TODAY’S READING: 2 Chronicles 28; 2 Kings 16–17
The story of Ahaz is a microcosm of Israel’s story and a harbinger of Judah’s future. Ahaz did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord as his father David did; rather he turned to the abominations of the nations. Because he forsook the Lord God of his fathers, disaster struck and death descended. Jehovah brought Judah low because the people were continually and increasingly unfaithful. Turning to other gods was Ahaz’s ruin.
The decline seemed to accelerate when Ahaz traveled to Damascus (2 Kings 16:10 ff.), saw an idolatrous altar, and brought it back to Jerusalem making it central to national worship. The Lord’s wrath was provoked and His protective blessing removed. Second Kings 17 lays out the same sad story but for the northern kingdom of Israel. They feared other gods, they became like the nations around them, and they forsook the covenant God made with their fathers, continually adulterating with the gods of the nations. The forsaken covenant of the fathers, mentioned for both Ahaz and all of Israel, is the central missionary theme of the Bible: I will be your God, and you will be My holy people, and I will therefore dwell among you and bless you that all the unreached peoples of earth may be blessed. It’s a connected covenant and with any clause removed, it cannot stand. If God will not be our only God, if we are not His holy people, there can be no blessed presence of the Most High among us, and we will not be used to bless all the nations of the earth.
The irony is tragic and obvious. God’s missionary people are meant to influence the nations towards Jehovah. When the opposite happens, when the nations missionize God’s people to the harm of our intimacy with Jehovah, all is lost—including the very hope of life for the nations. When we stop being missionary subjects, we become missionary objects, and both subject and object descend into the terror of the wrath of God.
How different is God’s joy! I recently sat with a beloved friend whom God has used to plant churches in rural America and Southern Sudan. At 65, he and his wife refuse to retire. They refuse to lift their gaze from the glory of God among all peoples, from the priceless vision of souls being saved. He wept as he told me what God has done in Sudan. He wept as he recounted his longing for lost Americans to be saved. He is again planting a church. He gets up at 4:30 in the morning to abide in Jesus, because church planting is hard. He and his wife both work full-time jobs to make ends meet, and even then, sometimes they don’t. After six years of constant labor, his church is still small (they average 30), yet they are committed to support six missionaries. They fulfill their mission commitments, even if that means they go without, and sometimes they do. They live week to week, looking to Jesus.
One thing I know—whatever the world thinks—this precious couple goes from strength to strength. They have no retirement plan. They spent all their savings on the lost (home and abroad). They are not well known or recognized on earth. But I am convinced they have the awe of heaven. They walk steadfast in the missionary covenant of our fathers Abraham and David. They worship no one but Jehovah. They care for nothing but to make Jesus happy. They live for souls to be saved, whether in Illinois or Sudan, for the great glory of God. For every story of rebellion, for every ingrown church, for every lazy Christian, there are numerous other mighty men and women who keep covenant with the God of all the nations—to their own hurt in the present, but to their highest honor in heaven. Of them the world is not worthy.