Wednesday, January 13, 2016
God's Provision For Today's Challenges - 2 Chronicles 20:1-23, Hebrews 11:6
(The most recent time I gave this message was on November 6, 2016 at Christ Community Church in Miami Florida. You can view the PowerPoint slides of the message on Microsoft OneDrive HERE.)
As the title of the message suggests, we live in challenging days. Challenges of a personal nature: health issues, unemployment, financial uncertainty, perhaps marriage difficulties and so forth. Issues facing our nation: political unrest, the threat of global and domestic terrorism, corruption in government and Wall Street, a health care crisis, unprecedented government deficits, a volatile economy, and home foreclosures.
I want to look with you at the provisions God has given us for challenging times, by looking at King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah as they faced a crisis in their day, a challenge that was humanly speaking insurmountable. Reading 2 Chronicles 20:1-13 (NIV)
"After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to wage war against Jehoshaphat. 2 Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, 'A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar' (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. 5 Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the Lord in the front of the new courtyard 6 and said: 'Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 7 Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, 9 "If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us." 10 But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. 11 See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. 12 Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.' 13 All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord."
Notice how King Jehoshaphat responded when faced with this massive army from Edom to the south headed his way. How we respond to life's challenges is critical. What we do when faced with adversity will determine whether we experience the presence, power and provision of God or limit ourselves to our own human resources and ingenuity.
King Jehoshaphat responded in three ways to the crisis faced by his nation We can respond in the same three ways when facing a challenge. The first and immediate response of King Jehoshaphat was to call a prayer meeting. He called his people to prayer and fasting.
Fasting means to deny oneself something that is a legitimate part of your life for the purpose of seeking God. Fasting from food or drink is common. When I fast this is what motivates me: "I need God more than I need food." Why did Jehoshaphat call a fast?
Note two reasons: Fasting communicates urgency of desire. In other words, it's like saying to God, “I’m really serious about this.” Verse three says Jehoshaphat was “alarmed” and “afraid.” In his book God’s Chosen Fast, Arthur Wallis writes,
"When a man is willing to set aside the legitimate appetites of the body to concentrate on the work of praying, he is demonstrating that he means business, that he is seeking with all his heart, and will not let God go unless he answers."
You see fasting is a picture of one who is diligently, earnestly and sincerely seeking God. The second thing we learn about fasting
is that fasting communicates dependence on God. Verse 20 in the New Living Translation, "O our God, won't you stop them?
We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help." In other words, King Jehoshaphat was saying to God, “We are helpless!” "You’re the only one who can help!” Jehoshaphat's father faced a similar crisis as recorded in chapter fourteen. When facing a similar threat, a vast army of Cushites, King Asa called upon the Lord, chapter 14, verse eleven, "...Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.”
After the Lord "struck down the Cushites," the prophet Azariah brought this word from the Lord, 2 Chronicles 15:2, “The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you”
May I suggest to you that is the theological basis for fasting. Pastor K. Neil Foster writes, “Fasting is the quickest way to get yourself into the position where God can give you what He wanted to give you all along." Principle number one, fasting is an invitation for God's intervention. Fasting provides an opportunity for God to demonstrate His supernatural power. In other words do what only God can do. Through fasting God will bring His resources into our circumstances.
Through fasting God intervenes in our crisis. Through fasting God invades our lives with His presence. And in all of this God is glorified because He gets all the credit. Of all the spiritual disciplines, fasting is probably the most neglected and perhaps the most misunderstood, but it is the most powerful, rewarding, and fulfilling means of grace.
Notice Jehoshaphat's second response in the face of the crisis facing his nation. He responded in faith. Let’s define faith.
We come to Christ through faith Ephesians 5:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith." Then as believers we walk by faith. The Christian life is a life of faith. My favorite definition of faith is Hebrews 11:6, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
I believe this verse describes Jehoshaphat's faith. Jehoshaphat fasted. In other words, he was earnestly seeking God. He evidently believed that God existed, and that God would reward, or answer his prayer. Our faith is only as good as the object in which we place our faith. May I suggest to you that Jehoshaphat's prayer was a faith building prayer. We learn two things about faith from Jehoshaphat's prayer.
First, God is the object of our faith. You say, well tell us something new! That’s obvious! But I ask you, what kind of God is the object is the object of your faith? Faith depends on its object. If God is the object of your faith, the question is, what do you understand about God? How would you define the God who is the object of your faith? What kind of God is the object of your faith? How well informed are you about this God? How well do you know this God? I think it would be accurate to put it this way, our view of God, who is the object of our faith, will to a large degree define out faith.
Perhaps you have driven over the Intercostal on the 17th Street Causeway Bridge in Fort Lauderdale. Most of us never give a second thought when we drive over that bridge. But each time you drive over that bridge, you are placing your faith in the bridge to get you safely over the Intercostal. That is because we have complete faith in the structural integrity of the bridge. We are placing our faith in the architect, engineers, and construction crew who designed and built the bridge.
We gain insight into Jehoshaphat's faith by looking at his view of God. If faith depends on its object, what did Jehoshaphat think about God? What was his view of God? What did he believe about God? In the face of this crisis how did he define God? We find the answer in his prayer, verses six through twelve. He asks three questions. And in answering them he defined the God, who was the object of his faith. You see, these three questions in Jehoshaphat's prayer are faith-building questions. Let's look at how Jehoshaphat defines God.
Are you not...? is the first question, ”O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in you hand, and no one can withstand you." (verse 6). Here he is focusing on Who God Is. In asking this question Jehoshaphat is proclaiming truth about God. Notice that he focuses on the transcendence of God - the “otherness” of God, “are you not the God who is in heaven?” God is unique and distinct from his creation. Nothing in creation is comparable to Him. The transcendence of God speaks of everything about God that separates Him from his creation.
Then he focuses on the sovereignty of God, “you rule over the nations.” God is in absolute control of his creation. He determines the end from the beginning. Thirdly, He focuses on the power of God, "no one can withstand you.” In Jehoshaphat view God has no rivals. He rules supreme. Remember, “faith depends on its object,” Hebrews 6:11, ”And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists...'
The second question is Did you not...? "O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (verse 7) Here the focus is on what God did. Not only is Jehoshaphat remembering the faithfulness of God in giving them victory over their enemies (verse 7a) He was addressing God as the God of covenant. (verse 7b) This was the God who had intervened in history, chosen a people as his very own and obligated himself to those people in a covenant relationship.
As Jehoshaphat called out to God in this time of crisis, he was not only mindful of who God was, he was mindful of what God had done. He is not only calling to mind what he knew about God, he was focusing on the intervention of God on behalf of His people in the past.
But there is more. He was focusing on the covenant relationship that Israel had with God. He refers to God as the “friend” of Abraham, verse 7. This speaks of God's revelation of himself to man. It speaks loud and clear of God' intention to live in fellowship with Abraham and his seed, through a divinely conceived and initiated covenant.
As he led his people in prayer at the Temple Jehoshaphat refers to the Temple as the dwelling place of God among his people, verse 9. This speaks of the presence of God in the midst of his people. He already noted the transcendence of God. Now he speaks of the immanence of God, the nearness of God. This speaks of the right of these chosen people to stand in the presence of God, that transcendent, sovereign and powerful God because of that covenant relationship.
Perhaps Jehoshaphat was reminded of the temple dedication by his great, great, great grandfather Solomon as recorded in chapter seven when the visible glory of God filled the Temple and God himself said, "Now my eyes are open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” (7:15) If you are in Christ today, this is your privilege as well to know the immanence of God, the presence of God especially in your time of need.
Church are you getting the picture? Faith depends on its object! God has disclosed to us who He is. He has revealed himself to us in His creation. He has revealed himself to us through revelation, the written word, and through His Son Jesus Christ the living Word. So He stands before us today as the object of our faith, offering to have a dynamic personal relationship with us through faith in His Son. We have access to the very presence of God through our covenant relationship with Jesus Christ.
But there is a third question, Will you not...? verse twelve, ”O our God, will you not judge them (their enemies)? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”
The focus of the third question “Will you not?” is on what we can expect. King Jehoshaphat is saying; based on who you are, the transcendent, sovereign and powerful God; based on what you have done, you brought us into a covenant relationship with yourself and drove out the enemy from this land and gave it to Abraham's descendants. On that basis we call upon you; we ask for your help; we cry out for your intervention; and we expect a response! Hebrews 11:6 describes Jehoshaphat's faith. "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
You see, there is the expectation on Jehoshaphat's part that God would respond. The three questions Jehoshaphat asks in his prayer, are faith building questions. They were faith building because they reveal truth about the God who was the object of Jehoshaphat's faith.
I'm going to suggest to you that, principle number two, your faith will be defined by your knowledge and experience of God. And the two are related. Your knowledge of God will either limit or enhance your experience of God. How are you defining God this morning? How does your knowledge of him and your experience of him contribute to that definition? In other words, how well do you know God?
But there is another side of faith. Faith is acting or stepping out in obedience to God's Word. Faith is trusting in God’s promises
and trusting the God of promise. Faith is an action word. Notice God's first response to Jehoshaphat's impassioned prayer. He sent a word to the king and his people through the prophet Jahaziel. Jahaziel was a Levite, a descendent of Asaph. A singer, if you will. His prophetic word brought instructions and a promise; a promise from God that required a response of faith.
Reading 2 Chronicles 20:14-17 (NIV),
"Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. 15 He said: 'Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’”
Jahaziel gave the marching orders. He told them exactly what to do, the instructions and told them exactly what God would do, the promise. You see, God's provision always accompany God's instructions. When we step out in obedience to God, we always step into the provision of God. When we choose to walk in the will of God we will find ourselves walking in the presence of God. Notice the emphasis on God's provision, verse fifteen, “For the battle is not yours but God's,” and verse seventeen, “You will not have to fight this battle see the deliverance the Lord will give you. Go out and face them tomorrow and the Lord will be with you." It's all about what God would do.
Principle number three, obedience to God always brings us into the presence and provision of God. When we choose to walk in the will of God, we will find ourselves walking in the provision and the presence of God.
Notice how Jehoshaphat and his people responded. 2 Chronicles 20:18-20 (NIV), "Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. 19 Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. 20 Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, 'Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.'”
I think verse twenty contains the key to this test of Jehoshaphat's faith. Notice Jehoshaphat's final instruction to his people. You will find it toward the end of verse twenty. Two clauses, “have faith in the Lord you God and you will be upheld.” (NIV) or "believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established” (ESV). There is a command and a promise here. There are two clauses here with two different verbs. First the command, “have faith” or "believe.” Then the promise, “you will be upheld” or “established”. One clause contains a command and the other contains a promise. And the two verbs come from the same root word. Listen to G. Campbell Morgan's comment,
“The exhortation in our text...has, in the original, a beauty and emphasis that are incapable of being preserved in translation. There is a play of words which cannot be reproduced in another language, though the sentiment of it may be explained...and although we can only imitate the original clumsily in our language, we might translate in some way as this: 'Hold fast by the Lord your God, and you will be held fast,' or 'stay yourselves on Him and you will be stable.'”
What is Jehoshaphat saying here? Remember in his prayer he painted a picture of the magnificence of God, His transcendence, His sovereignty, and His power, the binding of Himself to Israel in a covenant relationship. He has defined God, who is the object of their faith for his people, and now he is exhorting his people to respond in faith to this God. Here is the key. The way in which they are to respond to God in faith, is closely related to the way God has promised to respond to their faith.
Again, G. Campbell Morgan. He further describes the imagery that takes place. "Put out your hand and clasp Him, and He puts out His hand and steadies you. But all the steadfastness and strength come from the mighty Hand that is outstretched, not from the tremulous one that grasps it.”
I declare to you this morning, there is a promise from God for every crisis you face; there is a promise from God for every dilemma that is before you; there is a promise from God for every challenge, and adversity and trial and set of difficult circumstances that comes your way. But more important is the fact when we act in obedience, when we take God at His Word; when we embrace His promises; and reach out to God, it is His hand that reaches out and takes hold of our hand; It is the transcendent, sovereign, powerful hand of God that reaches out and grabs hold of our weak and trembling hand. That is the theological truth described here. Are you living in that truth?
What are the obstacles to walking in this kind of faith? Faith in God cannot be separated from our knowledge of God. And intimacy with God is inseparable from intimacy with His Word. Notice the last words of verse twenty, “have faith in his prophets and you will be successful”. God had responded to the fasting and prayer of Jehoshaphat and his people with a specific word through the prophet Jahaziel. Jehoshaphat embraced that word.
God has not left us without a word. The Bible is His word to us, a final and complete revelation. For many of us our view of God is impoverished because our knowledge of His Word is impoverished. We lack intimacy with God because we do not consistently fellowship with Him in His Word. When we fail to give ourselves to God's Word three things happen.
First, we don't understand the nature and character of God. Therefore our fellowship with Him is compromised. Secondly, we don’t know the will of God. Therefore we often live outside of the purposes and plan of God. Thirdly, we don’t know the promises of God. Therefore we miss the blessings and provisions of God.
Peter said it is through the promises of God that we participate in the divine nature. 2 Peter 1:3-4 (NV), "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises," Now listen, "so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."
First, we can respond to adversity with prayer and fasting. Second, we can respond to adversity in obedient faith. Third, we can respond to adversity, and, this is going to surprise some of you, we can respond with praise. Notice Jehoshaphat's response to the word of the Lord spoken by Jahaziel, verse eighteen, an act of worship, praise! That was Jehoshaphat's third response. Notice 2 Chronicles 20:21-23, "After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: 'Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.' 22 As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 23 The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another."
Notice verse 21, Jehoshaphat sent singers ahead of the army. The choir preceded the infantry. And, verse twenty-two, as they praised the Lord revealed his power. As they praised the Lord, he defeated their enemies. I’ve often said that praise is the threshold into the presence of God.
Why is praise so critical in the face of our crisis or adversity? Principle number four, in praise we surrender to God's sovereignty in our lives. As we face challenges and adversity one of God’s provisions is to respond in praise. You see in our praise we acknowledge that the transcendent, sovereign and powerful God is in control of our lives and our circumstances. You see, praise is rooted in our submission, obedience and surrender to God. It is at this point that it dove tails with faith. You cannot exercise biblical faith with out obedience to the will of God. And you cannot exercise biblical praise without surrender to the sovereignty of God in your life and circumstances.
Are you facing adversity today? Is there a trial or challenge that is overwhelming you? What has been your response? King Jehoshaphat and his people faced insurmountable odds, a vast and powerful enemy. In humility they sought the Lord with prayer and fasting. They expressed to God the urgency of their desire. They expressed their dependence on God. They responded in obedient faith. And they praised God. God will reveal Himself strong on our behalf if we respond to our in this way.
I close with this illustration. I use Psalms in my personal worship and prayer. A number of years ago I memorized the first eight verses of Psalm 63. I was undergoing great challenges. As I read these verses one day, I found they expressed my heart and my desperate need of God in those difficult times. Here is the background of these verses. God anointed David to be King many years before he actually replaced King Saul. And for years after being anointed as the next king, David lived as a hunted man, the life of a fugitive often out in the wilderness being tracked down by King Saul and his army. During those years of hardship David had several opportunities to kill King Saul. His faith in God's promise that he would one day be king was tested over and over. Again and again he faced the question whether to trust and obey God or take things into his own hands.
It is believed that while being hunted by King Saul he wrote Psalm 63. As you listen, notice the praise that springs from his heart in this face of his adversity. Notice the words that express his insatiable hunger for God in the face of the life threatening challenges he faced. Notice the words that express his intimate fellowship with God in the face of his trials. Listen carefully to the metaphors and the word pictures that he used to describe his faith and trust in the Lord in these difficult circumstances. May I suggest to you as I close, that his words embody how we are to respond to God in the face of every challenge and adversity.
Psalm 63:1-8 (NIV) "Oh God, you are my God, Earnestly I seek you; My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld you power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands."
Do you think David fasted? He continues,
"My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; With singing lips my lips my mouth will praise you; On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing under the shadow of your wings."
Remember verse twenty, God's outstretched hand? "My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me."
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