While leading worship two weeks ago Jason raised the idea of Worship for the audience of one. That we should only be considering God when worshipping. What does He think of my worship? What does He think of my heart? To imagine that only God is listening…. It does seem a bit obvious,.... but this really affected the way I worshipped on that morning. And then of course Andrew spoke about a similar aspect of Epaphrodites’ life…. That his service was not necessarily ‘successful’, but his life was pleasing to God… that we should be concerned only with what God thinks of us, not necessarily whether we have achieved anything in human terms…..
If you are sitting here this morning there is a very good chance that you are aware of all the ‘right’ things to do as a Christian….. You know how to dress ...how to speak...what to talk about and how to say it…..you know how to play the game in order to ensure that everyone is suitably impressed with your ‘Chrisitianness’.... But what does God think? Do we pay enough attention to what God sees? Does it concern us what the all knowing God thinks?
This has been on my mind a lot… do I play to an ‘audience of one’ or are there other priorities which dictate my thoughts and engage my worship? If I want to live for God alone, how do I go about it?
The best place to look is of course the Bible...and to explore some of the characters…
While there are a whole lot of people in the Bible who in many ways epitomise ‘worship for the audience of one’......... I would like to spend some time this morning with Josiah...the 8 year old king…..There is no doubt that he lived his life to please God… some might think, with limited success with regards to his role as a king to save Judah….because pretty much straight after him Judah goes into captivity…..
His life is not a good 3 point sermon, but the value is rather in picking out little bits and turning them over a couple of times……
What does the life of a ‘performer for God alone’ look like?
We are going to read through the whole passage...sorry...but as you will see, reading God’s Word changed Josiah’s life and will change ours too….
2 Kings 21-22
So what do you think of Josiah? What strikes you about this young king?
What is more than a little weird is that his father Amon is described as evil, his grandfather Manassah was definitely evil(one of the worst)....... and then out of nowhere this boy king, just 8 years old ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or the left…’
This boy has been brought up in the royal household of 2 evil kings, yet he has in his heart the desire to do the right thing...more than that he knows the ways of his ancestor David enough so that he has a practical path to follow…..
This does not just happen….
Now the human conscience is a powerful thing and can give us general guidance as well as the innate knowledge that God exists… but in this case the boy, the man, knows specifically what is right and wrong … he has clearly been instructed in the ways of David…
Who is responsible for this? Not his father…not his grandfather...
We can only guess at which individual… maybe his mother? Maybe a royal nanny? Personally, I would like to think it was his grandmother…. I only base this on the fact that there had to be someone…. and his grandmother’s name was ‘Adaiah’ which means ‘the witness of God’..
The point we can take from this before we move on is that sometimes as parents, grandparents or maybe an aunt or uncle we fret about the children being born into our family where we know the parents will not teach them about God…… there is however hope…..
Josiah is born into an evil family, yet he knows and holds to God’s ways….. Our job is to pray and when possible to teach… then of course to trust….
Josiah definitely seems to have in his heart a desire to please God… he is obviously playing for the audience of one…. The question is, what can we learn from Josiah’s experience?...how were his eyes opened and how did he serve God alone? what can we learn from his journey with a desire to please God alone….
The first thing we learn from Josiah… being a wise man….he surrounded himself with good people and was prepared to listen to good advice...as a king, it must be tempting to surround yourself with sycophants, but he seems to be ready to listen to the tough advice….
Proverbs 12:15 The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.
We see in the passage...
- He knew the leaders in the temple well enough to trust them with the money
- His secretary Shaphan did not just take the Torah, but read it first and then read it to the king…. He clearly wants what is right and is prepared to ‘speak truth to power’….
- He had good men in Hilkiah, Ahikam, Akbor and Asaiah….he trusted them and he was clearly a good judge of character because these men were thorough in their task completion and were prepared to tell the king the truth….. Imagine going back to tell the king that God is displeased with Judah and will destroy the country….oh but don't worry the good news is that you will die first…..
In order to live a life pleasing to God alone it is important to surround ourselves with the right kinds of people….
Do you and I have good people we can trust to tell it to us like it is… even if we won’t like it? People who will turn us back to God? …...Have we empowered those around us to speak plainly or are they afraid of our reaction so they keep quiet?
- How do you respond if your colleague gives you advice you don’t like?
- What if your parent advises you about your family or behaviour?
- What if my spouse corrects me?
- Does my spouse feel that they can have an honest conversation with me? Or are they scared?
- Do I get into a bad mood when corrected?
Are we prepared to tell those in our immediate circles the truth? Are we happy to tell our boss that what is required is unethical? ...to tell our spouses that our priorities are wrong?
Jeremiah: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
If we are to serve God truthfully we need to have men and women in our circle of influence who are prepared to rebuke and correct us….. Perhaps more problematic, we have to be open to this correction...
The next thing that strikes me as we read through this passage is that Josiah seems to have reigned for 18 years before he realised that what was happening in the land was evil…...
This was a king who had a desire to walk in the ways of David, who was a man after God’s own heart… not only did he have a desire, but he practically lived his life like that..’not turning to the right or to the left..’.........
Yet he does not seem too worried about all the idolatry in the land…. He does not seem to know that this is wrong... he spends his time and money on the temple...he is doing all good stuff, but seems to ignore all the evil…..
There are some hectic things happening….
23:4.. There were Baals in the temple…
23:5… some of the Jewish priests were burning incense at the altars of idols…
24:10...the Israelites were sacrificing their own children to the god Modek….really?
There seemed to be altars at every city gate and on every high place with an idol in every home ….. There were male prostitutes in the temple of the Lord….
How did he not know that this was wrong?
Even having those good people around did not help Josiah to see the evil that was happening in his land…. Why? Because they did not know either….
The single biggest change in Josiah’s world view was the finding of the Torah….
First question Mr high priest: How do you lose the foundational text of your faith??? It was not like there were a whole lot of books around….we would never lose the Bible….. surely?
I wonder… is it easier to ‘lose’ a book if there is only one or if there are millions of them?
I would guess that the book of the law was lost in the same way that the Bible is being lost today…. And the dangers are exactly the same…..
Do people still read the Bible? It is not to be found in our schools or other government institutions…. It has pretty much disappeared from public life in this country… do people read it in their homes? Do they read it around the dinner table? Do they read it to their children? …...Not on purpose I am sure….
Even in the church the Bible is in short supply…. The word is broken down into little catch phrases to help the preacher to prove a point or placed on an encouraging Birthday Cards…….
In fact...we only ever hear the encouraging parts of the Bible….. Just like Josiah who was working on building up the temple without seeing the evil, we hear about love and brotherly kindness, …...but very little about sin…..and hardship….
The consequence of losing the Torah for Israel was that the land was covered in evil practices and no one seemed to notice…. A gradual slide from knowing the truth...to a compromised truth rationalised to make sense of the current situation….. To a world completely devoid of Godliness…..
This is a decline we see in our own country/World today…..
I love that Saphan did not read the bits he found interesting or appropriate….he seems to have read the whole book…..and then Josiah reads the whole book to the people...
To Josiah’s credit...when he hears the word of the Lord read by Shaphan he is distraught…”vs 11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes…”
His desire is to please God… he thought that he was doing the right thing by living a good life and restoring the temple...he was doing all he could… but now ...God’s word has made the sin of Judah clear….
Was this a special revelation just for Josiah?
No, ….God’s word always cuts to the bone….(. For those who want to hear,).... God’s word opens up our eyes to His truth…..
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart
Josiah is a special man and God has a hold on his heart….his desire is to serve for the audience of one…. We know this because no where here does he try to rationalise God’s word...maybe God means this or…. that does not make sense…… not once does he second guess or try to contextualise God’s Word….. These reactions which are so common today… Josiah says,
“ Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”
It is not uncommon for people to have this reaction when the consequences for sin come rushing on, but what makes Josiah different is that he takes God at His word…. he believes it because God’s word said it…..
Prov 3 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
The word of God is the ultimate guide for someone who chooses to live for the audience of one..
Anyone of us wishing to serve God alone, must spend time in his word,..... His whole word and not just the acceptable bits ……..and then allow it to do its intended work..
Then ...what is Josiah’s greatest fear?
“Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us…” If I am performing for an audience I would like them to be pleased with my performance…. I would not be happy if they thought my performance was average or poor…. I would be upset if they wrote bad reviews, but what if the audience was angry??….. What if my performance incensed them so much that it brought out a deep intense fury… perhaps I have offended them… I must have said or done something which was an affront to who they are and their beliefs….. What a disaster…
Josiah took the fear of God’s anger very seriously…. When we are living for the audience of that one being… for God alone then His anger is the last thing we want… in fact the mere thought of it creates terror in us….
On the other hand….what if we are not overly concerned about God’s anger? Then I would suggest that we are not playing to an audience of one… in fact we have a whole different audience in mind….We need to stop here because this is a litmus test….a deal breaker……. What a challenge …. If I am happy to get away with sin and not concerned about God’s anger I have to seriously consider my faith….
When Josiah considers the anger of God, what is his reaction? …...
His heart responds… as he humbles himself by tearing his robes…..not some religious actions or ritual which needs to be fulfilled… he responds with his heart…. God is most interested in what is happening in our hearts..He does not care what we wear or what we say….who we really are, and not what people think about us……..interestingly of course He is the one person who knows what is happening in our hearts, He knows us better than we know ourselves…
As we assess our own relationship with God, an assessment of hearts should be the only factor considered….do I love Him? Do I love his people? Even the unlovable...Do I hate sin?or do I excuse it?..... Do I read His word out of duty or because I crave to know His ways?
What is it that rouses God’s anger?
22:17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made
God’s anger is roused when his people worship other gods…..
Why does God demand worship? Does He need worship? This is an interesting topic for another time…… but for now let’s leave it that we were created to worship God and by worshipping other things we are not just rejecting God, but defying the very reason for our existence……
So do you worship idols? Do you have any at home? I can’t answer that for you, but as for me…if I had to be honest..... I have a whole range of big fat idols….I will leave this too for your own pondering...
….But it would be very instructive for us perhaps to stop and observe how Josiah dealt with the idolatry in the land…. Because let’s be honest...as good Christians we are convicted every now and again about our priorities and we try to sort them out, but these idols keep coming back….
This starts in Ch 23…
- he read all the words of the Torah to the people….
- He renews the covenant…
- And all the people pledge themselves to the covenant….
What a great start….
And it would be even greater if each of us could pledge ourselves again this morning to the ‘covenant‘ we have with God….. but this is just the start,,,,and this is the reason why it was so important to read the whole chapter…. The renewal of the covenant is the easy part….
Josiah then proceeds to scour the land for idols and evil practices…. When he finds them he kills the people involved, …..he breaks down altars and high places….but then he does something I had never thought of before….. He desecrates the places which were used for the worship of idols….in particular he burns the bones of the dead and spreads them over the places of worship...or he grinds up the altars and sprinkles the ground-up ash on to graves…... Why? …..so they can never be used again….
Just the presence of the dead bodies would have been enough to desecrate the sites, but Josiah takes it to the extreme….the concentrated ash of the bones is mixed in with the places of worship…..
There is no coming back for these places of worship…. It makes for hectic reading...it must have been horrendously macabre…..but what a great picture…..and an awful warning…
We all struggle with idols in our lives….. Unless we make sure that those idols are completely destroyed and the ground stomped out…... The chances of us returning to the sites to worship again is at least probable…
I am not sure how we do that in our own personal reality………....but I think that this is what Jesus was trying to get across to the rich young ruler when he says to him that he should go and sell all he had giving it to the poor…. If he wanted eternal life…
Give your money away.. Because it is your idol and you will return to it if there is a chance…..
Maybe this was why Saul took on the name Paul to separate him from his former life…
This is why an alcoholic goes to AA and says my name is Stuart…...I am an alcoholic
This is why we need to confess our sins to each other….. Once it is confessed it is much more difficult to go back….
I am not sure what it is that you have as an idol...what you have struggled with over the years….what has come between yourself and a God centred life….. But what I see here is that it will keep coming back unless we desecrate it….
After all that effort Josiah is killed by Pharoah Necho…. And very soon after that Judah is defeated by Nebecunezar….. And the land is laid waste…..all that effort to cleanse the land wasted…..? To stop idol worship a waste? …….From where any human sits...yes! Why did he even bother?
Of course God wants our efforts to bring great results….but the greatest achievement
is a man who lives to please God alone….. This is a life well spent no matter the ‘results’.... What an encouragement…. We are not responsible for the outcome only our worship of God alone.....our Godly service…..but what a challenge...sometimes … no always… a positive outcome in the World is easier to achieve than to live daily for the glory of God alone…..
Thank you Josiah for showing us that it is possible…. Remember that it starts with God’s word as read this morning…. Then we need to recommit oursleves to the covenant …. And then one at a time deal with the idols in our lives…...