Friday, July 24, 2020

Mark's thoughts: When "my people" aren't my people

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

It is quite likely that you have seen this Bible verse on a billboard, yard sign or social media meme. We live at a time of great turmoil in our nation. For Christians living in the United States there are distressing signs all around. The breakdown of basic sexual morality has made it common for couples to live together before marriage, and to have children outside of marriage.  Internet pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that is now accessible by anyone of any age who has a smart phone.  Homosexuality is celebrated by our culture with the full support of the government and large corporations.  “Homosexual marriage” is a legal reality in our nation because of a Supreme Court decision, and same sex partners use donated sperm and eggs, and surrogate wombs in order to “have children.”  The murder of babies in abortion continues in our nation (because of another Supreme Court decision), even as our government gives hundreds of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood.  Intellectual trends antithetical to Christianity control the universities, and this influence is felt in the media, entertainment, corporations and the schools of our nation.

It is not hard to understand why people read 2 Chronicles 7:14 and feel like it is a perfect description of what our nation needs. We can see that there is a need for repentance and for people to turn to God. We know that He is the God who forgives because the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Yet the use of this verse illustrates a basic error in exegesis – in the interpretation of Scripture.  It also demonstrates that while we may care about our nation, we need to recognize that we are part of something far more important.

2 Chronicles 7:14 narrates the prayer that King Solomon spoke at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.  In its Old Testament setting before Christ, “my people” is God’s covenant people, the nation of Israel. “Their land” refers specifically the land God had promised to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:7) and that after the exodus from Egypt he gave to them as it was conquered during the days of Joshua.  There is not a single word in this verse that applies to the situation that exists in the United States today.

This illustrates a common problem as Christians fail to realize that all of the Old Testament must be read through Jesus Christ.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament (Luke 24:44-47). But with the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, God’s people is no longer limited to the nation of Israel and her descendants, the Jews (Acts 1:8; 10:44-48; 11:15-18).  Instead His people is the Church which includes Jews and Gentiles – all who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized. As Paul told the Ephesians:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:13-18)
This means that while a verse from the Old Testament like 2 Chronicles 7:14 may teach us basic truths about God (He wants sinners to repent; He forgives), the specific referent of its words and promise remains in the past – in the Israel of Solomon’s day. There is no nation in 2020 to which the words “my people” and “their land” can be applied.

As Christians we should be concerned about our nation in our vocation of citizen.  We pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3).  We want our fellow citizens and our culture to live in ways that reflect God’s ordering of His creation, because this will always be best for them and the nation as a whole. Whenever possible we will seek to promote this will of God as it relates to sexuality, family and God’s gift of life.  We do this out of faith in God and love for our neighbor.

Yet the deeper truth is that our nation can never be the most important thing for us.  Instead, God’s people, the Church, is our people.  We have been baptized into Christ’s Body (1 Corinthians 12:13). This is a people that spans all nations, all races … and even all times.  It is this people who will dwell with the Lord when he raises up our bodies in the resurrection and heals the land in the renewal of the new creation (Romans 8:18-23).

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