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Dear Christian friends,
Hurricane Sandythrew a monkey wrench into the presidential campaign. A reporter said that getting among the people and shaking their hands is more important than just allowing people to see their face from a TV ad. Neither the President nor Governor Romney were able to do that for a couple of days.
When growing up in the state ofWisconsin, I remember tagging along with my mother while she was shopping. I must have been five or six. A man approached my Mom and shook her hand and my hand and said, “Hi! I am Bill Proxmire and I am running to be your United States Senator.” He was senator from the state ofWisconsin- 1957-1989. I think he was running for office for the first time. That would be about 1956. I was five years old. No need to do the math. Obviously it made an impression on me. I haven’t forgotten it. Now I know that my Mom didn’t vote for him. If she had my parents would have divorced. In my family adultery, desertion and voting Democrat were grounds for divorce. I don’t remember much from being five or six years old, but I remember shaking the Senator’s hand. Like just about anything, the personal touch is important - even for a politician.
Our nation is pretty worked up about this election. It looks to be a real nail-biter. One well known radio talk show host said that he is ready and reminded all his listeners that whether your candidate wins or loses, God is still in control. Amen! That statement gave rise to this short sermon series to end the church year “Our Real Leader, Jesus Christ.” We can see that “Our Leader Deals with People Individually.” 1) There is a need; 2) He has a way.
This story is probably not familiar to most people. We go back deeply into the Old Testament to thelandofJudah. The year is around 790 BC. There was a lot of political turmoil then too. King Amaziah, king inJudah, had been assassinated. The kingship was to stay within the family line so his son Uzziah, all of sixteen, took over the rule. His name means “The LORD is my strength.” At sixteen and being king, he needed the LORD’s strength.
The LORD helped him. There was a reason why. He had some good mentoring. The Bible says, “He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. He learned that you can’t govern effectively without have the LORD on your side. You can’t expect God’s blessing if you try to rule without him. The candidates for national, state and local offices in our nation need to take that seriously too as does the electorate. Why would God bless a nation that despises his ways?
Uzziah ruled for fifty one years. He enjoyed many victories militarily. He was responsible for many building projects that benefitted the people. He made the nation safer. He was known as a “lover of the soil.” He understood that a content nation is a well-fed nation. He spent time and resources to develop agriculture. In II Chronicles 26 these phrases are used to describe his reign. “God gave him success (verse 5).” “God helped him (verse 7).” “His fame spread far and wide (verse 15).”
But as we read verse sixteen, we get a cold blast of air. “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.” As he became more successful, his heart became more corrupt. His head grew many sizes. He thought “he built it.” What Zechariah the prophet taught him was lost because of his own pride.
We can scowl and call him a fool, but that would be the greatest of all hypocrisies. Pride is born in us too. We trace its roots toEdenwhen Adam and Eve wanted to do for themselves rather than wanting to do for God. They wanted to honor themselves rather than honoring God. Pride infects all. Pride is the ground in which all other sins grow. Pride is the parent from which all other sins come. Me first instead of God first!
Contrast that with Jesus. People take pride in birth and rank; Jesus was simply a carpenter’s son. People take pride in possessions; Jesus didn’t have a place to lay his head. People take pride in their respectability, yet about Jesus someone said, “What good thing can come out of Nazareth?” People take pride in the people they know; Jesus “ate with tax collectors and sinners.” People take pride in the positions they hold, yet Jesus came “as one who serves.” The worst thing about pride is that it keeps us from looking up because we are looking down on everyone and everything.
Pride needs to be dealt with. Uzziah’s pride needed to be dealt with. Our pride needs to be dealt with. II Chronicles continues, “Uzziah was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” You might be asking what’s the deal here? Uzziah goes to the temple and burns a little incense. At least he was at the temple of the LORD.
Now follow me on this. The LORD God had set aside a whole tribe of Israelites to lead the people in worship, to lead spiritually. They were the tribe of Levi. Uzziah was from Judah, not Levi. God’s law was very specific. “Aaron (tribe of Levi, brother of Moses) must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come.” Burning incense was for the High Priest to do. The big deal was that Uzziah’s pride led him to deliberately disobey God and do things his way rather than listen to the LORD.
Isn’t that really a definition of sin – doing things the way I want to do them rather than obedience to God? I always remember what Ted Turner said years ago. He said the Ten Commandments should really be called the Ten Suggestions. That’s arrogance to the nth degree. Remember where pride is, there is no repentance.
We can see that God didn’t just let it go. He dealt with Uzziah. I see three things he did. First he was approached by God’s spokesmen. “Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the Lord followed him in(to the temple). They confronted him and said, “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.”
Uzziah needed to repent. He was trying to overrule the LORD. God gives us ministers of the Gospel to preach repentance – to have sorrow over stepping outside of the will of God and seeking forgiveness from God who loves to forgive. Azariah, the high priest, got involved along with eighty other priests. They confronted Uzziah for his godless attitude. They are called courageous, because they were. Uzziah was the king. He marshaled a lot of troops in his life. He could have declared war on the clergy. It would have not been the first time or the last time. Remember how John the Baptist ended up with his head on the plate when he confronted Herod about his public adultery.
But understand this. To confront someone about their sin is not just about courage, it is more about love. Uzziah was in full disobedience to God. In fact, when I translated this verse, I translated with the phrase that Uzziah broke faith with God. Azariah and the eighty were showing that they loved Uzziah and wanted him to know that while he sinned, it wasn’t unforgivable.
Don’t these words remind you of Matthew 18 that shows us what to do when someone is caught in sin? “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The point I want to make is this: God deals with people individually through his church - through clergy and laypeople alike.
But I said God shows three way of dealing with people individually. That’s one. The second is through his Word. When Uzziah entered the temple to burn incense, “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense.” At least three times in the Old Testament, God spoke about the priests and the priests only who were to burn the incense. .
While we celebrated the Lutheran Reformation last week, there is a famous incident that took place in Martin Luther’s life that speaks to this point. There was a famous meeting at a place called Wormsin 1521. Emperor Charles V ordered Luther to be present to confront Luther about all the trouble he had started when he posted the 95 theses on the door of the CastleChurchin Wittenberg, Germany. In the theses Luther complained about the teaching of the Roman church that forgiveness of sins could be secured by the purchase of an indulgence instead of by faith alone in the Jesus the Savior. It doesn’t take long to figure out that forgiveness by indulgence is a direct insult to the mission of Jesus Christ. Jon Eck confronted Luther for the emperor. Eck had arranged that copies of Luther’s writings were on a table in the middle of the room. He asked two questions: The first was whether the materials present were Luther’s; the second was whether he recanted or took back what he had written. He was given a night to consider. The next day Luther spoke this very famous reply, "Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen."” The Word of God! Luther had the word of God on his side; Jon Eck and Charles V did not. Azariah and the eighty had the Word of God on their side; Uzziah did not. When we speak to others about the LORD, whether it is to confront or comfort them, let it be the Word of God we are sharing. That’s how God deals with people individually.
The third way that God works on us as individuals is through the problems he might send us. “Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the Lord had afflicted him.” I want to tread lightly here. I am not going so far as to say that every time we someone remains stubbornly impenitent that leprosy is going to show up on his forehead. God gives all kinds of reasons in the Bible for allowing us to suffer.
Yet it seems to me that in every case of hardship, it gives each of his children to pause and consider. Hebrews 12 says clearly, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” As children of God we know we need to have correction too. Let it bring us to our knees and humbly consider where we are on our relationship with the LORD. The biggest problem Uzziah had was not the leprosy on his forehead but the sin in his heart that he needed to repent of.
What a lesson to learn for us too! We have sin in our hearts too. Don’t ignore it. Repent of it! There is nothing that God would love to say to us more than through his spokesmen, “Go in peace! Your sins are forgiven. Christ Jesus has made you whole.”