Sermon by Tony Hobbs – 4th March 2018
DEALING WITH CHANGE
Listening and responding to God’s word
A bit about Josiah
Josiah was king of Judah (southern kingdom) from 640 – 609 BCE.
He reigned when the kingdom had been in serious religious decline for a long while, moving further and further away from following the Lord and ignoring His entreaties to repent.
Josiah was a rare good king, who sought to walk in God’s ways.
Change starts with worship
Josiah recognises that worshipping the Lord should be central to the nation’s identity. In practical terms, key to this is the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Temple had fallen into disrepair, and rebuilding had stalled. Josiah changes this by allowing the workers to work on trust – as opposed to operating tight financial controls.
Probably this isn’t just about accounting practices but generating a sense of trust and commitment.
It’s a small change that results in big change.
Something more important than the building
The repair work speeds up. During the work the book of the Law is discovered.
We don’t know exactly what this was, although there are reasons to conjecture it was some or all of the book of Deuteronomy.
The reading of it is shocking: it gives God’s perspective on all that is happening to the nation.
The book of the Law wasn’t new. It had been available throughout the nation’s steady decline.
To put it another way, Scripture had always been available but ignored and neglected until it was forgotten and effectively buried. (Remind you of anything?)
When Josiah hears God’s word read to him, he is stunned.
It explains all that is happening and why.
Josiah seeks prophetic guidance to understand better the implications of what he’s heard and what he should do.
We know nothing else about the prophetess Huldah, although her message is in line with the prophets of the period who are known to us.
Josiah receives a disturbing prophetic message: that the nation’s disobedience has gone so far away from God that disaster is inevitable.
But he is given personal reassurance that his own faithfulness will be honoured by the Lord.
Such a message could have encouraged Josiah to do nothing! Instead, he organises national repentance and seeks to renew the covenant with the Lord.
This appears to have had significant benefit. Society changed for a while and, so far as it’s possible to judge, the expected disaster delayed.
Being good, good – but not enough
Josiah was seeking to be good: to do the right things, to act in good ways.
But being good, being ethical, was not enough to deal with the big situation.
However, his seeking to do what was right opened up an opportunity for God’s greater involvement in his life.
Trying to do right is never enough to meet God’s standards, but it may open up opportunities for God’s involvement. But contrast, doing wrong may close down opportunities.
The role of Scripture in change
It is listening to God’s word that gives Josiah a true understanding of the nation’s current relationship with the Lord.
Scripture prompts Josiah to seek more of what God has to say – and God responds.
Josiah is not content with better understanding, but brings about change – repentance and recommitment to God’s promises – based on what God has said.
Parallels with society today are obvious:
As nations move further and further away from God’s standards, society gets worse and worse.
The Bible has, throughout the decades of decline, been available but increasingly ignored.
For example, can we imagine the British parliament turning to Scripture in an important debate? (It happened in the past!)
But when we think of parallels between OT Israel and today, the closer parallel isn’t with individual countries but with the church, or churches.
Judah hadn’t ignored all that God had said: they had embraced the warm, comforting things but become negligent about appropriate lifestyle responses to God’s love.
Churches too can become negligent of the whole Bible, over-emphasising the comfortable bits and ignoring the more challenging parts – the parts that are often crucial to our developing holiness.
As individuals there are a couple of challenges to us, even when we are committed to the Bible’s authority.
Josiah could have stopped with understanding. He didn’t. Understanding led to outworking in his life (and the life of others).
Increased Biblical knowledge is a good thing! But we mustn’t stop there. Data acquisition is not enough. Increased knowledge should have lifestyle impact.
Can we observe our growing, can others observe us growing, as we engage with Scripture?
The other challenge is are we neglecting parts of Scripture, dwelling on the comfortable bits, the familiar bits?
We may need help in understanding some of the difficult bits, just as Josiah sought Huldah’s help. (Remembering the God was quick to answer!)
But a key principle from this passage is that if we want truly to understand what’s going on for us, and to respond, make changes in line with God’s will, then we need to engage with Scripture.