Nehemiah 8: This is a day holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!
Many of those listening to Ezra read and explain the Scripture this day left the land of their birth to return to this land of their ancestors. They left family and friends, security and comfort to go to an unsecured city that wasn’t a city at all; rather, it was a pile of rubble. They made the hazardous journey to Jerusalem and then braved real opposition as they labored to rebuild the wall and prepared to re-occupy the City of David. As this task is completed, a holy event is planned. Governor Nehemiah and Priest Ezra organize an event centered on the Word of the Lord. However, something unexpected happens as Ezra reads and explains the Scripture to them. These good people begin to weep and wail. The sense of celebration is replaced with a feeling of failure and fear. The leaders have to act quickly or this holy day will turn in to a day of mourning. Why is it that the people react as they do? I think it’s because they begin to grasp the enormity of their sins and that of their forefathers. Generations earlier, King Josiah responds in the same way when the Book of God is found in the Temple. As he hears it read he’s alarmed and responds in humble fear of God. There’s a place for this kind of response to God’s Word. In fact, I need to be fearful and heartbroken when I realize my sin. However, the story must never end here. The Word of God is not intended to condemn me. Instead, it’s to be for me a wonderful message of hope. I’ve failed God and should stand condemned but God is gracious and offers me hope. The bad news is that I’ve sinned against God. The good news is that he’s the God of Second Chances graciously offering me and you hope and restoration.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Please stand for the reading of God’s Word
Nehemiah 8: He read it…from early dawn until noon…and all the people listened.
With the Temple rebuilt and the walls providing security to the city a special gathering is scheduled. Ezra the priest stands on a specially constructed platform to read the Word of God. For three hours he reads as the people stand in honor of the Sacred Word. As Ezra reads, something powerful is happening in the lives of his listeners. In some church traditions time is set aside every service for the reading of and hearing of the Word. This isn’t the same as listening to a sermon, even if it’s well preached and faithful to the meaning of the passage being considered. This is hearing the Word simply as the Word and letting God minister his grace through it. There is, I believe, a place for the reading and hearing of Scripture in every church. We might have to shorten the singing a bit (or just lengthen the service) to make more room for Scripture. Most of us church folks claim to be “people of the Word.” Perhaps we should practice what we preach and give the reading of and listening to God’s Word a more prominent place in our services.
Take Away: The Word of the Lord is powerful – life changing – and we need to spend a significant amount of time letting it be drawn deeply into our lives.
The boy-king gets an A+
2Kings 23: The world would never again see a king like Josiah.
When Josiah becomes boy-king of Judah the Temple is not only a place for sacrifices to Jehovah God, but is used for worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, and other pagan gods as well. The country is filled with shrines and altars, some dating back for centuries. Near Jerusalem stands an iron furnace that is used for child sacrifices. Clearly, the spiritual condition of Judah was pitiful, as the commandments of God have been ignored for generations. Josiah’s discovery of the Law of God shocks him to action. What he does isn’t some cosmetic religious reform. This is all out transformation. Josiah uses the Book as an instruction manual on how to live and worship. He follows it to a letter. For instance, the Book of the Covenant describes observing the Passover, something that hasn’t been done for centuries. Josiah reads the Book and follows the directions, reestablishing this observance. The result is that God is pleased with him, giving him an “A+.” Because of his faithfulness an entire generation is changed. Today, Josiah inspires us to take God seriously and to swim against the tide of popular culture. Josiah’s story gives us hope of transforming our society.
Take Away: When the Lord is given a chance, wonderful, life-changing things happen.
God taking us seriously
2Kings 22: I’m taking you seriously.
The clock is about to run out on Judah as the nation has drifted farther and farther from God. When the boy-king Josiah comes to power things have eroded to the point that even the priests at the Temple don’t know God’s Word to them. As Josiah grows up he wants to do the right thing even though he’s unsure of what the right thing is. Out of respect for God, he decides to renovate the Temple and it’s while that work is being done that Scripture is found. The message is not a pleasant, comforting one. Instead, its words declare the covenant made between God and Josiah’s ancestors. That covenant contains words of blessing but also states, in graphic terms, what will happen if they break that covenant. As Josiah hears these words the seriousness of the situation dawns upon him. He and his people are clearly candidates for the “curse” part of the covenant. He’s heartbroken and he’s frightened. He sends word to a woman of God asking for her intercession. The message she receives from God is both positive and negative. It’s negative in its confirmation that all the curses of the covenant will come true. Simply put, God will keep his word. It’s positive in that God is taking Josiah’s repentance and commitment to the Almighty seriously. Once again the curse is put on hold. As a result, Josiah will rule in peace throughout his life. Even as the Lord takes Josiah seriously he takes me seriously. That doesn’t mean my saying “I’m sorry” will stop events that are already in motion from happening. It does mean that the Lord’s willing to hear and forgive when I call out to him.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.