In the days of the despotic dictator, Joseph Stalin, a district party conference was being held in Moscow. At the end of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference with every mention of his name). The hall echoed with “stormy applause, raising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who adored Stalin.
However, who would dare to be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party could have done it. He was standing on the platform, and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, the secret police were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who would quit first!
So on it went. Six minutes, seven minutes, eight minutes. They were done for! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed from heart attacks. The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter.
Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.
But it was just that action which allowed the secret police, present in the room, to tell who the independent thinkers were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”
Many believers are like those poor communist factory workers. They don’t really believe the Christianity they espouse. They say they believe in prayer, and when others are around, they even praise God for answers to prayer, but they don’t pray. They say they believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet their lost friends and relatives don’t even know they’re really serious about Christ because they never mention Jesus. They say they have the Holy Spirit, but their life is no different from those of their unsaved co-workers. They are like the communist factory workers: They applaud a God they don’t really believe! They claim a salvation that just isn’t real to them.
And the truth is, some of us don’t really want reality. Let’s just be honest. We’re satisfied with cultural, church-attending Christianity that gives us some peace of mind about life after death, but that’s about as “real” as we want it. We want $3 worth of God in a paper sack. Not enough of Him to radically change our lives, just enough to make us feel better about our sin. Some fear reality.
Others, seek it. They really do. They long to have a close, intimate, up-close and personal relationship with Jesus, but, in their hearts, something is missing. All the words of the verses about loving Jesus only go so deep, then just melt away. It’s like there heart’s in deep freeze and all the words we say about knowing Christ can only penetrate so far. They long for a reality that they do not possess.
Whichever group you’re in, this morning, I really want you to listen. Knowing Jesus, I mean really knowing Him at a deeply intimate level is the one thing that makes this “being a Christian” thing worth doing. Listen, I am not nearly where I would like to be with the Lord and there is such great room for growth in my life, but were it not for the closeness I have with Jesus Christ, I would not have the courage to get out of bed and face the day.
If it’s that important, then, how can you know if what you have is real? How can you tell if your relationship with Him will blossom into intimacy, or shrivel into boredom? How can you tell if your faith is “for real?” Well, you can learn a lot about it from a king of Judah. His name? Joash. Sad to say, Joash never checked the “reality” box in his resume. He was ever the wooden nickel of the Monarchs. But, that’s not all bad. God has included his story in your Bible to show you how you can judge your own reality and do something about it. Examine this young man’s life with me, and lets see how we can measure our own reality. In the first place, if you want to be genuine in your faith; if you want to know if your faith is real, you must
DIV 1: REJECT FALSE EVIDENCE
There were at least a couple of “evidence” in this chapter that seem to show that Joash was the “real deal” when it came to spirituality. In the first place, he had a great background. Now, if you know anything about his background, you might take exception to that remark. Back in chapter 22, we are given the story of how his heartless wretch of a Grandmother sought to kill him in an effort to steal the throne for herself. That attack was stopped by the actions of Jehoshabeath, the wife of Jehoiada, the priest who hid Joash from his grandmother’s murderous plot.
While that’s not a very promising beginning, things got better. That priest, Jehoiada, becomes his spiritual father in a manner of speaking. Jehoiada was a valiant man of God who raises Joash right as if he were his own son. In chapter 23, when the time is right, Jehoiada brings Joash out of hiding, surprising his murderous grandmother and proclaiming Joash at the amazing age of 7. Read 24:1 with me:
Joash was seven years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. 2 Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. 3 And Jehoiada took two wives for him, and he had sons and daughters.
I think its interesting in v 2 to read that “Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” Jehoiada evidently had a huge impact on Joash. Even though his grandmother was a vile woman, Joash is raised by Jehoiada, a righteous man. He has a great background. Yet his background doesn’t keep him from, later in his life, turning away from God. And it is that reality that teaches us this principle: Your background only provides for your potential, not your future.
In their fascinating book, Freakonomics, economists Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner point out that one of the first acts of parental power comes in the naming of a child. Many believe the name carries great significance. The case of the Lane brothers may argue differently
Back in 1958, a baby boy was born into the Lane family. Robert—the father—chose to name the boy Winner. How could the young man fail to succeed with a name like Winner Lane?
The Lanes had another son several years later. For unknown reasons, Robert named this baby Loser. How tragic to doom this boy's future prospects with such a name.
Contrary to all expectations, Loser Lane succeeded. He graduated from college and later became a sergeant with the New York Police Department. Nowadays, no one feels comfortable calling him Loser. His police colleagues refer to him as Lou.
And what of the brother with the "can't miss" name? The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane, now in his mid 40s, is the sheer length of his criminal record—nearly three dozen arrests for burglary, domestic violence, trespassing, resisting arrest, and other mayhem. That just goes to show you: Your name cannot predict your future. Neither can your background guarantee your success.
Yet we tend to make our background our excuse, don’t we. We say, “Hey, its not my fault I’m not a Christian. That’s just not the way I was raised. If God had wanted me to be some kind of big Christian, He should have given Christian parents. But you must know that God holds you individually responsible for the truth you hear. O I know you may have not had a good homelife growning up, but when are you going to stop blaming your parents for your bad situation. Your background only creates potential one way or the other, it ultimately is not the determining factor of your success. When you get to heaven, God will judge your parents, if they failed to give you this opportunity growing up, but He will not let you by. Your background doesn’t guarantee your future.
And if some use their background as their excuse, others use their background as their smoke screen. They say, “Look at me, Rusty. I was raised in a Christian home with great parents, therefore I can just kind of coast into this Christian thing. But remember, background only creates potential, not success. God has no grandchildren. You must know Him personally.
Depending on your background, much like Joash did, only qualifies as false evidence. Your background doesn’t guarantee your success.
Yet Joash seemed to depend on his background as proof that his own relationship with God was real. He was wrong! He also trusted another kind of evidence that was false. Not only did he trust his background, he trusted
When you read 2 Chronicles 24, you think, at least at the beginning of the chapter, that Joash is “gung ho” for God. V 4 says:
Now it happened after this that Joash set his heart on repairing the house of the Lord. 5 Then he gathered the priests and the Levites, and said to them, “Go out to the cities of Judah, and gather from all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year, and see that you do it quickly.”
Wow! That’s passion! He says, “I’m going to rebuild God’s house and it’s not enough that you go and get me the money to do it, I want you to ‘do it quickly.’” He seems very passionate. And his passion continues. V. 5 concludes,
However, the Levites did not do it quickly So the king called Jehoiada the chief priest, and said to him, “Why have you not required the Levites to bring in from Judah and from Jerusalem the collection, according to the commandment of Moses the servant of the Lord and of the assembly of Israel, for the tabernacle of witness?”
Then at the king’s command they made a chest, and set it outside at the gate of the house of the Lord. 9 And they made a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to bring to the Lord the collection that Moses the servant of God had imposed on Israel in the wilderness. 10 Then all the leaders and all the people rejoiced, brought their contributions, and put them into the chest until all had given. 11 So it was, at that time, when the chest was brought to the king’s official by the hand of the Levites, and when they saw that there was much money, that the king’s scribe and the high priest’s officer came and emptied the chest, and took it and returned it to its place. Thus they did day by day, and gathered money in abundance.
You know, when you read this, it seems that Joash may even have more excitement and passion for this cause than even his mentor, Jehoiada, possesses. He asks Jehoiada in v 6, “Why have you not required the Levites to bring in from Judah and from Jerusalem the collection, according to the commandment of Moses . . .” In other words, he says to his spiritual mentor, “Hey, Jehoiada, why aren’t you sold out to God? Why are you sitting on your hands? Don’t you love God like I do?” What intensity! What passion for God! What love for Jehovah!
And, yet, there is something very “plastic” about all of this. It’s almost as if Joash seizies on this idea of rebuilding the temple because it somehow strikes his fancy, or, more likely, because he is trying to demonstrate to the people and to his mentor just how “spiritual” he can be. It like he wants to make an impresssion. Outwardly he conforms, but it seems there was no inner reality.
I say that because of what happens next in the story. The money is collected and the temple is repaired. But, in v15 Jehoiada dies. That verse says:
But Jehoiada grew old and was full of days, and he died; he was one hundred and thirty years old when he died. 16 And they buried him in the City of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, both toward God and His house.
17 Now after the death of Jehoiada the leaders of Judah came and bowed down to the king. And the king listened to them. 18 Therefore they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served wooden images and idols; and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their trespass. 19 Yet He sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the Lord; and they testified against them, but they would not listen.
You see, Joash’s passion, though it seemed to burn brightly, did not burn very deeply. When the man who had influenced him dies, he immediately gives in to idolatry. The heart that had beat hard for God, now beat hard against Him. His love quickly Look at v 20:
20 Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God: ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He also has forsaken you.’ ” 21 So they conspired against him, and (watch this!) at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, “The Lord look on it, and repay!
You see, Joash’s passion for God lasted only as long as Jehoiada was there to influence him, which just tells me that all Joash was doing was conforming. He was just going wherever the strongest influence took him. He wasn’t real, at least not way down deep where it counted. He temporarily conformed, but he never was permanently changed.
There was a meeting of the Communist Party executive committee in Russia that was chaired by the tyrant, Joseph Stalin. In the middle of the discussion, Stalin, livid with fury, leaped from his seat only to crash to the floor unconscious. As the other members of the party stood in shock and disbelief, scheming bureaucrat, Laverenti Beria jumped up, thinking Stalin dead, and danced around his body shouting “We’re free at last! Free at last!” But the door to the room burst open and Stalin’s daughter forced her way in and fell on her knees by her father. At that, the prone dictator stirred and opened one eye. Seeing that Stalin might not be dead after all, Beria immediately stopped his dance and, at once, dropped down beside Stalin, seized his hand, and covered it with kisses. He could have been a little Joash! He went wherever his influences took him. He was an expert at conforming
And so are many Christians. They come to Christ, or maybe they just grow up in the church. They learn to conform at an early age. They know the songs; they know the prayers; they can recite some of the verses and they spend their lives, void of reality, but full of conformity. They keep the rules with empty hearts.
And that, my friend, is dangerous. It’s dangerous because if all you do is conform, you may think you’re pleasing God when you’re not. You see, when Joash restored the temple, that was a wonderful thing, yet it did not make him right with God because it seemed to come from his desire to simply conform to the image that he wanted Jehoida to have of him. He seems to have had no relationship with Jehovah that was real and personal. He knew God through his mentor. Conforming doesn’t please God and that it’s greatest danger. It may lead you to think you’‘re pleasing God when you’re not.
The second greatest danger of outward conformity is that when your influencers change, your behavior changes. Like a chamaeleon your color seems to morph into whatever color you’re around. Students, that why when some of your friends leave Peace Church and go off to ECU or Pitt Community, or UNCW, the same people who seemed pretty spiritual in this environment don’t just get sucked into the party scene, they lead them. You’re sitting back here in Wilson, scratching your head, and asking, “What happened to him? He used to be so good here. How can he be doing what he’s doing there?” I’ll tell you: His salvation may have been only outward conformity and when their influencers changed, their behavior changed!
That’s why Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” It is possible for you to deceive yourself into thinking you really know Christ when you don’t. Occasional, temporary passion for God doesn’t mean you have the reality of the Holy Spirit living inside of you. Your background is no guarantee of spiritual success and your conformity doesn’t necessarily mean you really know God.
Well, if background and conformity do not guarantee reality, how can you know if your faith is real? Well, you can know that if you will
DIV 2: SEEK GENUINE EVIDENCE
There are a couple of pieces of genuine evidence that you can imply from this story of this reality-lacking king. They are qualities that he didn’t have that people who really know God possess. One is deep-down, genuine conviction. Now I’m not necessarily talking about passion, here. Joash seemed to have passion for rebuilding the temple. I’m talking about lasting conviction that comes from your relationship with Christ and from the power of His Holy Spirit. The dictionary defines the word “conviction” as an “unshakeable belief in something without need for proof or evidence.” In the case of Joash we might say conviction is an unshakeable belief in something without the need for positive influence. You see, Joash stood when he had someone provoking him to stand, like Jehoiada, but his stand wasn’t the result of conviction which he possessed, it was just a matter of influence. If Joash had possessed the reality of God in his heart, he would have had the conviction to stand even when Jehoiada died. But he didn’t. He proved that he was being good just because it was the “chic” thing to do.
Listen, when you genuinely know the Lord, there is a conviction inside of you that you can’t get away from. You may have some bad moments in your life, but there is this witness in your spirit placed there by His Spirit that just won’t let you go in certain ways or do certain things. It might be nice when the preacher confirms that conviction in a message, but you still have the conviction whether he confirms it or not. Mark it down! The reality of Christ in your life will always bring conviction a powerful motivation that comes from down deep in your soul and is not dependent on any outside influence. When you have that you have evidence that you really know God.
But there’s another one. It’s really so basic and obvious that it is often overlooked, yet it is the one characteristic you see throughout scripture. It is perseverance. In case you don’t know what that word means, let me define it for you: Perseverance means not quitting. Men and women who genuinely know the Lord do not crumble in the face of pressure like Joash did. When those elders came to him and pressured him to allow idolatry, he crumbled like a chinese fortune cookie. And, yet, Jesus makes it clear that those who really know Him will continue with Him.
Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” In Matt 24:9, Jesus is explaining to his disciples how difficult it will be in the last days and He says:
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
Wow! That last statement will mess with your theology. For all those who think that some magical incantation of a prayer saves them no matter how little conviction or how much defection they demonstrate in their lives, Jesus makes it clear: He who endures to the end shall be saved.
Now, I don’t believe that He is teaching there that we cannot know whether we’re going to heaven until we die and figure out if we endured to the end. That conclusion would contradict what the Bible says about our assurance of salvation in other places. What I do think Christ is communicating is simply this: If I genuinely know Him, there will be a conviction of the Spirit in my heart that will lead me to keep going even when things aren’t easy. If I am saved, I will persevere to the end! And that, you see, is how I can tell that my relationship with Christ is real: Do I have the conviction of the Spirit in my heart that leads me to keep going when things are tough; to keep loving when no one else cares; to keep giving when everyone else is selfish; to keep praying when everyone else has given up; to keep witnessing when all the world tells me I’m a right-wing, evangelical nut-case. It is perseverance, born of conviction that lets me know Jesus is living inside of me.
You might say, “That’s great, Rusty, but how can I have that kind of conviction and how can I allow that kind of conviction that leads to perseverance to grow in my heart?”
Well, conviction is the result of several things. First conviction results from a genuine connection with the Word of God. The only way I am going to reduce the power of the influence of others in my life is to increase the power of the influence of God’s Word. That just means I have to read it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, and apply it to my life. If Joash had really connected with the Law of God for himself, he would not have allowed idolatry.
Listen, Christian, you will either immerse yourself in the Word of God or you will be influenced by the world around you. Someone might say, “Well, aren’t you getting a little legalistic, Rusty? Are you telling me that if I don’t read the Word I’m not saved?” Well, I don’t know, my friend. Can you be saved without having a hunger for God’s word? Can you be saved if you don’t persevere till the end? Can you persevere to the end if you follow the influence of the world rather than the influence of the Spirit in your heart? We have gotten so grace oriented in our day that, in some cases, we have lost all sense of what it means to really follow Christ as His disciples. Conviction is a result of connection with the Word of God.
And conviction is a result of something else. It is also a result of a passion for the presence of God. There’s something missing as I read chapter 24. While Joash has a passion for rebuilding the temple and collecting the money to do so, I never see a whole lot of passion directed at knowing God. His ancester, David, surely had that kind of passion. You can’t read through the writings of that Israelite king without hearing his heart beat for God. Conviction comes from having a passion for God.
And conviction results from one more thing: It results from having a genuine faith in the power of God. This was woefully lacking in Joash. He trusted only those he could see. While Jehoiada was there, he trusted Jehoiada. But because he never connected with God, when Jehoiada died, he trusted the elders. If he’d had real faith, he would have been able to reject the pressure the elders placed on him and trust God for deliverance. But his lack of faith caused a lack of conviction which ended in disaster.
So may I ask you, Do you have real conviction down deep in your soul? Do you know that you know that you know that God is real and His Holy Spirit is living inside you? Is there the warmth of His presence down deep inside or are you just reading from a script like Joash was. Do you know that this salvation is genuine? Do you know it’s real?
Joe Stump (yes, that's his real name) was the son of a pastor and theologian. Joe reached adulthood during the First World War and, like many of his colleagues, enlisted into military service and was sent to battle in France.
2. One day in the heat of battle, an officer approached Joe on horseback and asked where he could locate another officer. Joe turned to point the way and heard an enormous explosion. When he turned back, the horse was without a rider. The officer lay dead on the ground.
Heavy shelling burst out, and Joe threw himself down for protection. As he lay with his face in the dirt, he promised God, "If you get me out of this war alive, I'll become a pastor like my father."
When the war was over, Joe, true to his word, went to seminary, studied for the ministry, and was ordained a pastor. Within a few years he led a large congregation in Wisconsin.
Working diligently, Joe rose through the ranks and was considered one of the up and coming ministers of his denomination. But Joe had a problem: He had experienced God's protection, but he had not experienced the salvation of his soul. Consequently, the ministry brought him no joy or peace; it only made him deeply aware of his spiritual emptiness.
Joe was married to Nelda, whose mother was a fervent Christian who made things worse by saying things like, "Joe, you're a good preacher. You'll be a great blessing once you know Jesus."
The situation came to a crisis when one of his church members lay dying of cancer. Almost daily, Joe went to the man's home with a prayer book from which he would read a Scripture verse and a prayer.
Finally, as death approached, the man asked, "Joe, is this the best you can do for me?" Sadly, Joe said that it was.
Joe was heartbroken. He knew that if it were he who lay dying, it wouldn't be enough for him. How could it be enough for his friend?
When his friend died, Joe performed the funeral and then told Nelda that he needed to get away for awhile. He wanted to deal with his nagging emptiness. He wanted a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, whose gospel he so faithfully yet fruitlessly tried to preach.
He first went to Chicago and asked friends if they knew where he could go to be saved. They didn't know for sure, but someone referred vaguely to The Bowery Mission, an evangelistic center for the down-and-outers of New York City. Joe was so desperate that he took a train to New York and checked into a hotel just a few blocks from the mission.
The first night he was there, he dressed himself in a fine suit and walked to the meeting. Surveying the surroundings, Joe took a seat among the derelicts, joined in the singing, and settled in to hear the sermon that started something like this: "All men are sinners. There are sinners of all types: drinkers, carousers, adulterers, thieves, and murderers. They all need to be saved."
Then the preacher seemed to zero in on Joe: "There are also finely dressed, white-collared sinners. They too need to make their way to the altar and admit their need of salvation."
Joe was incensed. He felt he didn't need to be treated like a common bum. He put on his coat and stomped out into the rain. Walking back to the hotel, he splashed through the puddles, so angry he scarcely noticed them.
When Joe arrived at his lodging, he walked up the stairs and, without taking off his wet coat, threw himself into an easy chair, and complained to God. "It's not fair. I don't need to be treated like a bum. I can find salvation in some other place."
Proud, self-righteous, and yet so needy, he told God all the reasons why he should not have to go to the altar like the common sinners did. As a pastor, some special consideration should be given to him. But as the hours passed, his pride turned to shame and despair. He realized that he was a blind leader of the blind and concluded that he was not too good to be saved, as he first thought, he was too wicked to be saved.
Joe opened the window of his room and considered plunging to his death, but decided he would go back to the mission the next night and hear the message one more time.
When the moment came, he dressed himself again in his fine suit and sat with the down-and-outers. He heard essentially the same message he had heard the night before, but this time he knew it was for him. As the preacher concluded, he invited all who wished to be saved to go to the altar, kneel before God, and pray for forgiveness and new birth.
Convicted so strongly of his need for salvation, Joe abandoned his pride and made his way forward. When he arrived at the front, the preacher told him to move to the end of the altar and make room for those who were seeking God. It wasn't enough to be saved like a common bum; he would have to humble himself more than they did.
But Joe was ready. Christ found Joe at the end of the altar and Joe humbly asked Jesus to forgive his sins and come into his life.
This time when he left the mission, he walked the same street and splashed through the same puddles, but now it wasn't anger that kept him from noticing them; he felt he was walking on air.
Once in his room, he sat in the same chair and cried tears of joy. Joe knew that he was now a child of God. He was beginning a new life. He could neither doubt nor deny that he was born again.
Joe's favorite song became, "It's real, it's real, Oh, I know it's real. Praise God the doubts are settled, and I know, I know, it's real."
SING THE SONG