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Jan 10, 2016

Divine Time-Outs

Divine Time-Outs

Passage: 2 Kings 21:1-16

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Story

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: culture, discipline, judah, prophets, punishment, truth


This message looks at some parallels between the ministries of Ezekiel and Jeremiah in the latter days of Judah that are needed today in God's people.


Divine Time-Outs

The Story—Ezekiel, Jeremiah & 2 Kings 21-25

INTRO:  Video comedy of pastor exhorting his church to just “stop it” with sin.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mcXtontujA&index=64&list=WL

Just to clarify, as comical as that is, that doesn’t represent how I feel about Mosaic in any way.  I honestly feel more like the one sinner in the church that is embarrassing the rest of you.  I genuinely feel honored to count as brothers and sisters all of you who are struggling, fighting and scrapping to live holy lives that leave behind sin that always hurts and damages us and others. 

            But I do wonder if God doesn’t feel a bit like that preacher sometimes.  The ongoing sin and outright rebellion of his children makes our Father “look bad” to people without Jesus… to say nothing of how it destroys us.  Despite how much we may think our sin doesn’t damage us or others, the reality doesn’t change. Ignoring the warnings and discipline of God about rebellion can have disastrous effects.

ILL:    Too often we can be like the radio operator on the RMS Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912. Records indicate that the radio operators were extremely busy sending messages from the Titanic’s passengers to loved ones back home, reporting on the great time they were having aboard the world’s most luxurious passenger ship.  Earlier that evening, the radio operators had received a message warning that they were heading into a dangerous ice field.  Rather than give that message the attention it deserved, they set it aside so they could get through the long list of outbound messages from their passengers. 

            Later that evening, a radio operator from a nearby ship also sent a message to the Titanic again warning about the ice field.  One of the Titanic’s radio operators answered via Morse code:  “Shut up; shut up.  I am busy.” 

            We all know the rest of the story that cost the lives of over 1,500 people in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. 

Ignoring warnings that are designed to save us pain and sometimes our lives seems to be an age-old problem.  Such has been the case of many of the people of God through the ages.  Such was the case for God’s people living in the last 140 years of the kingdom of Judah in the period between about 720 B.C. and 580 B.C.  

God had been patiently calling to his kids for over 200 years.  He was warning them of the spiritual ice burgs they were plowing through at full speed.  Their idolatry and neglect of God’s law was punching holes in the bottom of their national boat…and lots of people were being destroyed.  But God kept sending message after message through the mouths of his prophets.  Very few if any people were listening. 

            During this time when Israel had already been taken captive by Assyria and Judah was on the doorstep of the same calamity, God sent some of the more renowned prophets of history. 

One was the prophet Ezekiel who was exiled to Babylon in 597 B.C. along with most of Judah. While Ezekiel saw some of the greatest recorded visions of God found in the Bible, he was also given a series of prophecies about impending further judgment on Jerusalem that sometimes had to be acted out graphically…and painfully. One such message required him to make a clay model of Jerusalem and lie on one side out in public for almost a year.  Another had him shave his head and beard with a sword.  Still another required that he eat a diet of barley cakes cooked over cow dung.

His messages were difficult too.  From a rather lurid story of a couple of sister prostitutes to a warning to self-centered spiritual shepherds of the nation, his messages offended virtually everyone. But most painful had to be the prophesied death of the love of his life, his wife.  It was to be a graphic and painful picture of how the love of God’s heart, his people, would be taken from Him.  And when his wife died, Ezekiel was commanded not to mourn openly for her as a sign that God’s people were not to mourn openly about the fall of Jerusalem (Ez. 24:15-27).

Then there was “the weeping prophet,” Jeremiah.  He was stuck in Jerusalem at the same time.  His graphic prophecies required him to walk around Jerusalem for weeks with a cattle yoke fastened to his shoulders…or go hide his underwear under a rock somewhere in the city and retrieve it only after it had been ruined by the elements.  But the real horrors he endured came while the city suffered a 3 year siege in which famine decimated the inhabitants. It got so bad that women ate their own dead children just to stay alive. After the eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 586, Jeremiah was taken forcibly to Egypt by his own fellow Jews and eventually stoned to death (at least according to Jewish tradition).     

It’s not easy being a faithful servant of the Lord during times of national rebellion.  But it is downright horrifying to be the object of God’s judgment and wrath against unyielding, unrepentant people of God who really know better. 

Let me illustrate that with a couple of kings who reigned during that time…and a couple of examples in our time. 

Let’s start in 2 Kings 21 with Manasseh.  Verse 1 reads

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.” In the two courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.

He took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the Lord had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever. I will not again make the feet of the Israelites wander from the land I gave their ancestors, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them and will keep the whole Law that my servant Moses gave them.” But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.

10 The Lord said through his servants the prophets: 

11 “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. 12 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle….

16 Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

There is quite a litany of sins here!  But at the root of all of them is idolatry: the wrongful placing of someone or something in the rightful place of God.  It manifested itself in astrology and black magic and the occult

The most frequently mentioned and perhaps most nationally destructive was the idolatry of sex demonstrated by erotic Asherah poles and horrific child sacrifice.  The reference to “shedding innocent blood” and “fill[ing] Jerusalem from end to end” with it is most likely a reference to child sacrifice (2 Kings 21:6, 16).  Jeremiah, in his prophetic pronouncement in Jeremiah 19:4-5, lets us know that this problem continued right up to the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 B.C. 

For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.

For parents to sacrifice their own children in some vain hope of obtaining a better life is unthinkable in the mind of God. This very troubling reality in America is that virtually every mid and large-sized city in our country knowingly, openly and deliberately sheds the innocent blood of the pre-born. 

Let me put this in perspective.  In Spokane County, in the 8 years from 2007 to 2015 there were 158 homicides. That is including vehicular homicides.  During those same 8 years, the lives of approximately 16,000 pre-born children have been taken through abortion. 

Men, this is not even primarily a “woman’s issue.”  The majority of abortions are paid for by men.  And it is not something that just happens in the secular culture.  Church-going, self-proclaiming Christians are engaging in it too. 

A recent survey of women who have had an abortion found that “More than 1 in 3 (36%) women were attending a Christian church one or more times a month at the time of their first abortion.” [LifeWay Research, May 2015]  It’s estimated that about 250,000 evangelical women in America choose abortion annually.  [Christian Healthcare Newsletter, Jan. 2016, by Samaritan Ministries]. 

I don’t cite these statistics to shame anyone.  Shame never brought redemption or healing or freedom from guilt.  Only repentance and experiencing the love of God can deliver from that and heal hearts broken by this kind of idolatry.  If that’s been your experience, I pray you are not shamed into silence but rather released into sharing your story so that others don’t go down that same road or, if they have, they find healing as you have. 

And if you’re still suffering from an abortion experience, by all means work through the healing and find the love of God our Father powerful enough to heal you.  The world needs to see that power too because they have NO answer to the pain of this shedding of innocent blood. 

The alternative to repentance in any sin in life is to just keep going down the road of destruction that sin is.  Like going around “Road Closed” barricades or continuing to drive past sign after sign warning of imminent danger, continuing down the road of sin will hurt us over and over again and eventually put us past the point of no-return. 

  • History is littered with nations that have done this.
  • Our cities our filled with people who are suffering deeply because they have done this.
  • Even the church has far too many who grow so calloused to their sin that they do irreparable damage to themselves.

But what is striking is God’s continued calling to people.  Look back at the life of this king, Manasseh.  As long as there was any possibility of repentance, God kept administering divine discipline in the hopes that his children would repent and return. 

In 2 Chronicles 33:10 we’re told this about God’s discipline of Manasseh.  10 The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.

ILL:  How many of us have had the experience of being parents?  If we are parents with the heart of God towards our children, there was never a time when you just relished disciplining your kids, right?  No parent enjoys handing out discipline.  That’s why so many parents get in the bad habit of saying to little Liam or Emily, “If you do that one more time, I’m going to….”  And the parent hopes to high heaven that their little angel obeys.  No good mom or dad wants to give their child a time-out…or a spanking …or the loss of some privilege.  Every parent worth their weight in salt would rather keep playing with their kid or keep giving good things rather than have to step forward and actually discipline.

            Kids are really smart, too.  They know in 3 minutes just how far they can push you and just how serious you are about what you’ve said.  They know that some adults need to be obeyed the first time…and they know that some adults never need to be obeyed.  I pity the children whose parents really don’t need to be obeyed because they are the kids who will grow up to be teenagers and adults who never figure out that from God to government, from parents to parking attendants, the world and humans are designed such that godly obedience leads to blessing but sinful rebellion will lead to ruin. 

But as we noticed earlier, every nation, every city, even every church or person can so persistently reject God and embrace evil that there comes a point when the judgment of God must fall.  For nations, cities and churches, that will mean that some of them never recover.  That will mean that their light goes out, they cease to survive and they die. 

            The same happens to individuals as well, to godless pagans and to rebellious “saints” or Christians.  In both cases it’s a road that will lead to death.  In both cases it can become a road that ends in physical death, often prematurely. But in the case of rebellious sinners, it also leads to eternal death… separation from God forever. In the case of a rebellious child of God it may lead to premature loss of physical life though not a loss of eternal life with God.  (Loss of eternal “rewards”, whatever they are, is however another topic for another day.)   

This is what happened to Judah, to Jerusalem and to the Jewish people.  It is what still happens to nation-states, to cities and to individuals.  The prophet Ezekiel, living in exile in Babylon, delivers God’s hard and much-delayed message of judgment to the people of God still in the Promised Land. All the road signs haven’t helped.  And there is nothing left to do but to pronounce the required next-step.  

Ezekiel 6:3ff-- I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars.

            This sounds so very harsh to us who come in to this nice comfortable place, glance at hundreds of years of rebellion in 3 minutes and then hear God’s word of judgment.  We tend to think, “Really, God?  Couldn’t you give them one more chance?” 

Yes, He could.  But as any parent with experience knows, there comes a time when more chances does more harm than good.  One more chance degrades the child…and the family…or the community.

            Even with our flawed sense of justice, we all should get to the point at various times in life when the evil and destructive actions of others bring us to the point where we say, “That’s it!  No more!  For me to sit idly by and not take decisive action to STOP your evil is the same as participating in that evil…and I won’t do it!”  People who don’t get to that point when they should will usually become as evil as the injustices they put up with.  And everyone will suffer, including themselves.

Our God simply cannot degrade himself like that.  So, yes, sinful human behavior does result in godly divine judgment. Sometimes that means God closes the curtain on a person’s life. 

            Even in the life of New Testament believers, we see that happening.  In I Corinthians 5, Paul is calling out the church’s failure to address the sin of incest that was apparently being openly practiced by a particular man and his step-mother (or mother) in the congregation. Here is what he says beginning in the second half of verse 3: 

As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

            It is possible for the child of God to be so caught up and unrepentant in sin that God finally says, out of love for them, “O.K.  you are going to suffer death…or captivity…or incarceration… or isolationso that your spirit may still experience salvation.”  Paul echoes this experience in I Timothy 1:20 speaking about a couple of guys in the church (Hymenaeus and Alexander) who had “shipwrecked” their faith and needed to be taken out of the game or taken down a few notches so they would repent. 

Jeremiah became the last O.T. prophet to reside in Jerusalem before it was destroyed by the Assyrians in 586 B.C.  His was a difficult, sad, painful ministry.  He was tasked with being God’s voice to a people who simply refused to acknowledge that their actions were bringing God’s judgment.  And if you don’t like the message, what do you usually do to the messenger?  Shoot them, right?  At least today.   They did other things to Jeremiah…like beat him and put him in stocks …or shun him publicly…or throw him in chains in prison…or leave him in a muddy cistern to starve to death…or beat him up and accuse him of treason.  The list is long with Jeremiah…and the time-frame is long:  50 years!

            But listen to what God said to him when he called him to this work.  God knew how hard his life and ministry would be.  He knew how stone deaf His people would be to the message given by God.  He knew the indignities Jeremiah would have to suffer…and the soft heart he would have that would cause him to weep for his own people and for his own pain. 

Jeremiah 1: The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

            At Men’s Connection yesterday, sitting in what may become our new coffee shop and ministry facility, we talked about the physical demolition that will have to take place in that space and the physical renovation that will follow.  That is the same cycle to which God called Jeremiah—“uproot and tear down…destroy and overthrow.”  Only then would God be able to “build and plant” the new things He wanted to do with his people. This is the process of revival for the people of God.  It is both glorious and horrible. 

            God keeps speaking to Jeremiah:  17 “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.

18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

            The older I get, the more I am impressed by what God promises…and what He doesn’t promise

  • God doesn’t promise an easy road to his people. But he does promise Himself
  • God doesn’t promise that people will love the message or the messenger. But he does promise to give us a message and to make us His messengers. 
  • God doesn’t promise adoring crowds and constant popularity. But He does promise His applause and His power to endure.

            You and I are called to minister the Good News of Christ and the bad news of sin to a culture much like that in Jerusalem where Jeremiah was.  God calls us to speak…in some ways even shout…warnings to people on a Titanic culture of materialism and hedonism.  We, like these prophets of old, are charged by God to point out the sin that is destroying us…and to point to the Savior Jesus who heals us.  

            Regardless of the outcome, regardless of the rejection, regardless of the opposition, God calls us to be his heart and voice to our nation, our city, our neighbors.  And he reminds us time and again:  “I AM with you…to the end of your life…to the end of your nation…to the end of the world!”

APP:  So what do we need to DO with these passages and truths today?  May I suggest a few possibilities

  • Have we settled and come to grips with the reality that following Jesus will mean trouble, opposition and persecution in this world? Have we embraced that as part of being God’s people in a world opposed to Christ?  God will give the grace when we need it.  But we must prepare our minds and hearts so that we are not surprised or troubled when it happens.

John 16:33:“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 15:20: “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”

  • Are we committed to speaking up and speaking out against evil when we see it unfolding? Are we willing to step into the debate and be the voice of reason in a culture going crazy with immorality and relativism?  Will we speak up and remind people of divine truths that will always be true when everyone else around us in our workplace or school may be firmly convinced that just the opposite is true? 

Love for others must always be our motivation.  But love will also move us to rescue them from the lies of our age. 

  • It may mean speaking up around the lunch table when the rest of our coworkers or fellow students are confused or even violently opposed to the truth of God?
  • It may mean calling our elected officials and reminding them of God’s truth.
  • It may mean challenging some Christian couple to keep fighting for their marriage when everyone else is telling them to throw it aside.
  • It may mean calling out some moral compromise of a brother or sister in Christ.
  • It may mean weeping with those who are being so terribly damaged by sin.

 It’s not enough that we have “found the light” of Christ; we need to take that light back into the darkness that holds so many captive. 

  • No matter how dark the days become, we must always hold onto the hope God has given us—Jesus Christ. The more evil the world becomes (and it will), the more we must cling to life in Jesus Christ. We must find our hope in His promises.  We must find our stability in the storm in His presence.  This was the confidence that even the weeping prophet Jeremiah knew.  God was the hope he clung to when the world around Him was going crazy. 

Jeremiah 29:11-13-- 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 

Lamentations 3:19-26-- 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.