Every four years we are bombarded with promises from politicians to reform America. Eight years ago it was the promise to bring “Hope and Change.” This year it is the promise to “Make America Great Again.” Such promises are effective in gathering votes, but history has taught us that even the most effective leaders can only manage to bring temporary reform. Once these leaders are gone the political and bureaucratic establishment quickly reasserts itself and the nation finds itself returning to the old ways, often in even a worse shape than before the reforms.
This is exactly what happened in the days of Josiah, king of Judah. Josiah was Judah’s most godly king, but his reforms did not last. They did not last because Josiah was not able to address the real problems of his nation. The real problem of his nation was humanity’s bondage to and guilt from sin. There is only one King and One Ruler who can address these issues and his name is Jesus Christ!
Before we look at Jesus, let us look at Josiah, his reforms and ultimately his failure.
Our Scripture texts today say some astonishing things about Josiah.
And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.
Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.
Imagine that, Josiah’s righteousness exceeded that of David and Hezekiah! He was the model king and ruler. There has never been, nor will there ever be a human ruler like him! In this year in which so many people are frustrated by the poor choices they are offered by both major political parties, can you imagine what a joy it would be to have a candidate of the caliber of Josiah?
We might even think it was actually possible for America to be great again. But such a hope would be ill founded, for after his death, Josiah’s son and nation quickly returned to their idolatrous ways. Josiah’s reforms were broad, encompassing all of Judah and much of former Israel, but they were shallow reforms. Josiah’s Reforms Were Not Lasting…
His reforms were not lasting, because they did not reform the hearts of the people. As we will be learning, Jeremiah spent his life calling for the people to reform their hearts, but they were unable to reform their hearts. One of the passages that reveals the darkness of the human heart is found in Jeremiah 18:
Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’
This same sentiment is express by Lady Gaga in her song, “Born That Way.” Claiming to be free, the identity politics of our culture deny the very foundation of true human freedom--the freedom “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” As Paul so clearly teaches, the human race is in slavery to sin and powerless to free themselves from it.
The consequence of our sin is to be under God’s wrath. Josiah did not fail only because he could not change Judah and Israel’s hearts, he failed because he was unable to redeem them from God’s wrath. This is what our text clearly teaches:
Still the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.
For there to be lasting reform there would need to be redemption and revival. A redemption and revival that would only come from Jesus. Only Jesus Can Bring Lasting Reform…
A foundational passage that speaks of how Christ was able to both redeem us from the curse and renew our hearts is found in Galatians 3:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Notice that Paul writes of Christ accomplishing two things: 1) He freed us from the curse of the law. That is the just condemnation our sins deserve. 2) He gives the promised Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that would give us the new hearts promised by Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
As we learned last week, as heirs of Abraham we are called to “bless the nations.” This blessing includes not only our own nation, but every other nation in the world! So the question of how a nation can be blessed or “great again” is a relevant one. As we will be learning in a few weeks, God instructs the exiles in Babylon to be a blessing to the foreign cities they are living in:
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Far too many Christian attempt to bring God’s blessing to their nation apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. For some “mercy ministries” and “social reform” replace the gospel itself! One only has to remember the “Social Gospel” of the 19th and 20th centuries. This false gospel did not bring a blessing to the nations, it only destroyed entire denominations.
Moreover, we need to take seriously Jesus’ words when he said, “my Kingdom is not of this world.” The Kingdom blessing of Christ can and DO spill over into this life, but let us never forget that we will not enjoy the full measure of Christ’s blessings until the resurrection and the new heaven and new earth. We are not calling people to a “pie in the sky” dream, but a sure and certain “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for us. (1 Peter 1:4)
In conclusion, let us not let this political season led us into despair or into false hope. Even if Josiah himself was running for President, he would not be our “best and last hope.” Jesus our only hope.
In 1834, Edward Mote penned these words:
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand—
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand."
Will you take out your hymns, turning to page 404 and join in singing this great hymn?