Our texts for the week:
2 Chronicles 26:1-23; Isaiah 6:1-8; John 11:10
NOTE: This is a longer pastor’s note. For the short version, please scroll down to “Reflections for this week.”
Encounter #1 • King Uzziah
In our quest to finish well, this week we’re looking at three encounters with the holy. The first encounter occurred in the life of King Uzziah. His name means “the Lord (Yahweh) is my strength” and boy did God deliver on this front. By any measure, Uzziah was very powerful. The typical ingredients that caused his strength are all there, including the development of the keystone habit to set his face to seek the Lord (at 16, 2 Chronicles 26:5). “As long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.” As a result, he “became very strong” (2 Chronicles 26:8) because “God helped him” (2 Chronicles 26:7). Twice the account talks about his “fame” (his ‘name’ i.e., his reputation) that spread all around (2 Chronicles 26:8; 2 Chronicles 26:15). He was a great builder, defender of the realm and organized a powerful army to protect the land from enemies. Under his catalytic leadership, new ways to increase agricultural production were put in place, new defense systems were engineered. Pretty much everything he touched turned into a success story (2 Chronicles 26:6-15). This glowing report ends like this: “his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped till he was strong” (2 Chronicles 26:15).
The one thing Uzziah forgot along the way was to stay in his lane. His lane was to be a king, but for Uzziah that wasn’t enough any more. He wanted more power so he also fancied himself the role of a priest. This is where his story unravels. The Bible doesn’t sugar coat anything and is brutally honest: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.” He decided to become a priest and to enter the area of the temple that is only for the priests. All of a sudden, Uzziah is an intruder into Yahweh’s sacred space, much like Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark who thought he could take on the garb of a priest, to his quick demise.* When confronted by the priests with this foolhardy lane change, Uzziah literally explodes in rage and absolutely refuses to back down (2 Chronicles 26:19). So if Jehoshaphat’s weakness was his inability to say no, Uzziah’s own core weakness was his refusal to say yes to common-sense advice: “you have done wrong and it will bring you no honor [literally glory] from the Lord God” (2 Chronicles 26:18). Pride will do that to you: an inability to listen to good advice because you have grown accustomed to listening only to your own instincts. The consequences for Uzziah are dire. He loses everything, the kingdom, the power and the fame, since he ends up secluded for the rest of his life with a permanent blemish on his skin. His “leprosy” (not Hansen’s disease, but rather a skin blemish) makes him unable to operate as a king in God’s kingdom in the Old Covenant. More on that in a minute.
Encounter #2 • The prophet Isaiah
The second encounter with the holy shares striking similarities. This time, it’s Uzziah’s biographer, no less than the famous Isaiah the prophet (2 Chronicles 26:22; the book of Isaiah). He too finds himself an intruder into Yahweh’s sacred space, but Isaiah has a vastly different reaction. Tellingly, the event takes place “in the year that Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1). So the image in Isaiah’s mind is still fresh of Uzziah’s downfall. However, when Isaiah sees “the Lord high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1), his attitude couldn’t be any different from Uzziah’s. Rather than exploding in fury, he cries out in humbleness, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah realizes he doesn’t belong in the Lord’s presence because of his own short fall of glory before “the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 6:3). Whereas Uzziah digs in his heels in pride, to his demise, Isaiah humbles Himself before the Lord.
At this moment, we witness one the most powerful images of forgiveness in the Bible, “a burning coal…from the altar” (symbolizing a sacrifice) touches Isaiah’s lips with the wonderful result that his “guilt is taken away and his sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:6-7). God Himself through sacrifice allows Isaiah to withstand the heat of His Holiness. His unclean lips are made clean. This moment becomes the springboard to his commission for fruitful service to the Lord for the rest of his life: “here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). One encounter with the holy goes haywire because of pride, the other becomes the starting point of an incredibly fruitful ministry. It all hinges on staying in your lane and recognizing the God-lane is never ever ours. He is the creator God, the Holy One and we are not.
Encounter #3 • Here and Now; You and Me
The third encounter with the holy occurs in the here and now. The path to the very presence of God and His holiness has been made through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the Cross. He has made a way so that by faith in Jesus, we not only have entered the holiness of God’s presence but we are not intruders anymore: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even where we were dead in our trespasses [our unclean state], made us alive together with Christ –by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6). To enter God’s presence all hinges on our humility to ‘bend the knee,’ to recognize our own unholiness, and the conviction that Jesus cleanses us from our unholiness/unclean state. Only through Jesus can we access safely God’s presence and actually be seated with Him! Today, we share Isaiah’s same access code: having enough humility to ‘bend the knee’ before a Holy God.
*due to the graphic nature of Belloq’s demise in the film clip, I am not including the link here.
**For other instances of the principle see Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 28:2; Genesis 3:5
Reflections for the week:
When you and I are confronted with God’s holiness, God’s lane, what’s our reaction? When we are reading something in Scripture that confronts our own wayward way or when someone challenges us with some fresh godly input, what’s our reaction? Humility that says, ‘yes, let me get back into my lane’ (Isaiah)? Or pride and a raging reaction, ‘how dare you tell me what to do’ (Uzziah)? These encounters with the holy come to us routinely through the Word and/or other people speaking into our lives. Our core issue is pride, the original ‘anti-God’ sin (C.S. Lewis). It’s the deceptive idea that we must exchange our lanes for something bigger and better, that somehow our God-given lane is not enough anymore. We delude ourselves in a false sense of piety that says “I must increase so that God might increase” (cited in Mark Galli’s his weekly newsletter). To be sure, God may in fact bring increase, but it will always be within our God-given lanes of influence and responsibility. In Christ, yes we can do anything, but it doesn’t mean we need to do everything.
P.S. – In this call to ‘bend the knee,’ we remember that God Himself walked the walk when it comes to humility. When Jesus died on the Cross, He humbled Himself unto death, taking the form of a servant. This ‘bending of the knee’ through his life in obedience to the Father and His sacrificial death on the Cross is why God the Son is now exalted, seated at the right hand of the Father, with the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:5-11). As we follow Jesus, He is not asking us to do something he has not done Himself. This week be content and satisfied in the lane God has given you.