************ Sermon on 2 Chronicles 34 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on November 2, 2014

2 Chronicles 34:1-8,14-18,29-33; 35:16-18
"Josiah's Reformation"
Reformation Sunday

On this Reformation Sunday I want to look at the reformation that occurred when Josiah was king.

Josiah's reformation was not the first in the history of Judah. Kings Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, and Hezekiah also led times of reformation. But Josiah's was definitely the last.

I am amazed that God sent reformation when He did. If we compare the history of Judah to a clock, it is five minutes before midnight. He is one of the last kings to reign before the nation was overrun by the Babylonians. Yet, even at this late hour God still sends reformation.

I The Need for Reformation
A There can be no doubt that reformation was needed, badly needed. The reign of King Josiah was preceded by the reign of his father, King Amon, and his grandfather, King Manasseh. These men were two of the most wicked kings in Judah's history. Listen to all the evil listed in Scripture:
-they did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites
-they rebuilt the high places
-they erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles
-they bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them
-in both courts of the temple of the LORD, they built altars to all the starry hosts
-they sacrificed their own sons
-they practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists
-they put a carved image in God's temple
The summary is sickening: Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites (2 Chr 33:9).

B Five hundred years ago the church was also in need of reformation. By now most of you should know what the church added to the Gospel:
-the church looked to the Bible and to tradition for authority
-the church said we are saved by grace completed by obedience
-the church said salvation is received through faith and works
-the church said we pray to God through Christ and the saints
-the church practiced Mariolatry and devotion to the saints
-the church allowed the selling of indulgences to reduce time in purgatory
-the church believed that grace rested in the sacraments themselves rather than in the Lord Jesus Christ
Previous reformers attacked corruption in the life of the church but it was Luther who attacked the perversion of the doctrine of redemption and grace.

C There is an old, old saying: "The Church is one generation away from apostasy." I did a google search on this phrase and was greatly surprised. Three of the top ten results come from the Mormons. If an heretical group like the Mormons can say this, how much more is this true for a true church like Trinity. We are only one generation from apostasy. Speaking of this, do you remember why we joined the URCNA? The main reason was for the sake of our children and youth. The main reason is so that we are not apostate a generation from now. We want our children and youth to hear the truths of Scripture. We want them to memorize the Catechism. We want them to love the breadth and depth of the Reformed faith. We want them to understand what it means to be a covenant child. We want them in Catechism and Sunday School. We want them to receive God-centered schooling.

"The Church is one generation away from apostasy." We see the truth of this statement as we look at the nation of Judah. I have seen the truth of this statement in denomination after denomination. They fall like dominoes in their eagerness to accommodate the world. They fall like dominoes in their eagerness to show how tolerant they are. They fall like dominoes in their eagerness to be politically correct. They part from the truth, they preach anything and everything but Scripture, their children and youth don't know and aren't taught doctrine.

I subscribe to "Christianity Today" and "World Magazine." They give a Christian viewpoint on what is happening in the church and around the world. I notice that they report with sadness and regret what our daily newspapers report with joy. I am talking about news reports on churches which accept such things as gay marriage, women in church office, recreational marijuana, sex outside of marriage, abortion, divorce, evolution. The world rejoices in such things. But when we read this we should weep because it means another church is on a slippery slope to apostasy.

The Devil and the world have one goal: to make us apostate by stilling our voice, quieting our testimony, wiping out our conscience, and removing all differences between believers and non-believers. We are apostate when the devil succeeds in making us look and sound and talk like the world.

Is there a need for reformation in Trinity URC? Is there a need for reformation in the URCNA? Of course there is. We need to constantly examine and reexamine our doctrine and our life to make sure we are in conformance with Scripture. What we believe and how we live is to be tested against the Word of God. Don't ever forget, as we see with the nation of Judah, "The Church is one generation away from apostasy." So we need to stand watch and be on guard – especially for the sake of our children and youth.

II The Basis for Reformation
A There are a number of sad lines, even pathetic lines, to be found in Scripture. One of the saddest is the last verse of Judges:
(Judg 21:25) In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.
Another is John's commentary on the Pharisees:
(John 12:43) for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
Another is verse 14 of our Scripture reading:
(2 Chr 34:14) While they were bringing out the money that had been taken into the temple of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD that had been given through Moses.

So you see how sad this last verse is, let's pretend we have a cleaning day at Trinity URC. We all get together on a Saturday morning. Part way through the morning one of the kids runs up to me and says, "Pastor Dieleman, we have found a book, a strange book, a book we have never seen before." So they take me by the hand and bring me to one of the supply closets in the addition. And there on the top shelf I see a book. I reach up and take the book down. It looks a lot like this one (HOLD UP BIBLE). Wouldn't that be absolutely sad and pathetic? Yet, this is what happened in Judah.

The people of the Book lost the Book. I am sure it started small. They ignored the Book when they followed the practices of the world and worshiped pagan gods. And then they lost the Word of God. It was buried under a pile of debris somewhere in the temple. Or, it was put on a shelf somewhere, out of sight and out of mind. The Word of God was lost in the temple. Isn't this shocking?!

Now I wonder, could the same thing happen today? Could the Word of God be lost in a church building? Isn't that the case with many churches today? At our kick-off Sunday I mentioned books that many churches today use instead of the Bible when it comes to preaching and sermon series: The Prayer of Jabez; The Purpose Driven Life; The Shack; Jesus Calling; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A number of years ago, Ruth and I were in a worship service where the Bible was quoted only once – in the last line of the sermon. There are churches whose entire focus is on various worthwhile ministries to the community – and not once is the Word of God opened. There are churches where the focus is rituals and ceremonies – and, again, the Word of God is not opened. There are churches where music programs and plays and pageants are all the rage. Wouldn't you agree with me that in all such churches the Bible has been lost?

B The Book of the Law was found in the temple of the Lord. Today, when old, rare books are found they are put up for auction. They are repaired. They are put in a glass case. They are preserved and untouched by human hands. Thank God that this did not happen with the Book of the Law.

The Book of the Law was brought to young, godly King Josiah. And, it was read to him. "When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes" (2 Chron 34:19). The king tore his robes because he realized the people had broken just about every command in the Book and the judgments were sure to follow. So Josiah led the people in covenant renewal (2 Chron 34:32). Josiah restored the worship of the true God by getting rid of the idols, the altars of the Baals, the Asherah poles, and so on (2 Chron 34:33; cf 2 Chron 34:3-7). Josiah celebrated the Passover; we are told the Passover had not been celebrated like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel (2 Chron 35:18).

C Here is a very important principle: the basis for reformation is the Word of God. Renewal begins by listening to the Word of God.

You all know the story of Martin Luther. He was reading and studying Galatians and Romans. He realized the Roman Catholic Church was all wrong in its doctrine and life. The result: the Protestant Reformation.

The principle still applies today: the basis for reformation and renewal remains the Word of God. This is true for the church as a whole. This is true for individuals as well. You want a closer, dearer walk with God – spend time with the Word. You want to love God more – spend time with the Word. You want your faith to be new and exciting – spend time with the Word.

III An Incomplete Reformation
A How long did Josiah's reforms last? How long was it before the people were again serving pagan gods? How long was it before the Asherah poles, carved idols, and cast images were once again inside the temple area? Not long. As soon as Josiah was gone, they quickly reappeared. How long was it before the temple proper had an altar or two to a pagan god? Not long. How long before the people were doing immoral acts in the temple. Not long.

So God announced judgment was still coming. God saw the heart of Josiah and spared him from what was about to happen. But God was not going to spare the people and the land.

B So, what went wrong? What happened? We know Josiah's reforms were widespread, but the revival was limited. So, it is not enough for Josiah himself to be committed to reformation, even though he was king. It is not enough for Josiah to lead the people in covenant renewal. It is not enough for the Word of God to be read.

Did you notice something is missing from our story. What aren't we told? We don't hear about repentance. Not once are we told that the people and the priests grieved about all the evil they had done. We hear nothing about sorrow for hurting the heart of God. We see no tears.

What else don't we hear? We don't hear any prayers. By contrast, we have psalm after psalm of David's prayers of confession after he sinned. But neither Josiah nor the people seem to engage in prayer of confession.

I am leading up to something. The most basic thing that is missing is a change of heart. The people went through the outward acts. They listened politely as the Word was read. They pledged themselves to God in covenant renewal – but not wholeheartedly. They participated in the Passover rituals and ceremonies – but they simply went through the motions. Because the heart was not changed.

C Jesus talks about a change of heart in more than one place. He said to Nicodemus,
(John 3:3) "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
To the Pharisees He said,
(Mat 12:43-45) "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. (44) Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. (45) Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."
For change to be permanent, the heart needs to be changed. And, if the heart is not changed, no amount of preaching or Bible reading or Bible Study will do any good.

"Change My heart, O God" should be the song and the prayer of each and every one of us:
Change my heart, O God,
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, O God,
May I be like You.
You are the Potter,
I am the clay;
Mold me and make me,
This is what I pray.
Change my heart, O God ...
But the people of Judah did not sing this and pray this. So the reformation did not take.

Let me end by observing that Josiah, like the four Revival Kings before him, was not perfect. They all had flaws and imperfections and sins in their lives. Imperfect men can never reform other imperfect men. Sinners can never pay for the sins of others.

We look at Josiah and we see the need for the perfect Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Only He is able to change hearts and lives. Only He is able to bring reformation that lasts. Because, don't forget, we are only one generation from apostasy!
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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