[Note: The following is the prepared text for a sermonette given at the United Church of God in Portland on April 1, 2017. It was also given at the Hood River congregation on March 18, 2017.]
If you all don’t mind humoring me, I would like to ask some questions and see a show of hands for some answers. As this is the season where we are a preparing for the Passover and reflecting on our lives and studying the Bible, how many of you here like to study particular chapters or passages of the Bible to prepare for the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread ? [waits for show of hands] Very well. How many of you like to read 2 Chronicles 30 during this time of year? [waits for awkward silence] Today I would like to discuss the story of Hezekiah’s massive Passover and the notable spiritual lessons it holds for us today.
Let us begin with some context about the second Passover. We find the law for the Second Passover in Numbers 9:9-14. Numbers 9:9-14 tells us: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If anyone of you or your posterity is unclean because of a corpse, or is far away on a journey, he may still keep the Lord’s Passover. On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break one of its bones. According to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it. But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people, because he did not bring the offering of the Lord at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin. ‘And if a stranger dwells among you, and would keep the Lord’s Passover, he must do so according to the rite of the Passover and according to its ceremony; you shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger and the native of the land.’”
Having set the scene, let us read 2 Chronicles 30:1-5 to get the context of this notable Passover. In 2 Chronicles 30:1-5, we read: “And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel. For the king and his leaders and all the assembly in Jerusalem had agreed to keep the Passover in the second month. For they could not keep it at the regular time, because a sufficient number of priests had not consecrated themselves, nor had the people gathered together at Jerusalem. And the matter pleased the king and all the assembly. So they resolved to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem, since they had not done it for a long time in the prescribed manner.”
Technically speaking, this was perhaps the largest Second Passover observance in recorded history. Under certain circumstances, the Bible allows people to take the Passover one month later than normal so that they are able to take it. This ceremony is typically done quietly and privately, and it demonstrates just how important it is to God that we take the Passover. Since there had not been enough priests who had been cleansed and were able to sacrifice the requisite Passover lambs, nor had enough people within Judah shown up ready to celebrate Passover, righteous king Hezekiah and his assembly agreed to hold a second Passover and invite all Israel to worship before God in Jerusalem, even those who were under Assyrian domination to the north and had not been a part of a united kingdom for more than two hundred years. This warm and hospitable welcome was pleasing to the people, and since it is recorded here, we can see that it was pleasing to God as well.
This particular passage is particularly interesting to me, and hopefully to you all as well, because it provides a glimpse into the pattern of religious observance in ancient Israel. At no point in Israel’s history was there sustained obedience to God and proper worship as commanded in the Bible. When Israel and Judah had good kings, like Hezekiah or David or Josiah, Israel and Judah followed the example of their leaders. When Israel and Judah had wicked rulers who followed after the ways of the heathen around them, there was no widespread group of godly believers in the absence of that leadership. As we see from this passage, there were not even many priests among Judah at this time who had been able to keep themselves sufficiently godly to be able to minister to the few people who had showed up to participate in the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, to their shame. Israel lacked godly leaders to set a godly example, and even in the few positive stories like this one we read about the religious faith of ancient Israel and Judah, we see this lack of godly leadership and obedience particularly clearly.
In the next few verses we see runners going throughout the land of Israel to call God’s people to assemble before Him in Jerusalem. Let us drop down to verses thirteen through twenty to see what happened when the time for this most unusual second Passover took place. In 2 Chronicles 30:13-20, we read: “ Now many people, a very great assembly, gathered at Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month. They arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and they took away all the incense altars and cast them into the Brook Kidron. Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought the burnt offerings to the house of the Lord. They stood in their place according to their custom, according to the Law of Moses the man of God; the priests sprinkled the blood received from the hand of the Levites. For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had charge of the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone who was not clean, to sanctify them to the Lord. For a multitude of the people, many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord provide atonement for everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.” And the Lord listened to Hezekiah and healed the people.”
Here we see something quite striking, and that is that while there was a very large assembly gathered to worship God together in Jerusalem for a belated Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, there were many people who had not cleansed themselves to take the Passover, and so a lot of work had to be done by the Levites. The Levites, after all, were not religious leaders on the same level as their relatives the priests, but they were involved in security, in guarding the temple and the treasury, in singing and dancing and performing music, and in teaching, and so these people were religious leaders in their own right. And we see here as well that a great many of those who had traveled south from Israel had not cleansed themselves and ate the Passover contrary to what was written. The matter is discussed rather briefly here, but was so important that it Hezekiah had to pray to God for His mercy and that He would provide atonement for them out of the sincerity of their desire to worship Him in their hearts, and God listened to Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people.
If we were unaware of the Bible, we might think of this as yet another example of the Old Testament God being a harsh one . However, as it happens, we have a very similar passage relating to the New Testament Passover that reads very similarly in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. Hold your place here in 2 Chronicles 30 because we will return. Anyway, after having upbraided the Corinthian brethren for their dishonorable conduct at the Passover and discussed the symbolism of the bread and the wine that baptized members take in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, Paul gives in verses twenty-seven through thirty-two a very serious look at the results of not taking the Passover sufficiently seriously: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” Here we see that just as Christians today eat and drink judgment for ourselves if we fail to purify our hearts and examine ourselves, so too the failure of the Israelites of Hezekiah’s time to cleanse themselves also threatened to bring God’s judgment upon them. Hezekiah’s example of gracious intercession on their behalf was a noble model of Christ’s own intercession on our behalf for us when we repent of our sins and errors and blunders, of which there are many.
How does this story end? As it happens, it ends quite happily. We read the end of this story in 2 Chronicles 30:21-27. 2 Chronicles 30:21-27 reads: “So the children of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness; and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing to the Lord, accompanied by loud instruments. And Hezekiah gave encouragement to all the Levites who taught the good knowledge of the Lord; and they ate throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings and making confession to the Lord God of their fathers. Then the whole assembly agreed to keep the feast another seven days, and they kept it another seven days with gladness. For Hezekiah king of Judah gave to the assembly a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep, and the leaders gave to the assembly a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep; and a great number of priests sanctified themselves. The whole assembly of Judah rejoiced, also the priests and Levites, all the assembly that came from Israel, the sojourners who came from the land of Israel, and those who dwelt in Judah. So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.”
And so let it be for us as well as we prepare for the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. Let us celebrate it with gladness. Let us encourage each other, let us praise God with singing and loud musical instruments. Let us teach and learn good knowledge of the Lord, and let our prayers come up to God in heaven and be heard by God as was the voice of Israel here. For we too are a people not unlike Israel. We too are imperfect, and require God to look at us graciously lest we be judged. We too come from far off and scattered places, cut off and isolated from God and from each other. And just as God wished to bring together Israel before Him to worship in a great assembly at the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, so too God wishes to bring us together as His children, together in unity and in common faith and obedience. Let us keep the upcoming Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread with the same joy and the same graciousness and the same encouragement and devotion that Israel did here in 2 Chronicles 30. And, perhaps in the future we may read 2 Chronicles 30 as part of our own preparation for the Passover.
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