Below is the sermon I preached yesterday. I know that it is a long post, but for those interested...there you go.
Title: Living Anew with God
Text: 2 Kings 22:1-23:3
Focus Statement: God continues to work newness into life
Function Statement: To foster a sense of renewal in our lives
Painting by Thomas Hart Benton in the Dallas Museum of Art. Key parts: late afternoon sun, man looking at old shack, roof about to cave in, suitcase held together by two ropes, cow skeleton, man’s hands on beard wondering something. Its name is ‘The Prodigal Son.’ In Thomas Benton’s telling of the prodigal son, we learn that the son waited too long. You’re too late! A welcoming family does not tend the house with servants, the fatted calf is now dry bones, and there is no reconciliation between father and son. The story is anything but the one I know!
Transition: But, this picture is exactly the picture I see when I look at the story of Josiah at the end of the book in 2 Kings 22. Go ahead and turn there.
The book of Kings is a long series of stories about leaders…kings…“who did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 11:6; 15:25; 16:25, 30). Time and time again a king is described as one who “forsook the Lord, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord” (i.e. 2 Kings 21:22). It is as if we see all over again the sin that gets worse and worse at the beginning of Genesis, which led to the flood where God totally destroyed the world.
Then, in the chapter just before we begin to read about Josiah, God makes his pronouncement: “I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle” (21:12). Even after the story of Josiah we see the lord rejecting his people: (23:27) “So the Lord said, ‘I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, “There shall my Name be.”’”
All of this was part of the covenant God established with Israel so many years ago. Keep my commands and you will be blessed; reject my commands and you will be cursed. So…because Israel rejected God’s commands…it is set…Jerusalem will fall…there is nothing you can do about it! No amount of repentance will change my mind. You can hear the distant voices saying …you are too late…just like Thomas Hart Benton’s rendition of ‘The Prodigal Son’…you waited too long…you kings of Israel.
Transition: But, you can’t just let these distance voices convince us that there is no hope…that we should just resign ourselves to inescapable destruction as rejected property! There is more in our text this morning that compels us to keep listening. The story of Josiah is filled with hope…with renewal. Let’s move in a little closer to hear the story.
Business as Usual
As the story of the Kings comes to a close (at the very end of the book), we see this story of Josiah. He is the one we have been looking for as far as walking with the Lord. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (22:2). “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the law of Moses” (23:25).
Josiah comes on the scene as an eight-year old boy (22:1). Ten years pass by without any mention of his activity. Nothing stands out as noteworthy to the narrator of 2 Kings. The years went on like usual. A young king doing what young kings are supposed to do…I guess. Business as usual for king Josiah. Even after ten years of being king we see business continuing as usual in 22:3. The kings of Israel regularly sponsored repairs and renovations on the temple. That is what you were supposed to do…repair and renovate the temple…and so…Josiah does this.
He sends the secretary, Shaphan, with this message. (22:4) “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. (5) Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord—(6) the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple.”
Business continues as we continue reading, but there is something new in the story…its something powerful, but not important at first. Hilkiah the high priest found a book in the temple during the course of business. He (oddly enough as a priest) doesn’t know what to do with this book, so he gives it to the secretary, Shaphan. It, apparently, isn’t too important to Shaphan either. He almost forgot to mention it to the king when he was reporting back to him about business. (vs.9) “Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: ‘Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.’” Business as usual… money… workers doing their job…normal stuff here. Oh yeah! (vs.10) “Then Shaphan…informed the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.”
Transition: At this point in the story, business as usual is over! Life changes. Josiah’s response is unprecedented. Even though we don’t know what the contents of the book are until later, it must be powerful to make such a dramatic change in a person.
Josiah’s Initial Response
Josiah rips his clothes. He orders three other people (more people are involved now) to go with Hilkiah and Shaphan to inquire of the Lord through a prophetess (Huldah) to see if these things are true. It seems like Josiah fears that something bad might happen soon because of the disobedience of his predecessors. She affirms his suspicions (vs.16): “This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.”
At this point, I still don’t see anything good about this story. Nothing has changed! Destruction is still coming. There is something about the words of the Lord “my anger…will not be quenched” that doesn’t give me hope. I see the image of Thomas Benton’s prodigal son. Those voices comes around again, “Its too late.” “You can’t change anything.” “Don’t even try.” You know Josiah was probably thinking that when he received the news from the prophetess…wasn’t he? Let’s see.
Josiah’s Complete Response
2 Kings 23:1-3. What does Josiah do? He tells as many people as possible. More people need to know what is written in this book. We learn here that he is reading from the Book of the Covenant. There are many ideas of exactly what is contained in this book that Josiah read. It could be the laws of Exodus 20-23. It could be pieces of Deuteronomy. It could be the whole Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT. Whatever it is…it contains the idea of blessings and curses predominant in Deuteronomy. Meaning…those who keep the commands of God will be blessed, while those who reject the commands of God will be cursed. Josiah needs to tell everyone the contents of this book.
Beyond just telling people about the book, Josiah did something else. He also renewed the old covenant between Israel and God. He is interested in following the Lord despite the circumstances (despite the fact that God is about to destroy Israel), Josiah decides to renew the covenant in the presence of the Lord.
Taking things even further than verbally renewing the covenant, Josiah completely reforms the entire kingdom (23:4ff). He tears down idols in the temple set up to Baal and Asherah. He does away with all the pagan priests, mediums, and spiritists. He tears down the houses of prostitution. He breaks down shrines, burns other altars, scatters the ashes, and desecrates the so-called “holy places” throughout the land. He takes bones from tombs, puts them on altars, and burns them…total desecration. He slaughters all the priests of Samaria’s high places on their altars and burned human bones…again desecrating them.
On a slightly more positive note, Josiah commands all the people of the land to celebrate the Passover. The narrator says the Passover had not been celebrated since the time of the judges. They again participate in an event that defined them as a people…God showing his favor to Israel when he passed over them when he killed Egypt’s first born. They celebrate the Passover!
Overall, when you read about “Josiah’s reforms” (as they are called), you can’t help but say that it was complete reformation. Josiah truly had a heart that was responsive and humble just like the prophetess said (22:18-20). And you could tell this by the way he behaved. The narrator says (and I read it again) “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the law of Moses” (23:25).
Transition: I can’t help but ask (when I hear the story of Josiah), “Why? … Why does Josiah respond this way? Why doesn’t he just resign to his fate and carry on business as usual? No harm in that right?”
Living Anew with God
Well…yeah there is if you’re Josiah. [pause] Apparently, if you are going to walk right and “do what is right in the eyes of the Lord,” you are going to do this regardless of the circumstances. Regardless of the fact that Judah is going to be destroyed regardless. Repenting is just the right thing to do. You do what is right, period. Josiah hears the words of the Lord and responds accordingly. He doesn’t say, “If my repentance doesn’t change God’s judgment against Judah, I am not going to repent.” Josiah instead says, “Living anew with God means responding to his words that never change.” So, he stands by the pillar and reads the words of God to everyone! That is bold.
This is the message that confronts us here today: how are we going to live anew with God and respond TODAY to his words? The world around us seems to be telling us (ever so subtly), “It doesn’t matter! If you want to do that to make you feel better…go ahead. But it really doesn’t make the world a better place by doing all these things.” They might whisper in our ears that living with God is just about going to church and saying the right things. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Living anew with God means…living according to his word. His word still speaks to us today…just like it did to Josiah. The words that God has spoken are not hidden away in the basement. Instead, they are accessible. They are alive. They are real. They guide us. They speak to us right now! Where are they? They are in the Bible.
Our job…no…our responsibility…is to stand by the pillar and read them! We must be committed to God’s unchanging word despite our circumstances. All of our circumstances change by the minute, but God’s word never changes. The message he spoke to Josiah is the message he speaks to us today. It is an invitation to life with God. His word needs to be close to our heart. Now is the time to renew yourself to God’s enduring word.
The question I have for us this morning is this: How are you going to get into God’s word this next year? Even more than that…how are you going to live according to his word? You can read the words all you want. You can even praise God for his glorious words that offer life. But it is completely empty if you don’t do anything about it. As James tells us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says….the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22, 25)
As we encounter God’s word again, we need to ask, “What are we going to do to live anew with God?” Reformation needs to happen.
God needs your commitment to him despite how tough times are for you right now. I really do get tired of people saying to me, “I need to do better, I know. But I am about to get this new job. Or I am about to retire. Or I am about to do this or about to do that.” There is always something. But, we can still serve God and live life anew while doing all these things. You don’t have to wait until everything is perfect before you begin. Begin now! I can’t think of a better time of the year.
Perhaps you are going through life thinking things are just business as usual. Life is going along pretty normally…nothing major is happening in my life and I am going to work on keeping it that way. But, if we are to take this passage in 2 Kings seriously, we are to be continually looking for ways to reform our lives according to God’s word in a responsive and humble manner. We want to be ones who DID right in the eyes of the Lord. Not the ones who WILL DO or ARE ABOUT TO DO right in the eyes of the Lord. We don’t want business as usual. We have that chance right in front of us. Right now. What are we going to do?
I want to close by reading the chorus of a song from a Christian band.
Watermark song: All Things New
Because of who You are and who I am in you
You make all things pure
Because of who You are and who I am in You
You make all things true
You make all things new
It is because of who God is and whom he has made us to be that we can begin anew with life with God. God truly makes all things new. That is his business. He can do it. Let’s respond as a community. It is not too late! Let’s live anew with God.