A Lesson from Hezekiah

May 1, 2011

Well that was edifying. We used that video a couple of years ago but thought we could drag it out again. This is week four of our Treasures of the Heart series. If you haven’t been with us during that time or if you are new to Cornerstone I will bring you up to speed.
I decided that instead of preaching about money when we were behind or there was a financial crunch or crisis in the church, which comes across as scolding or begging, that I would spend three or four weeks each year taking a biblical look at giving and stewardship, and this is the last Sunday of that series. Which for some of you is good news because that means that starting next Sunday you have 11 months of money free preaching. And really: Who could ask for anything more.
I do want to thank you for last Sunday’s offering, awesome job, close to 17,000.00 came in putting as in the black as we move into the new church year.
Did you catch the last line of that scripture that was read earlier? Let’s look at it again. 2 Kings 18:1-5 Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time.
Most of you probably had never heard the name Hezekiah before this morning and now you discover that he was the greatest king to ever serve the Southern ? Kingdom.
Little history lesson here. This might just look like a line but it is in reality a “Time Line.” We will end it here at the birth of Christ and we will begin it here, where Joshua leads the people of God into the Promised Land and for the first four hundred years that they lived there they were ruled over by men and women called Judges. Around this point (1065) the people decided they wanted to be like all the other countries and have a king and so Samuel, the prophet of God appointed Saul to be King, started off well and then turned into a train wreck. Then David, you remember David, he was the shepherd boy who killed the giant goliath and the author of most of the Psalms. David became King (1043) and under David Israel flourished. When David died his son Solomon (984) assumed the throne, remember Solomon’s temple, yep same Solomon. Solomon wrote most of the proverbs and was reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived.
But it was after the death of Solomon that things took a turn for the worse. After a whole lot of infighting the Kingdom divides into the (950) Northern Kingdom, often called Israel and the Southern Kingdom referred to as Judah. This is what it looks like on a map. North, South. And each kingdom had its own King. Some were good but most were bad. Goes back to the old adage that first coined by Lord Acton, the British historian, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
And so for the most part the Kings of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms led their people far from God, either adopting the idolatrous practices of their neighbours or just fell into complete immorality. This is what History records about Hezekiah’s father Ahaz, 2 Kings 16:2-3 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the LORD his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites.
And so when Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah became King, at this point on the time line seven hundred years after the people of Israel entered into the promised land and seven Hundred years before Jesus was born, Hezekiah was committed to turning the nation back to God.
And that was the introduction to the message.
Hezekiah knew that if he was going to move the people back to worshipping God that it would begin with the Temple, our worship is very seldom a solitary exercise, it seems that God historically calls his people to come and worship him together. There is something about worshipping God as a collective. There is a synergy, energy and an accountability that comes with being with like-minded people. That is why we worship together as a church. Can people worship by themselves? Yep, but it’s hard and God knew that and so that is why the plan has been to join together.
And in 2 Chronicles chapter 31 we see the initial process of re-instituting the temple worship in Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 31:2-4 Hezekiah then organized the priests and Levites into divisions to offer the burnt offerings and peace offerings, and to worship and give thanks and praise to the LORD at the gates of the Temple. The king also made a personal contribution of animals for the daily morning and evening burnt offerings, the weekly Sabbath festivals, the monthly new moon festivals, and the annual festivals as prescribed in the Law of the LORD. In addition, he required the people in Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods to the priests and Levites, so they could devote themselves fully to the Law of the LORD.
The very first part of his plan involved equipping and empowering the priests and Levites. These were the men who did what had to be done on a daily basis to keep the temple running and making sure that everything was in place for the people to offer sacrifices and worship. And Hezekiah knew that this wasn’t only a spiritual exercise it was also a practical exercise. That if the all of these things were going to be put into place that it would involve giving. In verse three it tells us that “The king also made a personal contribution. . .” So the giving started at the very top but that isn’t where it ended, so let’s move into Verse 4
2 Chronicles 31:4 In addition, he required the people in Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods to the priests and Levites, so they could devote themselves fully to the Law of the LORD.
Their Giving was Required The King was under no illusion that resuming worship in the temple would be free or even cheap. And He knew that if he simply assumed that people would give, they probably wouldn’t or wouldn’t give enough.
Because my sermon preperation involves spending a fair amount of time with the people of the past I am continuing amazed at how little people have changed through the years. Peoples passions, motives and thought process were very much the same three thousand years ago as they are today.
And so I would suspect that Hezekiah was probably well aware of the potential for people to either underestimate what it costs for the temple or overestimate how much others would give to support the temple and things haven’t changed. Through the years I continue to be amazed that people either underestimate what it costs for the church or overestimate how much others will give to support the church.
In the first case I don’t think it is a matter of neglect as much as a matter of ignorance. People either don’t think about it at all or they don’t do the math.
I didn’t. Until I started pastoring it never crossed my mind. The church was there when I arrived to worship, it was warm, the lights were on, the building was clean, the pastor was there and he preached, the water was turned on and never once did it cross my mind: “I wonder how they pay for this?” and if that thought had of crossed my mind I’m not sure that I would have been bright enough to have connected the dots and figured out how much it cost.
And Hezekiah knew that if the people of God were going to resume worship in the temple than there were expenses that would be involved.
Now in saying that he required the people of Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods I’m not sure if there were consequences for not doing it. Don’t know that they would have been turned away at the door to the temple if they hadn’t given, don’t know if someone would have come to their door demanding that they give. But the King let them know that if they didn’t give then there would be no temple and no priests and no sacrifices and no corporate worship.
Do we require that people at Cornerstone give? Yep, sure do. Does that mean that if you don’t give you can’t worship here? Nope. Does that mean that if we are going to send someone around to your door looking for your offering envelope? Nope.
But if you don’t give there will be no Cornerstone. You understand that right? If the people of Cornerstone don’t make the sacrifices necessary to pay the bills than the staff would be laid off, the building would be sold and there would be no Cornerstone. Because there is no magical pot that we go to for our funds.
And I think that every person who worships at Cornerstone should adopt the philosophy “If it’s gonna be it’s up to me.” Because it’s not the other person’s responsibility it is our responsibility. You wouldn’t go to Montana’s and expect to eat for nothing or that the people at the table next to you should pay for yours. While you might but you’d end up washing dishes.
Remember the video that we started with? I was surprised at some of the negative responses to that video that had been posted on line. They really demonized the church and the Pastor. But they weren’t people who attended 12stone, because those folks knew that if they wanted the building and the staff that someone would have to pay for it. And long before there were buildings and staff people were giving as a part of their worship to God. You’ll remember a couple of weeks ago I spoke about Cain and Able the sons of Adam and Eve. Genesis 4:3-4 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock.
We need to get beyond thinking that giving to God is about God’s need to receive, listen to what the word of God says in Psalm 50:8-11 I have no complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer. But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens. For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.
It’s not about God’s need to receive it is about our need to give, because anything that doesn’t cost you something is worth exactly what you pay for it.
Listen again to verse 4 2 Chronicles 31:4 In addition, he required the people in Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods to the priests and Levites, so they could devote themselves fully to the Law of the LORD.
Hezekiah didn’t require the people to give so he could have a nicer palace, or so the kingdom could have nicer roads or so the people could have a better retirement. The reason was very clear it was so they could devout themselves fully to the Law of the Lord. Who was the “They”? “They” were the Priests and Levites and the people gave so that “They” could commit themselves full time to the ministry. It was part of the practical aspect of the temple. If the temple was going to operate then it needed someone to operate it and if that was the case than that someone had to be provided for. And with that would have been the tools that the priests needed to do what they had to do.
So how much were the people required to give? Listen to verse 4 again 2 Chronicles 31:4 In addition, he required the people in Jerusalem to bring a portion of their goods to the priests and Levites, so they could devote themselves fully to the Law of the LORD.
Their Giving was Equal The king commanded them to bring a portion of their goods, and then the portion is defined. You see we only hear “portion” but to the people or Jerusalem they heard “10%”. When the law was laid down over 700 years prior it stated Leviticus 27:30 “One tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD and must be set apart to him as holy.” And it was reiterated in Deuteronomy 14:22 “You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”
And you might be thinking, “Well Denn you are just assuming that they knew it was 10%.” Maybe, but listen to the next verse
2 Chronicles 31:5 The people of Israel responded immediately and generously by bringing the first of their crops and grain, new wine, olive oil, honey, and all the produce of their fields. They brought a large quantity—a tithe of all they produced.
And just in case we missed it the story continues 2 Chronicles 31:6 The people who had moved to Judah from Israel, and the people of Judah themselves, brought in the tithes of their cattle, sheep, and goats and a tithe of the things that had been dedicated to the LORD their God, and they piled them up in great heaps.
When I was checking to see if 12Stone had done a different stewardship video I found some folks who were fairly critical of the Tithing rap that we showed earlier. One of the things they mentioned was that the tithe was an Old Testament concept, and that is a sermon in itself, but when Paul was writing about money to the church in Corinth this is what he wrote.
1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once. The believers in Corinth had a Jewish heritage so I wonder what they assumed when Paul said that should put aside a portion of the money they had earned.
The second criticism that was levelled against 12stone for producing the video, I was really surprised at how serious people took that silly video, was that the tithe wasn’t money in the Old Testament it was produce and animals. Sure, that was their currency in many cases. When I was travelling in Ghana at each village the church folk would bring the tithes they had collected to Joe Ocran, the national superintendent when we visited. And it wasn’t money it was yams and chickens. Made for an interesting trip. And when we got back Joe found a buyer for the chickens and yams and sold them and was able to send the cash back to the pastor for his salary and the expenses of the church.
In a worldly sense it was like a “Flat tax”, so the poor person and the rich person each made the same sacrifice, they returned 10% and kept 90%.
Works the same way today, but there are two temptations that we need to be careful of. The temptation on the part of the poor person is to see how much the rich person gets to keep and the temptation of the rich person is to see how little the poor person has to give.
But the original plan was that you gave 10% and kept 90%.
Cute story, really has nothing to do with the message but it’s still worth telling. Two men have ended up marooned on an island in the South Pacific. You can fill in the blanks as to how they got there.
So they are on the clichéic deserted island, one palm tree, nothing to see but the ocean. One guy is in a complete panic, pacing back and forth, ranting about how they are going to die, hungry and alone, that nobody will stumble on them until they are nothing but bones. The other guy is sitting under the tree snoozing. Finally the first man can’t stand it anymore and he demands “What’s wrong with you, don’t you understand the situation?” To which the reply came “Sure I do, we are stranded on this island hundreds of miles from anywhere” “Well aren’t you worried?” “Nope” came the reply “I make $10,000.00 a week.”
The first guy was at a complete loss, “What does that have to do with anything, you have no access to the money and no place to spend it if you did.” To which the second guy replied “No you don’t understand, I make $10,000.00 a week and I tithe, my pastor will find me.”
Back to the message. Hezekiah shows up to see how things are going at the temple and he is absolutely floored by the amount of offerings that had been brought to the temple. The word says they were piled in great heaps and the King asked the priests “Where did all this come from?” And the reply came in Chronicles 31:10 And Azariah the high priest, from the family of Zadok, replied, “Since the people began bringing their gifts to the LORD’s Temple, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare. The LORD has blessed his people, and all this is left over.”
The Giving Was Blessed. The last line in verse 10 says “The LORD has blessed his people, and all this is left over.” The people were living well on their 90%, they had what they needed and because of their faithfulness God’s work was provided for.
God didn’t ask them to take food away from their children, he didn’t ask that they sell their homes or not pay their bills. That’s what the 90% was for.
The prophet Malachi wrote these words 300 years after the story of Hezekiah, Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!”
You understand how blessed you are, right? And if all the people of Cornerstone decided to give out of their blessing there would never be a financial issue in this church. But it really isn’t about the church’s need to receive and it really is about the believer’s need to give. God has done so much for us how can we possible hold back from him?
So where are you at today?
This is family time now, if you are a guest with us this morning, thank you for being here, I trust that you enjoyed the worship and the message and if you can give me a couple of minutes to talk to the Cornerstone family I will appreciate it.