Truth and Unity, Part 4: We Can Cure This Disease of Division
Editor’s note: This series is taken from a talk given by a Chinese theological teacher and trainer at a conference in Hong Kong in 2014. It has been edited from transcriptions of the original talk. Make sure you check out the first, second, and third posts for the full series!
I don't have much time to talk about being obedient to the blessings of truth. But if you look at verses 6 to 10, there is an important point in verse 8 and 9. Let us read.
At the king’s command, couriers went throughout Israel and Judah with letters from the king and from his officials, which read:
“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 parents and your fellow Israelites, who were unfaithful to the Lord, the God of their ancestors, so that he made them an object of horror, as you see. Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the Lord. Come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever. Serve the Lord your God, so that his fierce anger will turn away from you. If you return to the Lord, then your fellow Israelites and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will return to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.”
The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but people scorned and ridiculed them. (2 Chronicles 30:6-10)
I believe this passage has an important truth, which is that we should be in awe of Yahweh. Enter into his sanctuary, which is consecrated forever. Today we must note that here there wasn’t an emphasis on the individual's calling; rather, God’s call was to all twelve tribes of Israel, Ephraim, Manessah, Beersheba, etc. All must return. Whether you are in a mainstream denomination or not, all are called to enter his sanctuary together. You must notice that here there is not a most important tribe. Ephraim did not show up. Judah was worried that they didn't obey God's commandments. Verse 9 is extremely important. The Lord’s sanctuary is where we commune with the triune God. And when the church is in unity with the triune God as its foundation, then we have obtained the foundation of unity and truth.
Because Jesus Christ has already returned to the Father's side, unity has already occurred, right? The triune God is a united God. I'm not talking about philosophy. I'm saying that in their work, the persons of the Godhead are already together. So we are also in this state. We must do things in Jesus' name. He has become the sanctuary where people and God are united. He is the temple. Only when we enter his sanctuary is there unity. When the church communes with Jesus, when the people of this world live in the church, when the Christian community is in unity, we become the last stretch of the temple. Then we, the church, can proclaim that we are the pillar of truth, holy and pure, and the only one, great apostle. Amen.
I have a few more points to make.
First, verses 13 to 22 are very important. It says they must gather together and after they cleaned the alter, on the fourteenth day of the second month, they would slaughter the Passover lamb. The priests and the Levites were ashamed, so that they consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings into the house of the Lord. In verse 17, in the large assembly many people had not consecrated themselves and when they entered the temple, they also felt ashamed. Consequently, all the Levites sacrificed a lamb for the unclean people. This is very important. But in verse 18, Ephraim appears. “Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun and many others were unclean, yet they still ate the Passover lamb.” They were late people, especially Ephraim who was proud. And then? Hezekiah prays, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness.”
Let me share two points. Pray a merciful prayer for those that are weak. Truly! What does a humble, wise, truth-based church look like? It is not a church with no issues; rather, when it encounters issues, it knows how to fiercely rely on the Holy Spirit's blessings, reflecting the accuracy and beauty of truth. All of these devoted and repentant people entered the temple and their priest prepared and slaughtered the sacrifice, but then the people of Israel showed up. In previous years, their sacrifices were made in Samaria and they didn't know the rules of the temple, so what happened when they came? They casually ate the meat and then put on oil, not thinking anything of their actions. But God will not be dishonored. This is not as simple as forgetting to pray before having a meal. This is like when the Corinthian church would sin before taking the Lord's Supper. And how did Paul respond? That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. It is just like when they didn't follow the laws of Passover.
If you were the king of Judah and you had been busy all day preparing a lot of things, and then if there were people who arrived not only late, but then they did not do things according to the rules, how would you respond? You would probably use the ways of this world to handle the situation, right? The king could have rightly used truth to be angry at them. “You northern kingdom Israelites are horrible, not even consecrating yourselves before entering the temple you have forgotten. You've ruined the blessings that God planned to give to the people of Judah, you weak Israelites.” Hezekiah didn't do this. Hezekiah didn't use the laws to punish them. Instead he prayed, “Lord, please pardon everyone and don't punish them according to what they deserve, but according to your mercy.”
When we came to attend this conference, didn't we come with the hope that we would be drawn near to the kingdom? I bet from the beginning everybody was excited. The tension to be unified is not just a matter of being more orthodox and it is not just a New Testament issue. It is already in the Old Testament. It’s in Genesis. When I talk about the Israelites, the issue is there. Yet, God was unexpectedly merciful to the kings of Judah.
Jesus is our great High Priest. He went to the temple to clean himself. He traveled through the northern and southern kingdoms (Israel and Judah). He's the King of Judah born in the northern kingdom (Israel). When he was teaching in Israel and Judah, who did he share the truth about worship with? To an unworthy Samaritan woman, who was an adulteress. We all know, she was among the most unclean and he revealed to her who he was. Clean. He saved her. He revealed what worship in the temple would be like after the end days, which is worshiping God the Father in truth. Worshiping him with the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Of course, the greatest king is above Hezekiah, a descendent of David who is greater than Hezekiah. The one who has the right to the role of Great High Priest and King, who brought himself as an offering, to be sacrificed. He said he will use himself to clean them so they may be set apart and told them to go in unity to be holy. He was not only praying for these people, but also for the people who believe. He earnestly prayed that they would become united.
Brothers and sisters, do you realize that we gather today so that we can cure this disease of division? After Hezekiah prayed for mercy, God was patient, even though they did not prepare according to the rules of consecration, because Jesus Christ is to consecrate us by his blood. For this reason, today people who enter the temple in the last days are united to each other, those whom Jesus loves, whom he has atoned and redeemed. Why can't we be reconciled to him? How has he changed our attitude? How do we treat the weaker brothers and sisters? How should you treat them?
God came down to listen to their prayers for this reason, because he was merciful to Hezekiah's prayer. Verse 20 says he listened to their prayers. Jerusalem and all of Israel were filled with joy. They not only observed the seven-day festival, but afterward they continued to worship. Hezekiah believed that if he continued to be generous to the ones who treat Yahweh well, to serve the people of God and give them seven peaceful days of festivities, fellowship, and gifts, then those people will come under God's grace and repent. In the end, it was not only the Israelites that gathered and rejoiced, but also the sojourners who came out of the land of Israel and the sojourners who lived in Judah. The Israelites were attracting all the sojourners, uniting all of them to such an extent that in verse 26 it says, “So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.”
Are you filled with joy? When we see all these house churches gathered in Hong Kong, my heart is filled with joy. Are you filled with joy? Filled with a grateful heart? When we are gathered here, this is a testimony to unity. When we guard this, this is God's mercy on us.
Dear brothers and sisters, God is pleased to hear the good words of what his son has accomplished. By his son, it is done. God heard Hezekiah's prayer and healed the people. Brothers and sisters, I know you want joy. To those from Hong Kong, brothers and sisters from Taiwan, they also want joy. We should experience the church's joy that comes from truth and unity. Just like when the kingdoms of Judah and Israel came together.
We often emphasize that Jesus Christ has already fulfilled the gospel. It is correct that we come with joy. But today's joy is because of something else. It is because our prayers can reach the throne of God. There is a sanctuary in heaven, where we can directly bring our prayers through Christ to enter into his presence. Remember, today we have a Great High Priest. Jesus Christ's work has not stopped after he reached heaven, because the work he has completed in our place takes our sinful prayers, unclean prayers, filtered through him directly to God, to become acceptable before God. This is beyond what King Hezekiah did. This is our blessing today.
Dear brothers and sisters, we come before our heavenly God's throne, asking God to take ourselves away, to set aside all our small denominations, to come before the great temple of God, to say “Lord, you are our holy city.” Because in the future there is God's city that is the whole church body, the saints of the whole world and all of history, from Old Testament to New Testament. It will come down from heaven to become Jesus Christ's new bride, dressed in a beautiful gown to be inspected. The Sacrificial Lamb will bring the grandest banquet. We not only get to taste some of this. The almighty God and Passover Lamb will live in our presence for the final time. They will live in the already fulfilled truth and unity with the perfected bride.