Pride Goes Before a Fall
A sermon based on 2 Chronicles 26:16-23
Sunday, October 18, 2015 – Pentecost 21B
"It's good to be king," sang Tom Petty. But is it? Young Uzziah was made king when he was only 16. Sound like a sweet deal, kids? But… he was made king when his father was assassinated—by his own people who hunted him down after they grew tired of his leadership.
And so Uzziah, became king at 16 years old, with the royal treasury completely empty, with the temple ruined, and with the city walls in bad shape and his dad dead. No pressure. I'm not sure that Uzziah would agree with Tom Petty's sentiment, "It's good to be king!"
Yet, in spite of the challenges he faced, he did a pretty good job. He rebuilt cities, he won wars against his enemies, he fortified the walls of Jerusalem with towers, and expanded their agriculture with more livestock and vineyards by adding more cisterns to hold water in the dry seasons. He raised a well-trained, well-outfitted army and improved their military technology, presumably to keep anyone from ever breaking in to Jerusalem ever again like he remembered from his teenage years.
And it seemed that he was successful at everything he did. He was one of the truly great kings of Israel and he reigned for 52 years! And 2 Chronicles 26:4-5 tells us why he did so well: "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord… He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success."
But his success didn't last. He grew proud. And as Proverbs 16:18 warns, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." And King Uzziah fell. Here's the sad account of the end of his reign, recorded for us in 2 Chronicles 26:16-23….
16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the Lord followed him in. 18 They confronted him and said, "It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God."
19 Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord's temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. 20 When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the Lord had afflicted him.
21 King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house—leprous, and excluded from the temple of the Lord. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.
22 The other events of Uzziah's reign, from beginning to end, are recorded by the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 23 Uzziah rested with his fathers and was buried near them in a field for burial that belonged to the kings, for people said, "He had leprosy." And Jotham his son succeeded him as king.
"Ah… It's good to be king," Uzziah must have thought as he was enjoying all of his successes. Everyone was safe, and well-fed. The walls were repaired, the temple was restored, the army was just as strong as the economy! And it was all thanks to his leadership. Well, at least that's what he came to believe.
And his haughty spirit, led to his downfall. He thought, "Everything I touch turns to gold and nothing is beyond my touching." So he went too far. He thought, "There's nothing I can't conquer and why shouldn't that include the temple?" He was so successful that he thought he knew better than everyone… even God. You've heard it said that success breeds more success. Well, sometimes success after success after success breeds destruction.
So Uzziah went where he ought not go. He did what he ought not do. He forgot the boundaries that God had set and went in the temple, where only the priests could serve and went to burn incense as only the priests were allowed (by God, mind you) to do. What a bold move he took.
And you heard the sad consequences. The leprosy of his heart became a leprosy of the skin. After a lifetime of faithful service to God, this one misstep cost him his health and his relationships—separated from his family and from the temple—for the rest of his life…
Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, "Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself." And that's wise advice. Let's learn from Uzziah's bad example lest pride become our ruin too.
And let's face it. We are very successful too. In our personal lives things are going great. We are all incredibly wealthy. Really! Every one of us! Would you rather trade places with someone living in Ethiopia? How about even with someone in a remote village in Alaska? Or consider the wealth of Uzziah? Would you rather trade places with him and give up all that God has blessed you with—phones and cars, gas heat and grocery stores, not to mention TV's and computers and our countless toys he'd never dreamed of? Not me. Yes, I know we may sometimes wish we had it better. But I think you'd quickly lose if you wanted to debate me that you don't have it way better than Uzziah ever did.
And we're successful in our church. We're not facing persecution. We're able to pay our staff salaries, keep the lights on. The enrollment for the school continues to climb. And we're able to keep making improvements because we've been so successful in all we do.
But don't get haughty. Don't think it's because of anything we've done. Don't think we deserve it. Don't overstep your bounds.
Ah, but we have. We think God owes us. Whenever we envy someone else of their relationship or their money or their kids, we cross the line. Whenever we get more upset about the internet being down, our favorite restaurant being closed, or that the DVR didn't record our favorite show more than we are about missing worship, Bible study, or a family devotion, we show the leprous hearts we have. Every time we sin, we claim that we know more than God and step across the boundary that he has set. We go where we ought not go. And we do what we ought not do. So all God owes us is hell. Our pride ought to lead to our eternal downfall. Confess that truth to God. Repent of your arrogant sin in thinking you know better than God. And turn to him for help.
And when you do, God will send help through his representatives…
The whole job of the priest was to be a mediator. To go between God and the people. To represent God to the people and the people to God because they couldn't just waltz up to God and live. And when Uzziah forgot that important truth, the priests still did what they were called to do. They stepped in.
It couldn't have been easy for Azariah to do. He found the support of eighty other courageous priests, it says, because the King could execute them for treason. And it did happen in Israel's history that the priests and the priests' children were killed when they disagreed with the king! (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:25) But these brave men found the courage to intervene. And even as the king was raging at them—I picture the red-faced king spraying them with spittle as he screamed in their faces—and even as the leprosy spread across his forehead, they pushed him out of the temple. They still intervened to help.
What would have happened if they didn't confront him? Would he have survived? He didn't seem to think so. He didn't miss the point. "Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the Lord had afflicted him."
Uzziah would live with the consequences of his arrogance. He would remain a leper and have to live away from his family in the palace and away from the temple until the day he died. But… Uzziah would live beyond that day of his rebellion. He had a chance to repent and seek God's forgiveness. And that was because God's representatives were bold enough to intervene.
Where would we be without the representatives that God has sent to intervene in our lives—those pastors and teachers who lovingly warn us, those parents who discipline us, those messengers of God who oppose us whenever we're opposing him? Would we repent without their proclamation of the law? Would we continue down our path of destruction to our own ruin? Thank God he sends those mediators—as uncomfortable as the confrontations may be.
But more important, where would we be without that one Great Mediator who didn't just stop us in our sin and lead us to repentance, but who took our sin on himself? Where would we be without the One who healed the lepers to prove his divinity? Where would be without the Mediator who died to pay the debt that our sins incurred?
You know where we would be: in hell. Let that truth strip you of all pride. But let the truth of his love and grace and his perfect sacrifice for us, lift you up. We will live another day. We may live with the consequences of our sins for a while in this life, but we will never pay the hell they've incurred in the next. We will live forever in the palace of the King who took our sin away. And there we will enjoy a perfect contentment that we can never know here on earth.
And remember the truth of what he's made you right now: You are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God," (1 Peter 2:9) You are royalty—sons and daughters of the King! And you have spiritual luxuries the Old Testament kings never dreamed of! You have a clear understanding of exactly how the Messiah King has rescued you and what he's rescued you from! You have Jesus' very body and blood to eat and drink this morning with the absolute assurance that your every sin is forgiven! You have the New Testament promises which offer you the greatest comfort every day of your life!
"It's good to be king?" I don't think you'd want to trade places with Uzziah. Don't be arrogant. Don't be proud. Don't think you know better than God. Be thankful for what you have. And thank him especially that the King of kings did trade places with us. Rejoice in what Christ your king has done in humbling himself to pay for your pride and arrogance, in humbling himself to death—even death on a cross!—to pay for all of your sins. Rejoice in what you are: royalty! Sons and daughters of the king! Then listen to his mediators. Thank him for the Great Mediator, Jesus Christ! And go to intervene for others and mediate for them as you find the courage to serve Jesus in thanks for all he's done for you. In his name, dear friends, amen.