Monday, October 27, 2014

"O Lord, give us one mind and one heart for you!"

Day #304:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 28th

Scripture Reading:  II Chronicles 29 - 32 …

When God's people put their minds and hearts together to work for the Lord, seeking His wisdom and strength, amazing things happen because God blesses those who seek Him and who obey Him.  While we know that we can never do enough good works to earn our forgiveness and eternal life, what many people who claim to believe in Jesus Christ and to be Christians fail to truly grasp is that God blesses obedience in one way or another.  Sometimes it is in obvious ways, and sometimes it is in peace of heart and mind in the midst of adversity, but always God is with those who love Him and serve Him.  It was true in the days of the kings and it is true today.

Israel, the northern kingdom, had been destroyed by the Assyrians, but God had spared Judah.  They too, however, had angered the Lord by failing to worship Him and by worshiping other gods.  King Hezekiah was about to change all of that.  He called the Levites together and told them to purify the temple, according to the Law of God, and then to offer sacrifices and to worship the LORD with praise and singing.  The king sent out messengers to gather all the people to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Some of the people in some of the tribes scorned and ridiculed them, but the Spirit of God was at work to draw some to Himself, even then, and "in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the Word of the LORD" (30:12).

Never in the history of the world has any other nation been so blessed by God.  Some of the people came to celebrate the Passover without consecrating themselves, without going through the rituals of cleansing that God had instituted, "but Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'May the LORD who is good pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God - the LORD, the God of his fathers ...'" (30:18-19).  And God heard Hezekiah's prayer and healed the people.  Hezekiah, it appears, was like David in at least some ways ... he knew that "the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate.  he will not turn His face from you if you return to Him" (30:9).  With all of the judgment God had brought on His own people and some of the nations around them, how did Hezekiah come to know God's grace and compassion?

Remember that the prophet Isaiah was a contemporary of Hezekiah.  It was Isaiah who wrote, "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.  Let the wicked forsake His way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7).  David had written of God's compassion and mercy hundreds of years before:  "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him ..." (Psalm 103:8-13).

It is in the context of God's holiness and justice that His mercy and compassion find their deepest meaning.  As much as it is God's nature to be just, it is God's nature to be merciful and compassionate.  It's not as though God has multiple personalities, but rather that He is both just AND compassionate.  What, then, makes the difference between those who receive His wrath and judgment and those who receive His compassion and mercy:  His sovereign choice!!  The Apostle Paul quotes Moses from Exodus 33:19 when God says, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (Romans 9:15).  Then Paul goes on to explain:  "It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. ...  Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden" (Romans 9:16,18).

Those who are recipients of His compassion and mercy are saved by grace and respond with thanksgiving and obedience.  As Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 1:9 (quoted by Paul in Romans 9:29):  "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah."  No one can claim that they have earned God's favor or that He owes them His blessing.  Anything good that happens is by God's grace, a gift from our Father in heaven.  Still, God does move in those whom He chooses and the response of those who are moved by God's Spirit is repentance and faith and obedience.  Therefore, from our perspective, obedience is often followed by God's blessing.  This was the case with Judah in the days of King Hezekiah.

Having repaired and purified the temple and celebrated the Passover, "there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.  The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, His holy dwelling place" (30:26-27).  That is a beautiful statement and encouraging to all those who seek the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob today.  Drawing near to God through faith in Jesus Christ, the "Seed" of Abraham, the Ruler descended from Judah, the Son of David, brings you into a relationship with the same God to whom Hezekiah, Isaiah and Judah prayed.  He is still gracious and compassionate, He still hears the prayers of His people, and He still works in us and through us for His glory.

When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, threatened Judah, Hezekiah did two things.  First, he got ready to fight.  He appointed military officers, gathered them together and said to them, "Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.  with him is ONLY the army of flesh, but with US is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles!" (32:7-8).  Perhaps we should memorize those two verses and repeat them often!  And the second thing Hezekiah did was PRAY!!  Those people and, yes, even nations, who call on the Lord, the one true God, in the name of Jesus when times of trouble come can trust that the Lord will fight for them.  Looking at the history of the world for the past one hundred years, it is the prayers of true believers, of those who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, that have turned the tide of World Wars.  God hears our prayers!!  It is not only military might that wins wars!

Sennacherib threatened Hezekiah and the people, and we read that "King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this.  And the LORD sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and the officers in the camp of the Assyrian king (185,000 of them!!!).  So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace" (32:20-21).  Our God is able and He responds to the prayers of His people.  If only we would pray regularly together for the leaders of our nations and the nations of the world.  The church today is so splintered, and yet there IS a remnant of true believers who have been moved by the Spirit of God to seek Him.  We need each other and we need to be of one heart and one mind in Christ Jesus!!

Though Hezekiah's heart became proud near the end of his life, he repented and God granted him fifteen more years to rule over Judah.  God's timing is always perfect because He sees the future as well as the past.  As we who believe in the one true God today, the God of holiness and justice, who is also the God of compassion and mercy, we desperately need to draw near to Him in faith, believing that He is ABLE and WILLING to help us in our times of need.  Listen to these words from the writer of Hebrews and then PRAY ...

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16).

"Heavenly Father, because we have been blessed to know Your compassion and mercy through the work of Your Spirit, moving us to believe in Your Son Jesus Christ, give us one mind and one heart to seek You, to praise You and to worship You.  As we live in this world today, we need YOU more than we need anything or anyone else.  With Paul we exclaim, 'If God is for us, who can be against us?!'  Give me strength to trust You as I seek to serve You with all my heart.  Fill me with Your Spirit, O Lord, that my life may display YOUR power at work in me, for YOUR glory.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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