Our Mission In God’s World [Part 3]
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. —2 Chronicles 16:9
If you’re new here at Immanuel, the sermons I’m preaching these three weeks are not typical. Most of the time I preach for both insiders and outsiders. But these sermons are primarily for insiders, for members. I’m coaching Immanuel people in how to ramp up for our new Sunday format, starting in two weeks. So please come back, because next week I’ll be back in my usual mode.
How should we understand “blameless”?
Let’s begin by pressing into a question of translation. The ESV reads, “those whose heart is blameless toward him.” I can see how they got from the Hebrew to that English wording. But the word “blameless” might be unclear. We might think “blameless” = “sinless.” And if God pays attention only to sinless people, what hope do we have? Another translation reads, “those whose heart is completely his” (NASB). That’s clearer. The Hebrew could also be paraphrased, “those who are wholehearted toward him.” The people God strongly supports are not sinless people, but they have made up their minds. They know what they want, and they know what they don’t want. They are sinful and weak, but they are decided people. The Bible is saying that, for the sake of Christ, God gives strong support to those who want him. If you like God, but you’re keeping your options open in case you find something better, this verse is not for you. You have no right to it. And maybe what you need is disaster. Maybe you need God to wreck your life, so that you finally get desperate enough to hurl yourself at him. And then you really will find out how strongly he will support you. But every one of us must see and dread the arrogance of dictating terms to God, setting limits and preconditions on God, telling him “I want you in my life up to a point, but beyond that I keep control and you can stay out of it.” That is a divided heart, and God will not visit that heart with strong support. The Bible says, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). What does that mean? It means, Stop bargaining with God so that you can avoid going all the way with him. He isn’t interested in haggling with you and striking a compromise and meeting you somewhere in the middle. All he wants to do is love you, and on terms of grace. And how can you buy what isn’t for sale? If you think you can have God’s heart open to you, while your heart is guarded toward him, you obviously don’t understand the gospel at all. His wholehearted love for us at the cross makes us wholehearted toward him now. It is one thing to become defensive in the face of God’s law. But if we become defensive in the face of God’s grace, what else does God have to offer us? This is what you need to know about God. Through the cross of Christ, he loves you in your sin and wants to support you strongly. He loves you because you are a sinner. He loves you the most where you are the most sinful and wants to support you strongly right there with redemption and newness of life and influence in other sinners’ lives. So if you are very sinful but what you want now is to stop getting your own way and fall into the arms of God, this verse is for you.
These wonderful words – “those whose heart is completely his” – how does the author of this passage explain them? There is a reason why the prophet Hanani is saying this to King Asa. What was the back story? Years before a vastly superior Ethiopian army had Asa’s back against the wall. But he turned to God: “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you” (2 Chronicles 14:11). Asa knew one thing. There come those moments in life when we need no one less than God to step in. We turn to God, because we are overwhelmed and we need what only God can do. Asa did turn to God, and God did rescue him. That was the history here. But yesterday’s faith gets old and stale quickly. The life of faith is moment-by-moment. Faith in God is constantly fresh, because God wants to be real to us every day in a fresh way. He wants to tell a multi-episode story, through our lives and through our church, of what only God can do. It’s why he sends us both trouble and opportunity, again and again. He is calling us to step out in faith, so that through us he can tell a story of his own faithfulness.
King Asa did trust God in the crisis of years before. But now he’s under attack again. And this time he is an idiot. Verse 9 says, “You have acted foolishly.” What is his folly? Rather than go get the Lord’s help, Asa turns to an earthly political power. In a way, that was understandable. In a way, it was the sensible thing to do. It was how everyone got by. It’s how people survive today. Align yourself with the powers that be, because God doesn’t really count. We are on our own. That is how unbelief thinks. But the Bible is saying here that the power of God comes to those who are tired of doing the sensible things that everyone else does. The power of God comes to those who aren’t satisfied with their own mediocrity somehow getting by. The power of God comes to those whose hearts long for God. They long to see God move in power, for his own glory in their time, and they know they have no strength in themselves. Therefore, to God they turn, with all their hearts. Here is what that can look like. Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist, went to Stalinist Russia in the 1930s, expecting to find Utopia. What he actually saw was something else. He told us about it:
In Kiev, where I found myself on a Sunday morning, on an impulse I turned into a church where a service was in progress. It was packed tight, but I managed to squeeze myself against a pillar whence I could survey the congregation and look up at the altar. Young and old, peasants and townsmen, parents and children, even a few in uniform. Never before or since have I participated in such worship; the sense conveyed of turning to God in great affliction was overpowering. Though I could not follow the service, I knew little bits of it; for instance, where the congregation say there is no help for them except from God. What intense feeling they put into these words! In their minds, I knew, as in my own mind, was a picture of those desolate abandoned villages, the hunger and the hopelessness, the cattle trucks being loaded with humans in the dawn light. Where were they to turn for help? Not to the Kremlin, nor to the forces of progress and democracy in the West. So, only God remained, and to God they turned with a passion, a dedication, a humility, impossible to convey. They took me with them; I felt closer to God then than I ever had before, or am likely to again.
Immanuel, this is God’s call on us – that we would be completely his, to prove how real he is for weak people today.
Now, Asa was a good man, on the whole. But this time, he acted foolishly and lost his opportunity. On this occasion, his heart was saying to God, “You won’t help me. You’re not relevant. So I have to do this my own way.” And he succeeded. He rescued himself. His own brains and politics worked. But God wasn’t in it. And the prophet said, “Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, . . . from now on you will have wars” (2 Chronicles 16:7, 9). Asa trusted Syria for peace, and he got wars. Whatever we trust, if it isn’t God, will become the opposite of what we want. This is why stepping out in faith always involves repentance. Turning to God is a change for us, especially us Americans who think we know how to manage everything. Jesus said, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He wasn’t telling us how we can deserve the blessing of God, but he was telling us how we can experience the blessing of God we don’t deserve. We turn from everything that has always let us down, and we turn to God and open up to him, whatever he wants.
This is all over the Bible. Think of David. He sinned massively. He didn’t deserve the blessing of God. But he got it. How? In Psalm 51, the foremost passage in the Bible on gospel repentance, David said to God, “You are just when you pass sentence on me” (Psalm 51:4, JB). David knew whose side he was on. He was on God’s side against himself. He was not protecting himself from God; he was open to whatever God had for him. And God strongly supported David. William Arnot put it this way:
The difference between an unconverted and a converted man is not that one has sins and the other has none; but that the one takes part with his cherished sins against a dreaded God, and the other takes part with a reconciled God against his hated sins.
This wonderful verse in 2 Chronicles is about our wholehearted Savior God drawing near with power for sinners who have faced themselves, and all they want now is to see God do something new in their lives. I believe that is the heart God has given to Immanuel Church. I see everywhere in this church hearts that are completely his. He sees it. He loves it. We don’t have to be geniuses. We don’t have to be saints. Let’s just stay open and completely surrendered to him. That is God’s appointed place of blessing and power for us.
What does it mean that God’s eyes “run to and fro”?
This is beautiful to me – how eager God is to help us. His eyes “run to and fro.” Another translation says, his eyes “flash back and forth.” What does that mean? It means that God is on the lookout for people he can help. He’s moving through the world today. Do you realize how God thinks? It’s like this: “I wonder if there’s anyone in Nashville I could strongly support? Are there any hearts in Nashville that are completely mine? Maybe down on Granny White Pike?” And we’re saying to him this morning, “Yes, Lord. We’ve done so many bad things. But the blood of Jesus has washed them all away. And we’re saying to you this morning, ‘Lord, we are yours. Come show your strong support, as we press forward on mission for you.’” The eyes of the Lord see that heartcry and honor it.
If we didn’t have this verse, we might think of God as standing off at a distance. We might think God doesn’t see and doesn’t know and maybe doesn’t even care. We might think God is busy with important people but not with us. But here the Bible shows us something different about God. The very syntax of the Hebrew text is emphatic: “The Lord – his eyes are running to and fro . . . .” The prophet is saying, “Here is what you must know about the Lord.” What is it? He has eyes, he has awareness, he is paying close attention. He knows, and nothing is hidden from his knowing. The Bible says that God is omniscient, that is, God knows everything. His knowledge is universal, because his presence is universal in both space and time. We know as a response to reality; God knows as a purpose for reality. God creates reality by his knowing thoughts. He knows all actualities and all possibilities. He knows what is and what could have been. Jesus said to the unrepentant cities of his time, “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Matthew 11:23). He knew not only what did happen to Sodom but also what could have happened to Sodom. That’s how fully he knows us today. In his seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, the risen Christ starts out each letter by saying to them, “I know.” And in Revelation chapter 1 he is shown to have “eyes like a flame of fire” (Revelation 1:14), burning through all false appearances. And what we see here in 2 Chronicles 16:9 is this risen Jesus moving toward us with total awareness of our needs, eager to help, ready to enter in, happy to make the difference. We don’t have to get him to pay attention to us. He is already looking at us. He is ready. He never misses an opportunity. All he asks is that we give him our hearts. I found a cutout from an old bulletin at Lake Avenue Church from November 29, 1970. It was a column my dad wrote for the church bulletin. Here is what he said, quoting a book he had read:
In most of the great vital movements in the Church’s life a simple almost identical pattern unfolded [in my research]. One person in a local situation – who was usually not very important at the time – decided to give himself wholly to God with no strings attached. Then a few others gathered around this person, because total conscious commitment by a sensitive individual evidently makes people somehow “hungry” or “homesick” for God.
The prophet was saying to Asa, “You can be that man.” The Bible is saying to us, “You can be that church.” God is not holding back. As long as we keep turning to him with open hearts, we can expect his strong support.
How can we give our hearts completely to him?
Both individually and together as a church, how can we give our hearts entirely to Christ? The answer is as simple as “Jesus Community Mission.”
First, Jesus. Will you recommit your life to Christ today? Make him your goal, Jesus himself. In a world of keeping secrets, outward success is everyone’s goal. If we can just succeed, we won’t have to face ourselves. Every one of us tends to think, “If only I could do or be __________, then I would arrive.” What does “arrival” look like to you? If it isn’t Jesus, every arrival you do achieve is only another setback. If you make financial security your arrival, you are already trapped in anxiety. If you make a thin body your identity, you will hate yourself more. If you make a porn-free life your okayness, you are doomed to compulsion. Your better future is not more money or better looks or perfect control. Your better future is Jesus. With Jesus, you are saved. Everything is going to be okay. Without Jesus, you are damned. Nothing will go right. Make Jesus your goal, your arrival, your identity, your comfort, your okayness, and he’ll gladly give himself to you. But reach for anything else, and it will betray you. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, “I’ve lost everything, and I don’t even care, because now I get Jesus” (Philippians 3:8). Jim Elliot wrote this in his diary on January 15, 1951:
I walked out to the hill just now. It is exalting, delicious. To stand embraced by the shadows of a friendly tree with the wind tugging at your coat tail and the heavens hailing your heart — to gaze and glory and give oneself again to God, what more could a man ask? Oh the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth!
Will you give yourself again to the Lord Jesus Christ right now? Say to him, “Lord, I want to be living proof of how wonderful you are. It’s all I want.”
Second, community. Who in this church knows what you’re really going through? You need a care group. Last Sunday evening in our care group it was a wonderful experience for me to let my friends know how defeated I am with a certain sin. The men gathered around me and prayed for me. And there is no way God will refuse their prayers. Not a chance. He is going to show strong support, because all our hearts are his, right out in the open. I need that kind of community, I need to walk in the light, and so do you. We all need friends in Christ who are committed to us. We don’t need shallow relationships with people who will walk away if we reveal weakness and need. We need real friends. We need a gospel environment of safety and gentleness and prayer. The power of God is there. Will you make other people a priority in your life in this practical way? Will you so give yourself to a care group that they cannot imagine getting through their week without you? That’s community!
Three, mission. We’re here to spread the power of Jesus and community to more people. Our next step together is to ramp up for two morning services, starting two weeks from today. We need all hands on deck, to serve the people who are going to come in among us. So, we have company coming! How will you serve them, for Jesus’ sake? There is a card on your seat for volunteering to serve in many areas. Will you fill it out and put it in this basket after the service? My assistant, Lauren Pedde, will collect these and a leader will contact you soon. And here’s what we’re going to do. Next Sunday morning, the week before we go to two services, we are hijacking our community groups just that one Sunday, to gather here for prayer. From 9:00 to 10:00, all of us except the children are gathering right here to seek the Lord’s blessing as we ramp up to two services. We don’t want to rush ahead in our own strength. We want to present ourselves to Christ as completely his and call upon him to strongly support us. Let’s gather next Sunday from 9:00 to 10:00 to seek the Lord.
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and from throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is completely his.”