The Weakness of Power
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The Weakness of Power

2 Chronicles 26:1–23  (ID: 2413)

King Uzziah sought the Lord in his youth. As his fame and power increased, however, his pride took root. Blinded by arrogance, Uzziah charged into the Lord’s temple and disregarded the warnings of His priests. As a result, he was afflicted with leprosy. Alistair Begg notes that Uzziah’s story is a reminder for us today: we must seek the Lord in humility, asking for His help to guard us against the illusion of human strength.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Strength of Weakness

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 24601

Encore 2013

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25904

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn again to 2 Chronicles 26, to the portion that was read for us.

Lord God, as we turn to the Bible, we pray that you will be our teacher. We’re certainly not interested in the meanderings of a man’s mind, but we do believe that when your Word is truly preached that your voice is really heard. We see the evidence of it. It uncovers the layers of our pretension, and it cuts to the very quick of who we are. And as we take our Bibles, we remind ourselves that this is the Word of God, and what it says we are, we are, and what it says we have, we have. And so with confidence we turn to it now, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We are now officially at the end of our series on The Strength of Weakness. I was going to go one more, and during the week I decided no, it’s time to put a full stop at the end of a journey that began in 2 Chronicles 20 when we looked at the character called Jehoshaphat.

The books of Chronicles and Kings are a reminder to us of our own mortality. And it’s good from time to time to be reminded of our mortality. Things come across our paths that make it obvious to us, apart from simply the inroads of gravity when we’re taking a bath. Or maybe that’s just me. But there are certain things that make it clear to us that we’re just not as spritely as we once were. And then we’re reminded that Solomon said that it was better to go to a house of mourning than to a party, because death is the destiny of every man, and the living should bring that to their minds and take it to heart.[1]

And when we read the obituaries, as some of us do routinely, we recognize that there will be a day when they will put the second date on our tombstone, as it were. So whatever starting number you have—mine is 1952—and then there will be a concluding date, and in between will be a few hits with the chisel on the marble, or the concrete, or the sandstone, or whatever it may be, and with one or two smacks of the chisel a dash will be there to represent everything that our lives have been. Of course, that dash couldn’t summarize them, but it will be representative of the time that has passed. And every day of our lives, we are adding to the record, we are adding to the story, and we’re doing so in a way that will allow people to speak with gratitude or thankfulness, or perhaps, sadly, with regret and with disappointment.

And the story of Uzziah as it has been read for us by Pastor Bickley is a reminder to us of a very salutary thought—namely, how tragic, after years of usefulness, to leave a legacy that only speaks of failure. Or, in even more common parlance, what a tragedy to spend twenty-five or thirty years of your life building a solid reputation, and then to spend twenty-five or thirty minutes of your life and destroy the previous thirty years! Now does that happen? Yes, history is replete with the stories, and the biblical record is clear as well.

So if Jehoshaphat was a story of power in weakness… Because remember, we don’t remember him as just a good man or a great man—he was—but we remember him as a weak man. And it was his weakness that prevented him from saying no to things he should have said no to, particularly in alliances with foreign powers. And yet God in his mercy chose to use this propensity for weakness in his servant Jehoshaphat in order to make him the leader that he wanted him to be. And Jehoshaphat stood in front of the people and said, “[Lord], we [don’t] know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”[2] And that launched us on this mini-series, “The Strength” or “The Power of Weakness.”

The very thing that marked Uzziah out in terms of his leadership became the very thing that brought him down.

But if Jehoshaphat was that, then Uzziah is the reverse. By contrast, Uzziah is a strong man; he’s powerful, he’s decisive, he exercises visionary leadership. And all those things are praiseworthy. However, what becomes apparent is that when it came to the crunch; when it came to Uzziah finally evaluating who he was and what he was; when he asked with the psalmist the question, “I lift … my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?”[3] instead of saying, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth,”[4] Uzziah began to say, “My help comes from me. I am the master of my own fate, I am the champion of my destiny, and frankly, you know,

“What is [Uzziah], what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the [voice] of one who [yields].
The record shows [Uzziah] took the blows
And did it [his] way.”[5]

And he would have been perfectly happy with that kind of thought form in the second half of his life.

By any standards, he’s a remarkable young man. We meet remarkable young men and remarkable young women, and they’re always a challenge to us. Some of you are school teachers, and you see them come. And you realize that from a very early day they are going to make their mark. Some of you recruit people into Fortune 500 companies or into medical labs, and it’s very quickly in the process that you say to yourself, “This person is going to make their mark for good.” Uzziah was just such a man. He comes to power at the age of sixteen as a result of the death of his father—the unlikely death; his father was murdered. You can read of that in 2 Kings 14. His parents had purposefully given him a name, and they gave him the name Uzziah, which means “the Lord, my strength,” so that every time Uzziah introduced himself to someone as a boy and as a young man growing up, and he said, “My name is Uzziah,” he was saying, “My name means ‘the Lord, my strength.’” And he steps out, in verse 1 here, at the age of sixteen into the sphere of national and international influence, and he very quickly puts his mark upon things for good.

Now, we can’t work our way through all of these verses in detail. This is a kind of charcoal sketch. I’m going to give it to you, and you can go home and take either acrylic or oil or watercolor, if you want, and just fill out all of the colors and the shadows and nuances that are there. But it’d be less than helpful if we didn’t notice that when it came to national security, he was quite brilliant; that when it came to military deployment, he was a genius; when it came to commercial and business development, he was far-thinking; and when it came to matters of agriculture, and even the development of agricultural implements, he was virtually without peer. He had, if you like, the Midas touch. He was head and shoulders above others. No matter what he turned his hand to, apparently, he was good at it. He was one of these annoying boys with whom some of us went to school that could excel in chemistry, and then when they turned to English, they were terrific at English. They had never really run in the mile, but they decided they’d run in the mile, then they run in the mile, and they win the mile. Infuriating characters! And off they go on to university, and you look at them and you say, “How in the world did we do that?”

Well, Uzziah was that kind of boy. He got off to a terrific start. He was up for any challenge. He apparently was able to see ’round the corners. And when you’re confronted by this picture of success, as we are, one of the questions inevitably is, What is it that makes it possible for him to be this way? What are some of the hidden factors, if you like, that have made Uzziah the leader that he is?

The Factors that Made Uzziah

Now, the Chronicler addresses that for us in a very succinct and helpful way, and I want to just point out three or four of them for you. If you’re taking notes, you might like to write a heading, which is “Uzziah: the factors that made him.” “The factors that made him.” What were they?

Number one, in verse 4: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” He did what was right. He’d learned from an early stage to make sure that the first question he always asked was, What is the right thing to do? And whether that was in his military expansion, whether it was in the development of commerce, and so on, he was making decisions on the basis of moral rectitude. In other words, he was a man with high standards. He would have been happy to reinforce the psalmist’s perspective: that there is a blessing that attends the man who doesn’t walk in the council of the ungodly or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and it is on that law that he meditates day and night. [6] He recognized that that law was perfect, it converted people, it made people wise, and the “statutes … [were] trustworthy.”[7] He did what was right.

Verse 5: “He [also] sought God.” He sought God. He searched for God. The prophet said, “[And] you will seek me and [you will] find me when you [search for] me with all your heart.”[8] So if we’d known him as a young man, we would have said, “This is a God-centered young man. This is a God-focused fellow.” When you’re with him, it’s not that he is overt, necessarily, in it, but you can just tell from the way in which he addresses a subject, the way in which he approaches a challenge, he does so seeking God. Again, like the psalmist: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me. He listened to my cry for help.”[9] And if we’d been around in those early days with Uzziah, he would have been a terrific challenge to us, and a wonderful encouragement. What a great guy! Our parents would have said, “You know, if you’re spending time with Uzziah, that’s terrific, ’cause Uzziah is always concerned to do the right thing, and Uzziah knows the answer to the first question in the Shorter Catechism, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ ‘[The chief end of man] is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’[10] Yeah, you spend time with Uzziah!”

Thirdly, he was a young man who was under instruction. He was under instruction. That’s still in verse 5: “…during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God.” He didn’t instruct him in a lot of how-tos. He didn’t instruct him in the benefits, as it were. He “instructed him in the fear of God,” because “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[11] And Uzziah was going to need peculiar wisdom, particularly at such a young age, to exercise such significant influence. If you like, Zechariah and Uzziah would have met for breakfast—Bob Evans, or somewhere, the equivalent of it, I don’t know. And when they met for breakfast, Uzziah would have come in with his questions about the Bible, and his questions about God, and his questions about decisions, and Zechariah, who knew God, would answer his questions.

He did what was right, he sought God, he was under instruction—and “God gave him success.”[12] We might just put ourselves up against that challenge for a moment. Is “What is the right thing to do?” first on my checklist? Secondly, would anyone assume that I am seeking God? Thirdly, am I under tutelage and instruction? And as a result—verse 5—“God gave him success.”

Now, there’s a hint of trouble to come as the Chronicler writes that final sentence. Notice: “As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success”—the inference being, at least potentially, “Maybe he doesn’t keep seeking the Lord. You’re gonna have to read on and find out. But certainly, as long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.”

And with those hidden factors, his public persona was multiplied. And in verse 8, if you look at it, you discover that he wasn’t simply famous in Judah, he wasn’t simply famous among his own people; the surrounding nations even “brought tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread as far as the border of Egypt.” I mean, it was almost as if you could go anywhere and you would hear the name of Uzziah. People would say, “Well, have you heard Uzziah? Did you see what Uzziah did? Uzziah’s done an amazing thing here, he’s done a terrific thing there,” and everywhere you went it was, “Uzziah, Uzziah, Uzziah!” so much so that his power—his power—was now about to become the entry point for disaster. The very thing that marked him out in terms of his leadership was about to become the very thing that would bring him down. God gave him success, God gave him influence, gave him power, and gave him fame, and here he was on a gigantic big turntable.

God is a merciful God, and God is committed to us learning to do the right thing.

And verse 15b, notice what it says: “His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.”[13] In the Revised Standard Version, which is the way I first learned it way back in the early ’70s: “And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong he grew proud, to his [own] destruction.” I like the juxtaposition of that: “Marvelously helped until strong; when strong, he grew proud to his own destruction.” So you got this parabola. That’s just to remind you I did go to the math class every so often, but you have it, and it just goes like this. “Gloriously helped until he became strong, then he became strong, proud to his own destruction.”

So, you see, that was the turning point in his life. The thing that marked him was the thing that eventually marred him. I don’t know what day it was when he decided he could stand up in the canoe, despite the fact everyone had told him, “Don’t stand up in a canoe, especially not with your business clothes on, because if you stand up in a canoe, the chances are you’re going to tip it over.” But he was the kind of fellow who said, “I can do anything. I can do anything I want anytime I want.”

The Choices that Undid Uzziah

Now, his pride is expressed in public acts which are a revelation of his private attitude. Public acts will eventually reveal our private attitude. We’ll be able to conceal it for a while, but eventually the truth will out.

The second point that I wrote in my notes was, “The choices that undid him.” The factors that made him were, as in verse 4 and 5, the choices that undid him. What were they?

Well, there in verse 16, “He was unfaithful to the Lord his God.” He was unfaithful to God. The RSV says, “He was false to … God.” Remember last Sunday that we said the real test of our Christian pilgrimage is how much gap exists between our reputation and the reality—how much there needs to be closure between the facade and what is actually seen by God on the inside. This kind of unfaithfulness is dealt with throughout the whole Bible. Jesus talked about those who were receiving the word of God, and it appeared that they were making great progress, and in actual fact it was a spurious response; it was a quick reaction, and it went away as soon as it came.[14] James, in picking up his brother’s exhortation in that regard, says, “You’d better be careful that you don’t become the kind of people who are just paying lip service to the truths you affirm and not affirming them in your own heart.”[15] And his unfaithfulness is represented, in verse 16, by his “enter[ing] the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.”

Now, from our perspective this morning in the twenty-first century, many of us are going to say, “Well, what in the world is that about? I mean, is that such a bad thing? I mean, like he went in and cut the grass, and he wasn’t supposed to cut the grass? Or he went in and poured the water for somebody, and it wasn’t his job—you know, he just did someone else’s job?” No, that is to misunderstand everything completely. Because notice, he says, “He was unfaithful to the Lord his God,” and the unfaithfulness is represented in the fact—what? That he took to himself a prerogative that was not his to take. Yes, he was the king. Yes, he was involved in the useful expansion on all these fronts. Yes, he was a national hero. But he was not a priest. He had not been called to the priestly role, and God had made express provision for the way in which that was to take place. Therefore, for Uzziah to do what he did was to say, “I know God has said that I’m not supposed to do this, but God can just sit over here for a moment and wait, because I want to do this.” And every ultimate demise in our Christian pilgrimage will be traced to that kind of turntable event: “This is what God clearly says. I know he does, but I want to do something else. Therefore, I will dethrone God and I will enthrone myself.” And it’s a pivotal moment in all of our lives. God has saved many of us by the skin of our teeth from such kind of foolishness.

Now, the wonderful thing is, in verse 17, that “Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests … followed him in.” They were brave enough to challenge the king. And God in his mercy provided a way of escape for Uzziah. Remember in the New Testament it says that the Lord won’t cause us to be tempted beyond that we are able, but he will with the temptation provide a way of escape.[16] And here Uzziah faces this great test. God comes—eighty-one times he comes—to say, “Uzziah, don’t do this.”[17] And Uzziah raged against the priests: “While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple…”[18] You can imagine him saying all kinds of things: “I don’t know who you fellas think you are. You are appointed by me. I am the king. You wouldn’t even be anything were it not for me. There wouldn’t even be eighty-one of you if we hadn’t become so successful. If we didn’t have the influence that we had, you would all be who-knows-where,” all that kind of thing. And God in his mercy had brought people to him in the moment of his weakness to say, “Uzziah, don’t do this.”

Let me say something in passing: the story of people’s lives in pastoral ministry, where on the turntable of life they are about to make a significant moral choice that will mark their lives forever, is directly related, in success or failure, one, to the willingness of those who know them and love them to pursue them into the very point of their stupidity, foolishness, and unfaithfulness and say, “Do not do this”; and the remaining sensitivity of a man or a woman’s soul to say, “Thank you, God, for your mercy. I almost destroyed my life. I almost destroyed my ministry. I almost brought an end to all of the blessing that has been marked as a result of the peculiar gifts that you’ve given me, and of the business that you’ve allowed me to build, and the academic stature that I’ve been able to experience,” or whatever it might be.

God is a merciful God, and God is committed to us learning to do the right thing. And he sends people to us when our calibration is off in order that they by their intervention may prevent us. And some of you this morning, in a congregation like this, know exactly what I mean, because either you have been there, or frankly—and it scares you that I’d be even saying what I’m saying, but it’s not because I know you, it’s just because I know human nature—some of you are right there this morning. And you are facing circumstances that you have engendered in your life. And if you make the wrong choice, you will mark not only your life and your usefulness, but your marriage, and your children, and your heritage forever. No matter how strong and effective and fantastic and well-known and developed we may be, you can take down twenty, thirty, forty years in twenty minutes without any difficulty at all.

He obviously had an enlarged heart, which went along with his enlarged head. Not that his heart was enlarged to give God a place to be enthroned, but his heart was enlarged, it was puffed up, it was vaunted, it was self-focused. We can only but imagine that the breakfast meetings with Zechariah had long since stopped. He knew more than Zechariah: “Old guy, old Zechariah, poor old Zechariah, still on the same old stuff, not like me.” He began to believe his press reports. He asked his wife to cut them out, put them in that thing where you—whatever it is you do with them. What do you do, that? Make them stay there forever? Put plastic on either side of them. I don’t know what it’s called. Asked for a few of them to be stuck up in his bathroom so in the morning when he got up he could look at them and say, “Yes, that’s me, Uzziah. I’d like a military one there, and maybe a commercial one there, and maybe one there, and some of those reports that have come from the borders of Egypt—maybe, actually, maybe we could just put them around the room.”

Began to believe his press reports, began to think that he could go where he wanted, began to assume he could do what he pleased, started to think that the rules no longer applied to him. There was no “out of bounds” when you played golf with Uzziah. Not for Uzziah! The ball was always in play, and the ball could always be moved, and the lie could always be repositioned. And if it was really beyond the pale, he always had a second ball in his pocket, which he allowed himself to put into play anytime he wanted, and nobody could say, “Oh, you can’t do that, Uzziah! What about the rules of the game?” Because that would have been met with, “Hey, rules schmules. I’m the king. Mark my score.” And when they marked his score, the people who came with him would say, at the end of the hole, “What would you like for the fourth hole, Uzziah?” Not “What did you get on the fourth hole, Uzziah?”—“What would you like?” “Oh, I think I’d like a par on that hole, and why don’t you give me a couple of birdies on the next two before we even start? That’s what I would like.” And when he came off and the press asked him, “How was your round of golf today, Mr. Uzziah?” “Oh,” he said, “it was terrific. I think I was somewhere around—I think I had a 77, or a 78.” And off he went for a coffee, and they waited until the caddies and others came, and they said to the caddies, “What do you think he did?” One of the caddies said, “He never even broke a hundred.”

Let me tell you something: when a guy’ll cheat on golf course, you better be careful, ’cause that’s about one of the last vestiges of integrity in public sports. I’m not kidding you on that! If you play with a guy that thinks there’s no “out of bounds,” that he can always drop a second ball, that he makes the rules, again, be really, really careful with that fellow. ’Cause that’s all about pride. It’s all about making out that we’re actually better than we are, even though we’re not that good. So we want to put down on the card something that suggests we are what we’re not, instead of putting on the card that which represents what are really are and bemoaning our sorry situation so that we might give ourselves to the task and do better going forward.

Somehow, in some way, his success had blinded him to God’s generosity. If Jehoshaphat’s problem was that he couldn’t say no to others, Uzziah’s problem was that he refused to say no to himself.

If Jehoshaphat’s problem was that he couldn’t say no to others, Uzziah’s problem was that he refused to say no to himself.

I’m reading, amongst other things at the moment, a biography of [Vice] Admiral Lord Nelson. And the French don’t come out real well in this biography. It’s got a real contemporary ring to it in that respect. But he was no fan of Napoleon’s. Napoleon himself, who was a significant and powerful influence in his day, rejected the notion of noblesse oblige—that privilege brings with it responsibility. And Napoleon said on one occasion, “I am not an ordinary man, and the laws of morals and of wisdom were never made for me.”[19] Whoa! Whew! That’s Uzziah—not where he started, but where we find him.

Now, here’s the most challenging thing, as we begin to put the wheels down for a landing: This is not a story of a young man. This is not a story of bravado, of the naiveté of youth. This is not Paul to Timothy, “Let no [one] despise your youth”[20] and “Make sure you stay away from the evil desires of youth”[21]—namely, power and passion and possessions. That’s not it. This is a man presumably in his mid-fifties, highly experienced, with influence and with authority—in other words, just on that turntable of life that everybody understands and nobody can fully grapple with.

I certainly haven’t read anything to help me in this respect with whatever midlife crisis I’m dealing with at whatever moment. Those of you who are in the 3:30 Club understand the synergy between those two notions, because when you awaken at 3:30 in the morning and you think—you think about your finitude, you think about what you’ve done, you think about regrets, you think about opportunities, you think about closing the gap between profession and reality—you can drive yourself insane in the middle of the night.

And just by observation, I’ve noticed what happens to men at this point in their lives, when they lose their fathers, and they lose a father figure, and they lose a notion of accountability. Have you noticed how many men, when their fathers die, actually go nuts? They do things that you say are completely uncharacteristic: “Why does he do that? And why does he choose to do that now?” Oh, they may be business decisions that their father held them in check from—going into significant debt, and they’ve done it now because their dad was the only one who had enough common gumption to say, “Don’t do this,” and they respected their dads. Or they indulge their passions in ways that they would never have done because they would never want to bring shame upon their father, whose memory they now revere. But it’s not strong enough to prevent them.

And it expresses itself in all kinds of ways. When you combine a sense of finitude with, perhaps, a sense of failure; when you’ve lived your life assuming that you’re actually going to end up on the twenty-seventh floor of the building in terms of professional influence, and you’re now fifty-three years old, and you’re on the fourteenth floor, and it is absolutely certain that you’re not going to the fifteenth floor, but there’s a fair chance you’re going to the ninth floor; when all of these things begin to throw themselves in on top of the psyche of a male, it comes out in strange ways—and not just in sports cars and Harley Davidsons.

For twenty-one years I’ve been here in America, and in those twenty-one years, if I think of the four great pastoral collapses—and I’m not going to rehearse them, it’s a sad thing—but I think of the four great pastoral collapses in America, and the one great pastoral collapse that’s most well-known from the UK: without exception, all the guys fell right in this category. Every one of them had influence, every one of them was well spoken of, every one of them had stature beyond their capacity, and every one of them “grew proud to their own destruction.”

See, I don’t know how many punctures you’ve had in your life. I’ve had quite a few punctures—that is, not just my bicycle, but then my car. I’ve never once had a blowout on the freeway. I mean, I’ve never been driving down the road and had one of those dreadful events where all of a sudden, Pop! and it’s gone, or the rim is lying there in the street. No, all of mine have been slow leaks. You come out to Kmart and the jolly thing is lying on its side like this. You say to yourself, “Who did that? How did it get like that?” And then you say, “Maybe that’s why everybody was flashing me coming down 91?” And it was, ’cause you were going down like this. But you were so preoccupied you didn’t know. And then eventually you’re confronted with the reality of it. It was a long slow leak. And in each of these situations, it was a long slow leak.

At a very superficial level, James Taylor encapsulates this strange thing that happens with any form of notoriety, however limited it might be, when in his wonderful song “That’s Why I’m Here” he says,

Fortune and fame is such a curious game,
And perfect strangers, they call you by name,
And they pay good money to hear “Fire and Rain”
Again and again and again.[22]

Hey mister, that’s me up on the jukebox.
I’m the one that’s singing this sad song.[23]

“He who flatters his friend provides a net for his feet.”[24] What was missing in the encounter here with Uzziah is that the intervention at a high level, if you like, of the eighty-one was too little too late. Uzziah had become a law to himself, by himself, in his own place. Uzziah, if he ever listened to his wife, must have stopped listening to his wife. Uzziah, if he ever listened to his teenage and his grown children, had stopped listening. Uzziah, if he ever listened to his cabinet—to the coterie around him who were there for his protection, his provision—had given up listening to them.

Now, let me ask you this morning: How about you? How about me? God has given you your spouse so that when your head is like a pinhead, he or she is able to pick you up and encourage you on, and when your head is like a gigantic pumpkin, he or she is able to bring it right back down to the necessary size. And we’re all somewhere on the continuum between pinhead and pumpkin-head. And the skill in spousal articulation is in making sure that we don’t give it the pinhead treatment when it’s the pumpkin, and vice versa. And in pastoral ministry it’s no different. Every pastor needs a wife, if for no other reason, said my friend T. S. Mooney, than to keep him humble. I mean, you don’t want your wife saying, “Honey, you’re the greatest preacher. I just love your preaching.” It’s nice every so often, but…

The only storm is the storm rising in my own evil heart that would seek to squash out every good, vital and important influence that God has given us for our wellbeing.

And your kids! You don’t need your kids giving you that either. It’s hard for me to say this without being self-aggrandizing or exalting my children, and they hate it when I mention them, but I’m so thankful that none of my kids are remotely interested in being on videos, or on tapes, or anything to do with anything to do with me, for the radio or for anything else. I only found out when I was last in Los Angeles, Cameron said, “Oh yeah, they wanted me to be on that video thing for the Homestead.” I said, “What did you tell them?” He said, “Forget it. I’m not going on that.” “Why not?” “Well, I’m not gonna go on there and blow off about you, Dad. I’m not gonna go on and say nice things about you.” And I love him for that! I mean, he’s the guy who said, “Why don’t you write a book that somebody wants to read?” When I told him that I got an honorary doctorate from Cedarville University, he said, “Not exactly Princeton, is it?”

But that’s important—especially when I want to wallpaper my bedroom with my newspaper articles. I mean, I’ve got articles up the stairs that went back in the Scottish newspapers. My secretaries’ll tell you this. The headline in the Scottish newspaper said, “Boy from Clarkston Takes America by Storm.” Right? How stupid is that? But you know what? I like that! Yeah! “Storm.” The only storm is the storm rising in my own evil heart that would seek to squash out every good and vital and important influence that God has given us for our wellbeing.

Self-centeredness is so endemic in our culture that we have tons and tons of words to describe it. I started to list them, and then I gave up. These are all pejorative expressions of the self: self-applause, self-absorption, self-assertion, self-advertisement, self-indulgence, self-qualification, self-glorification, self-pity, self-importance, self-interest, self-will. And you know what? Our fallen nature is so bad, and we are so incurably self-centered, that left to ourselves, even our own progress in the Christian faith may become the basis on which we try to approach God, when we recognize that we have no basis on which to approach God except through all that the Lord Jesus Christ has done.

So, Uzziah: great start, lousy finish. “Who lives in the cottage?” “Well, that’s Uzziah’s cottage.” “The king lives in a cottage?” “Yeah. He has leprosy.” “He has leprosy?” Such a great start. Such a dreadful end.

That’s the weakness of power. Hope it scares you, at least half as much as it scares me.

Let’s pray together.

Father, I pray this morning for those of us who are, frankly, on the turntable when it comes to these issues. I pray, Lord, that when you send to us those intervening forces of our loved ones and our friends who care for us, that you’ll help us not to rage against them, but to be humble enough to recognize that you’ve sent them as emissaries from yourself in order that we might be brought back in line with your Word and your plan.

And so to this end we pray that this day, Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the universe, you may be enthroned as King of our hearts. Forgive us all of our attempts of self-deification.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with all who believe, today and forevermore.[25] Amen.

[1] Ecclesiastes 7:2 (paraphrased).

[2] 2 Chronicles 20:12 (NIV 1984).

[3] Psalm 121:1 (NIV 1984).

[4] Psalm 121:2 (NIV 1984).

[5] Paul Anka, “My Way” (1969).

[6] Psalm 1:1–2 (paraphrased).

[7] Psalm 19:7 (NIV 1984).

[8] Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV 1984).

[9] Psalm 34:4, 40:1 (paraphrased).

[10] The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1.

[11] Proverbs 9:10 (NIV 1984).

[12] 2 Chronicles 26:5 (NIV 1984).

[13] 2 Chronicles 26:15–16 (NIV 1984).

[14] Matthew 13:20–21 (paraphrased).

[15] James 1:22–25 (paraphrased).

[16] 1 Corinthians 10:13 (paraphrased).

[17] 2 Chronicles 26:18 (paraphrased).

[18] 2 Chronicles 26:19 (NIV 1984).

[19] See, for instance, Willis Mason West, The Story of the World’s Progress (New York: Alan and Bacon, 1922), 433.

[20] 1 Timothy 4:12 (KJV).

[21] 2 Timothy 2:22 (paraphrased).

[22] James Taylor, “That’s Why I’m Here” (1985). Paraphrased.

[23] James Taylor, “Hey Mister, That’s Me up on the Jukebox” (1971).

[24] Proverbs 29:5 (paraphrased).

[25] 2 Corinthians 13:14 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.