Sermons

June 7, 2020

Where to Look When Suffering Is Great (Lee)

Steven Lee (North Campus) | 2 Chronicles 20:1-12

After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy—behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”2 Chronicles 20:1–12

This morning the sermon title is “Where to Look When Suffering is Great.” I don’t need to remind you of current events, because we are collectively living in it right now. In the midst of it all, I imagine that many feel an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and confusion in all the chaos.

  • What do I do against an unseen virus that is ravaging our lives, families, jobs (particularly low-income wage earners), companies, and our economy as a whole?
  • What do I do as I watch the video of the terrible and horrific killing of George Floyd, a man made in the image of God?
  • What do I do as I see our Twin Cities descend into the chaos of riots, destruction, and burning?
  • What do I do as I hear the cries for help and see the grief and laments from our African American friends, transracial adoptive families, and ethnic minorities in our church and in our communities?
  • What do I do as I watch our police and National Guard, some of whom are our church members, seek to do a difficult and dangerous job in this climate? 

Where do we look when suffering is great? Answer: We look at God’s word. In particular, verse 12 of our passage (2 Chronicles 20:1–12) this morning: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” The answer comes in the form of a prayer by King Jehoshaphat in the midst of great crisis and imminent destruction. 

Main Point: One of the phrases I have been coming back to again and again, is that in unprecedented times, we have an unparalleled Savior. Where do we look when there is suffering, crisis, injustice, and destruction in our midst? We look to God. God’s people—throughout the ages, in every set of terrible circumstances (e.g., in natural disasters, pandemics, wars, widespread persecution, and economic collapse)—can say, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 

My aim this morning is that in the midst of all the hard things, we don’t recoil, retreat, hide, shut our eyes, cover our ears, or fortify our hearts against these heartbreaking realities around us. No, we take it all in, and then we turn our eyes to the only One sufficient to carry our burdens, to mend our hearts, to strengthen the work of our hands, and to empower us to do good.

My plan is to walk through this passage to help us to see the context of Jehoshaphat’s prayer, and then to draw out six truths from his prayer that we can apply as go from here.

Context

Jehoshaphat is the King of Judah, and Scripture mostly tells us he’s a good king. Here’s a brief sampling describing Jehoshaphat: 

  • The LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel.—2 Chronicles 17:3–4
  • His heart was courageous in the ways of the LORD.— 2 Chronicles 17:6
  • And the fear of the LORD fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were around Judah, and they made no war against Jehoshaphat.— 2 Chronicles 17:10 

Jehoshaphat was not only a good king who sought the Lord and walked in his ways, but God gave him peace. The surrounding nations “made no war against Jehoshaphat.” That background is key to understanding the current crisis that comes to Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah.

Situation: Crisis & Initial Response (2 Chronicles 20:1–4)

Three different nations and their armies and a great multitude are coming to devour Judah. What happened from chapter 17 to chapter 20? Jehoshaphat had disobeyed God by making an alliance with King Ahab. He’s confronted with these words from God, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the LORD” (2 Chronicles 19:2). God has removed his protection and favor, and Judah’s destruction is imminent.

Next we see Jehoshaphat’s response:

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.—2 Chronicles 20:3–4 

Notice that Jehoshaphat doesn’t gather his military advisors. He doesn’t seek out an alliance to help. Jehoshaphat doesn’t seek out strategies, instead he sets his face to seek the Lord. In fearful situations, set your gaze on God. In confusing times, cry out to the Creator. In the face of danger, don’t deviate from our Deliverer. Jehoshaphat does not navel gaze but sets his sights upon God. The first priority is to fear God (rightly), but Jehoshaphat doesn’t stay there—he brings his fears to the Lord, the only sufficient answer in the midst imminent attack. 

Jehoshaphat calls for a fast. He calls for a corporate response to the dire situation. This situation requires not only individual action, but a corporate response—everyone urgently calling on God for help. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. 

Today—in the midst of all the conflicting and contradictory information floating around—Christians can be clear that we are robustly for life:

  • We are for the unborn. We abhor the evil of abortion.
  • We believe that all people—of every color and shade—are made in God’s image. We abhor the evil of ethnic hatred or hatred based on the color of one’s skin.
  • We believe the elderly and the infirm are not a burden to our society. We abhor the evil of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.
  • We believe that children and adults with Down syndrome, autism, hydrocephalus, or any other developmental disability are valuable members of our society. We abhor the evil of killing disabled babies in the womb.
  • We believe that orphans and foster children should have loving and caring homes. We will continue to champion adoption and foster care, and supporting families that do.
  • We believe that refugees, immigrants, and those seeking asylum are not less worthy of respect, are not less human, and are not less valuable to God. We believe we have opportunity to love our neighbors and call on our Congressmen and women to enact wise and compassionate policies.
  • We believe all these things because each and every person has a soul, reflecting the design of our Creator, who will last forever. 

I am glad that I’m at a church where these truths are loved deeply because we know and love God.

Now we turn to Jehoshaphat’s prayer. What do we learn about seeking God in the midst of great crisis?

We’ll consider Six ways to pray in as we look to God.

Six Truths From Jehoshaphat’s Prayer (2 Chronicles 20:5–12) 

1) Pray by Recalling God’s Sovereign Power (20:6) 

Jehoshaphat stands up before all the people and prays,

“O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.”

He calls to mind God’s sovereignty—in the heavens, ruling over all the kingdoms of the nations. 

When all hell seems to be breaking loose, we are to remember what we learned in Kindergarten: “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” Some of you this morning need this reminder. God is not asleep at the wheel; God is not powerless against the chaos; God is not unknowing or absent, but he is at work in our world for our good, even in the chaos and crisis.

  • [He] works all things according to the counsel of his will.—Ephesians 1:11
  • How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”—Romans 11:33 

2) Pray by Recalling God’s Past Power (20:7)

Next, Jehoshaphat recalls God’s past promises to do them good. Look at his words in verses 7:

Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” 

Jehoshaphat calls to mind what God has done. He’s reminding God, himself, and the people of God’s past promises. God went before them in battles greater than this, driving out mightier nations than this. He subtly suggests, “You have been faithful so far, don’t let us down now!”

Notice how he says “Abraham your friend?” Why does he use that language? This shows up only two other places in the Bible. One is James 2:23 referring back to this passage. The other is Isaiah 41:8, where Abraham is called a friend of God. This is within the context of assurance of deliverance, where we also read in Isaiah 41:10, two verses later, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” To recall God’s friendship with Abraham is to call to mind God’s faithful deliverance in every step of Israel’s history all the way back to Abraham. God hasn’t changed. He is a promise-keeper. 

How much more is this true of believers today to have great hope in the midst of crisis? We are friends of Jesus!

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”—John 15:15

3) Pray by Recalling God’s Present Promises (20:8–9)

“And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’”

Verse 9 is cited from Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles 6. In that chapter, Solomon finishes building the temple, dedicates it to God, and prays a prayer of dedication asking for God’s help in the face of famine and pestilence (citing 2 Chronicles 6:28). If they cry out in this affliction, God will hear and save (2 Chronicles 6:35). God affirms Solomon’s prayer by promising … 

“I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice … [and] if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”—2 Chronicles 7:12, 14

God has given them a promise that when they cry out that he will hear, forgive, and save. This is good news in a world bereft of good news right now. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Whether you are a looter, a rioter, an arsonist, an anarchist, a serial adulterer, murderer, or one who harbors hatred against your neighbor or is hardened to the plight of the oppressed and poor—forgiveness of sins, acceptance, and cleansing is given when we turn away from ourselves and look solely to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The only hope for all sinners is the cross of Christ. While our society grapples with systemic injustices, ingrained prejudices, or conditioned biases, the kingdom of God shows no prejudice, has no bias, and does not discriminate. Whether you are the religious Pharisee or unrighteous tax collector, forgiveness can be granted to all sinners through faith in Christ.

4) Pray by Pleading for God’s Present Help (20:10–12a) 

“And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy—behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment on them?” 

They now call upon the Lord for help. These nations mounting an attack are the very ones they were told not to dispossess from the land (Numbers 20:14–21; Deuteronomy 2:1–19; Judges 11:14–17). Execute judgment on them O God; deliver us from our enemies. We can plead for God’s present help. In this great global trial—a time of testing and winnowing—may we be found as those who plead in prayer for God’s help? If nothing else is accomplished, may we grow in dependence and prayer.

Pleading for God’s present help can be hope filled because God knows better than we do. He sees the whole picture. It’s a reminder that God’s help is never insufficient or faulty, but rather he is unfolding a greater and better future than we could foresee or imagine. 

5) Pray by Confessing Our Dependence on God (20:12b) 

“For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”—2 Chronicles 20:12

They recognize their powerlessness and dependence upon God. Jehoshaphat rightly sees that though he has an army; could create an alliance; could strategize a defense; ultimately, he needs God. He is dependent and powerless in the face of his enemies.

When we are truly humble, see our need for God, and our powerlessness, we will pray. There is nothing else you can turn to in prayer other than God. I worry that prayerlessness in the church reveals our self-sufficiency, arrogance, and pride. Do we believe we can accomplish more on our own, apart from prayer? Or perhaps we believe in prayer, we know it’s important, but our prayer muscles don’t get much exercise. Our theology of prayer may be orthodox, but our functional prayer lives are anemic.

The pandemic and unrest in our city has torn off the shallow veneer that everything is OK, and life is all right. Our world is sick with sin and disease and is groaning under the weight of sin. God’s people get the glorious privilege of crying out for the lost among our neighborhoods and among the nations. O let the current trials spur us on to fresh recognition of our dependence and move us to pray with renewed vigor, fresh vision, and unfaltering zeal.

6) Pray, Keeping Your Eyes on God (20:12c)

“For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.2 Chronicles 20:12

We see from Jehoshaphat’s prayer that after all is said and done, even as we recognize our deep and profound dependence on him, we keep our eyes on the Lord for deliverance. In days such as this, don’t take your eyes off of God. He’s working. 

Resolution: God Delivers (20:13–25) 

I’d like to spend time in the rest of 2 Chronicles 20 but we don’t have time. Spoiler alert: God wins, delivers Judah, resulting in Judah gathering the spoils of war and praising God. I commend the rest of the chapter to you because there is much to glean from God’s powerful deliverance without Judah even lifting a finger—only lifting their voices in praise and song.

Conclusion & Application

How do we apply our passage this morning? Where do we look when suffering is great? Where do we look when a crushing crisis is on the horizon? Where do we look when in the midst of great calamity? We may not know what to do, but our eyes are on the LORD. We look to God by recalling his power (past and present) and his promises, and then pleading for his help, and confessing our dependence on him.

Today we have something even better. We can look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We can look to the One who is seated at the right hand of the Father, empowering his people by the Spirit, and who shall return.

  • We can look to Jesus, praying for his comfort and peace for George Floyd’s family and friends.
  • We can look to Jesus, asking for repentance and remorse for the police officers involved, and for justice to be done.
  • We can look to Jesus, pleading for peace and no more riots, no more deaths, no more burnings, and no more destruction of lives and livelihoods.
  • We can look to Jesus, to wash away our guilt if we have been indifferent and willfully ignorant of injustice against men and women, born and unborn, poor and exploited, refugees and immigrants, widows and widowers; and yes, our black and brown communities of color.
  • We can look to Jesus, to help us learn about our nation’s history, rather than withdraw and ignore historical realities that still plague our nation.
  • We can look to Jesus, to help move us forward in love and good works, not out of fear, duty, or shame, but out of compassion and Christlikeness.
  • We can look to Jesus, as ethnic minorities to find our ultimate lasting identity in Christ, not in how we are portrayed in culture, society, and Hollywood.
  • We can look to Jesus, as parents and children of transracial adoptions, to root us in our new identity as adoptive children of the most High King—beloved, known, and of infinite worth.
  • We can look to Jesus, as we see racial and ethnic hostilities, knowing that he has once and for all broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility so that he might create in himself one new man, making peace through the cross.
  • We can look to Jesus to mend the brokenness in our souls, the divisions in our society, and to mend the fractures in our society and world.
  • We can look to Jesus, praying for bad cops of every color and ethnicity, to repent of the sinful use of lethal power and be reconciled to God.
  • We can look to Jesus, praying for his empowering strength for all the good police, of every color and ethnicity, to stand up for what is right and righteous in God’s eyes.
  • We can look to Jesus, praying for protesters of every stripe and color, to not only protest the misuse of power, but to recognize we will all stand before the final Judge to give an account of our lives.
  • We can look to Jesus, praying for looters of every stripe and color, to repent, confess, and be reconciled to God before the day of eternal judgment. We tremble because we know every thought, every deed, and every word will be brought into the light and stand as evidence in the courtroom of God.
  • We can look to Jesus, confessing our own thoughts or acts of sinful partiality, of sinful indifference to the suffering of a brother or sister made in the image of God.
  • We can look to Jesus, as we continue to live as Christ has called us to live in this world, walking in a manner worthy of the gospel, sharing the Good News, and doing good to all.

Our lasting hope is in Jesus’ ultimate and final deliverance. We do not have a temporary reprieve from a foreign enemy or an attacking army. We have a greater salvation, a greater deliverance, and a greater rescue. Christ has made a way for sinners of every stripe to find forgiveness and reconciliation at the foot of the cross. All who bathe at this fountain of blood find cleansing and peace. And that is why when we know not what to do, our eyes are on you, Lord Jesus.

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