Cantate (The Fourth Sunday after Easter) May 10, 1998
2 Kings 23:1-3
24, 279, 388, 410
Then King Josiah sent them to gather all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem—the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord. Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people took their stand for the covenant. Here ends our text.
Dear Fellow-Redeemed in Christ,
The other night I was watching an educational program about the origins of the English language. The host of the program pointed out how important the railroad was in the development of America in the 1800s. The result is that an amazing number of railroad expressions have come down into modern American speech. I’d never thought about it that way, but it’s true. “Letting off steam,” “whistle stop,” “making the grade”—those are all railroad expressions. If a person neglects something big and concentrates on less important things, we say he’s been “sidetracked.” When a person sets something right in his life again, we say he’s “back on track.”
You’re a Christian, aren’t you? If you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be here listening to me right now. As Christians, we are followers of Jesus. That’s the one most important thing in our lives. Or at least it should be the most important thing in our lives—Do you ever feel like you’ve been “sidetracked”? Like there are just too many things crowding in on your life? Crowding God out? If so, maybe it’s time to do something about it! Our theme this morning is—
Have you ever heard of Josiah before? Probably not. He was a rather obscure king of Judah during the last few decades before the people of Israel were taken into captivity in Babylonia. He’s worth remembering, though. Because he got people of Judah (temporarily, at least) back on track with God. And he sure chose the right time for it. The people had been ignoring the Lord for generations. The two kings before him, his father and grandfather, had led the people in worshipping idols. Things had gotten so bad that one day the chief priest stumbled across a copy of the Holy Scriptures in the temple, and he didn’t even know what it was! But he read it, and the book was brought and read before the king. “And when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law…he tore his clothes.” II Kings 22:11. Josiah was upset! If what the words in this book said were true, then his people had gone way off the track! “So the king sent them to gather all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to him.” Josiah didn’t waste any time—he saw that a major reform was needed. Somehow, he had to get back on track with God, and the time to do it was immediately—RIGHT NOW!
What about you? Has your personal relationship with God been sidetracked lately? Has it gone off the rails altogether? I had a class on American Indians once. I remember the professor talking about the interesting way that the Hopi Indians adapted to the invading Spanish, who forced them all to become Roman Catholics. He said the Hopis had no problem—they “compartmentalized”. They just made the Catholic religion one more “compartment” in their life, along with their native religion, their work, their family, and their recreation. The professor casually stated that Christians do the same thing today.
Was he right? Do we compartmentalize our faith? What about your prayer life? Your family devotions? Your attendance here at church, where God’s Word is preached? Is that just one more neat compartment in your life, along with your job, your family, and your recreation? Maybe it’s not even a very important compartment, compared with the others. If that’s the case, then you’ve been sidetracked! God requires much more than that. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” Matt. 22:37-38. And every single one of us has broken that commandment in one way or another!
NOW is the right time for US to get back on track with God. A man came up to a pastor one day and said, “Excuse me, Reverend. I’ve never been a church-going man, but I’ve been thinking lately that it’s about time to start. What do you think? When is the right time in a person’s life to start going to church?” “Well,” replied the pastor, “to play it safe, you’d better make sure you start attending church at least a month before the date of your death.” “But I don’t know the date of my death!” protested the man. “Neither do I,” said the pastor, “so I guess we’ll see you on Sunday, won’t we?”
My Christian friends, we can’t afford to gamble with eternity. NOW is the only safe time to come to the Lord Jesus. To the Savior who has promised to pull us out of any sinful mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, if we’ll only trust Him to do it. Jesus lifts that heavy yoke of sin and guilt off your shoulders—including the guilt you feel about not keeping the First Commandment: to love God and serve Him above everything else in your life. What better time could there be than this to rededicate our lives to the Lord? As St. Paul put it, “Behold, NOW is the accepted time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation!” II Cor. 6:2. NOW is the right time to get back on track with God—you haven’t got a minute to lose!
Josiah had made his resolution to start a reform. To get right with God again. It’s interesting to note the place he chose to carry out that decision—the Temple of the Lord. In our country, executive decisions are made in the White House, and legislative decisions are made in the Congress. In ancient Israel, the seat of the executive was the royal palace. The seat of the legislature was the city gate, where the elders of the people would meet to talk things over. Very significantly, Josiah bypassed both these places, and went to the one place it was proper to renew the people’s commitment to the Lord—THE LORD’S HOUSE! “And the king went up to the house of the Lord with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem—the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great; and he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord.” They wanted to get back on track with God, and they knew the right place to do it! They went to God’s house. The place where God was worshipped, and where God’s Word was read. Everybody went, from greatest to least, from the king on down to the poorest beggar. They went to confess their sin. They went to hear God’s Word and receive God’s forgiveness. They went to rededicate themselves to God’s service. To GET BACK ON TRACK WITH GOD!
Here, in the Lord’s house, is the right place for us, too, to get back on track with God. HERE is where God’s Word is preached! Have you ever seen a blast furnace? Do you know how they achieve such fantastically hot temperatures? By piping in pure oxygen to feed the flames. When you come to church on Sunday, your faith is fired and inspired by the pure Word of God that is preached from this pulpit. Here, every Sunday, is where you’ll get the fuel that your soul needs to keep your faith burning white-hot. God’s Law, and His Gospel. His word of repentance: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And His sweet word of forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John 1:8-9.
HERE is the right PLACE for us to get back on track with God. And there’s something else we gain by getting together with our fellow-Christians to worship God, and that’s heat by association. It’s pretty common to hear someone object, “Hey, I can read God’s Word at home. I don’t have to come to church to be a Christian.” And that’s true, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. A country pastor once went to visit one of his members—one who hadn’t been in church for quite a while. He came into the house, and sat down quietly with the man by the blazing fireplace. The man was expecting a sermon, but the pastor never said a word. Then, after a few minutes of silence, the pastor picked up the fireplace tongs. He pulled one burning coal out of the fire and laid it all by itself on the hearthstone. They sat in silence and watched as the coal went from red-hot, to a dull orange, until finally it was cold and black. “Don’t say a word, Pastor,” the man said, “I’ll be in church this Sunday, and every Sunday after that!”
Get the point? One thing our worship here gives us is heat by association! God’s house is where believers join together to praise and worship Him, and to encourage one another in the faith. We need that heat. Without it we run the risk of letting our faith grow cold, and die. That’s why the writer to the Hebrews said, “Let us consider how we can stimulate one another to love and to do good works. Let us not stay away from our worship services, as some are regularly doing, but let us encourage one another, all the more as we see the day coming nearer.” Heb. 10:24-25 AAT.
Josiah and his people had been sidetracked for a long time. So they did something about it! “Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people took their stand for the covenant.” All of us, as well, are guilty, to some extent, of letting ourselves be sidetracked from our service to God. Jesus has earned us forgiveness for this guilt, too. Do you want to get back on track with God? NOW is the right TIME! HERE is the right PLACE!—To rededicate ourselves to the Lord. To renew the covenant of salvation with our God. Right now, right here, let’s take our stand for the Gospel! Let’s join in the words of Joshua, who told his fellow Israelites, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (AAT) are from An American Translation, William Beck, © 1976 Mrs. William Beck. Used by permission.