READ – 2 Chronicles 36:15-23
This final passage and conclusion to the book of Chronicles is not only the conclusion to the book of Chronicles (which starts with Adam and concludes in the author’s present day), it is also the grand finale of the Hebrew Bible of Jesus’ time (the Tanakh -the traditional Hebrew ordering of the Scriptures). This passage stands as a powerful reminder of why the people could still hold on to hope that God had not forsaken them (despite their continued straying) and of what they were called to as the people of God (their mission). It’s also the cliff hanger ending of the Old Testament that finds its final fulfillment in Jesus.
SUMMARY: As we discover and re-discover the compassion of God for us, we are renewed in our relationship with Him and we are propelled outward as people commissioned by God to show and speak compassion to others.
COMPASSION FROM GOD
Verses 15-16 summarize the whole history of God’s relationship to humanity from Adam onward. (Remember the 1st word in Chronicles, “Adam.”) The story of this relationship can be told as the intertwining and tension of 3 major themes – 1) the persistent compassion of God, 2) the persistent rejection of people and the 3) the passion of God against sin and suffering (wrath).
Theme #1 – As we come to the end of Chronicles, the author emphasizes one thing he does not want us to miss about God’s role in this story – He is a God of persistent compassion. God’s compassion means that He longs to give us the remedy (v16) for all our sin and for the suffering in this world. It means he is full or readiness, sympathy and longing to relive and remove all human suffering and brokenness. This is his unchanging heart toward us. From Genesis 3 thru 2 Chronicles 36, the story of the OT is the story of a God who persistently sends his word out so that people would turn to Him and be healed.
Theme #2 – Verse 16 tells us how people respond to God’s persistent compassion – with persistent rejection. It’s not just any kind of rejection. It’s a rejection full of mocking, despising and scoffing at God and his call to turn to Him. The image is of a sick and dying people who not only refuse the medicine that could cure them, they mock and scoff at the physician’s offer.
Theme #3 - Verse 16 says God’s “wrath rose up against his people.” It is very difficult for us to reconcile the idea of wrath with a God of persistent compassion. What is wrath? Wrath can be defined as God’s passion against sin, evil and suffering in the world. Wrath, seen in this way, is a necessary component of God’s love, concern and compassion. How can he be indifferent toward the suffering, evil and injustice in the world caused by sin? How can he look the other way when people turn away from Him to their own hurt and the hurt of others?
The juxtaposition of these 3 themes raises all kinds of questions: How can the story move forward with the tension between these 3 themes? Will God’s compassion run out? Will his wrath lead him to forsake his people and his plan for the redemption of the nations? Will humanity ever receive the only remedy for their sin and suffering?
There’s a hint in Chronicles as to how the tension resolves. The book does not end with wrath and exile. Instead, it ends with a new beginning and a fresh start. Chronicles doesn’t end with wrath, it ends with compassion. Exile is not the last word, it’s return. This all leads us to the ultimate and final resolution of the tension between these 3 themes in the coming of Jesus and his saving work. In Jesus, we see the compassion of God in action through his entering into our sinful and broken world, his healing of human disease and brokenness, his exorcisms and his extension of forgiveness to the sinners and tax collectors at the margins of Jewish society. In Him, we see the persistence of the compassion of God in the flesh.
In Him, we also see the wrath of God most clearly. The One who was the remedy for sinners and suffers was mocked, ridiculed, scoffed at throughout his ministry and most of all – as he hung on the cross. Why? There He took on and received the full force and passion of God’s wrath against human resistance, sin and the source of suffering. At the cross we see our rejection of God’s compassion, God’s passionate hatred of our sin and God’s unrelenting compassion for resistant sinners. Only in the cross do we see how God can eliminate sin and not eliminate us. Since God’s wrath was turned toward Jesus, we can be assured that God is turned toward us in compassion always ready to comfort and receive us. Since Jesus rose from the dead, we can be assured that one day all our sin and suffering will come to an end.
COMMISSIONED BY GOD
The final two verses not only show us how God’s compassion continued for his people in bringing them back to the land, they function as a reminder of the calling the people had who returned from exile. The people who had experienced compassion from God are the people who are commissioned by God. The two always go together. Renewal of relationship with God always leads to a renewal of mission. The people who returned to land were not just called to come and enjoy life there but were called to join in God’s mission of rebuilding. Many scholars note the parallels between Jesus’ “Great Commission” in Matt. 28:18-20 and this commission in 2 Chron. 36:22-23. Jesus appears to have had this in mind as he commissioned the church to mission.
Based on this connection, one application of this text is that each of us, individually, and every church, corporately, are called to be known as people and communities of persistent compassion. By what we say, how we say and what we do we are called to show the world the remedy of the gospel for all our sin and suffering.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the passage and/or sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. Read over the definition of the compassion of God in “theme #1” above. What difference would it make in our suffering and in our struggles with sin if we were convinced God was compassionate toward us like this? What makes this hard for us?
3. Is it difficult for you to attribute wrath to God? Why or why not? Does the definition of wrath above help you make sense of how God can have wrath and love? Also, it was noted in the sermon that the passage speaks of God’s wrath in both an “indirect” (v 17) and “incongruent” way (i.e., hundreds of years of abandoning God vs. 70 years of exile). Using the descriptions below, discuss how these two concepts
· The indirectness of God’s wrath is shown in passages like Romans 1 (verses 19, 24, 26). It was captured by CS Lewis when he wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done."
· The incongruence of God’s wrath and compassion was described by AW Tozer when he said, “God has a safety lock on his wrath and a hair trigger on His mercy.”
4. How does the gospel answer to the tension in these 3 themes produce in us a great humility (I never knew how great my sin was!) and a great boldness? (I am more loved and cared for than I ever dared dream!)
5. Our Commission should be shaped by compassion in at least 3 ways:
· What we say – Why is it important that we listen and feel with others before we speak?
· How we say it - Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.” Do you agree? How do Christians communicate the truth of the bible without compassion? What does it look like to communicate truth with compassion?
· What we do – What place should acts of compassion on those who are suffering have in our mission? Why is it so difficult for most of us in suburban OC to consistently commit to make room for this in our lives?