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DIVINE POWER AND POWERLESS MAN
ACCESS BY COVENANT
At once you may say, Powerless ? who man ? Look at his works!
I have just been doing so... Powerless to cure racial, religious, gender, child-authority, ruler-ruled, director-directed, rich-poor hatred, emulation and discord, unhappy hearts, restive minds or ruthless wills, man muddles and billows, boasts and coasts, becomes frantic and shouts, cunning and clouts; but he does not improve. He has more, and is less continually.
He tinkers, he tampers, he scampers, he roars, he bores ... But the good oil is not drilled from the heart of man. It is not there. It has to be found from above, this oil for the spirit of man. Beneath is what earth gives; above is what God supplies. EACH must be RECEIVED, each in its own way.
As man's power increases in technical facility, his psyche shrivels in spiritual grace; and indeed, as he worships the nature of which he is a part, created nature ignoring the Creator as if these things, never seen, just happened, here this race, that government, this group those gropers strive to be first, to be most canny, most victorious, most crushing in word or deed, with missile or mischief, while the world wails at its mistreatment.
WHEN and only when man realises his impotence and impudence mixed, that heady mixture which seeks to arrest the worship of God and make of man himself the essence of wonder, or his choice of topic the glory of the land, do we begin to see an uprising that is not violence. When man repents of such follies as these, and instead takes the publicly available covenant of divine grace in the Christ who came, and so seeks the face of God, by His chosen path of access: then does the power and divine enduement come for tasks in truth, and wisdom sighs with relief as madness distances itself.
The British Empire was far from perfect, but it had a tone of Christianity, however many hypocrites and fools disadorned it, and its precepts and principles from the Bible were, for all the abuse, of a transforming impact to the nations, and without doubt, led to just that degree of stability and self-control, sense of glory and of grace, which made not of the English, but of those who sincerely used these offices, a salt in the earth which now is in danger, as far as any nation is concerned, of being without tang, savourless.
Now the world is in ruins of relics of rationality, like the Parthenon, as man attacks his own weapons and seeks to put desire before truth, for reasons given by reason in which in turn he states he distrusts. In this chaos of bewilderment, man ploughs into space as if it would give him another chance, who has ruined the opportunities and importunities of God Himself, by the simple device of turning his back on Him.
Today we look at an early exemplar of the good side. Then let's consider the sad slip which cost Asa so dearly; but remember, when the case is considered, that this 'slip' was perhaps more like a hop, skip and a jump, moving with saturnine force to many fields.
First, however, we turn to the powerful positive, the excellent example of this King at the outset, and indeed for a very long time, and consider its application to those of us who are already Christians.
This King of Judah, faced with a force of almost innumerable troops from Ethiopia (there is much evidence that the Middle East was most fertile, containing what was called the Fertile Crescent, in former times), did not quiver. He took hold of the divine covenant for the nation and applying himself with vigour to it, sought and obtained from the Lord all he needed. If only WE all would do the same! It is not in doubt you get it (the promise for doubt is loss!); it is not in hope: it is in faith.
And WHAT you get is what you need for godliness (II Peter 1), to glorify God, to live the life He grants you by His grace, when
pardoned through the Cross
of Christ, you take
Him as your Lord,
His word your rule (Matthew 5:17-20),
unmixed and unadulterated (Mark 7:7ff.,
and the trinity as your sanctifying God.
Let us trace in the laboratory of history, the wonder of King Asa's direct action.
First, hear the cry of heart from Asa to the God of Israel (II Chronicles 14:11).
"And Asa cried out to the Lord his God, and said,
'Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You,
and in Your name we go against this multitude.
O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!' "
Now consider its features - and for this the notes below will alert you, helping you to apply the point by considering allied cases. Asa proceeded to the healing ministry throughout Israel, to bring it back to the Lord, as seen in II Chronicles 15, and long did he do well. Here was a Holy Healing following Hapless Hitches already wrought in the land. We can observe these things together with respect for what is good and operative and sincere with what is holy , the word of God and the God of that Word. How often people seem to forget that it is not just a matter of some religious sounding phrase, 'the word of God'. THIS IS what the living God has to SAY. To disjoin it from HIM is like trying to cut off someone's lips. It is not just insult; it is assault.
KEEPING to this, as Asa began to do, is not just obedience, it is a part of worship.
Positive Power to Pure Faith
I THE OVERWHELMING POWER OF GOD 14:11A
a) Mini-Man or Micro-Man and God: HE is enough
b) Elijah - or
an army, one man or a host, on this side or on that:
it is one if the Lord acts -
I Kings 17-18, II Kings 1, James 5:17
2 THE APPLICATION TO THE POWERLESS 14:11A
a) Power belongs to God (Psalm 62:11)
b) It may use
a Grant to man -
like a bull-dozer commissioned to replace a man with a spade
3 THE CRY FOR HELP, AND REST IN IT BY FAITH 14:11B
a) The Personal Cry is worth a Hundred Impersonal Addresses
b) Faith RESTS on the King as Committed
c) Faith HAS rest in its reliance
4 THE PREVAILING
OF THE COVENANT GOD OVER THE ENEMIES OF HIS TRUTH
IS TAKEN FOR GRANTED 14:11C
a) Not Caprice but Covenant backs the Lord's People
b) At any cost, the fitful ways of wily man must be countered.
spiritual 'weapons' are provided for this
in the New Covenant in Christ (Ephesians 6)
d) Thus in history, in answer to King Asa's CRY of FAITH based on COVENANT,
the LORD struck
for they who attacked were broken
their plans overthrown
and spoil (souls in our times!) was found.
5 NOT IN AUTOMATED DREAM BUT IN ACTIVATED RELIANCE,
WHAT MAY BE AVOIDED BY WEAKNESS IS AVAILABLE TO FAITH
flickers, folly flames -
(cf. Matthew 14:29ff., 16:17ff., John 20:24ff., II Chronicles 16:9-10, I Kings 11:7ff.)
- II Chronicles 16 (contrast the preceding chapter where Asa
joyfully APPLIED faith to works).
WHICH IS IT TO BE ?
Robust faith in the given grace and covenant,
or wilful rebellion ?
weak flickers, like hiccups instead of breathing,
reliance in rest in the Lord!
The message in this history ? It is clear, and can be imported from the mouth of the same God into our Christian setting.
Pray without ceasing, act without fickleness, love God in heart
and hand alike
knowing that your inheritance is sure (Ephesians 1:11), and His work your joy.
To Him, you have access by covenant,
and He is delighted for you to draw on it (Hebrews 4:16).
Here then is part of the record of King Asa's reforms and constructions after his victory over a force nearly twice that of his own, when Ethiopia invaded.
"Then they took an oath before the Lord with a loud voice, with shouting and trumpets and ramsí horns. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around.
"Also he removed Maachah, the mother of Asa the king, from being queen mother, because she had made an obscene image of Asherah;
and Asa cut down her obscene image, then crushed
and burned it by the Brook Kidron.
But the high places were not removed from Israel.
Nevertheless the heart of Asa was loyal all his days.
"He also brought into the house of God the things that his father had dedicated and that he himself had dedicated: silver and gold and utensils.
"And there was no war until the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Asa."
Peace prevailed, worship availed, and as in the British Empire in its day, power rose to extraordinary heights.
It is to be noted in passing, that this removal of an obscene religious object from the national front was the exact opposite to the recent Anglican religious 'marriage' of two Church workers, both male, in a setting obviously seeking maximal parallel to normal marriage procedures; one in which senior Church figures reportedly participated (The Australian, June 17, 2008). What is obscenity but vile misuse of divine ordinance and design at the emotional-sexual-expressive level; and where the Bible is invoked, this is the result of its misuse, just such judgment as that. It is seen in Romans 1, in the last verses, where all types of godliness are found thronging as God is distanced in His actual nature, the same meeting one massive divine condemnation, as man's thoughts supervene and seek to supersede those of the Almighty's book.
Such things, says Paul (I Corinthians 5-6) exclude from the kingdom of heaven.
Asa did well. What next became of him ?
Negative Results of
Where Recklessness Rorts Holiness
Godless Glitches and Divine Action
We have been considering the wonder of the power of God in practical circumstances, received by faith, besought by supplication, in response to urgent need, taken in assurance and surrounded by faithfulness. King Asa of Judah has been the example; but alas, though he not only so relied on the Lord in his extremities, was delivered by God in brilliance of drama, and then applied faith to the practical purification of the nation, its instruction and fortification (II Chronicles 15), his later account registered a period of failure so intense that discipline and rebuke came to him, like falling rocks in a landslide, smashing into his house.
He did not fail in facing what seemed impossible, but in what seemed within reach of his own strength.
Thus when the King of Israel assaulted his land, he not only did not turn to the Lord, but actively both solicited and engaged the pagan power of a neighbour, Syria, using religious stores to deliver himself. In this he defiled the name of the Lord, made himself appear something close to an opportunist, and in relying on his own wit, he distanced himself from the testimony of truth, compromising his entire life.
Thus just when his life seemed immune from further trial, there came a test. It was not from distant Ethiopia, nor were there evidenced a million men as before. It was the king of Israel, of the broken-off part of the once undivided Israel to the North, who was busy seeking to embrace part of its neighbour, Judah, with fear and force.
And what did the now savvy, victorious and notable King Asa do but a diplomatic deal. In asking the king of Syria (just as idolatrous in style in his land as the king of Israel in his) to help, and in sending off to him temple treasury, as payment for military help, he was thus debasing the worship of God and its symbolic teachings. This godless arrangement to alleviate his political problem from the North, relied on man, not on God: not with David was he now showing his trust that power belongs to God! Rather by his actions he relied on the puny, flexible path of pagan potentate.
Not surprisingly, a prophet from the Lord, Hanani by name, confronted the King and castigating the conduct of the failing monarch, pointed out that he had been delivered by God monumentally once, and now saw fit to rely on man: henceforth for you, he told him, will be WARS.
In other words, by acting in sincere faith and in reliance entirely on God, Asa had gained peace and prosperity, being obedient and trusting, as King of a nation to exhibit the praises of God (Isaiah 43:21),. But what now ?
Now that he had gained in power and was not faced by such overwhelming-seeming odds as before when Ethiopia invaded with a million men, he simply took a pragmatic view and sought how to 'fix' the situation. Warring on the name and glory of God in this debasing fashion, he would find war from his enemies; and what he had sought to avoid in such a faithless, secularising way in terms of peace, would now become the threshold of war itself. It would be war's introduction.
Indeed, the sale of spiritual parts of the heritage for peace, would result in the arrival of what would bring wholesale turbulence to the sunken land.
With these things proceeding, Asa went into a real flurry, like one of snow in Canada, on a Winter's day. Not only did he oppress people in his carnal writhing at this rebuke, disturbed inwardly by his outward fickleness and folly, but he even went so far as to imprison the prophet who rebuked him. Before, said the prophet concerning the king's enemy, "because you relied on the Lord He delivered him into your hand." Now by promoting a spurious peace, he inherited a time of war. Yes, but that was not all. How dangerous it is to allow reaction to aggravate things!
Indeed, for this goose-stepping sort of parade in terms of secular power, as for his uncouth persecutions and abuse of regal privilege, of his responsibilities as ruler, he gained a new result. He obtained a disease in his feet; and even at that, he STILL did not realise his position, and did not seek the Lord about the sickness, but went to the physicians as if this were the final criterion, rather than an operative option in terms of means. In other words, in disease you FIRST seek the Lord, and only at HIS advice proceed to physicians. He continued to rely on his wits, and his disease worsened. In that physical condition, it appears, he was to die.
Let us look at the results in point format.
I The Cause
1) He sent off spiritual monies from the treasury of the Lord, as inducement for an alien, pagan king to help him in a war against his northern neighbour: indeed, the incursion had been a warlike act rather than a total invasion.
2) He bargained with man, outside the spiritual domain of living with the Lord, to obtain help, rather than seeking the Lord to obtain mercy.
3) In this, the Lord did not even seem to appear in his calculations, as if pride or vanity or power or some combination had subdued his spirit into pragmatism, secularism and power-bargaining.
2 The Effects
1) He gained
a direct rebuke from the prophet of the Lord, Hanani.
included reference to his blind thanklessness,
since God had already delivered him when by faith he sought Him,
in a fascinating work of omnipotence.
3) In so
acting, after such a divine answer to faith, he showed reliance on flesh,
on creation, not Creator, very much the way England and the USA did during World War II, in seeking to be partners with the massif of murderers, Joseph Stalin.
inherited wars now instead of peace.
5) One of
those wars was on the stout-hearted obstinacy of power,
for he did not even seek the Lord re the management of his foot disease,
perhaps because of the rebuke but went direct to physicians. Physicians have a place,
but never first place. They may provide; what the Lord WANTS has prior consideration.
imprisoned the prophet, a direct affront to God, and an act of oppression
not only of man, but of the word of God: though this could not be buried in darkness, being in itself, light. The word of the Lord continued to act, very much as Paul did, though in prison, declaring this, that "the word of God is not bound" (II Timothy 2:9).
oppressive actions spread to some of the people,
so that his unspiritual mood became an ungodly mode, and distorted the justice of God.
languished in his disease of the feet that had loved to stray, and died: a war
Thus was invaluable power traduced into valueless canniness, and this became obstructive carnality, injustice, oppression with a hardening heart behind it.
In this, Asa sacrificed the peace of his own life, that of his people, his responsibility before God and his physical health.
To be sure, it
is not simply a matter of 'being good' before God and so 'being prosperous'; for
best of all examples is Christ who even had to LOSE His life itself, in humiliation, abasement in order to become the very spectacle of ruin.
That He physically rose, as He said He would, from the dead, does nothing to mitigate His PLAIN LIFE ON THIS EARTH from becoming one hated, harassed and slain.
What it does show, however, is that when like Asa, you have a covenant and a commission from God (and heaven help those who lack these essentials of life), there is glory in the hand of the Lord for your life, suffering or not, humiliation or not, hatred by many being showered on you, or not.
When in weakness you wander from the way and begin to substitute canniness and worldly ways,
as in the Alpha
course and its environment
or the Roman Catholic types of sacrifice and authority
sacred-secular combinations such as the unification of religions campaign
then what ?
Why, then you move into alien territory and are likely to bring ruin to your peace, and that of those who rely upon you. The more man moves from divine moorings, the more we have seen war and gore; and as many have exulted, like the German Nietzsche, in power not meekness, aggression not peace, flurries not fidelity, in survival not spirituality, so has pride found its cost.
To play with fire would be far safer; to play with an atomic bomb would be more of a proper parallel; but even this is not sufficiently perilous to make a sound comparison, for with the bomb you threaten the physical lives and well-being of many; but with the spiritual lassitude and debasement, exemplified above, you threaten the very spirit of man, from which and to which physical things merely minister, and are in train to pollute the Gospel, promote folly and combine the purity of God with the foulnes of man's inventions (cf. Psalm 106:27-29), for ruin.
Thus it is clear that the love of God is not a mere episodic thing, for godless glitches to climb over, like a marauding lion. It is a settled condition of heart, and its rupture is like that of the appendix, moving into the realms of avid mortality. It is hoped that Asa realised his errors before his death, which still attracted State honours; but in the end, "the Lord knows who are His own," says Paul, and exhorts and indeed commands, "and let every one who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity." This is found in II Timothy 2:19.
That is its place. For the Christian, the close comradeship with the Lord Jesus Christ by His Spirit is the proper place. Variation here can bring down discipline, the dismal, the delinquency detailed for correction and remedy. The love lapse wounds and the wandering comes to be as near to life as is the breach in a dam to reliable water supply. Those who are His, if they wander, are warned, moved, constrained, and their follies are snuffed. So does history provide a contest, an investment of time, an exposure of thoughts and a division of ways.
The world's current passion for merger of religions, respect for what is wrong, connivance with various idolatries in the name of social structure: this is but the quack trying to be in the same team as the doctor, so that nothing regular and adequate might stand. Seeming to spare all, it merely spells the inadequacy of all that combines in collusion with evil and folly. Let Asa teach us a swift lesson, as a nation and as individuals.
In the end, the productivity of spiritual negativity is nil. Its flare is for the flames. Its heart does not bear examination and its head is as rocks pounded relentlessly by waves. But man, intoxicated with himself and his ways, as if God, does not feel it at first; and those who are mere formalists, these do not remain at last. It is God who remains (Zechariah 9:7, Psalm 90:2), in truth and in mercy, found only in His Gospel, His glory not available to be shared with shame.
The wonder is, as the saints know (that is, the Christians), that the covenant in Christ is infallible, for His love is interminable (cf. John 10:27-28) and His speech is ineradicable, and most kind (Matthew 24:35). THAT, it is what you need in a world the designs of which are declining as Gould (cf. Wake Up World! ... Ch. 6), and Giertych alike attest (cf. SMR pp. SMR pp. 252Hff.): for man is degrading physically as he rampages spiritually, and mouths are upgrading their confusion tactics if by any means they might the more amply fulfil the prophecies to this effect (cf. II Peter 2:18, Daniel 7:20, II Corinthians 11).
Blessedly, He is coming and He will not tarry when the time arrives: so let us be prepared at all times for an early departure at His call (Matthew 24:44-46), with our lamps burning pure with the grace of the Lord whose Spirit is our connection and seal, whose Son is our Saviour and whose resurrection is our sure and certain expectation. With God there is no loss, death is vanquished in love by mercy, and it is He, Jesus Christ, who having died does so no more. In Him and Him only, therefore, let us trust. HIS is the resurrection, the salvation and the life.