“Passover Magic” – 2 Chronicles 35

April 21st, 2013

2 Chronicles 35 (2 Kings 23:21-30)

Passover Magic

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Bible Memory Verse for the Week: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  —Ephesians 2:8-9


Background Information:

  • The Passover had functioned as a reinauguration of temple worship, a fitting sequel to his reforms and repairs.  The resumption of the regular worship of God’s people featured as a climax, the first striking of the renewed clock of temple ritual.  So crucial were its institutional services to the Chronicler, as evidence of a spiritual response to God.  Now, however, he has a less happy incident to record.  He jumps 13 years, from Josiah’s 18th year to his final one, 609 B.C.  (Leslie Allen, Mastering the OT, 1, 2 Chr, 430-31)
  • (vss. 2-3) Josiah told them to “put the sacred ark in the temple,” because during the dark days of Manasseh and Amon (33:7; cf. 28:24) it seems to have been removed by these faithful ministers and carried elsewhere for its protection (cf. On 34:14).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 552)
  • (v. 9) The same names occur in 31:12-13 for Levites who were active during Hezekiah’s reign; these individuals having those names during Josiah’s reign (35:9) were probably the grandsons of those mentioned earlier, a fact providing evidence for the practice of papponymy in monarchic Israel.  (Raymond B. Dillard, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 15, 290-91)
  • (v. 18) No doubt the Chronicler seeks to impress the importance of the virtue of generosity on his audience as well.  In terms of the sheer numbers of animals to be sacrificed, Josiah’s celebration doubles the size of Hezekiah’s Passover (2,000 bulls and 17,000 sheep and goats were offered for Hezekiah’s Passover [30:24], 3,800 bulls and 37,600 sheep and goats are offered for this Passover [35:7-9]).  (Andrew E. Hill, The NIV Application Commentary: 1 & 2 Chr, 626-27)
  • (v. 18) The Chronicler joins the writer of Kings in calling Josiah’s Passover the greatest ever (v 18).  It was better even than Hezekiah’s celebration.  What made it so great?  No doubt part of the reason was the turnout.  “The priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel…were there with the people of Jerusalem” (v 18).  In part it was also due to the proper way it had been observed: “on the 14th of the first month… ‘doing what the LORD commanded through Moses’…as is written in the Book of Moses…as prescribed” (vv 1, 6, 12, 13).  (Paul O. Wendland, The People’s Bible, 2 Chr, 413)
  • (v. 20) The phrase “After all this” introduces Ezra’s final Josianic topic: the king’s death.  It is to be dated to the year 609 B.C. (W.F. Albright, BASOR 153, 31-32).  The cause lay in a military advance by “Neco King of Egypt,” a leading Pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty, as he made an active bid to succeed to the rule of the Assyrian Empire in the west.  Nineveh had fallen three years before, in 612; and the Egyptians opposed the rival claims of Babylon by going up the Euphrates River “on behalf of” (al; cf. NIV), not “against” (KJV), the king of Assyria (2 Kgs 23:29).  Neco’s immediate objective was to cross the river and retake the city of Haran (Wiseman, Chaldean Kings, 19).  This town lay east of Carchemish, which constituted in its turn a key center on the westernmost bend of the Euphrates.  (Frank E. G belein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 553)
  • (vss. 20-23) Pharaoh Neco of Egypt marched to the assistance of the declining Assyria in the vain attempt of the latter–finally brought to naught at the decisive battle of Carchemish–to withstand Babylon.  Josiah’s move against Neco was presumably bound up with his policy of renouncing Assyrian influence within his borders, and he may even have felt that the rise of Babylon was a thing to be encouraged.  Politically and militarily it was a miscalculation.  The Chronicler gives us a deeper cause, however, namely Josiah’s refusal to hear the word of God on the matter.  (J. G. McConville, The Daily Study Bible Series, 1 & 2 Chr, 263)
  • (v. 21) It is hard not to feel a certain bewildered sympathy for Josiah here.  How should he believe the word of an invader of the promised land, intent on his own bellicose interests, when he said that he had been sent by God, especially in view of Huldah’s prophecy that Judah would be delivered in his day, and of his own efforts to be faithful?

It is possible to meet the difficulty in one of two ways.  Either we might take the line that the word of God is always recognizable as such and that Josiah’s conscience must have informed him that it was right to cede to Neco.  Or again, we might suppose that Neco’s claim–presumably originally in terms of Egyptian deities–was supported by an interpretation from within Israel’s prophetic circles, which made it plain that this was in fact Yahweh’s will.  This explanation is offered by an apocryphal book (1 Esdras 1:28) which attributes the interpretation to Jeremiah.  As historical evidence 1 Esdras does not count.  Yet the suggestion is not without plausibility in view of the fact that Jeremiah typically did counsel a policy of non-resistance to the imperial power (Babylon), urging that it was acting under God (cf. Jer 37-38).  (J. G. McConville, The Daily Study Bible Series, 1 & 2 Chr, 264)

  • (v. 21) But how is King Josiah to discern that the Egyptian king is delivering a message from God?  The text provides no answer, but we must assume that somehow through the ministry of God’s Spirit, Josiah could recognize the divine origin of the truth and the authority of Neco’s speech.  (Andrew E. Hill, The NIV Application Commentary: 1 & 2 Chr, 629)
  • (v. 22)  Josiah, like King Ahab at Ramoth Gilead, then “disguised himself” for protection against his fate (cf. on 18:29).  For though this next truth might have come as a surprise to the king, “what Neco had said” actually had come “at God’s command.”  The Lord’s consistent message to his people had been that they must rely on him and, correspondingly, keep themselves from involvement in the international power politics of their day.

The reality of the contest at “Megiddo” has received archaeological confirmation from the ruins of the site’s Stratum II.  This level belonged to an unwalled town during the time of Josiah, and it evidences a measure of contemporaneous destruction (H.F. Vos, Archaeology in Bible Lands, 192).  Megiddo lies on the strategic pass through the ridge that separates Palestine’s coastal plain from the Esdraelon Valley to its northeast.  It has been the scene of key battles from the 15th century B.C. down to World War I.  The conflict of the ages, against Christ at his second coming, will be joined at Armageddon (Rv 16:16), “the mountain of Megiddo.”  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 554)

  • While the biblical historians regarded the reform under Josiah as approximating the zenith of religion in the kingdom of Judah, national or official reforms may not really change people or have lasting effect.  Josiah’s renewed covenant (34:30-31) was quickly abandoned by his successors; Josiah’s contemporary Jeremiah would look for a day when a new covenant would be written on individual hearts, a new covenant that would effect a genuine change (Jer 33).

For the Chronicler, Josiah’s fidelity did not cancel the inexorable validity of retribution theology: Josiah died in defeat when he transgressed the command of God.  For the Christian reader, Josiah’s failure drives us to look for yet another son of David who will rule the people of God in righteousness without lapse.  (Raymond B. Dillard, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 15, 293)


The question to be answered is . . . What was Josiah thinking going against Neco when God clearly told him, “No”?


Answer: I believe Josiah had begun to believe his own press clippings about how righteous, godly and holy he was and could not fathom the possibility that he was still a sinner and vulnerable to grievous error.  Josiah (as Abraham Lincoln states in his Proclamation for a National Fast Day)  forgot the gracious hand which preserved him in peace, and which multiplied and enriched and strengthened Judah; and he vainly imagined, through the deceitfulness of his heart, that all his blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of his own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, Josiah became too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace.  Ditto USA 2013!


The Word for the Day is . . . presumption


What lessons can we learn from the Chronicler writing 2 Chronicles to his post-exilic audience?:

I.  Josiah wholeheartedly follows the Lord. (2 Chr 35:1-20a)


All the people were there, in numbers that were greater than at any other Passover, and yet we miss the descriptions of the wholehearted joy and the universal willingness to unite under God’s kind of king that we read of in so many other places.  Much of this Passover had to be done for the people.  All they had to do was show up.  Is it reading too much into the text to hear in these omissions the Chronicler gently saying, “It was the greatest ever–in an outward way.  But the people’s spiritual core remained untouched.”  (Paul O. Wendland, The People’s Bible, 2 Chr, 413)


The spirit that inspires Josiah is a new resolve to obey God’s commandments.  The very holding of the feast constitutes his major contribution to this, for reasons which we have seen.  He is careful also about details, such as the correct date (v 1; cf. Ex 12:6), and the proper functioning of the priests and Levites (vv 3-6).  (J. G. McConville, The Daily Study Bible Series, 1 & 2 Chr, 261)


The king wanted all Israel to be present.  Huge numbers of goats and lambs had to be slaughtered and prepared for sacrifice and for eating.  Who would coordinate all this and make it possible for all Israel to come together at one central sanctuary yet still celebrate the Passover in their individual family groupings, as prescribed by the law of Moses (see Dt 16:5-7; Ex 12:3)?  The king’s answer was to ask the Levites to do this, following the example of Hezekiah’s Passover and turning those emergency measures into a regular arrangement (v 6; see also 30:17).  Therefore Josiah had them arrange themselves in their regular Levitical divisions and then subdivide themselves so that a group of Levites would be responsible for each lay family in Israel.  They would take care of slaughtering and preparing the lambs for their fellow countrymen (vv 5, 6).  (Paul O. Wendland, The People’s Bible, 2 Chr, 409)


Once again we notice one of the themes our writer loves to return to again and again: “Look at how freely and lavishly hearts moved by God’s love can give–provided that they serve under God’s kind of king.”  No congregational leader need feel that talking about money for the support of God’s work is an unspiritual matter.  (Paul O. Wendland, The People’s Bible, 2 Chr, 410)


Unlike Hezekiah’s Passover, which was atypical in so many ways, the Chronicler aims to present Josiah’s Passover as a model celebration.  (Steven S. Tuell, Interpretation: 1 & 2 Chr, 239)


16-19 To the time span of v 18, that “the Passover had not been observed like this…since the days of…Samuel,” 2 Kgs 23:22 adds what could be an even longer interval, “since the days of the judges.”  The point is that Josiah’s feast came up to the Bible’s ceremonial standards as no others had since those in the era of Moses and Joshua.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, 553)



II.  Josiah mistakenly concludes that his devotion produces exclusive spiritual discernment and unchallengeable favor with God.  AKA: Josiah forgets his relationship with God is based purely on grace.  (2 Chr 35:20b-24)


The Chronicler wants to make a clear connection between this tragic episode with the far happier one preceding it: “After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish” (v 20).  (Paul O. Wendland, The People’s Bible, 2 Chr, 415)


God could not have made it more plain to Josiah than he had through Huldah the prophetess.  Judah would not long survive Josiah’s death (see 34:24-28).  Yet here was Josiah, trying to preserve God’s kingdom with physical, coercive means when it could be built and strengthened only by spiritual means.  (Paul O. Wendland, The People’s Bible, 2 Chr, 417)


Many have asked, “How was Josiah supposed to know that the message of a heathen king was truly from the Lord?  Hadn’t even Sennacherib claimed–without justification–to have had the support of Israel’s God?”  The answer seems quite simple:  they were words perfectly consistent with the earlier prophecies of Huldah.  They also agreed with what the prophets had all been saying for quite some time: Judah was going to fall.  Finally, God’s ongoing admonition to all of his kings had always been to avoid entangling themselves in foreign conflicts and alliances.  Given that background, it was no great stretch to expect Josiah to have recognized in Neco’s words the voice of his own God.  (Paul O. Wendland, The People’s Bible, 2 Chr, 417)


There can thus be no doubt that Neco king of Egypt was on his way with reinforcements in order further to strengthen his Assyrian ally (not to fight against the king of Assyria, as 2 Kg 23:29 has it).  In view of the Egyptian set-back only a few months previously, and with account taken of the wider political situation (cf. A. Malamat, JNES 9, 219f.), it becomes clear that Josiah’s move against him at Megiddo was ‘a bold decision based on far-reaching political and military considerations’, aimed at cutting off this Egyptian aid.  (H.G.M. Williamson, The New Century Bible Commentary, 1 & 2 Chr, 410)


The Chronicler must have known that it was not the first time a Judean king had heard such claims from a foreign superpower.  In brazen tones Sennacherib had offered the same argument to Hezekiah according to 2 Kgs 18:25.  And there the reader was obviously meant to regard it as just another of Sennacherib’s dirty tricks!  With hindsight, however, the Chronicler is able to take Neco’s claim at its face value.  He goes so far as to describe Josiah as a second Ahab, who “disguised himself” (v 22) in an attempt to prevent a prophetic word coming true (18:19, 29).  In addition Josiah suffered the similar fate of a serious arrow wound which necessitated his removal from the fray (v 23; cf. 18:33).  (Leslie Allen, Mastering the OT, 1, 2 Chr, 431)


The Chronicler demonstrates the validity of his retribution theology by modifying the Kings account to show that Josiah’s death resulted from his disobedience to a divine oracle.  Speech materials are commonly in Chronicles the vehicle of the author’s theological viewpoints; just as other war oracles resulted in weal or woe for the king receiving them (2 Chr 11:1-4; 13:4-12; 18:16-22; 25:17-24; cf. 16:7-9), here the warning is given by a gentile king.  The author informs the reader that retribution theology is the focus of his concern by introducing the narrative of Josiah’s death with the additional phrase, “after all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order…”; the Chronicler commonly uses such introductory phrases to signal the focus of his interest.  (Raymond B. Dillard, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 15, 292)


Josiah’s motivations are not altogether clear.  It is likely, however, that from the time of Hezekiah (see 32:31//2 Kgs 20:12-15), Judah looked to Babylon as a potential source of help against Assyria.  To keep the Egyptians from helping Assyria would have been in Josiah’s own self-interest.  (Richard L. Pratt, 1 & 2 Chr, A Mentor Commentary, 496)


The connection between this passage and Ahab’s fatal wounding is apparent.  In Ahab’s case, someone drew his bow at random and hit the king.  Then the king ordered, “Wheel around and get me out of the fighting.  I’ve been wounded’ (18:33).  The similarities make it likely that the Chronicler expected his readers to treat 35:23 as an elliptical description of a similar scenario.  Just as God’s judgment against Ahab came through the arrow shot at random, so Josiah came under divine displeasure through the arrow of an enemy’s bow.  (Richard L. Pratt, 1 & 2 Chr, A Mentor Commentary, 497)


III.  In spite of his arrogance and self-deception God’s relationship with Him is unchanged because God looks at Josiah’s heart and not his ignorance (2 Chr 35:25-27) 


The death of Josiah is patterned closely on the account of the death of Ahab in 1 Kg 22:30, 34-37 (cf. 2 Chr 18:29, 33-34).  (H.G.M. Williamson, The New Century Bible Commentary, 1 & 2 Chr, 409)


He does not want the aberration of Josiah’s tragic end to overshadow the overwhelmingly positive contribution he made to the life of Judah.  The triple mention of mourning not only caters to the shocked emotions of readers of Josiah’s death but reflects a high regard for the king (cf. Jer 22:11, 15-16).  The Chronicler’s own obituary notice is that Josiah was a good and pious king whose reign was characterized by the honoring of the Torah Scriptures.  Who could have wanted a finer epitaph?  (Leslie Allen, Mastering the OT, 1, 2 Chr, 432)


The shock wave of Josiah’s death sends tremors through Judah from which the nation never recovers.  Not only do his religious reforms die with him in battle, but also the kingdom of Judah itself will soon “die” in the Babylonian onslaught.  (Andrew E. Hill, The NIV Application Commentary: 1 & 2 Chr, 630)


Josiah Goes Out for Battle Against Neco (35:20)

Josiah Hears Warning from Neco (35:21)

Josiah Defiantly Enters Battle (35:22)

Josiah is Seriously Wounded (35:23)

Josiah Returns and Dies (35:24a)

(Richard L. Pratt, 1 & 2 Chr, A Mentor Commentary, 474)


CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What does this message have to do with Christ and me?

A-  We should also wholeheartedly follow the Lord.  That means without your self-consumed and deceptive heart influencing your motivation (Gn 6:5; 8:21; Dt 4:6; Jer 17:9; Mt 22:37; Mk 12:30-33)


…For in this state the devil causes many to believe in vain visions and false prophecies; and strives to make them presume that God and the saints are speaking with them; and they often trust their own fancy.  And the devil is also accustomed, in this state, to fill them with presumption and pride, so that they become attracted by vanity and arrogance, and allow themselves to be seen engaging in outward acts which appear holy, such as raptures and other manifestations.  Thus they become bold with God, and lose holy fear, which is the key and the custodian of all the virtues; and in some of these souls so many are the falsehoods and deceits which tend to multiply, and so inveterate do they grow, that it is very doubtful if such souls will return to the pure road of virtue and true spirituality. (St. John of the Cross; Dark Night of the Soul, 94-95)


The Perils of Activism: Or look at the activism of our activity.  Modern Christians tend to make busyness their religion.  We admire and imitate, and so become, Christian workaholics, supposing that the busiest believers are always the best.  Those who love the Lord will indeed be busy for him, no doubt about that; but the spirit of our busyness is constantly wrong.  We run round doing things for God and leave ourselves no time for prayer.  Yet that does not bother us, for we have forgotten the old adage that if you are too busy to pray, you really are too busy.  But we do not feel the need to pray, because we have grown self-confident and self-reliant in our work.  We take for granted that our skills and resources and the fine quality of our programs will of themselves bring forth fruit; we have forgotten that apart from Christ–Christ trusted, obeyed, looked to, relied on–we can achieve nothing (see Jn 15:5). (J. I. Packer; Keep In Step With the Spirit, 98)


God save us also from self-righteous judgmentalism…There is a universe of difference between the motivations behind legalism and discipline.  Legalism says, “I will do this thing to gain merit with God,” while discipline says, “I will do this because I love God and want to please him.”  Legalism is man-centered; discipline is God-centered. (J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 114)


The thing you fear the most is probably the thing that you are counting on to earn your righteousness before God.  It is your idol, your work, your merit before God.  Give it up.  You can never be that righteous. — Tim Keller


It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self: to Jesus: but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ.  He insinuates, “Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus.”   All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within.  But, the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.”  Remember, therefore, it is not your hold of Christ that saves you—it is Christ; it is not your joy in Christ that saves you—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to your hand with which you art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to your hope, but to Jesus, the source of your hope; look not to your faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith.  We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul.  If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “Looking unto Jesus.” Keep your eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon your mind; when you wake in the morning look to him; when you lie down at night look to him.  Do not let your hopes or fears come between you and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail you. (C. H. Spurgeon as quoted by Alister Begg; Pathway to Freedom, 228-29)


. . . people who think that these things are all you have to do, always, of course, regard them as meritorious in and of themselves.  As long as you go to the early morning service, you are all right; as long as you go through the ceremony and the ritual, you are all right!  They see the activity as an end in and of itself; they go through the performance and think all is well.  They have never seen that the purpose of all these things that God has ordained is to bring us into a relationship with himself.  They are doing their duty, and as long as they have done their duty, they think all is well.  That was precisely the trouble with the Pharisees.

But let me give you the fourth charge.  The real trouble with men and women who think that this is the way to be right with God is that they are really not thinking of God at all, they are only thinking of themselves.  Our Lord has again put this perfectly once and for ever in his famous picture of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up into the temple to pray.  ‘The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself’ –exactly!  It was all with himself–‘God’–Oh, yes, he is bound to mention the name of God.  But God is an aside, as it were.  ‘He prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.  I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.’ (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones;  God’s Way, Not Ours: Isaiah 1, 129)


B-  Never forget that your relationship with Christ is based on grace and not your efforts.  Don’t be stupid enough to think that you can ever do anything that would obligate God.  God can use anything He desires to accomplish His will (Nm 22:21-35; Ps 5:9; 10:7; Hab 2:11; Lk 19:40;  Isa 64:6; Lk 17:7-10; Rom 3:9-4:25; 2 Cor 10:7-12:21; Gal 1:1-4:7; 5:4; Eph 2:8-9; Phil 3:2-11; Ti 3:3-7)


“Blessings at times comes to us through our labors and at times without our labors, but never because of our labors.  God always gives them because of His undeserved mercy.” (Martin Luther as quoted by Steve Brown, Key Life Newsletter, 11/07)


Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment. It is the love of God shown to the unlovely.  It is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against him. (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 21-22)


The first and possibly most fundamental characteristic of divine grace is that it presupposes sin and guilt.  Grace has meaning only when men are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and liable to eternal wrath…

Grace does not contemplate sinners merely as undeserving but as ill-deserving… It is simply that we do not deserve grace; we do deserve hell!  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 32)


Grace ceases to be if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit… Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw in it in the presence of human demerit… [grace] is treating a person without the slightest reference to desert whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of God. (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 33)


Here is a spiritual principle regarding the grace of God; to the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life. (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 33)

Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace alone for our salvation. It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace. Grace is for other people – for beggars. We don’t want to live by a heavenly welfare system. We want to earn our way and atone for our own sin. (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 59)


I don’t mean to disparage any spiritual discipline, commitment, or sacrifice. These all have their place in the realm of grace. But they are never to be relied on as a meritorious cause for expecting God’s blessing or to answer prayer. Martin Luther, in his exposition of Dt 8:17-18, spoke of “blessings that at times come to us through our labors and at times without our labors, but never because of our labors; for God always gives them because of His undeserved mercy” (emphasis added).  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 72)


But, Charles Hodge so aptly said, “Christian humility does not consist in denying what there is of good in us; but in an abiding sense of ill-desert, and in the consciousness that what we have of good is due to the Grace of God.”  Humility, then, gives credit where credit is due, namely to the working of Holy Spirit in our lives. Pride, which is the opposite of humility, seeks to find within ourselves some innate goodness or even to ascribe to our own commitment or faithfulness the cause of any blessings of God in our lives. Pride might say, for example, “Because I have been faithful and obedient, God has blessed me”; whereas humility would say, “Because of God’s grace at work in me, I have been motivated and enabled to be faithful and obedient.” (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 199)


Don’t grumble because you don’t have what you want; be thankful you don’t get what you deserve.


Without this holiness of God, sin has no meaning and grace has no point, for it is God’s holiness that gives to the one its definition and to the other its greatness.  Without the holiness of God, sin is merely human failure but not failure before God, in relation to God.  It is failure without the standard by which we know it to have fallen short.  It is failure without the presumption of guilt, failure without retribution, failure without any serious moral meaning.  And without the holiness of God, grace is no longer grace because it does not arise from the dark clouds of judgment that obscured the cross and exacted the damnation of the Son in our place.   Furthermore, without holiness, grace loses its meaning as grace, a free gift of the God who, despite His holiness and because of His holiness, has reconciled sinners to Himself in the death of His Son.  And without holiness, faith is but a confidence in the benevolence of life, or perhaps merely confidence in ourselves.  Sin, grace, and faith are emptied of any but a passing meaning if they are severed from their roots in the holiness of God. (David Wells; God in the Wasteland, 144-45)


The prouder a man is, the more he thinks he deserves; and the more he thinks he deserves, the less he really does.  (Henry Ward Beecher; as quoted in Bits & Pieces for Salespeople, May 17, 2001, 2)

Think about your own righteousness and presenting it to God.  What a joke!   You have nothing to offer the God of the Universe.  Even your most pure righteous deeds fall far short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23, Isa 64:6).   The only thing that can please God is God.  Therefore the only thing you can offer the God of the Universe is Himself reflected in you by the work of the Holy Spirit in you.  That is what brings glory to God.  That is what pleases God.  That is what brings merit to us before God.  It is God and God alone. — Pastor Keith


God created human beings in His own image, innocent, morally free and responsible to choose between good and evil, right and wrong.  By the sin of Adam, humans as the offspring of Adam are corrupted in their very nature so that from birth they are inclined to sin.  They are unable by their own strength and work to restore themselves in right relationship with God and to merit eternal salvation.  God, the Omnipotent, provides all the resources of the Trinity to make it possible for humans to respond to His grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  By God’s grace and help people are enabled to do good works with A free will. (¶111; 2003 Book of Discipline: Free Methodist Church, 12)


But conditional grace is not earned grace.  It is not merited.  “Earned grace” is an oxymoron.  Grace cannot be earned.  The very meaning of grace is that the one receiving the grace does not deserve it–has not earned it.  If a philanthropist pays $80,000 for your college education on the condition that you graduate from high school, you have not earned the gift, but you have met a condition.  It is possible to meet a condition for receiving grace and yet not earn the grace.  Conditional grace does not mean earned grace.  How can this be?  (John Piper, Future Grace, 78-79)


The Christian life isn’t about being perfect and deserving God’s favor.  It’s about taking a few steps, stumbling, getting back up, and taking a few more steps.  Hopefully, over time we won’t stumble as often or fall as hard.  But one thing is sure: no matter how pure we may be, we’ll never be deserving of God’s favor.  And we’ll never be able to change ourselves.  Since that’s the case, we should devote ourselves to the One who loves us anyway and has the power to change us.  (Bill Perkins, When Good Men are Tempted, 105)


Heidelberg Catechism: Question number 60 Q. How are you right with God?


A.  Only by true faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:21-28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Phil 3:8-11).

Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all of God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them (Rom 3:9-10), and even though I am still inclined towards all evil (Rom 7:23), nevertheless, without my deserving it at all (Ti 3:4-5), out of sheer grace (Rom 3:24; Eph 2:8), God grants and credits to me the perfect salvation, righteousness, and holiness of Christ (Rom 4:3-5; Gn 15:6; 2 Cor 5:17-19; 1 Jn 2:1-2), as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me (Rom 4:24-25; 2 Cor 5:21).

All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart (Jn 3:18; Acts 16:30-31).


Q61.  Why do you say that by faith alone you are right with God?

A. It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me.  Only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God (1 Cor 1:30-31).  And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone (Rom 10:10; 1 Jn 5:10-12).


Q62.  Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him?

A.  Because the righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law (Rom 3:20; Col 3:10; Dt 27:26).  Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin (Isa 64:6).


Q63.  How can you say that the good we do doesn’t earn anything when God promises to reward it in this life and the next? (Mt 5:12; Heb 11:6)


A.   This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace (Lk 17:10; 2 Tim 4:7-8)


God blesses us, enables us to do what otherwise we could not possibly have done, makes us great in control over ourselves, and perhaps, also, in influence over others.  We, in some crisis of temptation, listen to the whisper that it was our own hand that made us strong; self-complacency begets presumption; until at last conscience smites us; we know ourselves to be leprous in spirit in the sight of God, and the self-built fabric of prosperity crumbles in a moment.  (Joseph S. Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, 2 Chronicles, 117)


Our church is growing, the statistics look good, and people start asking about our “methods.”  You must be doing something right,” they say.  It is at times like these when it is especially important to remember that God blesses us, not because we have personally earned or deserved it for all our good “doing,” but for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ–because of his “doing” and dying on the cross.  With David, we ought to boast not in ourselves, but in the Lord.  (Paul O. Wendland, The People’s Bible, 1 Chr, 159)


No point in theology requires to be oftener stated, or more carefully established, than the impossibility that a creature should merit at the hands of the Creator.  Each one of us, if he have ever probed his own heart, will confess himself prone to the persuasion, that the creature can lay the Creator under obligation.  If one being merit of another, it must perform some action which it was not obliged to perform, and by which that other is advantaged.  If either of these conditions fail, merit must vanish.  (Joseph S. Exell, The Biblical Illustrator, 1 Chronicles, 113)



C-  A humble, contrite and broken heart is what pleases God because it alone puts us in a position to recognize the reality of our desperate need for God and His Savior the Christ. (Ps 34:18; ch. 51; Isa 57:15; 66:2; Mt 13:1-23; Mk 4:10-25; Lk 7:36-50; 8:9-18; Gal 3:24)


To presume that we can crucify our own flesh is vanity.  If we were to crucify ourselves, all that we would have left is self-righteousness.  We do not crucify ourselves, but rather we are crucified “with Christ.”  (Rick Joyner, There Were Two Trees in the Garden, 145)


But Paul never lost sight of his own unworthiness, even when exercising his office of apostleship. He never forgot he held that office by God’s mercy. Here we see the biblical relationship between a sense of one’s utter unworthiness on the one hand, and the courage to undertake a ministry for God on the other. To lose sight of our unworthiness is to risk exercising our gifts and fulfilling our ministries in a spirit of presumptuous pride, as if God were fortunate to have us on His team. But to focus too much on our unworthiness, to the neglect of God’s grace, will effectively immobilize us for His service. That attitude is also an expression of pride because we are still focusing on ourselves and our worthiness, as if God were dependent on some innate quality within us equip us for His Service.  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 158)


Regardless of the particular bag of tricks that they happen to carry, their line of trade is always the same.  They deal in magic, and magic is the attempt to bend the will of God to suit the will of man.  Magic presumes to have power to control the laws of God and to exercise that power by secret knowledge in favor of particular persons.  It does not worship God; it uses him.  (The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX Acts Romans, 171)


When God’s love is taken for granted, we paint Him into a corner and rob Him of the opportunity to love us in a NEW AND SURPRISING way, and faith begins to shrivel and shrink.   When I become so spiritually advanced that Abba is old hat, then the Father has been had, Jesus has been tamed, the Spirit has been corralled, and the Pentecostal fire has been extinguished.   Evangelical faith is the antithesis of lukewarmness.  It always means a profound dissatisfaction with our present state. (Brennan Manning; Ragamuffin Gospel, 161)


The true way to Christianity is this, that a man first acknowledges himself by the law to be a sinner, and that it is impossible for him to do any good work.  For the law says: You are an evil tree, and therefore all that you think, speak, or do, is against God.  You cannot therefore deserve grace by your works: which if you go about to do, you double your offense; for since you are an evil tree, you cannot but bring forth evil fruits, that is to say, sins.  “For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Rom 14:23).  So he who would merit grace by works going before faith, goes about to please God with sins, which is nothing else but to heap sin upon sin, to mock God, and to provoke His wrath.  When a man is thus taught and instructed by the law, then is he terrified and humbled, then he sees indeed the greatness of his sin, and cannot find in himself one spark of love of God; therefore he justifies God in His Word, and confesses that he is guilty of death and eternal damnation.  The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance and the knowledge of ourselves.” (Martin Luther; Galatians, 92)


If you want to know the blessings of God, the blessings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the blessings of the Christian gospel, the first thing you must do is admit that you have no claim at all upon them, that you do not deserve them, that actually you deserve nothing but punishment and hell.  If you are still trying to defend yourself, if you still feel that God has not been fair to you, that God is unkind to you or that God has kept something back from you, you are not a Christian; you are still in the position of rebellious Adam and Eve; you are in the position of the Pharisees. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones; God’s Way, Not Ours: Isaiah 1, 91)


“Grace has meaning only when we are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation & liable to eternal wrath.” (Samuel Storms; Grandeur of God, 124)


“In sports you have to be good enough in your athletic skill to make the team.  In business you have to perform according to agreed-upon standards in order to keep your job.  In society you have to be a winner in order to merit recognition.  In Jesus Christ, you do not have to be good enough, you do not have to perform, you do not have to be a winner.  Ironically, to be in Christ means exactly the opposite—it is to admit that you are not good enough, that you cannot perform, that because of sin’s grip on your life you are a loser—and to admit, for that very reason, that you need a Savior, a Savior whose unconditional love transforms you life.” (Patrick Morley; Ten Secrets for the Man in the Mirror, 176)


If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying! — Tim Keller


Worship point:  See God for Who He is.  See yourself as the sinner you are.  Worship God for His grace and mercy because every good and perfect gift comes from Him and His grace and not from our merits or ability.


Spiritual Challenge:  Begin to think of life in terms of God’s grace and not your merit.  Even the accomplishments you have made have come as a result of the abilities you did not give to yourself, opportunities that came as a result of God’s providence, and protection from disaster that you enjoy as a result of God’s sovereignty. If you would do this, I believe you will live life with more gratitude and less bitterness, more joy and less arrogance, and more motivation and less anxiety as you realize just how good God really is.

Justice- When you get what you deserve.

Mercy- When you don’t get what you deserve.

Grace- When you get what you don’t deserve   


The sin of presumption is the antithesis of the fear of the Lord.  It is the harbinger of future defeat.   (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 142)


Christ —

Not Magic


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