Josiah and the Power of the Word
Well, I do hope you haven’t scammed any elderly women, but whether you’ve gone that far or not, you’ll probably agree that our society, the church included, seems more interested in following “mammon” than it does the scripture. Our relationship with the Word of God can be a little tricky for those of us who claim to be believers.
For some of us it goes right over our heads. What I mean is that we don’t understand it. We read it on occasion, and walk away really confused. Like the seed sewn by the pathway in the parable of the soils in the Bible, we don’t comprehend what we read or hear and our enemy is quick to come and snatch it out of our minds. It goes over our heads and, very quickly, out of our hearts. If that’s you this morning, I believe God wants to open the eyes of your heart to His word. Listen!
For others it doesn’t go over their heads, it just stays on the page. We know it and we may even be able to quote it, but it’s just ink on paper that seems millions of miles away from our real lives. The Bible doesn’t make impact on us and we wonder why, when we may even attend church every week, we’re still basically the same people we were when it all started. The answer is simple: ink and paper can’t change you. God’s wants to get his Word off the page and into your life. Listen!
And for many of us the bible that goes over our heads and stays on the page also remains on the shelf. Our homes are decorated with Bibles of all shapes, sizes, and versions, but they are mere ornaments with little impact. We aren’t impacted by the Bible because we just don’t read or study it, and not reading God’s Word is just as bad as not having it. God wants to get His Word off the shelf and into our hands. Listen!
There is no better example of how God’s Word can change our lives than a King of Judah who was one of the best ever. His name was Josiah. Now Josiah lived in a very difficult time. You think America is bad? You think this country has left its Christian heritage and drifted far from God? Well, you’re probably right, but I have to tell you, our country has nothing on Judah as it was in Josiah’s day. Things were really bad. The people, following the example of their sorry leaders, hadn’t just dabbled in idolatry, they had given themselves to it with abandon. In the middle of this terrible state of affairs, Josiah comes on the scene and brings, if only briefly, a great revival in the land.
Now I say “briefly” because, although Josiah really made an impact for God, it lasted no longer than his own life. While he made remarkable changes to Judah’s idolatry, once he was dead, Judah went right back to her sin. What I want us to see from these chapters today is the reason why there was such a difference between Josiah and Judah. Why did he have such a genuine heart for God and why did Judah not experience the same life change that he did? Well I think the answer is really very simple. It had to do with how each related to God’s Word. While repairing the temple of the Lord, someone finds the Book of the law and decides to read it to King Josiah. Look what happens in 22:11: Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes.
Now that was an interesting reaction. It’s not everyday that someone just starts tearing their clothes when they hear God’s Word. But the King’s reaction shows just how seriously he took what he heard. When he heard God’s word, it was so moving and convicting that he tears his royal robes as a sign of great repentance and conviction. You might say it like this: Josiah internalized the Word of God. And his people? Well, they heard the word and they even followed along with Josiah when he tried to implement it, but there was a big difference between them. You see, while Judah heard the Word, Josiah internalized it, and there is a massive difference between the two. And it is this difference which makes the difference in our lives. Only internalizing the Word of God will change your life.
You say, that’s great, Rusty, but what does it mean? How can I internalize the word of God so that my life really changes? Glad you asked, because this story of Josiah gives us some answers. In the first place, you internalize God’s word when you:
DIV 1: SEE YOURSELVE IN IT.
Josiah did that. That verse we just read, 2 Kings 22:11, tells us that when he heard God’s word, he tore his clothes. That was a sign of mourning and repentance and his encounter with God’s caused him to assess himself and his nation. After he hears God’s word read to him, he says in v 12:
Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
Probably other kings of Judah may have read or heard those words read and it went right over their heads. Others had heard it read and those words had remained ink and paper, but when Josiah heard those words read, he saw himself and his people in those words. He realized that because of God’s word, he and his people were in great danger because he says in v 13, “great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us because our fathers have not obeyd the words of this book. He saw himself in the word of God.
If only the people of Judah would have seen themselves as he did. History, however, tells us they didn’t. It’s interesting to note that Jeremiah the prophet was a contemporary with Josiah, only the prophet lives a lot longer than the king. After the great revival of Josiah, and after his untimely death in battle, the prophet observes Judah’s quick return to idolatry and gives them God’s opinion of their treason. Jeremiah 7:13 says:
And now, because you have done all these works,” says the Lord, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren— the whole posterity of Ephraim. 16 “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you.
Though Josiah genuinely saw his need of change and his own failure when he heard God’s word, the people never seemed to get it. They never internalized it by seeing themselves in it. They heard the word, and even, on the surface at least, acted on it, but they never internalized it. They never saw themselves in it. And they ended in diaster.
Christian, if your life ever changes it will not be because you simply have quiet time; it will not be because you come and hear the Sunday message or even by a DVD; it will not be because you read through the Bible in a year. Your life will change only when you internalize the word of God by seeing yourself in it!
And I know what some may be saying: You’re probably saying, “That’s just fanaticism, Rusty! Nobody takes the Bible that seriously!” To which I would say, EXACTLY! And that’s just the problem. If there is to be the full-hearted devotion to God that really burns in the heart of all of us; if there is to be life change because of the Word of God, there must be a willingness to see ourselves in the pages of this book. To look at our lives the way the Bible does.
Andras Tamas is the name officials gave a certain man decades ago in a Russian psychiatric hospital. He'd been drafted into the army, but the authorities had mistaken his native Hungarian language for the gibberish of a lunatic and had him committed.
Then they forgot about him. For 53 years.
A few years ago a psychiatrist at the hospital began to realize what had happened and helped Tamas recover the memories of who he was and where he came from. He recently returned home to Budapest as a war hero, "the last prisoner of World War II."
Not only had this man forgotten his real name, he hadn't even seen his own face in five decades. So, according to one news account, "For hours, the old man studies the face in a mirror. The deep-set eyes. The gray stubble on the chin. The furrows of the brow. It is his face, but it is a startling revelation."
Imagine looking at your own face in a mirror and not recognizing it. James 1:23-24 says that is just what people are doing when they listen to God's Word but do not obey it. It says:
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.
Like Andras, there, right before their eyes in Scripture, is an accurate reflection of themselves. But they don't truly see—with the eyes of their hearts—what the Bible shows them. They don’t internalize scripture because they refuse to see themselves in it.
See, my unsaved friend, the reason you can sit here week after week, Sunday after Sunday, hear the Word of God, but never change is that you hear God’s word, but you don’t see yourself in it. Would you try something for just a moment? Would you try listening with new ears? Would you see yourself in some of these verses? What about this one:
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Do you see yourself in that verse? What about this one: He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
O, but if your listening, please don’t fail to hear yourself in this one:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Listen, not only your life, but your whole eternity could change in but a moment if you could just see yourself in the pages of God’s Word.
And what about us as believers. We base our lives on what this book says, or at least that’s what we do in theory. Yet, many believers fail to see themselves in the Word of God. Why is that? Well, for one thing, its because we compartamentalize our lives. Somehow we divide ourselves into two worlds. We suffer from biblical schizophrenia, becoming one person at church or in front of other believers and a completely different person at the office. We segregate our behavior from our belief. We say we believe what the Bible says about purity, but that doesn’t affect what we view on the internet; we way we believe what the Bible says about stewardship, but that never finds its way into our check book; we say we believe what the Bible says about marriage, but that never interferes with our determination to divorce. We compartmentalize our lives and never take a look in the mirror of God’s Word.
We compartmentalize and then we intellectualize. What I mean is, even if we admit what the Bible “seems to be saying” about some issue, we explain it away. Let me give you an example. In August of this year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted not only to allow for non-celibate homosexuality in its ranks, but to ordain gays and lesbians as pastors. Now, my friend, the Bible is absolutely clear on this issue: 1 Cor 6:9 says:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
How, if the ELCA claims to revere scripture, can they take the action they just took. Well I went on their website and found their statement on their view of Scripture. They say of the Bible:
We find in the Bible human emotion, testimony, opinion, cultural limitation and bias. ELCA Lutherans recognize that human testimony and writing are related to and often limited by culture, customs and world view . . . Because Biblical writers, editors and compilers were limited by their times and world views, even as we are, the Bible contains material wedded to those times and places. It also means that writers sometimes provide differing and even contradictory views of God’s word, ways and will.
Listening to the living Jesus in the context of the church, we therefore have the task of deciding among these. Having done this listening, we sometimes conclude either that the writer’s culture or personal experience . . . seems to have prompted his missing what God was saying or doing, or that God now is saying or doing something new.
Will you notice who that statement says decides what the Bible is saying? It’s you and me! We get to choose what parts we’re going to hold on to and let go. We intellectualize. We explain it away.
Now most of you in this room would reject that statement that this church made about the Bible, but I have to tell you there is something I actually like about it! You say, “Well, Rusty, what could you possibly like about that statement?” I’ll tell you what: At least its honest. You see, this group decided they really couldn’t go by the Word of God so they’re at least admitting it. Many so called, “Bible-believing Christians” have intellectualized the Word of God while still claiming to follow it! But whether you admit your defection from God’s word or not, the result is still the same: Revival doesn’t come; real change is impossible until you see yourself and I see myself in God’s Word. Until I stop trying to judge God’s word or manipulate its truth and, instead, let it judge me!
Change comes when we internalize God’s word and that happens when we see ourselves in it. But it also happens when we
DIV 2: DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT
Now you could say a lot of things about this passionate king of Judah. In fact, I’m sure that he was probably called a lot of things behind his back. You don’t bring the kind of reforms Josiah brought without making enemies. Whatever you might say about him, however, you could never call him passive. He was a very active king, especially when it came to cleaning up Judah.
Josiah institutes sweeping spiritual reform in his country. He cleans up public worship. In fact, in vv 4-14 he takes ten specific actions that erase all the idolatry that had invaded the country since the time of Solomon. In v 4 he removes the idols from the temple; in v 5 he removes the pagan priests from the temple; in v 6 he takes aways the Asherah pole that King Manasseh had installed in the temple for sexually perverse worship; in v 7 he takes out the shrine prostitutes along with their booths; in v 8 he removes the high places of pagan worship throughout Judah; in v 9 he removes the idolatrous shrines at the city gates; in v 10 he defiles Topheth, the sacred place where Judahites either dedicated or offered their own children as sacrifices to the pagan god, Molech; in v 11, he removes the horses dedicated to the worship of the sun; in v 12, he removes the altars that Mannaseh had erected to worship the sun; and in vv 13-14, he removes the idols that Solomon had set up to appease his foreign wives.
But he was just getting started. He was so zealous for God that he actually enters the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the group of Jews who had been taken into captivity for their own idolatry and destroys all of their high places as well. And he’s still not done. He turns his attention in vv 24-25 to private religion and even gets rid of all the Mediums and spiritists so that no one can privately consult them, then he makes those who worship their own little household idols to get rid of them. His action is sweeping; His obedience is complete.
And it is also personal. Even though I do not know exactly how much of this work Josiah physically did, he was intimately involved in making sure it got done. I know that because of v 20. After he has made these sweeping changes, the Bible says: He executed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them; and (watch!) he returned to Jerusalem.
The reason I know that Josiah had really internalized that Word of God that he heard was because he obeyed completely and he obeyed personally. He heard the Word and he did something about it.
But, again, it wasn’t that way with the people of Judah. Jeremiah writing of the people in Jeremiah 7:9 says:
Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, 10 and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the Lord
Instead of acting on the Word of God as Josiah was, the people, after his death, “steal, murder, commit adultery . . .” and then come and stand before God in His house and claim that they are delivered by God. They turn His house into a den of thieves. They heard the word, but they didn’t act on it and they showed by their inaction that they had never internalized it.
The movie Amazing Grace tells the story of William Wilberforce’s crusade to end the slave trade in England. In this scene a dinner party is being held at Wilberforce’s home in an attempt to persuade him to dedicate himself to the eradication of slavery.
And he did both. Largely because of his work, slavery ended in England. Knowing that slavery was wrong wasn’t enough for Wilberforce. His action was what changed his country.
Listen, when the Word of God gets internalized it always leads to action. And the opposite is also true. Until it is internalized I will preach in vain. If you’ve never received Christ today, I can tell you why. You made have heard me preach many sermons. You may have had co-workers share the gospel with you. You may have heard some radio preacher hundreds of time, but you’re still lost. It’s not because you haven’t heard, it’s because you’ve not internalized. It’s because you haven’t acted in faith and trusted Christ.
Christian, the same goes for you. The word will only be internalized when you rise from the bed of passivity and take action. What is it that the Bible is saying to you today that you need to act on? Could it be this verse:
“Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right?”
“Husbands love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it?”
“Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.”
“Women dress yourselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation,”
I obviously can’t read every verse here, but I’ll bet that if you’re listening, the Holy Spirit is speaking His Word to you right this minute. Will you internalize it? Will you take action? Will you obey?
Change happens when God’s word gets internalized and His Word gets internalized when we see ourselves in it and do something about it. But there’s one more, and really this one is the most important. In fact, without this last one, the first two really will not work. You see, not only do we internalize God’s Word when we see ourselves in it and do something about it. We internalize God’s Word when we
DIV 3: DEVOTE OURSELVES TO IT
The key to this whole chapter and to the almost miraculous reforms that Josiah brought is found in 23:25:
Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.
Very simply, the reason that Josiah internalized God’s Word was because he loved God. The Bible says that he love God with “all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might.” And because he loved God, he loved God’s word.
Quite frankly, other kings had undertaken reform, but no one went as far as Josiah. What kept him going. To be honest, there were a lot of things stacked against him. Centuries of rebellion and idolatry stood in his way. Despite his heart for God, the people didn’t follow whole-heartedly and still rested under the judgement of God. Someone with less passion would have quit, but not Josiah. He kept going because at the bottom of it all, he was absolutely devoted to God and to His word.
Which just leads me to this principle: Motion without devotion leads to defection. Your own determination to get the job done won’t do the job. There must be a God-inspired, Holy Spirit- instigated passion that comes from outside of you. It must be in your heart before it can be manifested in your life.
Which just leads me to ask this question: How devoted are you, Christian, to God’s word? How much time do you spend in it each day? We make all kinds of excuses don’t we? We claim we’re too busy and that we don’t have time. I love what Tony said the other night about this. If you claim you’re too busy to spend time in God’s word, I know how you can find 3-4 hours every day, if you’re like most Americans. It was amazing when he made that statement because before he ever had time to complete it, people completed it for him. All over the room people were whispering under their breath. “Yeah, cut off the TV.”
What does it say about us when we are more committed to American Idol than we are to “Thus says the Lord?” Listen, Christian, all idols are not carved of wood or hewn in stone; Some are flickering squares, filled with tubes or plasma, and connected to Time Warner or Greenlight! If I am to internalize God’s Word, I must devote myself to it.
And what about you that may be here and you’ve never received Christ. You might be saying, “I’m interested in Christianity, but I have to tell you Rusty, I’ve tried to read the Bible and it is absolutely foreign to me.” Well if you say that, I say to you, “Praise the Lord!” That’s right, Praise the Lord! I say that because that just tells you that this Bible is a supernatural book and it takes a power outside yourself to really understand it. You see, God has to do something in your heart before you can ever grasp it.
But here’s the good news : God wants to do something in your heart. Right now He’s tugging at you. You feel this desire to really get to know God. Here’s what you need to know: If you will just act on that tug you feel in your heart, God will take care of the rest. He’ll begin to develop within you a hunger for Him and a passion for His Word. And, if you will simply begin where You are He will take you where He wants you to go.
Philosopher Emile Cailliet was born in a small French village near the end of the 19th century. His early education was committed to naturalism, leaving no room for God or supernatural intervention in human affairs. His godless philosophy, however, didn’t help him deal with the horrors of WWI Confronted with the horrors of war, he asked:
What use, the ill-kept, ancient type of sophistry in the philosophic banter of the seminar, when your own buddy—at the time speaking to you of his mother—dies standing in front of you, a bullet in his chest. Was there a meaning to it all? A [person] can endure anything if only it appears meaningful…. I, too, felt—not with my reason, but with my whole being—that I was naked and, war or no war, destined to perish miserably when the hour came.
And one night a bullet did find Cailliet. An American field ambulance crew saved his life, and after a nine-month hospital stay, he was discharged and resumed his graduate studies. But his books no longer seemed like the same books; he had lost his motivation. Reading at length in philosophy and literature, he found himself probing in depth for meaning. He testifies:
During long night watches in the foxholes I had in a strange way been longing—I must say it, however queer it may sound—for a book that would understand me. But I knew of no such book. Now I would in secret prepare one for my own private use. And so, as I went on reading for my courses, I would file passages that would speak to my condition, then carefully copy them in a leather-bound pocket book I would always carry with me. The quotations, which I numbered in red ink for easier reference, would lead me as it were from fear and anguish, through a variety of intervening stages, to supreme utterances of release and jubilation.
At last, the day came when he put the finishing touches on, as he said it, "the book that would understand me." He describes a beautiful, sunny day in which he sat under a tree and opened his precious anthology. As he read, however, he was overcome by a growing disappointment. Instead of speaking to his condition as he expected, the passages only reminded him of their context—of the circumstances of his labor over their selection. Then, Cailliet says, he knew that the whole undertaking would not work, simply because it was of his own making. It carried no strength of persuasion. In a dejected mood, he put the little book back into his pocket.
On that same day, Cailliet's wife had come into the possession of a Bible by extraordinary circumstances. Emile had always been adamant that religion would be taboo in their home, and at the age of 23 had never even seen a Bible. But at the end of that disappointing day, when she apologetically tried to explain how she had providentially (as he would later realize!) picked up a copy of the Bible, he was eager to see it. He describes what happened next:
I literally grabbed the book and rushed to my study with it. I opened it and "chanced" upon the Beatitudes. I read and read and read—now aloud with an indescribable warmth surging within…. I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realization dawned upon me: This was the Book that would understand me! I needed it so much, yet, unaware, I had attempted to write my own—in vain. I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the Gospels. And lo and behold, as I looked through them, the one of whom they spoke, the one who spoke and acted in them, became alive in me
Here’s what I’m telling you today: Life can change! You can be different! Your life will change when your relationship with God’s word changes. It will happen when you see yourself in it, when you do something about it, and most of all when you devote yourself to it. Life changes when you internalize God’s word.