. “Outside were conflicts; inside were fears (2 Cor. 7:5).” They may be physical afflictions such as pain, disease, abuse, illness, persecution, or wants of any number of necessities. They may be mental afflictions such as worries and stress and pressure and fear. Some men’s afflictions are more outward and obvious, and other men’s afflictions are more hidden and unknown which often makes the bearing of them more difficult. And always, along with these afflictions, comes along a particular temptation, a sin, and an opportunity to escape the burden of the trial with the indulgence of some iniquity. Abraham was childless, but there was a Haggar at hand to relieve his remorse. Jonah was discontent with his commission, and a ship for Joppa was there to enable his escape. Along side every rough road, Satan has sown the soft grass of sin as a remedy for relief if only we are willing to disobey the Lord.

So it was for King Asa of Judah. His country was under siege by Baasha king of Israel. Baasha had blocked off all traffic to and from the city. Oh how many souls have felt this very affliction of being cut off from others, loved ones, friends, family, yeah even outside the observation of God Himself! “For I said in my haste, ‘I am cut off from Your eyes’ (Psalm 31:22).” Asa was trapped and he saw no escape. But then he remembered the sinful nation of Syria. There were treasures enough in the house of the Lord to purchase the protection of this foreign power. “Then Asa brought silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord and of the king’s house, and sent to Ben-Hadad king of Syria…” (2 Chron. 16:2). And although this sinful treaty brought some relief from Baasha, it brought a stern rebuke from the Lord.

Asa acted as though he were abandoned by God. Thus the Lord sends His prophet to chasten his lack of faith with these words. Asa acted as though God couldn’t see, and thus ran to Syria for support. “In this you have done foolishly” said the Lord, for “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” Asa thought God was far and Syria was near. Dear reader, are you tempted to think that the Lord does not know about your present distress? Are you choosing transgression to rid you of your trouble, rather than trusting in the strength of our God? What is that burden or affliction that you have been escaping by indulging in sin rather than coming to Christ? Can it not be said of us, as it was said to Asa: “In this you have done foolishly?” May this gentle rebuke stir us up to repent and return to a Savior who will indeed “show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”

Not only are these words a rebuke, but it should be carefully considered that this is a rebuke of the church, that is, of believers. It is a rebuke aimed at Christians, and not at the world. Asa, you see, was a good man. This is the testimony of the Scriptures, not merely the opinion of a person. 2 Chronicles 14:2 says “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord…” and 15:17 says “Asa’s heart was loyal to the Lord all his days.” Men with good hearts sometimes make foolish choices. A child may be a true son, but still sometimes transgress the will of his father. Israel and Syria had no small sin in this circumstance. But it was to Judah that the Lord sent this word of judgment, it was the church the Lord chastised. Dear Christian reader, and you oh my soul, receive these words as they are rightly intended. Let us repent of our sins by which we seek to ease our sufferings. Let us turn from our transgressions by which we try to escape our trouble. Is your heart wounded by these words? Know that such warnings come from the hand of a heavenly Father who only disciplines those whom He loves. Call upon Christ to show Himself strong when your soul is weakened by affliction. He will, for “His strength is made perfect in weakness.” Oh burdened brother or sister, do not trade away a loyal heart at any price! That gratification which costs you your conscience is Hell’s currency, it is fool’s gold. Disobedience is always a downward spiral. Asa failed to trust the Lord, but rather than repenting he took out his anger on the prophet “and put him in prison” and upon the people of God: “and Asa oppressed some of the people at that time” (2 Chron. 16:10). He became sick, but still he “did not seek the Lord (2 Chron. 16:11).” Here is a sad case of a withered soul. Dear reader, you possess an eternal soul, so let these words ring in our ears a clear warning of the dangers of disobedience.

Let me conclude with some words of application and encouragement to Christians who are under the pressure of Asa’s situation, but do not want to commit Asa’s sin. The temptation to escape your burden by way of sin is pressing hard down upon you. There seems to be no escape. Upon you is a trial unbearable and before you a sin unthinkable. Often before perhaps have you sold the temple gold of a good conscience to buy help from the fleeting pleasures of sin. What can you do now?

First, consider that help from the Lord is much closer than it presently appears. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” This is to say, as it were, that help is near. “The Lord knows the ways of the righteous (Psalm 1:6).” Your way may be a hard way, an oppressed way, a trying way, a painful way, a lonely way, a humiliating way, a troubled way…but it is not a hidden way. “There is no creature hidden from His sight (Heb. 4:13).” A man alone in the ocean will give up hope if he sees no help. But if he should see land, no matter how far it may seem, he will be encouraged to swim and struggle and press on for his eyes can see his help is near. The eyes of the Lord are on you, and so the help of the Lord is near you. Dear suffering soul, look to the Lord, for His eyes are always upon you.

Second, consider that God Himself is glorified in helping His children who cry to Him. It is precisely in such circumstances as you now stand that the Lord’s strength can be most fully displayed. He shall “show Himself strong.” It was when no escape seemed obvious to Israel, that Moses could say to the people by the sea “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord (Exodus 14:13).” The Apostle Paul discovered the strength of the Lord during his times of greatest personal distress and weakness, for Christ said to Him “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Set your heart and mind upon the glory of God displayed in your own deliverance right now, and you will find this saying true that “He is their strength in time of trouble (Psalm 37:39).”

Third, the sin solution always costs more in the end. Asa thought deliverance would only cost him a little gold. In the end it cost him his conscience, his kingdom, and his life. “The way of the transgressor is hard.” To trade away suffering for sin is always a bad bargain.
Finally, remember that Christ alone can meet the deepest need of troubled hearts. A “loyal heart” is nothing but a heart that has been surrendered to Jesus Christ. Have you done so? Oh suffering soul…have you looked to Jesus Christ for rest and peace and hope? Or are you still trying to deliver yourself from all your troubles? The Lord is looking for loyal hearts. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7).”

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Withstanding the Kingdom

“And now you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord….”
II Chron. 13:8a

The words of my text and the words I shall write are addressed to you who have not yet surrendered to Jesus Christ. They are the words of a king of Judah addressed to a rebelling king of Israel, but if you permit me, I would like to address them to your soul. You may be a close friend of mine, a neighbor, a loved one, a co-worker, a church going person, an acquaintance or even a stranger. Today my heart is deeply impressed with your greatest need, which is an uncompromising and immediate surrender to God. My heart goes out to you, not chiefly because we cannot share this faith and enjoy mutual converse in the things of the Lord…though this would delight me very much. My heart goes out to you because you are engaged in a battle you will not win. “You think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord.”

Every soul on earth belongs to a kingdom, and there are but two in the entire world. There may be any number of countries and nationalities, hundreds of languages, and thousands of districts, and cities, and villages. There are many rulers scattered all over the world and many different forms of government established to organize and protect their citizens. But there are only two kingdoms. You belong to one or the other. These kingdoms are as different as two kingdoms can be. They have different kings, different standards, and different destinies. The Bible calls the one “the kingdom of the Lord” (II Chron. 3:8) and the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 3:2) and the “kingdom of His Son” (Col. 1:13). The other is simply the “kingdom of Satan” (Luke 11:18).

My purpose I will not conceal. I have but one reason for writing to you this day. My whole heart and mind are focused upon one single goal. I wish to persuade you to leave the kingdom you are in and submit to the kingdom of God. I am asking you to change your allegiance, your commitments, your citizenship, and your status. I am pleading with you to think about where you are now and where you are going and to change directions. I have laid my cards on the table before you. I do not want your money, your property, your influence or your talents. I want you to give your heart to Jesus Christ.

Your life has had numerous blessings. Times of unexpected prosperity, times of undeserved pleasures, times of love and laughter and plenty. You have experienced, at times, the kindness of others. You have had food enough, and sometimes enjoyed meals so delicious the flavors and savor are permanently impressed upon your mind. You have read something moving, and your heart was lifted. Sweet music has moved your soul, lightened your mood, and soothed your mind. All these good things God has provided for you to enjoy. And yet, for all that, “you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord.” You have hardened your heart against His tender calls to repent and believe. Oh my dear friend, do you not see that you “despise the riches of His goodness…not knowing the goodness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)”

Your life has had troubles. Your plans have been overturned, your advantages been lost, and your health at times has been taken away. You have known the pains of lost love, the sorrows and fears of being alone, you have known times of being in want and a deep sense of emptiness that nothing in this world you have found can fill. Injustice has troubled you, unkindness has followed you, and unmerciful enemies have dealt unfairly with you. All these and more the Lord has allowed so that you might turn to Him in the day of trouble, and yet “you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord.” Oh that you would this very day turn to Jesus Christ and find in Him a “refuge in the day of trouble” (Psalm 59:16) and a “very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).”

Your sins have been a web entangling your own soul in sorrow. Temptation comes and you find not the strength to resist, though you know this sin will only bring more pain and problems upon you. Your own conscience cries out against you for the wrongs you have done, the hurt you have caused, the weakness of your flesh, and the failure of all your resolves. Attempts to deliver yourself from greed and envy and anger and lust and pride have all been unsuccessful at last. And you have heard of this gospel by which men may be forgiven their sins and have peace with God. You have heard there is a merciful Lord who takes pity and has said “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sins I will remember know more (Jer. 31:34).” You have heard it said by Jesus “I have power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6) and that “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14).” But alas, even still, “you think to withstand the kingdom of the Lord.”

I too belonged to that kingdom in which you now stand. I understand your hesitation and your fears and your arguments against surrendering to Christ. But I plead with you, before time runs out, to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). I shall lay before you briefly four more arguments to abandon your kingdom of sin, and self and Satan and come over by faith to the kingdom of Christ.

First, your resistance is Unreasonable. Why should you continue to refuse God’s gift of His Son? Much lesser gifts have you received in this life, from much lesser persons, and these you received with gladness and gratitude and much joy. But you refuse God’s gift of eternal life? Is that reasonable? You accept eagerly gifts that cannot last. But you will not receive the “gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17) that lasts forever?

Second, this is Unmerciful. Should you not have mercy on your own soul? Will you sentence your own soul to everlasting punishment simply because you will not humble yourself to repent and believe? Is it merciful to exchange a few moments of pleasure for an eternity of pain? Thomas Manton once wrote “A man's greatest care should be for that place where he dwelleth longest; therefore eternity should be his scope.”

Third, your efforts to withstand the kingdom of the Lord will be Unsuccessful. Abijah, king of Judah, cried out to the armies of the enemy in our text and said “O children of Israel, do not fight against the Lord God of your fathers, for you shall not prosper!” (2 Chron. 13:12) Oh my dear friend, whoever you are, you shall not prosper in this fight which you maintain. Surrender. Give all to Christ. Lay down your arms. Hear His gracious invitation “As I live,’ says the Lord God,  ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked  turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)

Finally, dear friend, your withstanding is utterly Unnecessary. There is no good reason for it at all. You lack no invitation, for you have been invited to come by the gospel itself. You lack not the means, for this offer is given freely “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). You lack not the opportunity, for “behold now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).” You lack no promise of success for Jesus Himself declared “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:37).” Oh why, why, why do you then delay?
Why go on withstanding the kingdom of the Lord?