Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, January 21, 2024

January 21, 2024: Message: Struck Down but Not Lost | Scripture: 2 Chronicles 36 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

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In the coming months, we’ll be walking through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  But in order for me to do that faithfully, we have to remember the context that Ezra and Nehemiah are walking into before we look at their words—that means understanding, a little bit, about the history of Israel that has led to the need for what Ezra and Nehemiah are about undertake. 

And that history, really, could start with any of Abraham, Moses, or Joshua and go all the way until the end of Esther, but the place I want to start for the sake of getting to the core of what’s going on is with King David and a well-known chapter in the Old Testament found in 2 Samuel 17.  There, we learn about the covenant that God makes with David to establish an everlasting monarchy in his bloodline. 

Fast forward roughly 215 years later, and we find one who follows not only in David’s bloodline but also in his character, King Hezekiah of Judah (I say “of Judah” because the Promised Land, after King Solomon, has been fractured into two areas—northern Israel and southern Judah).  Now, Hezekiah is a good king and comes into power when Judah is in a precarious position because years before, they and the northern kingdoms of Israel were attacked by an empire called Assyria, and Israel and Judah lost, which made them vassal states to Assyria.  In fact, Israel rebelled in 722 BC, and Assyria came in and wiped them out.  Only Judah remained. 

This is important because when Assyria, in 701 BC, attacks Judah again in order to fully take over its territory, Hezekiah refuses to surrender, and he does so because Isaiah has told him that God favours him, and that the Assyrians will be defeated before Judah falls.  And of course, just as God tends to do, he sends an angel to destroy the Assyrian army at night causing them to retreat, sparing Hezekiah and Judah. 

But then, Hezekiah gets deathly sick, which, again, is important, because if Hezekiah dies, he has no heir to take his throne.  And if there is no heir to take his throne, then the covenant that God made with David will be broken.  So, God tells Hezekiah that he’ll extend the king’s life by fifteen years, during which time, Hezekiah has a son, Manasseh. 

Now, if any of you know who Manasseh is, you’ll know that he is both the longest reigning monarch in the history of Israel and Judah—55 years, but he is also perhaps the most evil, as we’re told in 2 Kings 21.  In fact, he’s so evil that the author of 2 Kings 21 says the nail in the coffin for Judah’s eventual demise and exile is because of how Manasseh profaned God’s name.  Exile was coming. 

Yet for fifty-five and a half more years, God gave them a chance to escape, and it seemed like, for a moment, that might just happen because along comes King Josiah who is, for the most part, a good king—making reforms in the land, seeking the direction of the Lord, listening to the prophet, Jeremiah. 

But the thing about Josiah is that he had a chip on his shoulder—ambition to rid Judah of any Assyrian presence.  And this ambition caused him to act out on his own—without seeking direction from or trusting God—attempting to prevent further Assyrian success by attacking Assyria’s ally, Egypt, as they were on their way to help Assyria in its own battle against Babylon.  Josiah took it upon himself to try and cripple Assyria.  Yet, instead of accomplishing what he intended, God, through Egypt’s Pharaoh, strikes him down.  For all the good that he had done, and for all the promise of his leadership, Josiah wasn’t enough. 

And this leads us into our text and proposition today.  Let me start with the proposition, which is that although the darkness threatens to overwhelm us—though it may seem like God tarries in his deliverance and in the fulfillment of his promises—we will seek the Lord—we will wait for him.  Why?  Because, clearly, when we look at history, and when we look at ourselves, there is nothing else we can do.  But also because Scripture tells us that he is preparing for us something far better than we could ever expect. 

If you haven’t noticed, Israel’s history is a record of loss—all other recorded histories tend to talk about the successes of the nation—but Israel, her record tends mostly to be a record of her slow, inevitable destruction.  And, really, it’s all quite hopeless if there was no God orchestrating history.  But there is a God, and he is omnipotent and sovereign, orchestrating every event in history for the good of his people and his glory.  This is what we need to see in our passage today: that when all seems lost—when any sense of hope seems to be snuffed out by every experience of hopelessness, wait upon the Lord—trust him—seek him out.

How, you might ask?  How are we to seek him out?  Three ways, our text tells us.  The first is by making the most of the time given to us. 

1) Make the Most of the Time Given

If able, please stand for the reading of God’s Word from 2 Chron 36:1-10.  TWoL: 1 The people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah and made him king in his father’s place in Jerusalem. 2 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. 3 Then the king of Egypt deposed him in Jerusalem and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 4 And the king of Egypt made Eliakim his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But Neco took Jehoahaz his brother and carried him to Egypt. 5 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God. 6 Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. 7 Nebuchadnezzar also carried part of the vessels of the house of the LORD to Babylon and put them in his palace in Babylon. 8 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and the abominations that he did, and what was found against him, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah. And Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place. 9 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. 10 In the spring of the year King Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylon, with the precious vessels of the house of the LORD, and made his brother Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem.

Let me give it to you straight, I believe the point of this text is meant to highlight the incredible patience of God.  We see this with its quick, successive references to time leaving out a lot of details about each king’s reign—Jehoahaz reigned three months, Jehoiakim reigned eleven years, Jehoiachin reigned three months, and we’ll find out Zedekiah, in verse 11, reigned eleven years, as well.  

Yet, perhaps better than the word patient, is the hyphenated word ‘long-suffering’ because patience doesn’t really get, fully, at who God is in this text.  You can be patient in so many ways.  You think of all the best movie villians—for those of you who are Star Wars fans—what made Emperor Palpatine such a good villain wasn’t his matchless power or speed, it was his patience to plot and wait decades upon decades for his harbinger of death in Anakin Skywalker who would help him to overthrow the republic and turn it into his empire.  Perhaps, to some, this is what God is like?  An authoritative force biding time, waiting to exact his anger over us when we least expect it and subject us to our miserable fate. 

Or perhaps we think of God’s patience like one who has blind faith.  One who has an ignorant, irrational hope that things will simply turn for the best?

No, the patience of God is not the kind of patience that is simply waiting to exact judgment over us, nor is it a vain hope to see how things might play out—no, the patience of God is long-suffering, and what that means is that he affords us time.  Time that does not belong to us.  Time that we do not deserve.  Whether it be 3 months, 11 years, 31 years like in the case of Josiah, 55 years like Manasseh—whatever it is, God is patient with us far more than we deserve by giving us any time at all. 

And the reason why I say his patience is long-suffering and not just long-waiting is because of who we are—because of who these kings are.  Every single one of them after Josiah—we’re told either here or in 2 Kings that they’re all evil.  Jehoahaz reigns three months, and in those three months, he undoes everything that Josiah did to rebuild, renew, and restore the people of God in Judah.  After him, Jehoiakim doesn’t just do what’s evil, but the Chronicler says he commits abominations in the land that are so terrible that God uses the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, to bind Jehoiakim and take him away from Judah. 

What the Chronicler also tells us, almost in passing, is that Jehoiakim is responsible for two Babylonian raids in Judah—one in 605 BC and one, again, in 597 BC, just as his son, Jehoiachin, is beginning to reign—Nebudchadnezzar decides Jehoiachin has been too tainted by his father, so he takes him and the temple goods back to Babylon and puts Zedekiah on the throne instead.  By the end of Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin’s eleven years and three months, Judah is a shell of itself. 

This is what I mean when I say that the patience of God is long-suffering because with the three kings after Josiah, God gives his people three additional opportunities to get their act together (four, if you include Zedekiah).  He sees in that time innocent lives lost.  He sees his land pillaged.  He sees the throne tarnished.  He sees his temple—his house—robbed.

Yet, he does it to give his people more time, longer than they deserve, and he suffers for it.  He takes no pleasure in what Judah goes through.  In their constant rebellion, and in their constant ignoring of his judgments, he waits for them to do what they should have done from the start, but they don’t.  Notice, he takes Jehoahaz away for his evil – judgment number one – no repentance. 

Then, in 605, under Jehoiakim, Babylon defeats Egypt and plunders Judah, taking some of the important pieces of the temple – judgment number two – no repentance.  Then, in 597, because Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and the people of God grow even worse in their rebellion, God allows Babylon to plunder Judah again, taking what remains from the temple – judgment number three – no repentance. 

Each judgment is worse and worse because each response from the people of God and their kings is worse and worse.  And yet, even in his sorrow, and in the pain of his sinful people, he would rather suffer together with them with the hope that they might turn to him and live than to give them up and let them die.  He would rather his own temple be stripped of the most glorious and magnificent things than have it and the hope of his people be lost.  Yet, they would not turn, and they would not choose to live. 

Is God not long-suffering?  Are his judgments unjust?  Does he not delay and tarry for us when we deserve nothing but the full weight of his wrath?  And yet, for us, he has given us today, and I would guess that, by his mercy, most of us will also have tomorrow.  And still, there are some of us who spurn the time that was never ours to claim in the first place. 

Some of us go to work or school as if these things are weights on our shoulders instead of reasons to rejoice.  Some of us come home to our families and complain or bicker about how they don’t measure up to what’s expected of them.  Some of us treat other brothers and sisters in this room as if they were burdens to bear rather than eternal treasurers and co-heirs with Christ.  Some of us treat the gospel like it’s something to be ashamed of. 

How long will God suffer our indiscretions?  How long will we treat the gift of time that God has given us as if it’s something we can expect and something that we deserve?  The warning is this: repent before it’s too late.  Don’t let the darkness of your own heart overwhelm you.  Rather, seek out the Lord, return to him, and find hope from the judgment to come.  Yet, we must ask, what, specifically, are we to repent of, and what judgment should we expect if we do not repent?  This is answered in our second point:

2) Beware, the Cause and Curse of Sin

If able, please stand for the reading of God’s Word from 2 Chron 36:11-21.  TWoL: 11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. 12 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD. 13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel. 14 All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem. 15 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy.

17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. 18 And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. 19 And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

We really have two sections in this part of the passage.  The first is in verses 11-16, which deals with the cause of sin.  What is it that we need to repent of?  It’s not just the sinful actions we commit, but the thing—the drive—the inclination—the desire that moves us to sin.  What is it?  And the answer we get here in verses 11-13 is unexpected—the thing that drives us to sinful action is that, by default, we willingly give ourselves to insanity.

I don’t mean this as a joke.  There was an Ask Pastor John episode years back (podcast that asks questions to a well-known pastor named John Piper) that I remember listening to, and the question was, “is there a difference between foolishness and sin.”  And after going through a number of texts like Mark 7:21-23: from the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, wickedness, … foolishness.  All these evil things come from within.  Or Matthew 7:26: everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man.  Or Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Etc. 

And his conclusion after walking through all these texts was this: to act foolishly is sin, and to sin is to act foolishly.  To sin is to have an attitude, often leading to foolish action, that seeks to dishonour or disobey or disvalue God.  But there’s a difference in them, says Pastor John, in that, “In the Bible, the word ‘foolishness’ exists mainly to bring to light how stupid sin is.  The full-blown sinner is not just evil.  He’s an idiot.  He’s irrational … calling something sin means it displeases God and calling it foolish means it’s going to displease you in the end.” 

In other words, what is it we need to repent of?  We need to repent of the fact that we’re fools—that we’re insane—because what’s happening in us when we act sinfully is we’re trying to please ourselves instead of trying to please God, and when we put ourselves in the place of God—when we make our greatest pursuit all about us, we end up not only rejecting God, but we reject any chance of us finding our true satisfaction in God.  The foolishness is that you’re denying yourself of what you actually need, and the sin is that you deny God from giving you what you need—from giving you himself.  You are, in effect, committing suicide.  You are, in effect, acting like an insane person when you sin.

And the insanity is what the Chronicler drives home for us in the story of Zedekiah.  God has judged Judah.  He has sent Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin as warnings of what happens when you dishonour, disobey, and disvalue the Lord.  Not only do you lose your king, but you also begin to lose access to God.  Judah begins to be stripped of parts of their temple—the place where their meant to meet with God, where his presence and glory dwells—they’re losing parts of it.  And to lose access to God means to lose the ability to return to sanity. 

But Zedekiah doesn’t care.  No, what does he do?  He solidifies the insanity of him and his people by doing two very stupid things: (1) v. 13, he breaks a covenant that he, himself, had made with the most powerful man on earth, King Nebuchadnezzar, and what’s worse is that he’s arrogant about it.  He stiffens his neck and hardens his heart, much like Pharaoh had done when confronted by Moses as Pharaoh is suffering under the plagues, and let me ask you, who wins that battle in the end?  Pharaoh or Moses? 

But then (2) vv. 12, 15-16, he ignores God’s prophet, Jeremiah—he refuses to humble himself and hear the prophet’s warnings because insanity makes us think everything we do and everything we are is acceptable.  In fact, verses 15-16 tell us that they not only ignored these messengers of God, but the kings, the priests, and the people of Judah—they mocked, despised, and scoffed them, just like they would do to Jesus. 

And here are the real words that condemn what was happening under Zedekiah.  Why did God send them messengers?  Why was he so persistent in trying to save them?  Verse 15 says, “because God had compassion on his people and on his temple.”  But so far had these people removed themselves from God, and so deep and willing had their insanity become, that there was nothing left for them in God’s eyes.  There was no remedy.  There insanity had become complete.

Now, this doesn’t mean that God couldn’t have given them more time or dome some other great work to awaken them to their plight.  God is all-powerful and able.  But, what it does mean is that if God had done more to allow their prolonged rebellion, if he did not step in at this point in history and exercise judgment over their sin, then he wouldn’t have been able to carry out his sovereign plan of redemption. 

What we tend to forget is that God is both loving and just.  Forgiving and righteous.  We like to emphasize the love part while neglecting the just part.  Yet, what we need to see is that God cannot be loving if he is not just! 

Think of it this way, I don’t like to discipline my son, but if he throws food on the floor, and I tell him to stop, then he goes to throw food on the floor again and again, after telling him to stop again and again, is it loving for me to let him keep disobeying me?  What happens if I keep letting him do this?  Won’t he eventually die because he’s wasting what we’ve given him to nourish him instead of eating it?  I discipline so that he might come back to his senses—so that he might go on living. 

So, too, must God discipline and satisfy his justice in order to enable life.  So, too, must he restore sanity in order to display his redeeming love. 

[Here, brothers and sisters, is a picture of what sin is, and how deep it grieves the all-powerful God when we refuse to repent.  Judah had all the evidence.  They had lived through all the history, and still, they wouldn’t humble themselves to turn back and trust in God. 

And I say they, because see what verse 14 says—it’s not just Zedekiah.  His insanity gives way to the insanity of his priests and his people who aren’t just unfaithful but exceedingly unfaithful, profaning not only the land that God had placed them in, following after the idols of the nations, but as we’re told, in 2 Chron 23:19, they were actually polluting the house of God, as well.  God had made the temple holy, but they treated it like it was a house for prostitutes.]

And what happens if we do not repent of our insanity—if we cannot find redemption?  This is what’s revealed in verses 17-21.  In these five verses, the word “all” is used six times.  And in what context is the word “all” used?  All was given up into his hand.  All was set apart for destruction.  All was burned by fire.  All were brought to justice. 

God strips them of everything, and you’d think that the worst of the loss was physical life, but it wasn’t.  Because right in the middle of these verses comes the climatic statement of all the “all’s” in verse 19: And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its vessels, and all who escaped the sword were taken into exile in Babylon. 

Every purpose of these peoples’ action since Adam was cast out of the garden of Eden—it had been ripped away from them.  No temple means no forgiveness or atonement for sin.  No temple means no priests to intercede for their needs.  No temple means no king to be anointed.  No temple means no God who could dwell with them.  No temple means darkness appears to have won. 

The consequence of our insane desire to sin—to reject God—the consequence of not possessing a temple by which you might not only find forgiveness from sin but fellowship with God—is that, as he departs from us, everything else goes with him.  And trust me when I say that the least of your concerns is that he might merely take away your physical life.  This isn’t a joke.  It’s not meant to be funny.  But our world treats it like it is. 

There’s this scene in Genesis 19 where this man named Lot goes to speak to his sons-in-law, citizens of these two cities called Sodom and Gomorrah, and he tells them to leave because God’s about to destroy everything that they know, and what do they do?  They laugh at him, thinking that he’s joking.  The world laughs at us.  They trumpet these noble causes—fight climate change, fight racism, fight the patriarchy—things that, on their best day, they have trouble defining, but when it comes to the sure judgment of God and the totality of it clearly proclaimed in Scripture, the world mocks, despises, and scoffs. 

These, dear Christians, are dark days, indeed, filled with all manner of insanity.  All hope seems lost, and repentance seems to be the farthest thing from the lips of even those who call themselves holy, but hear these words in our third and final point: 

3) Trust in the Lord’s Sovereign Plan

If able, please stand for the reading of God’s Word from 2 Chron 36:22-23.  TWoL: 22 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’”

If it’s not obvious from what I’ve said so far, the Chronicler wants us to know, there is no hope if there is no temple.  This is the context for everything we’ll see in Ezra and Nehemiah—that although the people had stripped themselves of hope and had been struck down, as long as there is a God who loves you, all is not lost. 

Yet for those who don’t know the history of the temple, it’s said that the temple was built where Abraham had gone up Mount Moriah in order to sacrifice Isaac—a sacrifice that never took place.  And what this signifies is that the temple, where justice for Abraham and Sarah’s doubt ought to have been satisfied with their only son’s blood, goat after goat after goat was slain in his stead—man after man went up to seek God’s forgiveness. 

That is, until, one day, after the darkness had seemed to overcome the land, when hope had been all but lost, when the physical temple had been destroyed once-and-for all, God sent his own Son to walk up that hill, and thereupon it, to be struck down on a cross.  He suffered the knife of God’s justice, so that we might be spared.  And instead of suffering the loss of all things, through the death of Christ, we, those who repent of their sin and trust in him as our Lord and Saviour—all things are given to us. 

Don’t you see?  Jesus is the temple.  He is the place where our sins are forgiven and atoned.  He is the place and the priest through whom we find intercession for our needs.  He is the King who anoints our head with oil so that our cup overflows with righteousness.  He is the one through whom God dwells in us so that we become the temple with him.  The glory of the Lord that filled Solomon’s temple when he prayed over it—the glory that no one could look upon—it now fills us and gives us an unfading, imperishable hope. 

And whatever darkness, whatever insane sin, whatever evil that threatens to overwhelm you—to strip you from God—because of Jesus and his perfect sacrifice, we are assured that nothing can now separate us from his love.  This is God’s message to us—our condemning hearts do not get the final say, he does. 

It is God, in his infinite mercy and grace, who calls out, “Dear Christian—dear sojourner walking in exile and in the darkest night of your soul, fear not, for I am with you.  Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I, not you—I will strengthen you.  I will help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand, and I will never let you go.  Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” 

This is the God in whom we can place our trust.  This is the Christ in whom we can always seek and find an infinite help.  May he be glorified in us as we look only to him to save us from our sin and from the wrath that we deserve. 

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