Today we’re going to consider two verses. We’ll take a look at them and talk about what it is that the Lord requires of us.
If you would, turn to 2 Chronicles 7:14. It comes right after Solomon dedicates the Temple. This verse has been famous in American politics; Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan had the Bible opened to this verse at their inaugurations, and Mike Pence did as well this past January. It’s one of my personal favorites as well. God is telling Solomon here about what he promised to do for his people if they would obey him. It reads, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
“If my people, which are called by my name”-This verse is about Israel, but we do believe we are God’s people: John says that we are God’s children now; here, in the present (1 John 3:2). And since we are part of “spiritual” Israel, we are called by God’s name as well. So this verse is really important for us.
“Shall humble themselves”-Peter says to “be clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:5).” Paul says, “Be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another (Romans 12:10).” So we need to be humble in personal relationships, but even more in our relationship with God; his ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Ecclesiastes says “God is in heaven, and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:2).” We read in Isaiah 14 about someone who thought they were just as good as God, but was humbled: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregations, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit (Isaiah 14:12-15).” Pharaoh refused to humble himself (Exodus 10:3). But remember who we are in God’s sight; we are all sinners; no one is better than anyone else.
“And pray”-Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).” Reading the Bible is important, and God’s words are obviously more important than our words, but he does not want our relationship with him to be one-sided. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20); there is nothing too hard for him (Jeremiah 32:17). Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened unto you (Matthew 7:7).”
“And seek my face”-Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6). There is only a limited time for each of us; life is the time to serve the Lord. God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
“And turn from their wicked ways”-We all have “wicked” ways in us; no one is perfect. The last two verses of Psalm 139 state, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” All have sinned and fall short (Romans 3:23). David wrote, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me (Psalm 66:18).” God does not care as much about what we have done in the past; he wants us to turn from our wicked ways. Then he says:
“Then will I hear from heaven”-Heaven is his dwelling place (1 Kings 8:39). He is the creator of the universe; he made the sun, moon, stars, planets, and this earth. Heaven is his throne and earth is his footstool (Isaiah 66:1).
“And will forgive their sin”-God is willing to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He says in Isaiah, “Come now, and let us reason together…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:18).” He is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24).
“And will heal their land”-Here in the 21st century, we don’t all have “land” that needs healing. What this verse is essentially saying is that God will do good for us. Continuing on in Isaiah, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land (Isaiah 1:19).” The Lord says in Malachi, “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2).” It is written in Psalms that “The Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).”
This verse can be applied individually as well; you can read this verse and substitute your own name, make it more personal instead of national: “If Dan will humble himself, and pray, and seek God’s face, and turn from his sinful ways, then the Lord will hear from heaven, and will forgive Dan’s sin, and will help him.”
As we saw in this verse, it’s an “if-then” statement. God gives us a choice; we don’t have to obey him; most people don’t. But he tells us what the consequences are for obeying and disobeying: “I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live (Deuteronomy 30:19).”
God asked his people Israel, “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for good (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)?” His commandments and statues were for their good; the same applies to us now. God told Jeremiah later on, about his people, “I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them, and of their children after them (Jeremiah 32:39).”
Rules are good. If there are no rules, then anything goes, and that is usually always a disaster. But why do you think there’s so much crime in this country? There’s rules against it, right? There’s a school in Richmond that has a sign outside saying “No Crime.” Could you even imagine a more stupid sign? The laws of the land don’t make people change. What we all need to learn most can’t be taught in school or even at a Bible school. You can’t teach people how to act and then quiz or test them on it and send them forward to act better. One thing about the Law of Moses is that it did not teach people how to act. The Law of Moses was holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12); but it didn’t change people, and it didn’t lead people to loving God or their neighbor. Many times, when someone sinned against the law, their mindset was probably “Oh well, I guess I need to go find a turtledove and sacrifice it to the Lord.” It didn’t make them change their mentality. The Law of Moses was about the outward appearance, whereas the Law of Christ is about the inward appearance. The Judaizers thought that even under Christ, a believer still had to follow the Law of Moses: Salvation equaled Christ-plus-the-Law, or, more accurately, the-Law-plus-this-new-guy-Jesus. What God really wants is a change of heart and mind. If we see God’s laws as just a checklist, then we are essentially turning our Bibles into just paper and ink. It will not change us if it is just a “rule book.” It is important as well that we know not to add to God’s words; it is written in the last few verses of Revelation that there is a pretty big penalty for doing so (Revelation 22:18). It’s fine to have your own rules and limitations; we all probably do. Some choose to not consume alcohol, others choose to not own a television, and others choose to not enjoy certain holidays, and so on. But we need to stay humble about it and remember that we don’t get “extra points” in God’s sight, and that it does not equate to righteousness. Following God’s laws is righteousness, not following your own additional laws. There’s an example in a book, a very good book, that says something to the effect of, “One brother may own a television and have some brothers and sisters look down on him for it, while another brother may choose not to own a television, but has X-rated movies running through his mind all the time.” We can’t judge someone based on externals; God doesn’t judge on externals either. The standard of righteousness is a matter of the heart (“The Judaizers”). But that does not mean anything goes. Whether you own a television, or drink alcohol, it is of little to no account to God. He wants you to do what is right; he wants you to love him with your heart and mind. You can appear righteous, but if your mind is not in the right place, then it does no good. Whatever you do in life, if it helps you be more righteous, to help your faith and your love for the Lord and your neighbor, then by all means, do it. If it damages your love for God and your neighbor, it’s probably best not to do that.
Especially in this country nowadays, we hear the term “liberal” and “conservative” thrown around quite a lot. Even in the truth, we hear it used. Here we may consider our group to be more on the conservative and “traditional” side; we come in wearing our ties every Sunday, while we all know of meetings that we may say are more “liberal.” But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we do what God says; if we obey God, there is no such thing as “conservative” or “liberal” in his sight. Most of that has to do with personal feelings and opinions anyway, of matters that are of little to no account to God. He wants us to do what is right in his sight. We cannot go wrong if we are following Jesus.
The people in Isaiah’s day were fasting, to appear righteous, hoping that God would see them, even though he had not asked them to. These people were actually doing right in God’s sight; he says that in Isaiah 58:2. But they were adding things to make them appear even more righteous. He answers them in Isaiah 58:3-14. What he asks them to do is to loose the bands of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke, and deal bread to the hungry (Isaiah 58:6-7). You see, it’s possible to have it backwards, even though it may feel like what we are doing is right. Let’s turn to Micah 6:8; this is a verse we’re all probably a lot more familiar with. It’s a good memory verse. Actually, let’s back up to verse 6: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6-8)?”
“He has shown you, O man, what is good”-He has shown us the path of life; in his presence is fullness of joy; at his right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
“And what does the Lord require of you, but to act justly”-seek justice, “let justice run down as waters, and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).” Do what is right, but make sure it is right. Many times we may find ourselves in a situation where it feels right but it is not. We may have good intentions, but if we’re not following what God says, it’s wrong.
“And to love mercy”- Love mercy, don’t just do mercy. Anyone can do mercy. You have to try a little harder to love mercy. Jonah was someone who did not love mercy; he wanted Ninevah blown off the face of the earth, and he may as well have had a bucket of popcorn there with him (Jonah 3:10-4:1, 4:5). We all want mercy for ourselves and justice for others. But Jesus says, “But love ye your enemies, and do good and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:35-36).” At the judgment, Jesus is going to love having mercy on those who he lets into his kingdom. He will not let anyone in grudgingly. He will say “enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matthew 25:21),” and he will be happy to say it.
“And to walk humbly with your God”-In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14), the Pharisee told God that he had checked off every item on the list; he thought he was pretty great. Meanwhile, the tax collector said “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus ended that parable by saying, “he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke 18:14).” It was a very mechanical relationship. God and Jesus don’t want a mechanical relationship. The last part of Micah 6:8 says “walk humbly with your God;” the operative word being “with.”
God promises that the righteous will be rewarded. Turn to Matthew 20 if you would; this is the Parable of the Laborers (give short version). We know that Jesus said “Many are called and few are chosen (Matthew 20:16),” but in this parable, everyone who labored to the end received their reward. It wasn’t as if the man just chose the ones who worked the hardest and said, “The rest of you did good, but I can only pay a few of you. Sorry!” We can overlook this whole parable and put a magnifying glass on that one verse at the end. It is written that “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13);” not “some” or “may have a chance.” Ultimately, he is going to give us what we want at the Judgment Seat. If we really want to be in the Kingdom, we will have done what he asked us to do, and we will be there. Solomon finishes his book by saying “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).”
Turning now to Jesus, the only man who ever fulfilled all of God’s law; he brought a new set of laws that made us love our God and love each other; he did it perfectly, even to being crucified, and he is the one we’ve come here to remember today. We’re to be like him; that’s what he wants from us. He wants to see a reflection of himself in us, and that is what he will be looking for when he returns. f