Sin makes a mess (October 25, 2020)

Sin makes a mess (October 25, 2020)

November 6, 2020
Benjamin Ehlers

Sin makes a mess

2 Chronicles 30:1-5, 10-22

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On Monday of this week, I was dropping off my daughter at school before heading down to Round Rock for a Pastors’ Conference. The first day of Conference always begins with a full worship service and the Sacrament of Holy Communion, so it’s typical to dress up a little more. I had on a jacket and tie. As we were driving, my daughter pipes up, “Daddy, your suit is sparkly!” Sure enough. I was glinting in the glowing sunrise. I had forgotten that I wore this same jacket a couple weeks ago at my brother’s wedding. And at that wedding, I had carried my daughter in her sparkly dress. Fast forward about an hour and there I am, sitting in the parking lot at Pastors’ Conference, trying to get the glitter off before going in the doors. I can’t be going into a Pastors’ Conference wearing a shimmering sport coat! A daddy daughter dance, sure, but a Pastors’ Conference… I need to look professional. I have to get this glitter off. After a number of minutes and a number of methods tried, eventually I walked through the doors with remnants of another part of my life still clinging to me. Thankfully, glitter is a non-issue when it comes to God.

But there’s another kind of “glitter” – if you want to think of it in that way – that makes even more of a mess. And if you thought real glitter was hard to clean up… Well, this is far worse. It clings and sticks and covers everything you get your hands on. I’m talking about sin. Sin makes a mess.

Today we are focusing on an Old Testament reading from 2 Chronicles. It covers the time when kings reigned over Israel and the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah. If you know anything about this time period, you probably know that it was messy. Yes, there were some good, godly kings sprinkled in there. But many of the kings turned away from God in sin and wickedness. Ahaz was one of those wicked kings. Just to give you an idea: He made idols for worshiping the Baals. He sacrificed his own sons in fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom. He offered sacrifices on all the altars to idols – in the high places, on the hilltops, and under every spreading tree (2 Chr 28:1-4). He even took some of the furnishings from the temple of the Lord and used them as bribes to the king of Assyria, and eventually removed all the furnishings from the temple of the Lord.

That was Ahaz. Hezekiah followed his reign. And thanks be to God, Hezekiah was a godly king. He opened the temple of the Lord once again and repaired the damages. He brought the priests and Levites back. They consecrated themselves and the temple once again. It took them over two weeks to consecrate the temple, it’s furnishings, utensils, and all its articles according to God’s commands. “So the service of the temple of the LORD was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly” (2 Chr 29:35-36).

And now, picking up in the reading for today, Hezekiah wanted to celebrate the Passover to the LORD – the biggest festival of the Israelites. But, sin makes a mess. Even though worship of the true God had been reestablished, and the temple of the LORD had been consecrated, sin still left its mark. Like glitter clinging to a jacket.

We see the messiness of sin in three different aspects of this event that was to taking place. 1) the timing, 2) the people, and 3) the feast.

It says, “The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem” (2 Chr 30:2-3). This is a good thing, that they were celebrating the Passover once again. But because of the messiness of sin, they were delayed in making preparations and couldn’t celebrate the Passover at the regular time. Already we start to see the tension between a strict adherence to the Law of Moses and an obedience according to the spirit of love. This will resurface again 2 more times in this account.

We should not assume that the literal requirements of the law were unimportant. God’s instructions for the Passover are very clear and very detailed. However, we also recognize that there are times when a strict, black and white literalism could stand in the way of God’s clear intent overall. King Hezekiah and his counselors wanted to unite the people under the true God. He wanted to celebrate a real Passover, with great numbers of people flocking from all over Israel to the one place where God had placed his name. But, when sin makes a mess, what are you to do?

The second time we see this tension, is when the celebration began. It says, “They slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the temple of the LORD. Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses” (2 Chr 30:15-16). What’s going on here? It looks like the Levites were put to shame and encouraged to greater zeal by the enthusiasm of the people. I think this is talking about the Levites who were perhaps living in the outlying areas of Judah – who hadn’t been a part of the earlier cleansing of the Temple like the closer, Jerusalem Levites. But their services were all the more urgently required on the day of Passover, because “many in the crowd had not consecrated themselves” (2 Chr 30:17), and therefore would be unfit to slaughter the Passover lamb as the head of the household was expected to do. So, basically, the crowds came to the Passover, but required the Priests’ and Levites’ assistance in sacrificing their Passover lambs because they didn’t come prepared – perhaps negligence, perhaps ignorance. So now, they need more temple workers, but not all the temple workers were prepared themselves and thus ashamed by the enthusiasm and turning out of the people! Once again, we see that sin makes a mess. The people’s failure at cleanliness combined with the Levitical lack of zeal could have made a proper celebration of the Passover impossible.

Finally, many of the people who came to celebrate the Passover… and did just that – eating the Passover meal… many of these people had not purified themselves, contrary to what was written (2 Chr 30:18). Eating this Passover meal while ceremonially unclean, was unlawful. And while this may have once again been due to ignorance – the Passover hadn’t been celebrated in a long time – what they did was still contrary to the written Law. Once again, sin makes a mess.

So what do you do? What do you do when the consequences of sins of the past still cling to you like glitter and make things messy? You cling. You cling to your merciful God. Sin makes a mess, by My God is merciful.

You can see how disaster is averted, and the worshiping of God continues by God’s mercy. First, is in the day that it was celebrated. Although they weren’t able to celebrate in the first month as prescribed, the LORD in his mercy provided provisions all the way back when he established this law. There, God says, “When any of you or your descendants are unclean… they are still to celebrate the LORD’s Passover, but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month” (Nu 9:10-11). God knows that sin makes a mess. And sometimes he provides provisions right in his Word.

I can’t help but think of the greatest provision he has made for us. God’s law is good. When Jesus said, “Do this and you will live,” He was not lying. If I keep his commands perfectly, I keep the immortality he created me to have. But when you and I come face to face with God’s law, there’s no difference, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And so, what was meant to be a good and joyous thing, now towers over you and towers over me in judgment and condemnation. Oh Lord, who can stand? Who then can be saved? My sin makes a mess. It is on my hands, it is in my heart, it runs through my mind. I am altogether unclean, and therefore cannot enjoy the feast of heaven.

But God makes a provision, so to speak. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). God took our uncleanness away completely, becoming unclean himself. And he gave you instead a new robe of righteousness – “wedding clothes” as the Gospel reading puts it.

This is essentially how the 2nd crisis was averted as well. So, first, they couldn’t celebrate on the correct day, but God is merciful and gives provisions for a second day to celebrate. Then, second, not enough of the Levites had consecrated themselves to accommodate the large crowds that came to celebrate. And in that, too, not enough of the people consecrated themselves to sacrifice their own lambs as prescribed. But they go to their merciful God who already had in place a means of purification. “They brought burnt offerings to the temple of the LORD” (2 Chr 30:15) and consecrated themselves, and then served as mediators for the people.

Come to God for his mercy. Use the means he graciously gives to make you holy in his sight. “Be baptized and wash your sins away” (Acts 22:16) Ananias said to Paul. “Take and eat; this is my body… Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:26-28). “These [words] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:31). Just like the Levites who had a means of purifying themselves for the festival, our merciful God holds out for you, not just one, but three means of cleansing from all sin. He covers you with his mercy again and again in different ways all connecting you to The Passover Lamb who truly does take away the sin of the world.

Go to God, expecting his mercy. As Hezekiah did when many ate the Passover meal even though they were unclean. The day they celebrated, God provided a provisionary day. The priests who were not yet consecrated, God gave them a means to be consecrated and they made use of those means. But this last one, this is flat out sinfulness. What they did was wrong. Perhaps we could try to excuse it by saying it was ignorance, but that’s a human excuse. God’s law is clear. This is sin. Just like the many sins we have committed and continue to commit. When that’s the case, what do we do? What did Hezekiah do to avert disaster this third time? He went to God and clung to his mercy.

Many people… had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God… even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary” (2 Chr 30:18-19). The king was confident in his prayer. He saw the evidences of faithful people setting their hearts once again on seeking God. He asked his merciful God to consider the people’s faith rather than their lack of outward, ceremonial purity – the mess that sin makes when they had rolled around in it for far too long. “And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chr 30:20).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we work and worship together, we know that we are not completely pure in heart, nor completely pure in the way we act. Sin makes a mess. Our motives are often mixed; we may be weak in our understanding. Depending upon God’s mercy, and learning from him, this is where we learn to let love cover over a multitude of sins (1 Pt 4:8). God’s love will cover our own mess of sin. And this most perfect peace of sins forgiven is at the same time filled with a restless yearning to help others find this same peace. Like Hezekiah, who couldn’t wait till next year to celebrate the Passover, invite your friend to come to this foretaste of the feast – clean or unclean, they are welcome here. Because although sin makes a mess, our God is merciful.

Hezekiah’s Passover stands out as one of the happiest occasions in the entire Old Testament (2 Chr 30:26). There may have been some glitter clinging to their jackets due to the mess that sin makes. But my God and your God is merciful and makes us clean.