"If My People..."
2 Chronicles 7:14
(Delivered Sunday, September 16, 2001 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
I want to begin this morning by affirming that God is still upon His mighty throne, and that He is able to bring good out of last week's dreadful and tragic terrorist attack.
I wrote to someone and said that I believed God was very much at work in all that happened; and that, though it may take a while, we would eventually see the good that He is bringing about through all this. It really didn't take long to begin to see some of that good. I'd like to share an email note I received from a family member. This is a note from someone who attends her church. It's a rather long note; but it's well worth listening to every word. He writes:
"Please forgive another note from me - you're probably tired of them by now. Many of you know that I was scheduled for a meeting in New York City on September 10-11. I was present during the disaster that befell that city, and a even few of you were with me as we watched the devastation unfold. I was so moved by what I saw that I wanted to report to you not only on my well-being, but to attempt to paint the images that are now imprinted forever on my memory.
"You've no doubt seen enough video clips of the disaster and heard enough reports to saturate your comprehension. My experience revealed an entirely different dimension of the tragedy. I was in New York attending a meeting of Emergency Physicians, Nurses, and Paramedics. Soon after the collapse of the second tower we were deployed as a team to 'ground zero,' about four blocks from World Trade Center Building 7, which itself collapsed about 5 hours after our arrival on scene. Twenty-two of our group triaged patients and provided medical support to the New York City Police and Fire Department. Our contribution was very small. Nevertheless, here are my impressions, poured out in a rather staccato flight of images:
"The enormity of the destruction was exceeded only by the summed human courage and spirit of the victims. The few deranged terrorists were hopelessly outnumbered by the hundreds of thousands of common, everyday people responding in the only way they knew - with love and compassion.
"As our team loaded on a bus to go into Manhattan, I looked upward. Over the courthouse across the street, the flag had already been lowered to half-staff. A worker there knew his job and had responded as only he could.
"The owners and managers of the 40 story building in front of which we set up our casualty station also were single-minded: give the medical team and the police and firefighters whatever they needed or wanted. Tables and chairs were brought outside and used for patients; easels and coat racks were IV poles; any food in the building was ours; medical equipment and supplies were freely removed from a nurses' station in the building. Blankets and pillows appeared almost miraculously. A maintenance crew set up floodlights outside the building for our 'hospital.' Other maintenance engineers became food service workers. People brought bandages and medications from their own medicine cabinets in their apartments to give to our team.
"A doctor needed a bicycle to travel to a triage staging area. A local bicycle merchant gave him one of his new models. The doctor told him, 'I don't know when - or if - I'll be able to return it.' The shop owner said, 'Don't worry about it.'
"When you asked New Yorkers where to locate something, they wouldn't tell you - they would take you.
"'Reasonable' replaced 'legal.' If it was needed, you could, and should, do it.
"Paramedic crews from New Jersey arrived quickly as though their next door neighbors had been injured - and they had.
"Injured firemen and police had only one thought as they were being treated - returning to help their colleagues.
"Tearful firefighters told us, 'Don't call us heroes. We're only doing our job.'
"Volunteers to help came out of the woodwork (like us, I guess): 'I'm a dentist. Can I help?' 'I'm a nurse. Can I help?' 'I'm a psychologist. Can I help?' 'I'm a CNA. Can I help?' 'I don't have any medical skills. I can write, and I speak Spanish. Can I help?' 'I'm strong and willing. Can I help?'
"Every time a group of more than 5-10 police or firefighters walked past our intersection or down the street, onlookers applauded.
"A man driving a truck loaded with bottled water stopped at our medical station, unloaded his entire truckload of water, and drove away without a word being spoken to us.
"As the World Trade Center Building 7 collapsed 4 blocks away and sprayed its debris toward our station, some people panicked and ran, and some fell to the sidewalk. But others stopped to help them to their feet to avoid being trampled by the crowd.
"Acts of heroism were performed as if routine.
"A homeless man spent nearly 5 hours at our intersection directing traffic - very successfully.
"Back at our hotel - a Marriott, by the way - the building was opened for tired and injured people evacuating Manhattan by foot. A large meeting room ('Capacity - 2019') became a shelter. Coffee, water, and juice appeared. Food (the good stuff, too - including tortes and pecan pie) came from the kitchen. Blankets, pillows, and towels were provided. A first aid station was set up by some of our team. They even allowed us to establish a blood donation center with the help of local blood bank officials (not exactly 'legal,' but certainly 'reasonable'). Furthermore, the Marriott staff even brought four refrigerators into the first aid room for the donated blood. At that, hundreds of donors had to be turned away.
"The human spirit - an element of 'common grace' - prevailed in hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers' lives. News reporters want to create scorecards that tally only bodies. That's the wrong way to count."
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So, be assured. God is very much at work. But many people are asking, "What happens next? What do we do now?" I'd like to suggest that the greatest question that we, as believers, should be asking right now is, "What does God want in all this? What does He want us to do. What does He want me to do right now?"
In thinking that question through, and seeking to know where God would want us to start, I concluded that there is no clearer answer from the Bible than the one contained in this morning's passage. I can't know this for certain; but my guess is that there will be thousands of pastors turning to it in their pulpits today. I believe it is the word from God for us at this time. It's 2 Chronicals 7:14; a verse that some of you might even have memorized. In it, God says, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
It might be a surprise to most people to know that the context for this verse was not that of tragedy and mourning; but rather one of the highest and most jubilant events in the history of Israel. It was spoken at the time when King Solomon had completed building the temple in Jerusalem, and dedicated the temple to God.
The Bible tells us that King David had originally wanted to build this temple; but God, speaking through a prophet, had forbidden him from doing so. He had been a man whose hands had shed much blood in war; and it wouldn't have been appropriate for him to build this temple. It wasn't that David had done wrong; because God had certainly raised him up to be the warrior and defender of Israel. God said, though, that it would be his son, Solomon, who would build this temple (1 Chron. 22:6-10). And although David was, himself, restricted from building the temple, he made all the provisions necessary for its construction, and turned those provisions over to his son when the time was right.
And so, Solomon built the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. And when the construction was completed, the Ark of the covenant was brought in, and the priests began to serve. And we're told that the glory of God so filled the temple that, for a brief while, the priests couldn't even minister in it (2 Chron. 5:14).
Solomon then offered lengthy prayer of dedication; asking God that, if anyone of Israel should be in a foreign land, or far away, that God would hear them as they cried out to Him toward the temple. He asked, if they cried out in a time of famine, or in a time of sickness, or in a time of drought, or should locust strike the land, or if they should even be attacked by an enemy, that God would hear them as they cried out to Him with their face toward the temple.
And we're told that God honored this request. The Scripture says;
Then the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: "I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place. For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually (2 Chron. 7:12-16).
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Now; this time is far from a time of jubilance and celebration for us. This is a time of deep sorrow, and mourning, and justifiable anger. But I hope that, by God's grace, we may pay attention to what this verse has to teach us at this important time. It truly does tell us what we, as God's people, need to do first of all.
Notice, then, that it tells us ...
I. WHO: WHO MUST DO WHAT GOD SAYS IN THIS VERSE?
God says, "If My people ..."; and in the context in which these words are found, they speak of the nation of Israel. But I can't help but think, too, that "people" speaks of individuals within that nation. God could have said, "If My nation ..."; or "If My country ..."; or "If My chosen race ..." But He said, "If My people ..."; which, it seems to me, speaks not only of the nation and land as a whole, but the individuals of which it was composed.
We mustn't dismiss God's call to us in this verse by saying something general, like, "Boy; our nation sure needs to turn around!" That may be true, but it lets us off the hook personally. I believe God is looking to us as Christian Americans to respond to Him; but I think, most of all, He wants us to respond to Him personally, and individually, as a nation composed of "people".
But there's more. God also speaks here to the people "called by My name". Literally, He says, "called by My name upon them."
Many of us have Bibles that, when we bought them, we had our names stamped on them. Our name marks our Bible as belonging to us. My father used to have an electric engraver; and he would engrave his name on all his tools so that anyone who borrowed them or found them would know that they belonged to him.
Similarly, God puts His "name" on His people. It's a way of expressing ownership. They belong to Him. In Isaiah, God speaks of the individuals in Israel as His own by calling them "... Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him" (Isa. 43:7). He speaks of His grace to the Gentiles, and says, "I was sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, 'Here I am, here I am,' to a nation that was not called by My name" (Isa. 65:1). It's a metaphor to describe how God has placed His elective love on someone, forever marking them as His own.
Someone might say, "But this is speaking of Israel. The nation of Israel is who God meant when He said, "My people who are called by My name". We're America. We don't live in Israel. We don't live near the temple. Does the promise of this verse really have anything to do with us?
Yes it does - if we are Christians. I don't believe this verse is meant to be understood as a promise to the United States in general; but rather, I believe it is speaking to God's people - followers of Jesus Christ, who live in The United States. We are the "salt" and "light" in this nation (Matt. 5:13-16); and God looks to us to be in it what we should be. We, as Christians, are His "people"; because, as the Bible tells us, we are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim th praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). We are "called by His name"; because we are among that group God spoke of in the prophet Amos; "all the Gentiles who are called by My name" (Amos 9:12); and of those upon whom Jesus has written His new name (Rev. 3:12). In fact, we bear the name of Christ in that we are called "Christians" (Acts 11:26; 1 Pet. 4:16).
Dear brothers and sisters; God is not looking to unbelieving people in this verse. He isn't speaking to a nation in general. He is looking to us as Christians. He is looking to believing people in the United States to be the first to respond as they should in this time of national crisis. If we truly are His people, then we are the spiritual thermostats of our nation. God's blessing upon America depends on how we, as His people, called by His name, now respond to Him.
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Next, then, notice the ...
II. HOW: HOW MUST WE RESPOND TO GOD AT A TIME SUCH AS THIS?
There are four responses God is looking for from us. First, he says that His people must "humble themselves".
To "humble" ourselves implies that we are not humble, and need to become humble. it means that we must cease from our own sense of self-righteousness and arrogance, and to come to grips with a genuine sense of shame and sorrow over our sins. It means that we admit our neediness and our dependency upon God - a neediness and dependency that we have, prior to this, ignored.
It's very easy to fool ourselves. It's very easy for us to compare ourselves with others, and convincing ourselves that we're really not so bad after all. But the real issue isn't how we stack up next to other people. The real issue is how we measure up to God's holy standards. God knows the truth about us; and "humbling" ourselves means coming to grips with the truth. In His letters to the seven churches, Jesus rebuked the church in Laodicea; "Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked - I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not bee revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Rev. 3:17-19).
I believe the humble attitude God wants from us - His people - is best illustrated for us in James 4:7-10. There, we read: "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."
And notice that, in our passage this morning, God says His people should "humble themselves". God certainly can humble us if He chooses to. But He looks to us to take the first step and humble ourselves. We may be tempted to think that we haven't done anything wrong; and that there's no need for us to humble ourselves before God. But the Bible's record of the great saints of God who brought a revival to the land shows us that they - the comparatively righteous ones - were the first to recognize their true condition before a holy God, and to humble themselves and confess their sins, and to plead for God's forgiveness and mercy on their nation (Neh. 1:5-11; Psalm 106; Daniel 9:4-19).
May we as Christians - God's people - see our duty in this time of crisis; and may we be the first one's to humble ourselves before God, and confess our sins. He is looking to us to do so.
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Second, we see that God is looking for His people to "pray." When read in its context, you can see that this verse is, in fact, a response to a prayer concerning those who would turn to God in prayer (6:18-40).
Prayer, in this context, was meant to be understood as the supplication of a sinner in need, crying out to God. It may have been because a famine had fallen upon them, or drought, or sickness, or locust, or even the attack of an aggressive enemy. But whatever the reason, it's the cry of a poor, needy sinner, calling out to God for mercy and rescue. That's the kind of prayer this verse is talking about.
Such a prayer is, by the very nature of the case, a humble prayer. And God promises that He will hear the prayer of the one who, in genuine humility and faith, sincerely cries out to Him for rescue. Psalm 145:18-19 says, "The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them." In fact, it glorifies Him to do so; because He says, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me" (Psalm 50:15). To cry out to God in a time of trouble is a mark of a truly godly woman or man; "For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they shall not come near him" (Psalm 32:6).
The ungodly people of this world dismiss such a prayer as an indication of desperation and weakness. But that's not at all true. Rather, it's the expression of a truly reverent person to cry out to God at such times as this. It's the response of a person who has a grasp on reality. It's the mark of a truly humble sinner who sees the truth of the matter; and who recognizes that we're faced with a situation that is bigger than our abilities and resources; and who seeks mercy and help from the only source from which it can be found - from the sovereign God. Such prayer recognizes ourselves for what we are, our situation for what it is, and our God for what He is. "No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety; neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, just as we hope in You" (Psalm 33:16-22).
God looks to us, as His people, not to rest confidently in our own power and resources as a nation; but rather to look to Him in humble trust as our only reliable resource; and to beseech Him in prayer for His divine wisdom, strength, guidance, and deliverance.
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Third, God says He says he wants His people to "seek My face". To "seek" God's "face" means to seek His favor; and the fact that it must be "sought" suggest that His favor is being withheld.
Whenever we're out of favor with someone, they turn their face from us. We must "seek their face" in the sense of becoming right with them again, and thus seek to be restored to their favor. And the same is true in our relationship with God.
Why does God turn His face from us? It's because of sin. Isaiah 59:1-3 says, "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perversity."
If we would "seek God's face" as believers, and see His favor restored to our nation, then we - His people - must begin by confessing our sins. To "confess" basically means to agree with God's verdict on our sins. The Bible tells us that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). God has made His face very easy to be sought. He sent His Son to die on the cross for sins, so that we can have peace with God through Him (Rom. 5:1).
God is looking to us, then, to "seek His face". At times like this, we're often looking to the lost people of the world to seek God's face; and we should certainly pray that they will. But God is looking to us, His people, called by His name, to seek His face first! May God help us to take the first step and do so!
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Finally, we see that God is looking for His people to "turn from their wicked ways".
Personally, I see a progression of events in these four things. God looks to us to, first, humble ourselves before Him and recognize the reality of our need. Second, in such a state of humility, He looks to us to cry out to Him for mercy in prayer. Third, in prayer, He looks to us to seek His face through faith, because our sins have offended Him. Finally, then - as people who are humbled before Him, crying out to Him, seeking His face - He looks to us to turn away from our sins and repent of them.
Our greatest need as Christians is to turn from our sins. We, as God's people, have allowed the values and priorities of this world to so influence us that we've become almost indistinguishable in our behavior from lost people. We're entertained by the same things they're entertained by. We use the same language, and repeat the same jokes they tell. We're driven by the same goals as they, and seek to build an earthly treasure that's like theirs. Statistically, those who call themselves Christians divorce as much as non-believing people, cheat in their marriages as much as non-believing people, and abort their unborn babies as much as non-believing people. And God will not put up with such behavior from His own children.
The Bible says, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man His thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:6-7). And if God would speak such a word to the wicked, can we really expect that He wouldn't say the same thing to His own people? The Bible says, "For the time has come for judgment to being at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:16). God doesn't look to us right now to blame the media, or hollywood for our problems. He doesn't look to us to whine and cry about how the world is going down the tubes. He calls to us to look in the mirror. He looks to His own people to turn the tide, and to be the first to repent from their sins.
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Finally, this leads us to notice the ...
III. WHAT: WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF WE DO WHAT GOD SAYS?
Very simply, we see three things. First, God will "hear from heaven". He will incline Himself to His people when they turn to Him in this way. He will hear "from heaven" - that is, from His place of sovereign rule and authority and power; from His very throne in glory. Our nation needs to have God hear us from heaven right now.
Second, He will "forgive their sin". That's the real need. Our world is in the state that it's in, ultimately, because man has fallen in Adam; and because, as a result, it's a world full of sinners. God sent His Son to solve the problem of sin through His death for us on the cross. He is able to not merely overlook our sins, but to actually forgive them, to release us from the guilt of sin, and to reverse its dreadful effects upon this earth.
And third, He will "heal their land". Our land is a land of people. God's great concern isn't for dirt and rocks, and fields and hills; but for the people living on them; and when He says He will heal our land, it means that He will heal the spiritual problems of people. People are the problem. We shouldn't throw up our arms and say that "the times are bad". The "times" aren't the problem. The times have never been the problem. If the times are bad, it's because the people living in them are bad. As John Bunyan said, "Heal the people, and you'll heal the times." That's what is meant by God "healing" our land.
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God wants to heal our land. He wants to restore to us what has been lost, and to comfort those who are grieving, and to guide those who lead, and to fix what has been broken, and mend what has been torn. He looks to us, as His people, to lead in this work. He looks to us to begin the process.
But notice that the thrust of this verse is conditional. "If My people ... Then will I ..." God looks to us, His believing people, to do what we must do; so that He will be free to do what He wants to do for our nation. This is our great moment of opportunity, as God's people, to become the cause of blessing for our nation - especially at a time when we need God's favor. Will we do what God now calls us to do?
Let me get more specific, dear brother or sister in Christ. Will you?
(copyright 2001 by Pastor Greg Allen and Bethany Bible Church. Reproduction without permission, in whole or in part, is prohibited.)
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