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God and Neighbor - 2 Kings 23

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08.06 2023 sermon notes
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There’s an old story about a bishop who was visiting a church in California. And he looked on the way, and saw this beautiful, stirring red and orange banner on the wall. And it said in big letters, “Come Holy Spirit, Hallelujah!” And the words were boldly printed under a picture of a fire burning. And the bishop stood for a moment, admiring the banner, appreciating the message - the fire of God, the fire of the Holy Spirit coming into our hearts. It’s something every Christian prays for. God’s presence, the fire of God to be with us. Then the Bishop noticed another sign right beneath the banner, and it said “Fire Extinguisher located in the sanctuary.” Yikes. Hopefully that’s not a commentary on the pastor.

Today we are continuing our study in the Chronological Bible. As a church we are reading the entire bible in a year, but we’re not reading it cover to cover. Chronological means that we’re reorganizing the Bible so that the dates are in chronological order. Now we are over halfway through the Bible - if you can believe that. Now I’ve been gone for a couple of weeks on vacation (it was lovely, thank you for asking. No it was not relaxing, I have children - but it was wonderful.). And I do want to say thank you so much to Rev Chuck and Rev Len for bringing a good word while I was away. But as a way of getting back into it, I want to zoom out for a second and look at the big picture, the 30,000 foot vantage point. If you brought your bible with you this morning, I want you to open it up for a second to the table of contents. In the Chronological Bible it’s before the introduction, right after the “general timeline” - it says, “beginning pages for books of the Bible” Now I’m going to nerd out for a second, but it’s just because I have something really cool to show you about prophets.

Now if you’ve got your table of contents in front of you. I think we’ve got a picture, let’s put that on the screen to help people. My bible’s not quite so colorful as that - you’ll notice the Bible is split into two big chunks - the Old Testament, and the New Testament. Old Testament was before Jesus, New Testament starts out with Jesus. Now I want to look at the New Testament for a second. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Gospels. That’s the story of Jesus told from four different perspectives. The collected eye-witness accounts, put together by people who were there or they knew people who were there. And then the book of Acts is all the stuff the disciples did after Jesus ascended into heaven. You remember, right - died, rose from the dead - crazy. Ascended into heaven - also crazy, amazing. Then the disciples do stuff, but what I want you to see is that the rest of the New Testament is made up of letters written to specific congregations. Romans is a letter written to Rome, Corinthians is a letter written to Corinth, and on and on. And some of those letters were written during the events of the book of Acts. There’s an element where the Testament starts out with history, and then has the commentary on it afterwards. The way it’s organized - first, here’s what happened, the historical events, and then over here is the commentary on it. And those letters were written to early churches about the problems they were having - and we have those same problems in our lives today, which is why these books of the Bible are so useful and resonate with us in our lives even today.

Here’s what I want you to see - the Old Testament has the same structure. In the picture on the screen you see the orange section is the history. The History is quite a bit longer in the Old Testament, Old Testament is a lot bigger, covers a lot more ground. And the prophets, the mouthpiece of God, the guy whose job it was to go up to the king or the people and smack them upside the head and get them back on track. The prophets are the commentary. The prophets in the old testament and the letters in the new testament occupy the same function. You’ve got the history, now here’s what God’s leaders are saying about it. You following that? Okay, now for extra bonus points let’s go one level deeper. I skipped a section. Old Testament doesn’t start with history, it starts with the law. It’s organized law - history - commentary on that history. The new testament has the history in the book of Acts, they’ve got the commentary in the letters - but what do they have instead of the law? It’s right on the screen, it’s in light purple. The gospels!! The story of Jesus occupies the same space as the law in the structure. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, and that’s a truth you find not just in the pages of scripture but even in the way the book is constructed. Amazing.

Now the cool thing about the Chronological bible is that you get the prophets sprinkled into the narrative. They show up in our reading in line with the history. This next slide shows you how they get sprinkled in. You see at the top the timeline, and then they list Major prophets and Minor Prophets (BTW, “major” just means “long-winded”, they’re long books of the Bible. Minor prophets are not less important, they just wrote shorter books.) You can see where they show up in the history. So again, zoomed out. At the top there - first we have the monarchy. King David, his son King Solomon, united Kingdom. After Solomon dies, there’s a civil war, and the kingdom splits in two. Northern Kingdom, Israel and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Now IF the kings of Israel had behaved themselves, the blessings of God would have continued on the kingdoms, and they would have prospered. Do you think the kings of Israel were good little boys? No! OF course not! Otherwise the prophets would be out of a job, most of the kings were TERRIBLE. And so what happens in history is that God uses a series of Empires to punish Israel. First Assyria shows up. They destroy the Northern Kingdom, Israel. But Judah is still hanging in there. They outlast the Assyrians, but then the Babylonians show up, and destroy Judah and all the tribes of Israel enter a period called the EXILE. A lot of our readings from this past week were from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was one of those prophets who was there when everything fell. He wouldn’t leave, and they had to like pick him up and carry him into exile. And so this is the backdrop for our story with Josiah. Josiah was a king of Judah. Israel, the Northern kingdom has been destroyed. Judah is still hanging in there, but eventually they will be destroyed by the Babylonian empire. We’re in between destructions right now.

So let’s dive into our scripture lesson, 2 Kings 23, verse 21 [read v.21-23]. So they’re having the passover celebration, which is a lot like our communion - they’re celebrating when God freed them from slavery in Egypt. But it says that this was a HUGE party. There had not been a passover celebration like that for hundreds of years - why? They’re supposed to do this every year, why was this year special? Well let’s go find out. We back up one chapter. Chapter 22, verse 3 [read v.3-5]. Josiah says, “hey, we’re going to restore the temple.” He assigns a bunch of guys to restore that old temple building that they haven’t used in forever. Israel has been not living God’s way for a really long time, they have’t done the passover in forever. But the priest Hilkiah finds something. Verse 8 [read v.8] And then down in verse 11, [read it].They find the law, then they read it, and Josiah freaks out because he realized something. Verse 13, [read it]. Let me repeat just that last line, “we have not been doing everything it says we must do!” They discover the law when they’re renovating the temple, and they realize - we are not living the way we are supposed to. Now let’s bring this into our lives today. Remember the structure, what’s the new testament version of the law - the gospel, Jesus. This is what conversion looks like. We discover Jesus, and we learn about him and the way he teaches God’s people to be, and then we look at our lives and we realize we are not living the way Jesus teaches. So then Josiah launches a massive campaign of reform. We found the law which teaches us how to live God’s way, we realized we’re not doing it right - and so we’re going to CHANGE our lives to match God’s way. This is the first major teaching I want you to pull from today. When God’s way and our way don’t match - we are the one’s who need to change. If you want to call yourself a Christian, you have to follow Christ’s way. If you want to go your own way, that’s your choice - it’s a free country, but you don’t get to call yourself a Christian anymore. When we give our lives to Jesus, we submit to God, we say, “I’m going to follow you Jesus.” When we do that, the Holy Spirit comes into our life. And the first thing the Holy Spirit does - the Holy Spirit does a lot of things in our lives, but the first thing the Holy Spirit does is CONVICT us. The primary function of the Holy Spirit is not the spiritual feel goods, the primary function of the Holy Spirit is to show us where our life is not lined up with God’s way. And we need to respond like Josiah did. Grief and then reform. Oh no! I’m not living the right way, that’s bad - but I’m going to get to work changing things in my life. We have found the law! We have found Jesus! Let’s change our lives to follow him.

The pastors were meeting this past week, and we were reading this text together. Pastor Matthew, Pastor Michael and myself - and Pastor Michael pointed out - this is what Aldersgate has gone through too. For a long time, Aldersgate has existed as a religious institution, but we didn’t know the word of God. We had forgotten the law. Our church is experiencing a revival - both campuses are growing. Over in Midland they had a VBS program that was twice the size of last years. Over here, we are prepping to multiply to a second service. And that’s not me, that’s not Matthew or Michael. We’re not doing anything brilliant or brand new. We didn’t unlock the secret of church growth or anything. We just reclaimed the scriptures. We are reading the Bible together as a church for the very first time, and we have seen the reformation it has brought to all of us.

Josiah is my favorite king of Israel. I love this story of realization, and repentance. It’s so amazing. It reminds me of this old story about a little town in Canada called Wabush. For a long time the town was WAY out there, and it was completely isolated. But then as things developed, they cut a road through the wilderness to reach it. And then for a long time, there was only one road leading all the way out to the town and, so there was also only one road back. If you wanted to drive the 6-8 hours to get to Wabush, the only way you could leave was by turning around. It’s like that in our lives. If we find ourselves traveling in the wrong direction - the only way to get back on track is to turn around, and we call that repentance.

But that’s not why Josiah is my favorite. I love his heart, I love his repentance, it’s an amazing example for us when we find sin in our lives. BUT, the reason Josiah is my favorite is what comes next. When Josiah heard the law, he rips his clothes, he grieves - and then he sends some messengers to consult with the prophet Huldah. He says, “go ask Huldah what God wants us to do.” Chapter 22, verse 16 is her response. [read v.16-17]. Now walk with me through this. They find the scroll, the find the law. They know they need to change. They ask the prophet and she says, “God’s punishment is coming. Nothing you can do to stop the punishment.” And THEN Josiah, even though the city is going to be destroyed no matter what, Josiah starts his reforms. I went for a run this past week. And my wife warned me, she said, “it’s going to rain in a little bit.” And I was like, “oh man, I need to get going.” I go around the corner, and the rain soaks me. I’m just getting started, I could have turned around, but I thought “I’m not going to get MORE wet. Might as well do the run.” The city is going to be destroyed, why is Josiah bothering to fix his life? Consequences are still coming, why not just keep sinning? Have you guys ever heard of “senioritis”? Seniors apply for college in the fall, most of them have acceptance letters by January. If you have an acceptance letter, the second semester doesn’t matter as much - you already got into college. So second semester Seniors sometimes have a lot of trouble motivating themselves. If destruction is still coming, the babylonian empire is still coming - why would Josiah go through all this work of fixing his country? Chapter 23, verse 24 [read v.24-25].

Here’s the key to understanding. The right thing is the right thing, regardless. God’s way is always the best way, even if it doesn’t change anything. Even if consequences still come. Some people obey God as a transaction. I will follow God, and he will bless me. But that’s the difference between God and a vending machine. My relationship with a vending machine is purely transactional. I have no love for that machine unless it gives me what I want in return for my dollar. But God’s way is always the best way, even if it doesn’t change anything. That transactional relationship with God, that’s called the “prosperity Gospel” and it’s a false Gospel. If you pray hard enough, God will be happy with you. If you send this money to a TV evangelist, God will send you blessings - it’s a lie. Worshipping God is not a transaction. The right thing is always the right thing, regardless of whether it benefits you or not.

Here’s another example. Do you guys remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? We have’n’t gotten to it yet, it’s in the book of Daniel, chapter 3. Broadstrokes, there’s these three guys who follow God, and there’s this King Nebuchadnezzar. He builds a giant statue and says, “bow down to it or I will throw you in a fiery furnace.” They refuse, we will only bow down to God. Remember this? So the King takes these three guys, Shadrach, Meshach, an Abednego, and he brings them to the fiery furnace. And I want you to hear their words to the king. He gives them one last chance. Bow down and I will keep you alive. And in Daniel 3, verse 16, [read v.16-17]. And then verse 18 in golden, listen to this, [read v.18]. God COULD save us. He is mighty. He is powerful. But EVEN if he lets us burn in a fiery furnace, we will never worship your false God. It’s not a transaction for them. Sure, yes - would love to be saved from the fire. But EVEN if God does not save us - the right thing is the right thing. God’s way is always the best way. IN our house we’ve got this letter board in our living room. And my wife puts bible verses and quotes on it. And for the last few months there have been seven words on that letter board. It says, “and if not, he is still good.” They are beautiful words, but I find them so challenging. Ask yourself, “What if God doesn’t answer your prayer the way you want?” What if there are consequences, or your life gets harder? What if the city still gets destroyed? Will you still love God? Do you believe down to your toes that God’s way is the best way, or are you just doing it for the perks? No matter what, God is still good.

And all of that gets us back to the original scripture lesson that we heard before the sermon. 2 Kings, chapter 23, verse 21, [read v.21-23]. I love this as the finale to the story. I know destruction and consequences are coming, but in this moment - we’re going to party God’s way. It reminds me of the prodigal son. Josiah and his people have been lost, but they found their way home, they found their way to repentance and the Father welcomes them with open arms and they have a celebration. A passover party unlike anything they’ve seen in generations.

See, here’s what I want you to pull from this. This is the good news we find in the story - if you have been lost.. you’ve never come to church before, you don’t know about this Jesus guy. Or maybe you do know, but you’ve slipped away from it, you fell off the path that is God’s way. Maybe you went to church as a kid, but you lost the scroll and don’t know what to do. Hear this good news - God did not forget you. Even if your life is far away from God - he did not forget you, so remember his ways. Read about Jesus, learn who he is - how he wants us to live. Revival in our hearts leads to revival in our lives. No matter what life throws at you tomorrow, God will still be good. You can forget God, but God can never forget you. He is the one who is steadfast, we are the ones who run away. God didn’t forget you, so remember his ways.

Did you know before they came up with the term “Christian” they used to call people who follow Jesus, “followers of the way.” I’ve been seeing that more and more in my devotions in the New Testament. We are followers of the way. Nowadays if you call us that, people might think you’re referencing the Mandalorian. This is the way. So I want to leave you with one final challenge. From the story of Josiah, and the person of Jesus Christ - our challenge this week and every week is to Keep the way of Jesus in front of you always. Josiah found the law, and that was amazing and led to reformation in Judah - but we are people of the new covenant. We didn’t find a dusty old book with a list of rules, think about the structure of the book. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. When we “find the law” like Josiah did, what we are actually finding is the person and presence of Jesus Christ the son of God and savior of the world. It’s so much BETTER than what Josiah found, AND more life changing. Keep the way of Jesus in front of you always. Give your life to Jesus, and let that repentance change everything about you.

I want to close with this thought - I think about the way they celebrated passover - it was this massive party, and in a moment we’re going to celebrate communion - and it all ties together. With communion we recognize that we are the body of Christ, we are the hands and feet of Jesus in our world. So keep the way of Jesus - and with communion there’s a challenge to go and be that for the world. There’s a prayer I say every time we do communion - and you’ll hear it in just a little bit. And there’s a line where I say, “may these gifts be for US the body of Christ, so that we may be for the world, the body of Christ - redeemed by his blood.” We keep the way of Jesus. We find Jesus, put his presence in our heart, and then we go and share that with the rest of the world. Let’s pray.


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