I was reading this section of Scripture while on a prayer retreat in October and the sheer picture of Christ that it contains struck me. If you are familiar with Old Testament history, you will recall that Judah has been in dire straits, plagued by a series of good and bad kings since the reign of David. It has kind of been like our stock market this past year or so with some highs and many lows but mostly a downward trend. Such was the kingship of Judah and Israel and that kingship paralleled the spiritual life and vitality of the people themselves.
Let me rehearse the history for you. After David’s 40 years of reigning over the 12 tribes and the securing of peace by God’s gracious provision, Solomon comes to the throne and the reigns for 40 years, although, unlike his father, Solomon worships idols and erects shrines to them. Then the great split follows his death, the 10 tribes in the North become known as Israel, and the 2 tribes of Benjamin and Judah however remain under Solomon’s son, Rehoboam and are known as Judah. Israel in the north, Judah in the south. Israel erects its own temple at Bethel and Dan in order to show that they are independent. And rulers like Ahab, Ahaziah, and Omri plague them. 19 of them before being carried off into exile by the Assyrians in 722 BC, 210 years of failing to worship God in Jerusalem. 210 years of apostate rulers. 210 years of spiritual oppression.
This is what Hezekiah is referring to in his plea to Israel to return to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover. With his simple words, “People of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your fathers and brothers, who were unfaithful to the Lord…Do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were; submit to the Lord” (2 Chr 30:6-8). Come back and worship rightly.
But was Judah any better? No, not really. Following the division of the kingdom, Judah too experienced her share of good and bad rulers. Where Israel had 19 idolatrous kings, Judah managed to have a few bright lights – men like Joash, Hezekiah, and later on Josiah. But Judah had been just as apostate; and had worshipped idols too. In fact, as Hezekiah’s reign begins in the 29th chapter of 2nd Chronicles, we find these words, in the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord, and repaired them (29:3). If we turn back through the pages of scripture we find that 16 years earlier, Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz had shut the doors of the temple (2 Chr 28:24). And if we continue turning back, we find there is no mention of the Passover being celebrated by the kings since the time of Solomon (2 Chr 8:13).
One of the three great annual feasts, according to the Lord has been neglected. The people of Israel and Judah have been apostate, they have been without instruction in how to worship the Lord, and it has been for a long time. This is the history of the people when Hezekiah comes to the throne. And isn’t that so like us as people. Some of us spent large sections of our life bereft of any witness of God in our lives. Some of us have had times when brightness has shown in our lives, illuminating our path and directing us toward God and his temple, but just as quickly as the light appeared, circumstances, like bad kings, arise and snuff out the light. And if it isn’t snuffed out, it’s at least syncretized so that we can be friends with the world and with God. But don’t we know, friendship with the world is hatred towards God (James 4:4). There is no living as Israel, overtly hostile to God and his Word, or as Judah – knowing God but failing to submit to his yoke. Both are wrong, and equally condemnable.
Yet, every one of us, like they, comes from the stock of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. All of us know about God, as Romans confirms, and all of us refuse to acknowledge and worship God as God. Although we knew God, for his creation is full of his testimony, we have neither glorified him as God nor given thanks to him… (Rom 1:21). All of us, even the most saintly among us, have failed to offer our bodies, wholly and completely, as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God. All of us have turned away. All of us are guilty of omitting some form of worship from our lives. For some, we fail to worship God with our finances, hoarding our wealth instead of giving it away. For others, it is offering up our time in service to the poor and needy in our midst, we just never find the time or the motivation. For still others, it is an inability to forgive the one who has wronged you. For still others, it is pride, arrogance, lust, gossip, or some other sinful tendency at work in our spirits, keeping us from wholly being devoted to the Lord. Such is our plight!
This is where the beautiful picture of Grace comes to us through our passage. Just as Hezekiah calls these sinful people of Israel and Judah to return to worshipping the Lord, so the Spirit calls to us. And just as those who respond and come to Jerusalem, though not all do as we see that some scorn and ridicule the messengers of the King. Just as those who respond come unprepared, the word says they were not consecrated, nor were they purified, we too who respond to the Lord are unclean and not able to offer worship that is right, we have seen that already – our hearts, our minds, our lives are always drawn up short of the command to be holy and righteous.
These worshippers are so bad off ritually, that they can’t even kill their own sacrifices as they were commanded in Ex 12. In fact the only prescription for being ceremonially clean to eat the Passover, that I could find, is that one must be circumcised according to Ex 14:43-49, and yet again, the Word tells us “Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written.” They defied the very Word of God again in their worship, and so do we, yet Hezekiah realizes something and he expresses it in his prayer. Listen,
“May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God — the Lord, the God of his fathers — even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.”
Hezekiah intercedes for them, realizing the heart is more important than the action, than the liturgical ritual that is performed. He prays for God to see the heart, not the liturgy, “And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30:18–20). Isn’t this the same with Christ, isn’t Hezekiah a picture of Jesus, the Messiah for us? Aren’t the grace of God the Father, the work of Jesus the Son, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit pictured beautifully in this story?
The Holy Spirit summons us to the King to worship, and we respond because that same Spirit prompts us to go instead of ridiculing and scorning the Lamb of God. But we show up just like these people, we aren’t sanctified, we aren’t clean, we are in fact sinners who bring all our sinfulness with us and try to participate in the act of worshipping a holy, righteous, magnificent, victorious Lord. But Jesus intercedes for us and calls upon the Father to see not our actions, but our hearts, hearts that have been indwelt by His Spirit. Jesus calls upon the Father, interceding on our behalf that he sees the heart of flesh, which has replaced our heart of stone. Though our lives do not yet conform to our new reality.
Jesus calls on God to overlook our sin, and to allow himself as our Great High Priest to not only perform the sacrifice, but also to be the sacrifice restoring and maintaining fellowship with God Almighty. He asks God to allow us to join in the worship and rejoice and give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and compassion, his provision and sustenance. And God hears his prayer according to Romans 8:34 for, “Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” and accepts us because of his work according to Hebrews 10:12-14 “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
Jesus is our king and our priest, the door that re-opens communion with God. Just as our sin blocked us from entering the temple, so his life is the door that opens that temple to us again.
Now it would be easy enough to stop here and not go on, but the story gets even better, after the first 7 days of celebrating the Passover, the people agree to worship for another 7 days and it is during this seven days that more of the priests consecrate themselves and more joy flows, as do more acts of worship. Such is our life in Christ after his intercession; we too are consecrated as a holy priesthood, built into a true temple of worship. While I alluded to the struggles we all face as Christians earlier on, now I will focus on our sanctification following the intercession of the Son. Where God looked and saw the finished work of Christ when we arrived broken, now this same God forms Christ in us by the ministering power of the Holy Spirit. Now this same God disciplines us in order to make us obedient. Now this same God gives us gifts to use in order to serve one another so that the body of Christ is brought to maturity. Such is the story of Hezekiah and the grace of God.