2 Chronicles 30:1-20, 2 Chronicles 31:1
Here’s the scene. During Hezekiah’s reign in Jerusalem, he watched as the Assyrian empire swooped down from the North and destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Everyone in Jerusalem knew that this horrific event was the act of God’s punishment for centuries of rebelliousness in that Kingdom. In other words, the kingdom of Israel got what was coming to it.
With the fall of Israel there was probably great rejoicing among the people of Jerusalem. After all, these kingdoms had been in bitter civil war for several generations. The citizens of Jerusalem may have been tempted to further entrench their prejudice against the Northerners and justify their aversion to any type of social interaction based upon God’s act of judgment against them.
Hezekiah did not bite on the bait of hatred and eternal segregation, however. Hezekiah extended an invitation to the remnant of Israel to come home. He opened the doors of the city to all who were ready to reconnect to the ways of God and enter in.
Let’s draw an analogy between Jerusalem and the church. Jerusalem represented the authentic presence of God and His Kingdom on Earth because the Temple was housed within its walls. In the same way the church (meaning the people who comprise the body of Christ) is the spiritual city in which the presence of God’s Kingdom is housed on Earth. The Northern Kingdom of Israel represents the world around us who was originally created for fellowship with God but, through rebellion, has been war-torn and devastated by the “Assyrian army” of sin.
Here we are, the church, the keepers of the Kingdom of God. How do we view the Kingdom of Israel? How do we view AIDS patients who are (in the majority) suffering because of lifestyle choices that run contrary to the Word of God? How do we view the single mom who has three children, each from different fathers, who has been caught up in her co-dependency with unhealthy men? How do we view the man who has lost his family due to pornography addiction or workaholism or alcoholism? You get the idea.
Do we say, “You are getting what you deserve? We don’t want you in here because you will defile the holy thing that we are trying to preserve?”
Look at how Hezekiah treated them:
1. He was aware of them. It would have been easy for Hezekiah to get caught up in the pressures of managing his own kingdom. He could have kept his “holy blinders” on and stayed ignorant of the needs and the opportunities that were right outside the city walls.
2. He invited them to the feast. Hezekiah did not allow social protocol or past political agendas to stand in the way of being totally open to engaging in fellowship and interaction with his former enemies. He had a spirit of openness and initiation.
3. He was not afraid to speak truth. Hezekiah’s invitation is not what we would consider “seeker friendly”. He basically said, “You’ve been away from God long enough. Isn’t it time to set your sin aside and come home? Get right with God, come home, and God will be gracious to you.” He called sin sin, and then he extended grace. You can’t talk about grace until you have first established the need for it.
4. He was not discouraged by rejection. Most of the Israelites rejected him and ridiculed him for his invitation. They probably accused him of being “holier-than thou” or of having a hidden agenda. Yet, in spite of a majority rejection, there were a few who humbled themselves and did come home, authentically seeking after the heart of God.
5. He met them where they were. Notice this amazing prayer in vv. 18-19. “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” Wow! Hezekiah knew that the Kingdom of God is not about external behavior first. The Kingdom of God is about a heart that is seeking God authentically and is open to the transforming power of God. When “Israelites” first come into the Kingdom, they are not going to know how to behave. They are going to have “unclean hands.” We need to pray Hezekiah’s prayer and have Hezekiah’s big-picture attitude as we lead these new believers into the deep and wonderful places of God’s Kingdom.
6. He allowed God to do the transforming. Notice what happened when the Israelites went home. They smashed their idols! By being in the authentic, truth-honoring, open, gracious, space of the Lord’s table, the Israelites experienced an inward transformation. Only God can do that. We must always remember that God’s standard is high, and it never changes. He calls us all to that standard. Yet, He always meets us where we are and brings us to His standard through the instruction of a loving, gracious Heavenly Father.
As the “Jerusalem” on Earth today, may we be a church that follows the example of Hezekiah. May we be aware, sensitive, intentional, invitational, and gracious to the hurting in the world around us. May we openly welcome anyone who has “set his heart on seeking God,” and love them to the standard of the Kingdom.