Sermon: Contagious Hope

by Gary Johnson, e2 Executive Director 

 

Text: 2 Chronicles 7:14 

Introduction

The numbers are staggering – and I’m not referring to the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or the number of people who have died from this virus.  The staggering numbers that have caught my attention are the number of coronavirus cures that are being developed.  An article appeared in Forbes indicating that there are “no less than 267” cures being developed across the country and around the world (Forbes.com; “Handicapping the Most Promising 267 Potential Coronavirus Cures” Nathan Vardi, 04/08/2020).  Of the 195 countries in the world, 185 nations have confirmed cases of COVID-19 (Aljazeera.com 04/12/2020).  Immunologists around the world are working around the clock to find both an effective treatment and vaccine for this highly contagious – and in some cases, lethal – virus.  Nations – including the United States – want to be healed.

In this third and final message in this mini-series called Contagious, we will explore an ever-familiar text to many Christians.  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).  What does the Lord mean when He said, “…and will heal their land?”  Can God heal this land and all others?  The people of planet earth want a cure from the coronavirus. We want the land to be healed.

More than the coronavirus is contagious.  Fear, panic, uncertainly, grief and more are all contagious.  But, there remains something that is far more contagious.  In the first of these three brief messages, Psalm 11 spoke to us of a contagious faith, and in the second of the three, Habakkuk 3 spoke to us of a contagious joy.  Finally, 2 Chronicles 7:14 speaks of a contagious hope.  This verse is familiar to many people.  From refrigerator magnets to plaques on walls, people often recognize this verse from the Old Testament. 

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 

Context Before Content

This verse is often taken out of context, much like Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  That statement of Jesus was not about a worship service or small group gathering.  It was about discipline when a believer sins against another believer.  Context is of vital importance in understanding the content of a verse or passage.  Similarly, it is very easy to twist the content of this verse and passage when we fail to establish the context.

In 2 Chronicles 3-5, King Solomon built and furnished the temple of God in Jerusalem.  Once finished, Solomon dedicated the temple as described in 2 Chronicles 6.  All of Israel attended the dedication.  It lasted fourteen days, and Solomon sacrificed 22,000 head of cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats.  That was the biggest bar-b-que on record!  This offering was to be eaten by the people, and at the end of the two week celebration, Solomon “sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done…” (2 Chronicles 7:10).

During the temple’s dedication, Solomon offered an incredible prayer (see 2 Chronicles 6:14-42), and not long after that dedication, the Lord spoke to Solomon, and this ever-familiar verse was a part of God’s response to Solomon (see 2 Chronicles7:12-16).  God spoke first of the nation’s relationship with Him, and then God spoke to Solomon about his relationship with him (vv. 17-22).

To be clear, God spoke to King Solomon about the nation of Israel.  The “land” to which God referred was the land of Israel.  When the Israelites sinned against the Lord, there would be suffering (i.e., no rain, plagues of locust or disease).  But if they responded by humbling themselves, by praying, by seeking God’s face and turning from their wicked ways, God would hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.  Simply put, that is the context.

Does this, then, apply ONLY to Jews today, and specifically those who happen to reside in the nation of Israel?  Can it possible apply to Christians in America?  I believe that it can speak into our lives.  Before his execution, Paul said: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Paul also wrote to believers throughout the region of Galatia: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Paul went on to say in that passage, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-27, 29).

It is suitable and appropriate for any Christian – a child of God – to obey the spirit of this verse; trusting God to hear, forgive and heal when the believer becomes humble, prays, seeks God and turns away from wickedness.  This is timeless truth to be pursued by Christians the world over.

There’s one more insight from the context that we do not want to miss.  God spoke this as a warning to Solomon and the people of Israel.  That was nothing new to God.  From the beginning of measured time, God has spoken words of warning to those whom He loves.  He warned Adam and Eve not to touch the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but they did.  God spoke words of warning to people in the days of Noah before the flood, but people didn’t listen.  God warned His people before they entered the promised land to be faithful, but they didn’t.  Over and again, throughout Scripture, the one, true living God – who is slow to anger and abounding in love – has warned people before a calamity came.

A few nights before writing this, a tornado touched down on the west side of Indianapolis.   Though no lives were lost, several buildings were damaged, and thousands were left without power.  The storm front came late in the evening, soon after the sun had set.  We saw the storm approaching.  Even though it was dark outside, the storm front looked darker still.  It was a defined wall of darkness pushing over the city by ever-increasing winds – and it was then that the storm sirens began to sound.  Have you heard a blaring tornado siren, one that warns people of a coming calamity?  When the siren sounds, we are to take immediate and appropriate action!

Could COVID-19 be a warning to us?  How about H1N1 in 2010?  Could the terrorist attack of 9-11 in 2000 have been a warning sign?  How about Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Andrew and Irma – and a host of tornados as well – could they have been warnings to us?  And what about famines and earthquakes and tsunamis?  Could they all be warnings?  Jesus spoke of these types of moments just days before He died on a cross.  

Matthew 24:6-8

You will hear of wars and rumors of war but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains. 

When an expecting mother has birth pains, it’s a warning that something is going to happen.  Similarly, God allows, He permits suffering the world over to warn us that the end of this life is yet to come.  The return of Jesus Christ is going to happen and God wants no one to perish eternally, but for everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9)

Do we want to be healed of COVID-19?  Absolutely.  Yet, we need to understand that the ultimate healing we need across America, and around the world, is spiritual because the ultimate event that will eventually occur is the second coming of Jesus Christ!  The contagious disease sweeping across the country and around the world is not merely COVID-19.  It is the ravaging of sin – and there is already a cure!

There are certain steps to be taken to be cured of COVID-19; they could be taking acetaminophen for the fever, a z-pack or other medication for infection, receiving breathing help whether elevated oxygen or use of a ventilator, even receiving antibodies from a person who had and beat COVID-19.  If a person has cancer, there are steps to be taken to be cured of the disease.  A cancer patient may receive radiation or chemotherapy to shrink a tumor so that it can then be removed surgically.  In this verse, there are FOUR clear, easy-to-understand steps to be taken to be cured of our sin sickness.

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

The first treatment step is humility.  In Hebrew, the word humble means “to bow the knee” or “to submit with humility.”  It is an intentional decision and action to be humble.  And how we think determines how we act.  If we think with humility, we will act in humble ways.  In this passage, people were to bow the knee to the sovereignty of God – and nothing has changed.  The same must happen today if we are to be healed of our sins.  Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Think of “nothing” here as a zero – and then erasing the rim!  That is how much we can do apart from Jesus.  Just how humble are you and I?

Here’s a quick quiz to determine if we think of “me, myself and I” too often.  Let’s ask ourselves: how often do I need to be first in line to check out at the store, or first in line at the stop light?  How often do I use the pronouns, “me, mine, my, myself, I,” etc.?  Can we pass the quiz?  Just remember that “God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6), and I would not want God against me.

This is not only essential for individuals, but for a nation – like that of America. God requires a nation to be humble.  How can God lead a nation if that nation refuses to admit their need for God?  If COVID-19 is another wake-up call from God, we had better humble ourselves and admit that we need Him; that it is in God that we truly trust.

A leader in America once said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven.  We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity.  We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.  But we have forgotten God.  We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!  It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness” (Abraham Lincoln; March 30, 1863, Proclamation for a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer). 

His words back then are words perfectly applicable for today.  

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

The second treatment step is prayer.  The word “pray” in this verse is collective, meaning that the nation is to pray for the nation.  The people of Israel were to pray for their nation, and the same would benefit America today.  Would it not?  What IF tens of millions of Americans prayed for the healing of our nation, not only from COVID-19, but from our sins?  Moreover, the Hebrew grammar in this word and verse means that the praying continues!  It wasn’t just a “one and done” kind of prayer, but prayer that doesn’t cease; similar to what Paul commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, when he said, “Pray without ceasing.”  What if a miracle drug was found to not only cure COVID-19, but even to prevent it, and it was required of every person to take this drug every morning – one pill, every morning of every day?  Without taking the miracle drug, a person would contract the virus and certainly die.  Would not every person take this one pill a day every day?  Certainly.  Unceasing, unending prayer is the same vital necessity.

We learn from good examples, like those of Jesus. Mark 1:35 states, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and left the house and went off to a solitary place where He prayed.”  Prayer was a vital part of the life of Jesus, and Jesus was God!  Even on the final night of His life, Jesus prayed with His disciples—and that prayer is the single longest prayer of His recorded in the Bible (John 17).  From that time of prayer with His disciples, Jesus went to Gethsemane, where He prayed so intensely that drops of blood came from His forehead.  Even from the cross, Jesus prayed (i.e., Father, forgive them…; My Go, My God,why…; Father, into your hands…”)!  And, we will never pray as individuals or even as a nation until we first humble ourselves and admit our need for God.  

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

The third treatment step is to seek His face.  The word “seek” means to “search out or to run hard after;” whereas the word “face” refers to the personal presence of God.  Putting those words together, to “seek my face” means to pursue an intimate, personal, authentic relationship with God, our Creator, Sustainer, our Father.  Does that describe us, whether individually or as a nation?  When we look at the impact of COVID-19 particularly on the American culture, it’s easy to see that this could be a birth-pain of something yet to happen, a warning sign of a coming calamity.

God warns His people in the Old Testament not to worship any idols, but to worship Him alone.  Being that God is immutable (i.e., unchanging), it is logical to believe that God wants us to be faithful to Him and not worship anything or anyone other than Him.  I like how Bob Russell describes this moment in time across America: “We worship money, and the booming economy comes grinding to a halt.  We worship sports, and the biggest games are canceled.  We worship entertainment and parades along with concerts are postponed, bars and restaurants closed, and the party life shut down.  We worship science, and the leading medical experts disagree as to the proper course of action to counter the pandemic.  We worship our impressive churches, and now even our church buildings sit empty on Sunday morning.  Is this mysterious period a mere freak of nature?  Or is Almighty God warning us – begging us to turn to Him for life that is truly life?” (Bob Russell Ministries; March 29, 2020; “Lord, We Need You!”)  When we individually – or even as a nation – seek God for a personal, authentic relationship with Him, we will be healed. 

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

The fourth and final treatment step is to turn from our wicked ways.  “Turn” means to turn back, to stop going in the wrong direction; whereas the word “wicked” is the strongest word in Hebrew for sin, and the word “ways” translates as “roads or journeys.”  But those three together and we are to turn away from the vile, vulgar way we walk day-to-day on the wrong road of life.

Famed psychologist Karl Menninger published a book in 1973 that became a bestseller, Whatever Became of Sin?  He noted: “The very word, sin, which seems to have disappeared, was a proud word.  It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word.  It described a central point in every civilized human being’s plan and lifestyle.  But the word went away.  It has almost disappeared – the word, along with the notion.  Why?  Doesn’t anyone sin anymore?  Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?”  Dr. Menninger observed that was redefined as a crime committed by individuals or a symptom of a disease to be treated psychologically.  Whatever became of sin?

Individually and as a nation, we need to come to grips with the fact that our sins are against God, and it is our sin that put Jesus Christ on a cross!  Jesus didn’t just have to be arrested, tried and mistreated. He had to be killed in the most brutal and humiliating way.  He had to experience – for the first and only time in His life – the complete rage and wrath of God on our behalf.  He HAD to die for your sin and mine.  COVID-19 is still rampant in the world and it is highly contagious, but so also is sin.  And everyone has it.

We will NEVER turn from our wicked ways, until we seek His face.  And to seek His face means that we will pray. But we will never turn from our wicked ways, seeking His face in prayer until we humble ourselves.  These four essential and necessary steps to healing are inseparable!  They are tightly woven together, fully and completely dependent on one another.  Moreover, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not a one-and-done experience.  These four steps to real healing are a lifestyle.  Jesus Christ wants us to live in a constant state of humility, corporate prayer, spiritual growth and repentant, both individually and as a nation.  When we do, we position ourselves to experience God’s best for us, individually and as a nation.

When it comes to COVID-19, we continue to hear good news with the bad news.  We hear of people who test positive with the virus and then they are healed of the virus.  Now, there’s good news about the “sin” virus.  IF we pursue the four steps to cure our spiritual sickness, God responds in three specific ways.  What happens is conditional.

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

God didn’t say, “Perhaps I will hear from heaven,” He said, “I will.”  Remember, God is immutable.  The God of the Old Testament is still the same in nature in the New Testament.  God said, “Call to Me and I will answer you.  I will show you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).  God does not fail to answer.  He doesn’t put us through to His galactic voice mail.  He always answers; it’s just that we fail to recognize His answer as His answer is not THE answer for which we hope.  And keep in mind what the psalmist said: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened…” (Psalm 66:18).  When we seek His face, turning from our wicked ways, God hears our prayers.

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

And in that moment, God forgives us of our sins.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  God’s forgiveness is beyond our comprehension!  He removes our sin from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), and buries them in the “depths of the seas” (Micah 7:19) where He “remembers them no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  

God still heals the land of nations.  After all, God causes nations to rise and to fall.  He is merciful to individuals and entire nations.  The prophet Jeremiah wept over the destruction of Jerusalem and the southern kingdom.  In his profound grief, Jeremiah declared: “Because of your compassion we are not consumed.  Your mercies never fail, they are new every morning.  Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).  The Hebrew in this text means that every morning comes with new mercies not experienced before, and that from a loving, compassionate God who allows and enables us to exist from day-to-day.

A Warning of a Coming Calamity

Tornado sirens warn of an approaching storm with lethal winds.  Likewise, throughout the centuries God has allowed hurricanes, earthquakes, famines, wars, disease and more to give us pause; to stop us in our tracks and to look to Him.

Whether COVID-19 takes our lives or not, we will someday die.  Whether we die of a disease or a disaster, we will leave this world and enter a realm beyond the door of death.  Hebrews 9:27 tells us that it is appointed for everyone to die and then face the judgment before God.  Those who are not followers of Jesus Christ face an eternity without God in a place of everlasting suffering – Jesus said so.  Yet, those who surrender their lives to Jesus Christ, live eternally with Him on a new earth (Revelation 21:1 and following)—and it is all because Jesus Christ died for our sins and we trust Him completely for the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life.

In a harsh environment, we can live for three weeks without food, for three days without water, for three hours without shelter or clothing, and for three minutes without air.  In the harsh environment of COVID-19, we can’t live a second without hope, and such hope is contagious.

Peter wrote his letters to believers who were discouraged.  Because of the great persecution sweeping across the Roman Empire, many Christians were driven from their homes, separated from their loved ones, imprisoned for their Christian faith, and many lost their lives.  Peter wrote to them, saying… “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3-4).  Notice the phrase “living hope.”   People put their hope in money that runs out, cars that rust out and clothes that wear out.   But Christians put their hope in Jesus Christ.   Jesus provides us with a living hope based on the historical fact that He was raised from the dead, conquering sin and the grave.   Jesus Christ is alive forevermore and He alone is our Living Hope!  There’s a hymn that was written in the 1800s and that we have sung many times over the years, and the opening line declares, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”  Let’s build our hope on Jesus Christ – and when we do, that hope becomes contagious!

Hope has a name … “Jesus.”

 

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Copyright 2020 by e2: effective elders. All materials presented by Dr. Gary L. Johnson are copyrighted material. You may use this material for your teaching purposes. In doing so, please retain all copyright, trademark and propriety notices on this document, and do not make any modifications to the materials. For any uses other than this, written permission is required. (e2: effective elders; c/o Dr. Gary L. Johnson; 6430 S. Franklin Road; Suite A, Indianapolis, IN 46259).

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