From a sermon series on 2 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
Today, we will begin our journey into 2 Kings. The previous book ended with the death of King Ahab, one of Israel’s most notorious kings. This new book we are studying opens with King Ahab’s son. We will also see the end of Elijah’s career as a prophet and see what happens with Elisha, his successor.
Today, let’s read chapter 1, which is about Ahaziah, King Ahab’s son.From this chapter, I would like to highlight 3 points:
1) Ahaziah’s idolatry,
2) God’s protection of his people, and
3) the role of humility in receiving God’s salvation.
[Read 2 Kings 1]
When King Ahaziah had a terrible fall, who does he turn to for help? He turned to Baalzebub, the god of Ekron. The book of 1 Kings ended with this description of Ahaziah (in chapter 22, verse 53): “He served and worshiped Baal and aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, just as his father had done.”
Why did he turn to Baalzebub? Well, perhaps paganism offers Ahaziah what he wants without the hassle of committed relationship. Unlike Yahweh, the God of Israel, Baalzebub did not demand exclusive loyalty from his followers. To get what he wants, Ahaziah just needed to ask Baalzebub the right way, like Aladdin rubbing a magic lamp to unleash a genie.
But one doesn’t demand the God of Israel to perform magic tricks. One can’t expect to seek Yahweh still live an unchanged life. Ahaziah knows that if he were to consult Yahweh for help, he would have to repent of his sins and be obedient to him. So instead, he turns to Baalzebub, like a man turning to a prostitute to satisfy his needs without the responsibility of marriage. Ahaziah’s idolatry comes from his fear of a committed love relationship with Yahweh.
What Ahaziah doesn’t realize is that we as human beings were designed to love our creator God and to be loved by Him. When our love for God is misplaced by other loves, we commit idolatry. The 4th century theologian St. Augustine says that our heart has an “order of loves”. He writes that we often love important things less, while loving unimportant things more. This causes our lives to become unhappy and “out of order”.
Now, what happens when we put other things above God? Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, puts it this way. This is a long quote, but I’ll read it to you:
“If you love your children more than you love God, you will essentially rest your need for significance and security in them. You will need too much for them to succeed, be happy, and love you. That will either drive them away or crush them under the weight of your expectations, because they will be the ultimate source of your happiness, and no human being can measure up to that. If instead you love your spouse or romantic partner more than God, the same things occur. If you love your work and career more than God, you will necessarily also love them more than your family, your community, and your own health, and so that will lead to physical and relational breakdown…. If you love anything more than God, you harm the object of your love, you harm yourself, you harm the world around you, and you end up deeply dissatisfied and discontent.” That’s the end of the quote.
Coming back to Ahaziah’s story, God isn’t someone we only turn to in times of trouble. He is also a holy God that demands that we live righteously. But if we are willing to enter a committed relationship with God, the rewards are much greater than we can imagine.
God’s protection of his people
My second point is that God protects His people. We see that in the confrontations between Elijah and the king’s soldiers. When Ahaziah sends a 50-men group to Elijah, was it to procure a consultation? No, they were the palace police, and their aim was to dispose of the prophet.
The fire from heaven showed that God was protecting his faithful prophet. At the same time, the fire showed that Yahweh was the true God.
While God doesn’t always protect his people in this manner, God’s plans cannot be stopped by any leader or government of this world. The Roman Empire tried to stamp out Christianity by persecuting its followers, and yet Christianity spread all the more. The same is happening today. Persecution is threatening to wipe out Iran’s tiny church but it has become the fastest growing church in the world, and it is influencing the region. History tells us that the forces which oppose God’s kingdom never prosper. That should be a comfort to us when leaders are openly hostile towards Christians and their faith.
Also, we have Jesus’ assurance in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell”? Sometimes, we allow fear to dictate our actions instead of trusting in God and obeying him. We become afraid of what others might think about us, and that prevents us from sharing our faith with those around us. Of course, sharing the gospel should be done with wisdom, gentleness and sensitivity. Yet, let us not allow our fears paralyze us from doing what Christ has called us to do. One of Jesus’ final commands on earth was this (Matthew 28:19-20), “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I was chatting with a Muslim friend this year. The conversation ended up being about the Bible. She said that she had never read the Bible for herself. I could have just ended the conversation there. I knew that it was illegal to share my faith with a Muslim, and I could get arrested doing so. Thinking of that made me afraid.
But, I felt God giving me the courage to just ask her the next question, “As a Muslim, are you allowed to read the Bible?” Asking her this question allowed us to converse more naturally about our faiths, and I was able to answer some of her questions about Christianity. What I learned is this: when you trust in God rather than let your fears control you, you might see God work in a wonderful way beyond your expectations.
The role of humility in receiving God’s salvation
For my last point, let’s turn to the third captain in today’s story. Going back to verses 13 and 14 of today’s passage: “This third captain went up and fell on his knees before Elijah. ‘Man of God,’ he begged, ‘please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants! See, fire has fallen from heaven and consumed the first two captains and all their men. But now have respect for my life!’” Unlike the other two captains, his posture was that of humility. He recognized the power of God and his own powerlessness. As a result, his life was spared.
His response reflects the humility that is necessary in receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is very clear that the first step to receive God’s forgiveness is to recognize ourselves as sinners who cannot save ourselves by good works.
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells the story of a tax collector and a Pharisee. In Jewish society, tax collectors were often seen as bad, greedy people who collaborated with the Roman government, while Pharisees were supposed to be devoutly religious. But in this story, the tax collector is a humble man who recognizes his sin. The Pharisee here is proud of his religiousness and boasts about his own goodness. Jesus concludes, “I tell you that [the tax collector], rather than [the Pharisee], went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Tim Keller, whom I quoted earlier, says, “The gospel is always more compelling to people who know their own inadequacy.” As long as we think that we are good enough, we will never see the need to turn to Christ. This is especially true in a country like Japan where people are generally considerate, polite, and law-abiding.
That doesn’t mean that Christians should try to argue with our non-Christian friends and prove their sinfulness. The conviction of sin isn’t something that humans can do. It is the work of the Spirit. As John 16:8 says, “When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” As we pray for our friends and family members who are not believers, let’s ask the Spirit to convict their hearts of sin and their need for a Savior.
Finally, humility is a quality that God desires to cultivate in us. Since we are accepted by God out of his mercy rather than our merits, we are not to feel superior to anyone. At the same time, humility is not looking down on yourself. Paul describes one aspect of humility in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you [looking] to the interests of the others.” Later in verses 5-11, he says that Jesus Christ is a model of humility. Although Jesus is the very person of God, he made himself nothing and gave himself to die on the cross for humankind. If we are followers of Christ, we are called to model our attitudes after Christ.
To conclude today’s message: First, let’s be aware of what we love most. Do we seek to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Second, God protects his people and his kingdom cannot be crushed by any powers in this world. Third, God desires us to grow in humility, which manifests in love and service towards others. Let us pray.