Passing The Torch - 1 Chronicles 21:14-18
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Passing the Torch - 05.07.2023
1 Chronicles 21:14-18
There’s an old TV show called The Office, and in that show there are two beloved characters Jim and Dwight. In the early seasons they have a fierce dislike of the other. Constantly pulling pranks and trying to get rid of the other person, but as the seasons go on they become friends, if not always so friendly. And there’s a moment in one of those later seasons, where Dwight is about to get fired. He thinks he’s going to be promoted, but Jim finds out from the CEO that actually he’s going to get fired. So Jim has to keep Dwight from going to that meeting. And he tries to tell Dwight, but Dwight won’t listen. So Jim calls his wife Pam, and he says, you know - I tried. And she pushes back, “did you really try your hardest?” And he’s like, “well, pretty hard” with a shrug. And so she tells him, you have to go back and keep him away from that meeting. So it comes down to this hallway showdown where Jim is physically block Dwight and Dwight keeps trying to get past him - it’s very funny, and very ridiculous - but Jim has to actually block the hallway to protect his friend from walking into the chopping block. It actually reminds me of an old Charles Spurgeon quote, I think I’ve mentioned him before - Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, and he once said “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.” Today we are going to talk about the difference between a faith that is all about us and what we want, and a faith that is an overflowing of love aimed at the people around us.
As most of you know, we are continuing our Chronological Bible study. We have so much cool stuff to talk about today, but we only have time for the major themes. If you want to dive deeper, I want to recommend you check out the Chronological Bible Studies that we offer during the week. They’re a great opportunity to really dig into the text. And also, if you’re just joining us - don’t worry about it, you can jump in anywhere. This book is so incredible that the more you study the more you get out of it - but even when you’re just getting started, there’s so much good stuff to see.
So today we are going to drill down in 1 Chronicles chapter 21. We’ve been doing a lot of David lately, as we get into the time when Israel had a king. We read the first verse [read it.] Now I already have to stop for a second, because there’s something weird going on here. If you’ve been reading along, you might have noticed last week we were way back in the book of 1 Samuel, and now suddenly we’re all the way up to the book of Chronicles. But don’t worry - there is an explanation. This is something I really want you to grab onto when you study the Bible. There are going to be times when the Bible is confusing or hard to understand, or it seems like there are contradictions - and in those moments I want you know that it’s okay to be confused. It’s okay to ask questions and to search for answers. In moments when the Bible is challenging, some people put it down and walk away - but I want to encourage you. The answers are out there. When the Bible is challenging it is actually an invitation to come a little closer, to dive a little deeper. This text can handle your doubts, your questions and your confusion. The answers are in there, we just have to find them. Let me show you what I mean. First, the Bible is not really just one book - it is a library of 66 different books. And some of those books cover the same content, the same material from different perspectives. A good example of this is the gospels. If you don’t know - the New Testament starts with four books; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - and they are same story (the story of Jesus) told from four different perspectives. It’s the same thing with the Old Testament books of Chronicles and Samuel and Kings. Chronicles covers the same period in history, but it was written 100 years later, after a really important time called the exile, and so it’s the same content, with a different lens.
Now here’s where it gets really tricky - sometimes the accounts differ. It wouldn’t be a big deal, different books, different author, as long as the story is exactly the same. But sometimes there are differences. I’ll give you three examples - Genesis 1 contradicts Genesis 2, Mark disagrees with Matthew, Luke and John about a rooster, and our scripture lesson for today has a difference in the very first verse. Now here’s why I’m doing this. There are people who see supposed contradictions in the Bible, and they say, “aha! The bible is fake - it contradicts itself, so I can throw it away” - and then they walk away from Christianity. So I’m going to walk you through this, because I want you to be able to respond, and help people understand this book.
Okay - let’s do the rooster example first. There’s a story with Peter and Jesus. Peter says I will NEVER deny you Lord, and Jesus tells him, “Peter, you will deny me three times before the rooster crows.” This story is in all four gospels. And Matthew, John and Luke all have the same account. Let’s put those on the screen (Matt 26:34, John 13:38, Luke 22:34). Rooster crows, rooster crows, rooster crows. And then Mark comes along and messes it all up. Mark 14:30 says, [read it]. The rooster crows twice. Well, which is it? And maybe it seems silly to you, but when I was in high school there was a very popular TV show called “House” and one of the doctors on the TV show tells the story of how he walked away from the faith because he found contradictions in the Bible and he quotes this passage. How many times did the rooster crow? Now in the moment of tension we have a choice. We can walk away from the confusion, put it down and just shrug it off - OR we can come a little closer to the text. Now I want to give credit here - this solution comes from a guy named Lee Strobel who wrote the book “The Case For Christ.” If you’re not familiar, Lee Strobel was an atheist, who started reading the Bible because he wanted to disprove it - and he actually ended up becoming a devoted Christian. He explains that the gospels are records of eye witness accounts of an actual historical event. And when it comes to eye witness accounts, one of the things detectives and investigators look for is uniformity. Because if every witness is giving the exact same story - the chances are that they were coached. But if there are slight differences in eye witness accounts, it actually makes it MORE likely they are true. The fact that the gospels have slight variances actually increases the likelihood that they are historically relevant. Do you see how diving deeper grows the strength of our foundation?
Now let’s talk about Genesis for just a second. Just about everybody knows the story, even non-religious folk know the story. Genesis 1, the creation story, God creates the heavens and the earth in seven days. It says in verse 24 [read v.24-25]. Now the timeline here is very important. Verse 25, God makes animals. It keeps going, [read v.26-27]. Verse 26, God says – now we make humans. Verse 27 he does it. So God created human beings, male and female he created them. It’s a very clear timeline, Verse 25 – animals. Verse 26 – humans. I know I’m being weird about it, but you’ll see where I’m going in a second. Then we get to chapter 2. Chapter two of Genesis is a second creation story. They tell the same story twice in a row. Which is already weird, but wait until you see what happens. Chapter 2, [read v.4-7]. So here we start off with nothing, no rain, no garden, just springs of water from the ground. Then God makes Adam. It’s a pretty cool story – he makes Adam out of dust and breathes into his nostril – which is like the world’s first mouth-to-mouth and boom, he creates man. Fast forward to verse 18, in-between God sticks Adam in the garden, and it continues, [v.18-19]. First God makes Adam, and then he makes all the animals, and then [read v.20-23]. Just so we are very clear: Genesis 1: God makes animals, and then he makes humans. Genesis 2 – God makes Adam, then he makes the animals, then he makes woman. So who came first? The chicken or the human? The chicken or the chick?
I know I’m being ridiculous, but this is kind of a big deal. This is the most important book that has ever been written. Did you know that? This book has been translated into more languages than any other, it is the best selling book of all time, and has been for over a thousand years. It is the most given book, like as a gift, of all time. It is the foundation of faith for the largest religion in the world – and four pages into the book it contradicts itself. This is really embarrassing! I mean, what is happening – what does this mean? Should we get out our scissors and cut out chapter two, or something? But just like the rooster in the gospels, there actually ARE answers. We don’t have to run away from questions, we come closer, we dive a little deeper and discover truth. Actually the answer is very simple – the bible is bigger than we think it is. I mentioned that this is actually a library of different books from different authors in different time periods. There are actually different categories, and we read each type of book differently. One of the easiest examples is the book of Psalms. It’s a big giant book of poetry, which you’re going to read differently than the history parts, which you’re going to read differently than the wisdom literature which is different than the letters that are in the new testament which is different from the prophetic texts. What I want you to see this morning is that the bible has history, but it is not only history. The bible has poetry, but it is not only poetry. The bible has rules, but it is not only rules. The bible has prophecy and parables and history and advice – but it is not only those things. Now I don’t have time to get into it too much here – but Genesis 2 does NOT contradict Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is a poem, and Genesis 2 is a beautiful story about the need for community and how God created us as compliments to one another. Men and women need each other, in romantic and non-romantic ways. It’s more than just history or not history. There is something bigger going on here. When we find “contradictions” in the bible, and I’m using air quotes on purpose there, when we find “contradictions” – rather than throwing it away, the scriptures invite us to look a little closer.
Okay, so that was a massive rabbit hole - but this is important stuff. Sometimes the differences in the text make it MORE authentic, like in the gospels. Sometimes the differences show us the different categories of writing - like poetry and history. And sometimes the differences are actually enhancements - like in our scripture lesson in Chronicles. 1 Chronicles chapter 21, Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census. 2 Samuel chapter 24, “the anger of the Lord burned against Israel” and he cause David to take a census. So which is it? God’s anger or Satan? And the answer is “yes.” The way a lot of scholars approach this is that God was angry and so he allowed Satan to cause this trouble with David. The two perspectives don’t compete, they expand our understanding of the text. They don’t contradict, they compliment one another. That’s pretty cool, right?
[read v.2-3]. So King David wants to take a census, and Joab is convinced that this is super evil. Now, I’ll admit - I found that super confusing as a person who grew up in the modern world. We have census’ all the time - it’s no big deal, so why was this seen as so sinful? But you have to remember the time period. In the ancient world, countries fighting other countries had a cosmic religious level to it. When one kingdom beat another kingdom they saw that as one god defeating the god of the losing kingdom. For them, God identified with ONE group, and his glory was tied up in human victories. So countries would go into battle - not because they were bigger or because they thought they had the resources to win, but because they believed their God could win the battle for them. They didn’t look at the size of an army. So many of the stories we have read in the Old Testament are about a tiny army defeating a massive army, because God was with them. The story of Gideon, the story of David and Goliath. It’s not humans who win the battles, it’s God who wins the battles. So in this time period, to look at the size of the army was to doubt your God’s power. That’s why it’s sinful. But David doesn’t listen, he insists on a census and so God sends a punishment - there’s this horrible plague that afflicts Israel. And there’s this angel of death who’s just out there dealing out punishment, and then God stops the punishment.
Okay, now there’s something amazing I want to show you in a second, but I have to pause for just a second to talk about punishment in the Old Testament. A lot of times in these stories we see people do something bad, and then they get in trouble right away. And before Jesus there was this theory about how God loved his people and it was very simple. Obedience means blessing, disobedience means punishment. If you are good, good things happen to you. If you are bad, bad things happen to you. It’s basically the idea of Karma, have you heard of that? Good means good, bad means bad. Here’s the problem, and I have to touch on it - sometimes bad things happen to good people. They did nothing wrong, it is not their fault, and yet still bad things happen. When bad things happen in life, that doesn't mean God is mad. Have you ever had something bad happen and you wonder - what did I do to deserve this God? But the Bible pushes back against this belief. The whole book of Job flies in the face of it, in the book of Ecclesiastes King Solomon complains because it looks like bad guys sometimes get away with it and die without getting punished. Even Jesus himself, he was confronted with a blind man in John 9 and he was asked, “What did he do wrong that would make him blind?” And Jesus said, “Nothing! He’s blind so that I can heal him and you can see God’s glory.” This idea of Karma is not biblical - what we know as Christians is that God’s judgment and justice is not limited to this life. Sometimes consequences or blessings come in eternity, and not in this life. All of that is to say that if you are going through a hard time - it doesn’t mean God is mad at you, and it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. And it’s very important for you to know that. Alright, let’s jump back into David.
[read v.15-16]. So you have this sort of epic picture of this angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth with his sword drawn, right next to a threshing floor. Now we’ve talked about threshing floors before - it’s the place where you take the wheat and just beat it with sticks to separate the good stuff from the husks. Burn the garbage, and make bread out of the good stuff. But here’s something I learned last week - a lot of scholars see this angel with the sword drawn, next to a threshing floor and they have drawn connections to Jesus. Some go so far as to say that the angel in the sky between heaven and earth is Jesus. Like, before he came down on Christmas, this was Old Testament Jesus. You might remember the parable of the farmer and the threshing floor in Matthew 13, where it says, [read v.37-43].
[pause, deep breath] Alright, I’m just going to level with you guys. I don’t like preaching about judgment. I’m not a turn or burn preacher, and you’re never going to catch me trying to scare people into a relationship with Jesus. But there are certain truths we need to pay attention to. There are two fundamental pieces to the character of God that you need to grab on to. First, God is holy. He will not allow sin to come out on top. He hates evil and someday he will destroy it completely. He is holy and full of justice. His holiness is so powerful it burns away evil and leaves behind nothing but good. And the second thing we need to know about God is that he is loving. God is so merciful. He created us and loves us and wants to save us from sin. He does not want us to be wiped out with the evil that is in our life. Our sin is not our identity, it doesn’t have to consume us - our connection to God is our identity. God is holy and God is loving - and into the tension of justice and forgiveness we find Jesus. That’s why this picture is so beautiful - the angel who is in charge of punishment, standing there sword drawn, standing between heaven and earth.
The good news this morning is that Jesus is the one standing between heaven and earth. Some people focus on the holiness of God. God is beautiful and perfect and terrifying and he’s really mad about your sin. They try to scare people into a relationship with Jesus. And then there’s others who try to pretend that there are no consequences. They just sort of stick their head in the sand about what sin and evil does to this world. And I know people like this, well meaning people, who focus on God’s love. God is loving so there probably won’t be any consequences - I can just do whatever I want. But they forget God’s holiness! They forget what God has promised to do with evil in the world. And so you find people who stand on the extremes of the spectrum. But Jesus stands in the tension of God’s holiness and God’s love.
The gospel is not scaring people with nightmares of hell, and the gospel is not letting everyone off the hook with never ending forgiveness and a life of no consequences. I think Tim Keller puts it best, he says, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” This comes back to something I said last week. When we see how much Jesus loves us, and how much he forgives us - we can be honest with ourselves about who we are. We don’t have to pretend we never sin, we don’t have to brush it under the rug or act like something is not sinful. We can look in the mirror with honesty and authenticity. There is sin in your life, and I can be honest about that, I don’t have to explain it away because there is also forgiveness in Jesus. Jesus is the one who stands between heaven and earth, and that means that we can look at our life with clear eyes. We can call sin sin without being scary or judge - because we also believe in the saving power of the cross. (Make the sign of the cross). Jesus is where God’s holiness AND God’s love meet. And that’s very good news.
If there’s someone here today who does not know Jesus - I want to speak a word of comfort into your life. I’m not going to try and scare you by pointing out all your sins and pointing out that sin leads to death. I just want everyone to know that evil things in life won’t survive after we die. So we need to let all that stuff go, and put it on the cross with Jesus. If we repent and come to Jesus, forgiveness is waiting. Grace is waiting for you, because Jesus is the one who stands between heaven and earth.
I just have one challenge for you this week. I’m trying to give you all these tools for how to read the Bible - and I’m worried that it’s just going to stop with the people in this room. The reason I spent so much time talking about Genesis and Roosters and how scholars understand the text is because I want you to have tools in the tool belt so you can tell people in your life about Jesus. My challenge for you today is that I want you to be MORE than a disciple. I want you to be a disciple-MAKING disciple. If you believe that Jesus is the one standing between heaven and earth, and you’re not sharing that good news with the people around you - there is something missing from your Christian walk. These tools I’m teaching you, it’s not just for you to KNOW, they are for you to USE. Walk alongside people - let them ask questions, and search for answers together. There is something incredible liberating when we can be completely honest with ourselves. Yeah, sin is a real thing and it’s really bad. And yeah, grace is a real thing and it’s really great. And those two pieces come together in the person of Jesus, and he is offering salvation to you.
I think about Jim and Dwight from The Office. Jim knew Dwight was going to get fired if he went into that room, so he throws himself in front of his friend to keep him out of disaster. I think about Charles Spurgeon who said, “look if people are going to be aimed at Hell, they have to get through us to get there.” Jesus is the one standing between heaven and earth, let’s make sure everyone knows that. Amen.