This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: 2 Chronicles 29:1-19
Text: 2 Chronicles 29:5-11
Sermon prepared by Rev. Henry Vander Beek, Smithville, Ont.
It happens about once or twice a year. People wash walls, strip floors, clean windows, wipe cupboards, defrost the refrigerator/freezer, wash curtains, dry-clean drapes, steam-clean the carpets, sanitize the bathroom, paint the bedroom, clear out the garage, clean out the attic, reorganize the closets, take junk to the dump, pile bags of papers and boxes of unwanted items by the road for the garbageman to haul away. Maybe you did that not long ago, or maybe you are planning to do it soon. It's called house cleaning. It's a big job and a dirty job. But once it's done, it feels so good. You feel like you accomplished something. And the house smells fresh and clean again. You can park the car in the garage again. You enjoy sitting in the family room again. That awful smell whenever you open the kitchen cupboards is gone. And you can open the refrigerator door without embarrassment or fear, knowing that the green stuff growing inside has been neutralized.
Well, this passage in 2 Chronicles 29 is about cleaning house. And not just any old house. It's about cleaning the Lord's house, the temple in Jerusalem. It took place around 715 BC in the first year of King Hezekiah's reign.
Hezekiah was one of the few God fearing kings of Judah. Most of the twelve kings before him did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They brought ruin, shame and apostasy to Judah. Hezekiah's father was one of those godless kings. During Ahaz's 20 year reign, Judah declined in every way — morally, spiritually, politically and socially. Ahaz broke covenant with God; he desecrated the temple with idols and false worship; the people became decadent under his rule; justice failed, and Judah became a puppet state for Tiglath Pilesar III, king of Assyria. When Hezekiah took the throne, it was high time to clean house.
And Hezekiah did. The words of our text express the sincerity, determination and dedication with which the king began to reform the country. He said: "Listen to me, Levites! Consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the Lord, the God of your fathers. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary. Our fathers were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the Lord our God and forsook Him. They turned their faces away from the Lord's dwelling place and turned their backs on him . . . now I intend to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger will turn away from us." Hezekiah took three significant actions that I would like us to take note of — three steps in cleaning the Lord's house.
He began by opening the doors of the temple. We read in verse three, "In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them." That's the very first thing Hezekiah did. It is significant. The doors of the temple had been closed and barred during the reign of Ahaz. Ahaz had introduced foreign gods into Judah and encouraged the people to worship them. He erected images of Baal throughout the land and introduced the worship of Asherah in the high places. To encourage worship of the Assyrian gods, he stopped the temple sacrifices, put out the temple lamps, damaged several of the temple's sacred vessels and closed the doors. And when he did, praise to God was silenced. No more singing. His grace was no longer sought through sacrifice. The inner sanctuary was dark, dusty and forgotten. The fear of God faded. Worship ceased.
So Hezekiah opened the doors. Before establishing social and moral reforms, before restoring political power, before he did anything else — he opened the doors to the temple and restored the worship of the God.
The next thing Hezekiah did was remove the filth from the temple. We read that in verses 16, 17: "The priests went into the sanctuary of the Lord to purify it. They brought out to the courtyard of the Lord's temple everything unclean that they found in the temple of the Lord. The Levites took it and carried it out to the Kidron valley. They began the consecration on the first day of the first month, finishing on the sixteenth day of the first month." Under Ahaz the temple had fallen into disuse. Dirt, filth and stench accumulated. The gold no longer shone. The incense no longer filled the surrounding chambers with a sweet odor. Nothing was maintained. What was once a sanctuary filled with the glory of God's presence, was now nothing but a dirty, dusty, moldy, smelly shell filled with clutter and filth. God was no longer present there.
Hezekiah removed the filth. He employed 14 Levites and a number of priests and other workers. We don't know how many exactly, but it was an impressive crew. They went into the Holy of Holies to clean out the cobwebs and sweep out the dust. The heavy tapestry was no doubt cleaned and washed. The huge curtain covering the inner sanctuary was restored to its original beauty. The vessels were polished and the lamps trimmed and lit. They restored damaged sacred vessels and polished them to their original shine. They gathered up idols which had accumulated in the temple over the years. The altar was placed in its original position. The show bread was put back. It took them 16 days to clean and purify the temple. And when they were finished, the temple once again glittered. Its original splendor and beauty was restored.
Finally Hezekiah burned the garbage. We read that the priests carried the junk out of the temple and brought it to the Kidron valley. The Kidron valley was a burial sight just outside the city of Jerusalem, between its eastern walls and the Mount of Olives, but it had become a popular place where abominable things such as idols and cult objects were burned. Asa used the site to burn a lot of unclean stuff, so did Josiah, 100 years after Hezekiah. Jeremiah had prophesied that this place, the Kidron valley, would be holy to the Lord. Perhaps that prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus took his disciples through the valley over the brook Kidron, towards the garden of Gethsemane to pray shortly before his arrest and crucifixion. That is where Hezekiah burned the filth which had accumulated in the temple after years of defilement and disuse.
Hezekiah did not store the idols and cult objects left in the temple. He didn't use the garbage taken out of the temple in any way — didn't recycle it even. He got rid of it, burned it once and for all. His father Ahaz had desecrated the temple by placing idols and pagan altars in it, and by allowing filth and dirt to accumulate within the temple. But Hezekiah consecrated the temple by burning it all. He disposed of it, and that was an act of consecration. When it was done, the service of the temple could resume. Worship of God could continue.
Hezekiah did much more than clean house. He also cleansed the land. The high places and images, the Asherah poles and altars to pagan gods throughout Judah were destroyed. Hezekiah's reform was one of the most sweeping religious reforms in Judah's history. But it began by cleaning up the Lord's house. That's the story about Hezekiah cleaning house. It happened almost three thousand years ago, and yet it contains a lesson. There's a strong message in this story for us today.
The New Testament speaks about a temple too — not a building made up of stone and wood — but a temple made up of believers like you and me. I Peter 2:5 says: "Like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house." And Ephesians 2:19–21 says believers are a structure built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. The Old Testament temple no longer exists. It was but a shadow of the reality that has come in Christ. It only prefigured what we now see, the temple of all believers. The temple in Jerusalem foreshadowed God dwelling in and among his people. It has served its purpose and is obsolete.
Believers as a corporate body make up God's temple today. Believers individually are temples of the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 3:16 says: "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" And I Corinthians 6:19 says: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you which you have from God?" We are God's temple now. You, an individual believer, are God's temple.
And so the question that 2 Chronicles 29 asks each of us today is, "What about that temple? What about you? Do you need to clean house? Does that temple, you, need some cleansing and purifying and consecrating?
Remember the first thing Hezekiah did? He opened the doors of the temple. Are the doors of your heart open to God? Many Christians have closed the doors of their hearts, and the worship of God is no longer that important to them. They have been attracted to other ideas, other ways of thinking about God. They have become interested in things other than the worship of God, lured away by worldly pleasures. They spend their time enjoying other activities, following other paths, setting other priorities. They have closed the temple doors; closed the doors of their heart and locked God out.
Perhaps some of you have done that. Just like the temple in Jerusalem, you have allowed the light of God's Spirit to go out. The incense of prayer no longer rises up to God in your life. You need to renew your love of God. You need to restore your relationship with him. Open the door of your heart and let God in again. That's where you need to begin.
The second thing Hezekiah did was carry the filth out of the temple. Many Christians allow garbage to accumulate in their lives. They fill their hearts and minds with impure thoughts and stack their shelves with unholy books or magazines. They load their VCR's with unclean videos. They keep godless friends and frequent profane places. The lives of some Christians are dirty and cluttered with sins they enjoy too much. They don't shine any more. They don't radiate God's glory any more. Perhaps some of you are like that. Your thinking is clouded. Your understanding of God has become confused. Your commitment to him has become weak. As God's temple you don't sparkle anymore, because you haven't removed the filth from your life. You need cleansing. You need to let the purity and holiness of God shine in you again. You need to restore his splendor in your soul. Carry out the filth. Remove the dirt. Let God shine in you and through you again.
The last thing Hezekiah did was burn the garbage, remember? He disposed of it. I meet so many Christians who tell me they want to change, but they don't. They say they want to clean up their lives, but they commit the same sins. They hang on to the garbage and don't get rid of it. They may stop for awhile, but then they go back to the familiar places, read the same magazines, repeat the same lies, enjoy the same offensive images, tell the same unedifying jokes. They want to change, but they don't burn the garbage. Perhaps some of you are like that. You want to change but you don't. But if you want to be a temple of the Lord, you have to get rid of the garbage that defiles the temple once and for all. You can't just move it around. You can't store it somewhere for future reference. You can't recycle it into something more acceptable. You have to get rid of it. It's hard, But it is possible. If you really want to, God will help you. He'll even start the fire to burn it once and for all.
Brothers and sisters, there comes a point in all of our lives, when we need to clean house. Whatever it is that prevents us from shining as temples radiant with God's Spirit, we need to get rid of it. Whether it's a book, a thought, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a habit, a bar, a fantasy, a desire, whatever it is, get rid of it. Whatever minimizes our devotion to God, whatever hinders our faith, whatever pulls us away from Christ, whatever defiles the temple, get rid of it. That stuff doesn't belong in your life. You are God's temple. God's Spirit dwells in you. You be careful what you do with his temple. "Sanctify yourselves and sanctify the house of the Lord", Hezekiah said, "and carry out the filth from this holy place." Destroy the garbage before it destroys you.
I have had to clean house many times in my life. Maybe this is your time to clean house. If it is, what better time than right now to do so. Open the doors of your heart. Carry the filth out of your life. And get rid of it once and for all. If and when you do, God's praise will echo in your heart again. God's glory will sparkle in and through your spirit. And God's presence will return to your soul. Isn't that what you want, child of God? I do.
Lord Jesus I long to be perfectly whole.
I want Thee forever to live in my soul.
Break down every idol, cast out every foe.
Now wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
After Silent Prayer: #424 "Spirit Of The Living God"
Hymn of Praise: #504 "Holy God, We Praise Your Name"
Hymn of Confession: "Create In Me A Clean Heart O God"
Hymn of Dedication: #178:1, 5 "What Shall I Render To The Lord"
After the Sermon: OH #379 "Lord Jesus, I Long To Be Perfectly Whole" or
"Shine, Jesus, Shine"
Closing Hymn: #439 "We Come To Thank You God By Singing"