Special Stones

Sermon by Pastor Doug Stratton — March 22, 2020

2 Chronicles 32:27-29

Hezekiah had very great wealth and honor, and he made treasuries for his silver and gold and for his precious stones, spices, shields and all kinds of valuables. He also made buildings to store the harvest of grain, new wine and olive oil; and he made stalls for various kinds of cattle, and pens for the flocks. He built villages and acquired great numbers of flocks and herds, for God had given him very great riches.

Jeremiah 40:18-20

With whom, then, will you compare God?

    To what image will you liken him?

As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,

    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold

    and fashions silver chains for it.

A person too poor to present such an offering

    selects wood that will not rot;

they look for a skilled worker

    to set up an idol that will not topple.

Mark 13:1-2

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Central Idea: When the things we hold dear become things we think we cannot do without, they become stones that keep us from living resurrection life. 

Hezekiah was an amazing king. Under his leadership he restored the temple in Jerusalem, eliminated the “high places” where idolatry was occurring, and oversaw a spiritual revival in the nation. He also became very personally wealthy as our text points out. Spices, gold, gems, storage buildings and public works flourished in his reign. He was known as a good King. 

Isaiah lived during Hezekiah’s reign. At one point in his life, Hezekiah became very ill. He was at the point of death and asked Isaiah to pray for him. He was restored to health and was thankful to God for his restoration. However, when other rulers heard of his near brush with death, they wanted to know more about what happened. Hezekiah was visited by a number of royal neighbors, including the son of the King of Babylon. Hezekiah’s pride swelled when all these people came to admire his recovery, and so he showed them all the treasures of the land. As a result of his boasting, Babylon eventually attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and carried off all the treasures. In addition the people went into exile. This righteous man, because of his pride had become his own worst enemy. He had become convinced that the nation could not survive without him, so he had begged God for more life. That pride and that sense of being irreplaceable led to the destruction of all he had treasured. It was the beginning of the end, his pride weighed him down and soon the entire nation sunk.

Hezekiah had many special stones, stones he was proud of, and though he had eliminated the High Places, those stones became his idols and his destruction. 

Special Stones: They are all around us. They are the stones we think will protect us. They are the stones we think we can’t live without. They are the stones we think will make us happy. It may be the diamond ring and all that it represents, or the foundation on which your house is built that makes you feel secure, or the balance in your checking account that puts your mind at ease, or even the hoarded toilet paper that you think you must have for this crisis.  These things can all become stones that will keep us from living in the power of the resurrection. 

For the readers of Isaiah, the special stones were the idols a metalworker cast, and a goldsmith overlayed it with gold, and another fashioned silver chains for it. These images made by iron workers and artists became for the people their senses of security, their purpose, their happiness and their hope. And when they fell over, or broke, or were stolen, the weight of the loss dragged them to the bottom of the sea. 

Hundreds of years later Jesus was preparing the disciples for his death and departure. He would soon eat the last Supper with them. Soon they would scatter at his arrest. 

As they were walking through the temple grounds, the disciples, men who had been raised in the hill country of Galilee, were surveying the construction of the temple. I think they were like me the first time I walked through downtown Manhattan. I stood there with my head tilted back as far as it would go and I stared at the wonder of skyscrapers that soared to unbelievable heights. How did they do this? I asked myself. Well, I think the disciples thought the same thing. When they saw the massive stones, that had a polished marble finish, stones that fit together so closely that you could not slip a piece of paper into them, stones the reminded the people of what they could accomplish with hard work, the disciples were in awe and they said, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” They were special stones that the disciples saw as the foundation of their faith. 

But the stones were not the foundation of their faith, and the diamond is not the essence of a marriage, and our finances are not the source of security. 

In only a matter of 40 years, the city of Jerusalem fell to the Romans and the temple was destroyed. Jews across the Empire were devastated. The center of the faith had been undercut completely. Jesus saw it coming and while the disciples were open mouthed in awe, Jesus told them destruction was coming. The stones we adore will vanish.

And today, we are being reminded again that the place of worship that we have held dear is not the heart of our faith. As the Covid 19 spreads across our land in into our homes, places of worship, including HBC have been shuttered. The vaulted ceiling, curtained baptistery, polished pews and glistening chandeliers are not available. In fact, if we cling to them, we will be clinging to a rock that will prevent us from rising above the flood we that is approaching. And we do not need to be reminded that there is a flood approaching. Whether we realize it or not, our church buildings, our bank accounts, our homes, and our treasures have become gods that stand in the way of our experiencing resurrection. And while each of these things can be a blessing, if they define who we are as individuals, or as a church, they will be stones that drag us deep into the flood. 

We are defined by God’s love that has been poured out into our lives we are beloved, chose, adopted, forgiven, redeemed, and the list can go on. This graphic captures our identity in Christ, and none of it is related to the things we possess and treasure. 

Friends, the building is not at the heart of our faith, our relationship with Jesus and the reality of the Body of Christ is the heart of our faith. Our faith is lived out not as we gather on Sundays, but as we love one another as Christ has loved us each day. Our faith is not deepened because we go to church 3 times a week, it is deepened as we come to know Jesus through the Word, prayer, meditation, service and fellowship. As we grow in our connection with God, with one another and with our deep selves we become whole, the Israelites call it Shalom, it is completeness in our created identity. 

But we can only know this Shalom when we are ready to leave the stones of false worship at the cross. Isaiah reminded the people that their idols were nothing more than iron and wood. Jesus reminded the disciples that the temple would be destroyed. For all Hezekiah’s wealth, there was nothing that would stop the invasion of Babylon. No matter how tightly we hold onto the things we cherish, they still may vanish. 

A number of years ago, Len Sweet, a theologian and futurist, in the book Soul Tsunami said, “We must forget felt-needs in favor of God wants.” Our felt needs are those things we cling to because we think we cannot survive without them. God wants are those things that God knows will bring us life. 

Are you willing to bring the stones of your false Gods and felt-needs to the cross and lay them down? In place of a stone that weigh you down, Jesus will give you resurrection life that not even death can take from us. 

In Christ,

~ Pastor Doug Stratton

Hatboro Baptist Church