American Idols - 1 Kings 22
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American Idols - 06.18.2023
[1 Kings 22:41-50]
You can’t “almost” be a Christian. That’s like being “sort of” pregnant, or “partially” surrender in battle. I saw a post, it was just a joke, but it was an advertisement - it said, “Parachute for sale, only used once, never opened.” [pause]. I gotta say, if the parachute doesn’t open - it’s not a parachute, that’s an ambitious backpack. There’s an old classic movie called the Princess Bride, and there’s a moment where a character is supposed to be dead, but the medicine man played by Billy Krystal says, “no, no - he’s only MOSTLY dead.” It was a funny bit for the movie, but of course we all know that’s ridiculous. There are some things that you can’t “almost”, or “kind of”, or “sort of.” Like devotion to God, devotion is not graded on a curve.
Today we are continuing our study in the Chronological Bible. If you’re just joining us, we are reading through the entire bible in a year, and we’re a little over halfway done - which is sort of crazy! Now when I mention this I always give two little disclaimers. First, if you are just joining us for the first time - that’s okay, you don’t have to play catch up! The beauty of scripture is that the more you study, the better you can understand what you read - but even if you’re just jumping in you can still catch the shape of the picture being made. So a person who has studied the scriptures every single day for decades, and a child who has just picked up the Bible for the first time this morning can sit right next to one another and both learn something new. That’s a beautiful thing about scripture. Second, to read the Bible in a year means we are reading really fast. In our little moment together on Sunday morning, we can’t really get into all the detail that we might want to. The preachers at Aldersgate we work really hard to pull out main themes to give you what you need to understand this text, but we are skimming along the surface of some very deep waters. And if you would like to dive deeper, I want to make sure you know that we have Chronological bible studies throughout the week. We meet at both campuses at different times - and so if you want to go deeper, just reach out to the office and we can connect you with one of those groups.
Now, before we dive in I want to warn you. We are coming out of a season of wisdom literature. Past couple of weeks we’ve been reading poetry and proverbs (which are like little quippy pieces of advice), and wisdom literature is it’s own sort of animal, but now - we are diving back into the historical narrative. And after a couple of weeks in poetry land, jumping back into the history is a little bit like trying to drink from a fire hose. There is SO MUCH STUFF that happens in the reading from this past week. But, the core of what I want you to find in the text today has to do with idolatry. You can’t be “sort of” pregnant, you can’t be mostly a Christian, and you definitely cannot “almost” surrender to God. Let me show you what I mean.
[read v.41-44]. Alright, so let’s make sure we can kind of locate ourselves in the story. Everybody remembers Moses - he led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, they wandered in the desert. Then Joshua led them into the promise land, and then there was this period of fighting and conquest where they were lead by judges. And it was this rhythm of the people getting in trouble, God raises up a judge to save them, everything being good and then they get in trouble again and repeat. Then we get the monarchy - Israel gets kings. King Saul goes first, establishes the throne, messy hand off to King David who is a great warrior and does all the fighting. King Solomon takes over during a time of peace and prosperity - gives us the wisdom literature. But after Solomon, Israel goes through a civil war. It splits into two kingdoms - the northern kingdom, which is still called Israel and the southern kingdom, which is called Judah. This is when the prophets become super important. You might remember, we’ve talked about prophets before. When God gave Israel a monarchy, when he established the king he told them, “This is a really bad idea, the kings will go corrupt and take advantage of the people.” The people of Israel said, “we don’t care - give us a king.” So God established the monarchy, but he also created a role called the Prophet. The prophet was the mouthpiece of God, and his job was to go up to the king and smack him upside the head when he starts doing bad stuff. We saw it with King David and Bathsheba, with the prophet Nathan who came to David and showed him his sin. So then we fast forward to our scripture lesson and we’ve got the Prophet Elijah, and then after Elijah we get Elisha. And at this time the kingdom is full of idols and false Gods. The prophets, both Elijah and Elisha and all the other prophets - they’ve got their hands FULL running around trying to clean up the mess the kings are making. I think a decent comparison to Elisha running around the kingdom trying to clean up after the kings is that it’s sort of like running around with a pooper scooper behind a dog.
So let’s hear it again, [read v43-44]. Jehoshaphat, not just a fun thing to say when you sneeze, Jehoshaphat was a good king. He was a king of Judah, the southern kingdom - and he did a good job, BUT he failed to remove the pagan shrines, and people kept worshipping false gods. He was ALMOST obedient to God. He did a good job, except for this one thing over here. Which is sort of like being faithful to your wife all the days except for Thursdays. It just doesn’t work like that! You can’t sort of obey God. There’s no “kind of” when you’re talking about worshipping God. And here’s what I want you to catch - There is a rhythm in Israel’s history of kings who almost follow God, and that is the reason the country is in almost constant turmoil. Jehoshaphat comes first, but ten chapters later we’ve got king Jehu doing the same thing. Each king would come in, destroy SOME of the bad stuff, but not all of it. Jehoshaphat got rid of the prostitutes that were such a problem during his dad’s kingdom, but he left the pagan shrines. Then 2 Kings chapter 10, verse 26 says [read 26-28]. So that’s pretty good, takes the place of public worship of false Gods and turns it into a public toilet - insult AND injury. Butttt.. [read v.29]. Got rid of Baal worship, but left up the golden calves. It says that Jehu did not worship God with ALL his heart. Just some of it, and the kingdom of Israel suffered. And then it happens AGAIN with King Joash, 2 Chronicles 24, [read v.4] and then in verse 13, [read v.13]. So he does all this work restoring the temple with his buddy the priest Jehoiada, but as soon as Jehoiada the priest dies… [read v.17-19].
Now that’s just three examples, but you catch the rhythm, right? The king wants to do what’s right - so he gives part of his life, part of the country over to God. But he keeps something for himself. Pagan shrines, golden calves, asherah poles - whatever it is, there is a piece that the king tries to keep for himself. What we learn from that is that there are no half measures in worshipping God. If you want to call yourself a Christian, you’ve got to be all in - 100% submitted to God, and only God. But let’s take a second and pull this story into the here and now. How many of you have ever been tempted to worship a golden calf? Nobody? Huh, how strange. How about an Asherah pole? Anybody getting pulled off track by an Asherah pole in this world? No? That’s so weird. And you’re probably thinking, “yeah, we’re not silly primitive people like those dumb Israelites.” So let me ask one more question - anybody know the going rate for a ticket to Taylor Swift’s Eras tour? Don’t worry - I looked it up because I was curious. It varies widely depending on the stadium, some places it’s just over $100 for nosebleeds, some stadiums are averaging $1,000 - but according to Ticketsmarter.com, the average price you'll pay for entry to see Taylor Swift perform live is $4691.72. Now, I’m not saying Taylor Swift is some sort of false God idol - if you love her music and get a chance to see her perform, that’s great. Actually, let me walk that back for a second. Taylor Swift is fun to poke fun at because she’s having a big, flashy cultural moment - but on a much smaller level, how many of us are tempted to go out to dinner an extra time each week, instead of donating to a homeless shelter. How many of us are tempted to get that designer coffee three times a week instead of giving our 10% to the church? I’m not trying to make you feel guilty - but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we are somehow better than ancient Israel. We are just as likely to slip into idol worship.
Actually, that leads us to the second big thing I want you to grab onto from the text. We are, as human beings, we are designed for worship. In our heart of hearts, are the core of who we are, we were created with a burning desire to worship something. And I’m not just talking about Christianity, people will walk away from the church, but their life is still aimed at worship. Maybe they stopped going to church, but they got really involved in politics or social issues. They go to meetings, gather with like minded folks, they get all pumped up by passionate speakers, they donate their time, they donate their money, they go door to door handing out pamphlets trying to convince others to join their cause. Now you tell me - am I talking about the democrat party, the republican party, or the Jehovah Witnesses? Human beings can walk away from the church, but we can’t run away from the desire to fill our lives with worship. For some families their worship is wrapped up in sports, or their job, their video games or social media presence. GK Chesterton, who was buddies with CS Lewis, he once wrote, “when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” Humans beings are created for worship, and if we do not put God at the center of that urge, we will find something else - but it won’t be as satisfying. Psalm 100 puts it like this, [read v.1-5]. That’s the whole chapter, but right there in the middle - God made us, and we are HIS. Worshipping God is the source of true purpose and true fulfillment for this silly little group called human beings. So the first thing we see in the text - 1.) You can’t “almost” surrender to God. And 2.) we were designed to be creatures who worship.
That brings us to the final piece. Jehoshaphat, Jehu, Joash - each of them picked a different thing to try and worship. Golden calves, pagan shrines, asherah poles - and for every single one of them - the idols disappointed. This is the third key teaching - Idols will always break your heart. If you try to center your purpose, your drive, your identity on something less than God - it will crumble. Idols will always break you heart. Tim Keller puts it like this, “An Idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.” Whatever you look at in life and say, “OHHH, if I could just have that - THEN I will finally be satisfied” But here’s the secret - Idols will always disappoint. Idols will always let you down. I think that’s confusing for a lot of us, because we have built idols out of things we don’t have. We fool ourselves - if I just had that awesome job, or better vacations, or better connections with my family, or a better spouse, or whatever - if I just had everything the world has to offer, then I would be satisfied. But here’s the problem - we live in a culture where people have actually achieved that level. They have all the fame, more money than they could ever actually spend, they have the nicest cars, the most incredible homes and go on the world’s greatest vacations - and over and over and over we find that it is not enough. And I think one of the greatest ways we fool ourselves is to say, “well, maybe those rich people aren’t satisfied - but I would be.” [shake your head no] There is a hole in the heart of humnanity, and nothing in this world can fill it. Idols will always break your heart.
The good news this morning is that nothing can withstand the weight of all your worship, except for God. Nothing can withstand the weight of all your hopes and dreams, your deepest desires, the core of your identity and the resonance of your soul - except for God. Only the love of God can truly satisfy you. He is the only one who can complete you, because he is the one who made you. So our response to that is to turn all of our worship to God. Don’t “sort of” be a Christian. Go all in and commit 100% of your life to Jesus. I think about those three kings, Jehoshaphat, Jehu and Joash, and how they all got rid of some of their idols. Like a set of keys [hold up your keys]. I’ll give God the Baal worship, but I’m going to keep the pagan shrines or the golden calves. In our lives, I’m going to give God Sunday morning, He can have that key. But Monday morning, on the way to work - I don’t want to act like a follower of Jesus on the way to work. Or Friday night, I want to live my life MY way. I’ll give Jesus Tuesday afternoon for Bible study, but the key to my budget? The key to my social life? The key to my job, my family, my marriage? Give God the whole set of keys. Give God every part of your life, dedicate your heart to the one thing that can actually handle it. Dedicate your life to the greatest purpose it could ever have - to obeying Jesus. There is no substitute for God, nothing else will satisfy you.
So my challenge to you should be pretty obvious - I want you to give God the whole set of keys. Get rid of all the “kinda, sorta, maybe, almost” language - and completely surrender to God with your life. I quoted Tim Keller earlier, and he actually has a brilliant book called “Counterfeit Gods” and it’s all about idolatry. He was an incredibly smart man and a gifted pastor. And when his book came out he gave a talk, and he shared this story I wanted to close with.
When Tim was a young pastor, he met a woman who had lived a very hard life. She was in her 40’s, she’d been in and out of jail, in and out of drug addiction - she looked a lot older than her age. And she told her story, apparently in her life she had been cursed by being born beautiful. She was a beautiful baby, she was a beautiful little girl, and apparently she was an absolutely beautiful young woman. And because of that there were always men after her, especially powerful men - men who thought having a beautiful woman like that was an symbol of their power. And because of that, she had turned male affection into the idol of her life. She literally felt she was nobody unless somebody loved her - especially a man. And as a result, she did not put up decent boundaries, she was not selective about who she was with, she just always needed one. And so she was the subject of abuse sometimes even violence, in and out of drug addiction - she had a horrible life.
Then it all broke down, and eventually she became a Christian. She became a Christian and she also started therapy. And the therapist was really happy, was very helpful to her. But she told Tim, my therapist told me my problem is that I based my self imagine, my significance, and my security on male affection. And she looks at the therapist and says, “right.” And the therapist said, “well, this is terrible for you, there’s no boundaries, abuse, etc.” And she says, “right.” “You can’t love yourself unless you know a man loves you. And she says, “right.” And the Therapist says, “so here’s what I want you to do. You’ve got to get a career. You’ve got to become a successful career woman. You’ve got to get the rest of your education, get a marketable skill, and then you get a career, and you’ll be self sufficient and you’ll feel good about yourself, because you’ll be a successful career woman.” And she looks at her therapist and says, “look, with all due respect. You’ve helped me so much. But let me just ask - you want me to take a typical female idol, which I’ve built my life on and which has destroyed my life. And now you want me to adopt a typical male idol, so instead of getting all my self esteem from a man loving me, I’m going to get all of my self esteem from being successful and making money… but what if I don’t want either addiction?” Can’t you let me build my life on something that doesn’t let me down? Can’t I build my life on something that doesn’t depend on me performing and earning my salvation?” And the therapist says, “Well I don’t know.” But she did know. She knew that Jesus died for her. And Jesus loved her. And Jesus poured himself out for her. Every other man had come into her life and said, “your life for mine”, but Jesus came into her life and said, “my life for you.” And so Jesus became her treasure. The one thing that is actually strong enough to be her foundation.
Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting a good job or a great marriage. There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about sports or politics, hobbies, vacations or even great musicians. But if you are tired of the relentless pursuit of this world. If you are exhausted by the rat race, constantly chasing after false promises of all the little idols this world has to offer, and the crushing disappointment when you discover that this thing isn’t enough to satisfy you either. Then I want to invite you to turn to the one thing your soul actually needs. Turn all of your worship to God, and he will fulfill you as nothing else in the entire created universe can.
Nothing can withstand the weight of all your worship except for God. Nothing can withstand the weight of who you are, with all your hopes and dreams, your deepest desires, the core of your identity and the resonance of your soul - except for God. We all pick different idols, different things that we try to fit into that God shaped hole in our hearts, but idols will always break our hearts. So dedicate your heart, your whole heart, all your keys, to the one thing that can handle it. You can’t be kind of pregnant, you can’t be mostly dead. You can’t be a parachute if you don’t open, and you can’t be a Christian without throwing away your idols and giving all your worship to God. Let’s pray.