February 2005
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A Day of New Beginnings (con't)

He is now about 26 years old, and he along with every living Hebrew had never heard nor read directly from the Book of the Law. It had long ago been lost or hidden. We are not told how it was lost. Maybe in a time of national upheaval those in charge of the Book were afraid it might be destroyed or carried off. Or it could be that with the great influx of pagan religions and priests that the Book of the Law was no longer used as it once was. Along the way it was misplaced and forgotten, and for years and years the Book is not even missed. Now imagine the sensation of learning that while the workers were rebuilding the temple of the Lord the Book of the Law had been found!

Hilkiah the priest announces this to King Josiah and begins to read from the Book. The experience overwhelms Josiah, and as a demonstration of his faith, humility, and brokenness before a holy God he tears his clothes. Without a doubt Hilkiah reads from those passages that point out how far Judah has turned from Jehovah God over the last 300 years. I can imagine that the high priest turned to Deuteronomy and read the Shema that we find in chapter 6, that sacred passage above all others calling the people of God to holiness and unswerving faith to God.

By the tearing of his clothes we understand that Josiah immediately is reminded how this people who have been loved and nurtured for over a thousand years by Jehovah have rebelled and now stand far from His goodness and purpose for their lives. They are a sinful people full of themselves who seek after their own comfort and convenience. They have exchanged obedience and allegiance to a Holy perfect God for the gods and empty pursuits of this world. The holy things of the temple have been desecrated and the tools and images of idols have been placed all about. The covenant had long ago been broken. Many of the priests had become caught up in the pagan beliefs of the surrounding nations and the truth had been corrupted and lost in the resulting syncretism or hodge-podge that resulted. Worship booths and altars were found on every hillside, and some had even been used to sacrifice children to pagan gods. Many evil kings had ruled both Israel and Judah and their murderous, abominable, treacherous acts brought the nations lower and lower.

Josiah must have the counsel of the Lord's greatest prophets and servants in order to rightly respond to the word of God. Jeremiah and Zephaniah were both prophets living in Jerusalem during the reign of Josiah, yet the high priest Hilkiah, the scribe or secretary Shaphan, and the other temple leaders went to Huldah the prophetess to inquire of the Lord the meaning of the Book of the Law which had been discovered in the rebuilding of the temple.

The prophetess, speaking in the name of the Lord, shares her message of judgement on the nation of Judah. God promises evil upon Judah because they have forsaken Him. The people of God have turned their backs on the One who had raised them up, brought them out of slavery, given them their own land, and prospered them. Blessing and goodness lay before them if they would honor the covenant, but they chose rebellion, sin, and disobedience. They followed after other gods burning incense and worshiping them, and this for hundreds of years. They have kindled the anger of El Shaddai the Almighty, the Great God of the Hebrews, and their end is not far away.

Consider what one commentator says about this passage as he compares the neglect and loss of the Book of the Law with a Christianity today that emphasizes a particular theme of faith or promotes some current teaching while ignoring or stepping around the rest of the truth of the word of God. "What greater contempt of God can we show, than to refuse to read his word, when put into our hands; or, reading it, to refuse to believe and obey it?"

The news for Judah was very bad. Josiah tore his robes and wept in the presence of the Lord, and the Everlasting God of Glory, the Living God, the King of Kings, the Ancient of Days heard him. The reforms of Josiah were widespread, and for a brief time Judah took a step in the right direction, but with Josiah's death Judah soon died too.

A study of church growth among the 42,000 plus churches in the Southern Baptist Convention found 70 percent of them have plateaued or are declining. It is a 20-year trend that has disturbed many SBC leaders. The study classified 30.3 percent of churches as growing, 45.8 percent as plateaued, and 23.9 percent as declining—an increase of 6 percent from an SBC study for 1978 to 1983.

But "growing" can be misleading, says study leader Bill Day of New Orleans Baptist Seminary. He said 1,409 churches in the growing category reported no baptisms in 2003, and some others have a member-to-baptism ratio of as much as 1,100 to 1. The lack of conversions suggests much purported growth is really a reshuffling of Baptist members, he added.

Taking into account reshuffling and non-conversion additions the numbers become even more alarming. Only 11 percent, or some 4,600 churches, qualify as healthy and growing.

When we claim to be a people of God and have the richness of His truth at our fingertips, we dishonor Him by choosing only those things that we are comfortable with while we ignore His call to be the people of God in our communities.

He says, "you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength", but we say "that takes up too much time from the things of the world that we are already in love with. We will love with a portion of our heart, mind, soul, and strength."

He says, "love your neighbor as yourself", but we say "God, you don't know my neighbor. He is unlovely and unlovable. He has offended me and I will not humble myself to love him."

He says, "forgive one another as I have forgiven you", but we say "I can never forgive such wrongs done me."

He says, "present your bodies holy and living sacrifices", but we say "to die to self is not for me" and we crawl off of the altar of sacrifice to immerse ourselves in self gratification.

He says, "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit...keep it pure and undefiled," but we say "it's my body so I can treat it any way I want and fill it with anything I find desirable."

He says, "don't let the sun go down on your anger and let no bitter root grow up in your heart," but we say "I have every right to be angry and to hold onto that anger until it consumes me and destroys those around me."

He says, "be one as Jesus and the Father are one, caring for one another, and always desiring God's best in the lives of others," but we say "I can't be one with someone who doesn't agree with me or who is different than I am."

He says, "it's not about you, for you must humbly serve one another and consider others better than yourself," but we say "it's all about me and I will watch out for me and mine and try to get all I can."

He says, "go into all the world preaching, teaching, and baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ," but we say "I'm too old, or too young, or too busy, or too poor, or too inexperienced in those sorts of things."

He says, "pray without ceasing because the prayer of the righteous accomplishes much," but we say "prayer is too boring and time consuming."

He says, "if you claim to love God whom you can't see but don't love your brother who you can see, then you're a liar and the love of the Father is not in you," but we say "I'm just as good as the next person, and I will only love those who love me first."

He says, "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added to you," but we say "I'll seek God's kingdom and righteousness after I've pursued and added all these other things to my life."

Not one bit of healing will take place in our lives and churches until we, like clay in the potter's hands, will allow ourselves to be broken, melted down, and molded into the man or woman of God that He has purposed for us. Until there is confession of sin there is no forgiveness. Until there is repentance there can be no change. Until the knee has bowed before God and our brother, we cannot be lifted up.

Josiah was a man who lived in the middle of a very troubling and wicked situation, but he purposed in his heart to love the Lord His God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. How about us? Are we willing to do whatever is necessary to become more like Jesus Christ and allow Him to use us for great change and revival in our church, home, work, and school? This is business of the most serious kind, and it is not about us, it is about who will be Lord and Master of all our goings and comings. Today is the day of new beginnings.

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Strawberry Baptist Association
163 West Main, Bedford, VA 24523

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Updated 1/26/2005
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