January 2, 2019

Advent 4 - 2 Kings 1:2-17

There is a God in Israel!

Our sermon text is found in the first Scripture reading from 2 Kings 1:2-17.

As I studied this text in preparation for today’s message, I kept thinking of Peter. Peter, on the top of the mountain as our Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured before His eyes. And you remember what Peter said, “It is good to be here, Lord.” Yes, it is Peter. Saints throughout the ages have remarked the same thing when brought before the glory and majesty of Jesus – It is good to be here.

I want you to think of that as we come before God’s Word today. I want you to remember that, and to trust that, because in addition to being here, we all bring something here. It’s common to talk about what we bring around this time of year, isn’t it? One day away from Christmas Eve. Two days from Christmas. You can hardly show up anywhere without the question escaping a person’s lips, “What did you bring?” 

That’s a celebratory question around our house, as the kids flutter with excitement at what could be under the tree. What did mom and dad bring this year? These last few weekends we’ve touched on that anticipation and excitement that comes along with the Advent season; not just to receive gifts but to receive a Savior born for us. But today, and each day, that question means something else too. And it takes on a bigger meaning around Christmas too. What did you bring? So many of us have additional stressors, insecurities, and fears around Christmastime. Despite the cheery pictures portrayed on the television in commercials and on the radio in Christmas jingles, this time of year is not always merry and bright for everyone. We’re all bringing something today, to God’s house. Not just in anticipation, but also in anxiety.

Have you come with burdens? Perhaps, someone close to you is no longer here this year. Maybe the last few weeks or months at work have been frustrating and left you wondering what you’ve made of your life; feeling like you’re all out of options. For some of us, we’ve been let down by someone else in our life. Someone that we staked so much on; perhaps someone we committed to, even in the deepest way, only to be let down. For some of you, the burden doesn’t have a name or a face. You feel it and it affects you, and it causes pain, but the remedy escapes your ability. And in your heart you feel like you’re careening ever deeper into the emotional abyss. These burdens, and a thousand others are accentuated during Christmas. And no matter who are, you’re carrying something, and you’ve brought it here today.

Our lesson from God’s Word isn’t high on the list of popular Advent or Christmas texts. Yet, it is a lesson about what God does for what you bring. It doesn’t start that way, however. King Ahaziah had a problem. Perhaps not a life-altering problem at the start, but that’s exactly what it became. He hurt himself by falling and he needed help. It wasn’t that his initial injury was so deeply concerning, it’s more of what his reaction to this injury caused him to do.

As in all situations where a person is confronted with something that displays their limited mortality, Ahaziah sought help. And what better place to turn than God? The problem was, Ahaziah sought the wrong god. Why he did this isn’t hard to understand. Ahaziah was the son of Ahab, one of the most wicked kings in the history of Israel. Ahab had plenty of run-ins with Jehovah and a His servant, Elijah. You can sense that Ahaziah knows about Elijah because he can identify him by his appearance. I’m sure Ahaziah grew up hearing his father Ahab complain about the prophet of God that continually called him to repentance.

Instead of seeking the true God, Ahaziah goes after a Philistine god, Baal-zebub. This was an easy thing to do. The village of Ekron was right over the border into Philistia. Ahaziah certainly would have also been influenced by his mother, Queen Jezebel, who was from Philistia and was the daughter of one of Baal’s prophets. Ahaziah was seeking help for his affliction, but through his own choices he added to his plight. His chief mistake was that he made his decision as if Jehovah no longer existed. Elijah called the king out once again, saying, “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.” This particular decision carried a weighty consequence, as decisions tend to for those whom the Lord has put in leadership positions. Ahaziah would die because of his choice – that was the prophet’s message. 

At this point, repentance on Ahaziah’s part certainly would have been in order. But he was the king. He got what he wanted. He didn’t let God, or His prophets, dictate to him. So in his pride, he took the next step – he demanded that God do what he wanted. This demand started by doing what his father, Ahab, never could – getting rid of Elijah. Like any petty dictator, Ahaziah decided to destroy his opposition, instead of listening. Three times he sent detachments of troops to arrest Elijah. Twice, they were consumed by fire from above.

Then, something amazing happened – a sure sign that there was still a God in Israel! The king’s servant did what the king refused to, and in so doing received what the king never would. The captain of the third detachment of soldiers fell on his knees and pleaded before Elijah saying, "O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight.

What resulted was the strongest sign of God’s power that day. It wasn’t about the fire from heaven or the swift act of judgment and raw power. It’s never just about those types of things with God. It was about grace and mercy. It was peace and love. God showed the greatest of His virtues to that captain and his men, not because they deserved it, but because they recognized and believed that they didn’t.

Two men needed something that day. Two men brought what they carried. But, what each one received was different, because of what they believed. Ahaziah no longer believed there was a God in Israel, at least not one worth believing or one that was greater than Baal-zebub. He carried his burden in anger, hostility, and defiance. The captain lost all control and power, at least of his own, yet gained the grace of the true, eternal God. He carried his burden with humility, sorrow, repentance, and most of all – trust.

Centuries later, the worship of Baal-zebub was not so popular in Israel. The name of that god was more of a backhanded insult used to mock and ridicule. But that doesn’t mean anything had changed. For it would be to God’s own Son that the people gave this title, crying out at the sight of His power that it was given by Baal-zebub. Jesus’ reply summarized the problem in their hearts just as much as the problem in Ahaziah’s. Luke 11:23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (ESV)

We all carry something, but without Jesus our efforts are scattered as much as grains of sand in the wind. It’s a powerful thing to know and believe that there is still a God in Israel. Elijah knew that and he believed it. The unnamed captain knew that and be believed it. What about you?

What do you carry today? What did you bring with you this morning? What is your burden this Christmas? Let us not play the fool and think we are stronger or more resilient than those in need. Let us not be kings who trust in their power, riches, and strength. We all have something.

The thing about these burdens and struggles, is that very often it’s only you that knows about them. The things that hurt us the most are deeply personal. They easily hidden. They are all too often suppressed out of sheer feeling of helplessness and guilt. But you know them, and here’s what I want you to know. There is a God in Israel. Not Baal-zebub, not Satan, not power or money, not even you. A Savior. A Son. A Brother. A Lord. There is a God – Jesus. I may never know what you’ve gone through, what you’re going, or what you will go through. But I know there is a God and I know who He is and what He’s done. Your father and your mother; your sister and your brother, your closest friend – they may never know what you’re carrying – but there is a God who does. I want you to know that. I want you to believe that.

There was something else that Jesus said that day, when in one of the greatest ironies of all time, He was called by the name of the ancient Philistine god – Baal-zebub. He did warn them that those who oppose Him will be scattered. But He also offered hope – because He knows we all have something to carry – both those who believe and those who do not.

After hearing what Jesus said and seeing what He had done, a woman cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!" 28 But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and treasure it!"

That is for you, dear friend. At a time when we celebrate our Savior’s birth, and we see just how highly honored Mary was; not only to be in the presence of her Lord and Savior, but to nurture and care for Him. At a time like this, when we’re also confronted with the less-pleasant realities of our mortal limitations, our burdens, and our struggles that we carry; Jesus holds us close by His voice and says, More than that, blessed are you – you who hear My Word and treasure it in your heart.

No matter what you’ve brought today – there is a God in Israel! And more than that, there is a God in the United States, there is a God in Washington state, there is a God in Lynnwood, and there is a God here at Redemption. And most importantly of all – there is a God in your heart. Sometimes what you carry will cause you to doubt that. But, today, and especially as we approach the commemoration of this God’s birth, I want you to know that, and I want you to believe it.

That’s the joy-filled, hopeful message of Christmas. That’s the word of God that we treasure and that blesses us time and time again – that there is God and He is for me. Your Jesus, who knows you by name, who planned your salvation in eternity, who came – conceived, born, and becoming – just like you, who suffered, died, and was buried. Your God’s life is a gift to you – a beautiful tapestry of your inheritance in heaven, from the fragile moments of His conception and birth to the horrifying moments of His punishment and judgment upon the cross. It was all for you.

And your privilege today is to proclaim that there is a God. No matter what I carry. No matter what I’ve done. No matter where I’ve come from. No matter what I have in my hands. I have this God.

One last story. The most pivotal moment when God’s faithful thought all was lost. The most pressing time for not only them – but us. When all seemed lost. When Satan was thought to have gained the upper hand. When the lights of Christmas were dim. When darkness covered the earth. No carols. No singing. No gifts. Just a cold, lifeless tomb, and two frightened men fearing the worst – carrying what they had brought; the over-bearing load of their unfaithfulness.

And the angels said, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? "He is not here, He is risen (Luke 24:5-6)

There is a God in Israel. There is a God for you – Jesus, the Christ. No matter what you bring – it is good to be here, Lord. Amen.

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