So Who Is My Sister/Brother?

A King of Judah once took the initiative to call the Jewish people to observe the Passover. After the collapse of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. and in connection with the cleansing of the temple at Jerusalem, King Hezekiah called people from both Judah and the Israel to keep the Passover together as brothers in the Holy City. Although many turned a deaf ear to his invitation, thousands began moving toward Jerusalem.

The Passover lambs were killed and the celebration began. Some from the northern areas arrived too late, however, to perform the purification rituals that required several days for completion. So, although “a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed” (2 Chron.30:18a). Or, as the New International Version renders the last words of this verse, “they ate the Passover contrary to what was written.” Would the rekindling of faith in Hezekiah’s attempt at reformation be stopped in its tracks by their impurity and unauthorized eating of the sacred meal? Would God destroy those who had violated the Passover rules?

This is how the dramatic story ends: “But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘The good LORD pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the LORD the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.’ The LORD heard Hezekiah, and healed the people” (2 Chron.30:18b-20).

The violation of the purification laws in Hezekiah’s day was not a matter of cavalier disobedience. The people were not defying God but seeking him. Precisely because the good king knew the difference between rebellion and the failure of those who “set their hearts to seek God,” he had the generosity of spirit to pray for them to be accepted in their deficiency. And because God ultimately judges on the basis of a seeker’s heart rather than his or her performance, he showed mercy, forgave their shortcomings, and healed them.

Could we lower some of the Satan-inspired and human-erected walls that divide Christians from one another? Perhaps live by a broader definition of fellowship within the family of God than some of us have experienced to date? Might we learn that we have misrepresented one another at times and exhibited a shoddy form of religious prejudice toward people different from ourselves? Would it be worth it to abandon sectarian rivalry in order to “be in agreement” for presenting the gospel to the world? Would it make our witness even stronger “that there be no divisions” among us in declaring that Jesus is the hope of our world? Maybe renounce our litmus-test doctrines for the sake of lifting up Christ? Could we ever learn to be gracious enough to pray – and ask to have prayed for us! – the prayer of Good King Hezekiah for those we see as flawed in certain interpretations and practices?

Note: Only summaries of the lessons in this series will appear online in text format. The full content of each sermon will be available in audio format.

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