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Author:Pastor Dirk Boersma
  Free Reformed Churches of South Africa
Preached At:Emmanuel American Reformed Church
 Denver, Colorado
Title:God's word is powerful even when hidden
Text:2 Kings 22:13 / Jer 1:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 95, 3
Reading of the law
Psalm 119, 28-29
Scripture reading: 2 Kings 21; Deut 31,9-22
Psalm 119, 33-34
Scripture reading: 2Kings22-23,5
Sermon text: 2Kings 22,13
Psalm 79, 1-3.5
Hymn 48, 1.4
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Dirk Boersma, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

(This sermon is an introduction to the series on Jeremiah, and can be connected to Jeremiah 1: 1-3)

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Boys and girls, imagine that it's not 2003, but 50 years later. Somewhere in America, an old church building that hasn't been used for years is being restored. Nobody really came to the church any more. The most that people can remember was that the last pastor didn't preach, but told all kinds of nice stories, saying that you should not take everything in the Bible literally. There were some elderly people left in the church, but the energy was gone. And all they talked about were the good old times. No new people joined the church, and the young people moved away. Pretty sad.

Now as the historical society is restoring the building, they clean out all the closets. In the midst of all the dust, yellow letters, faded pictures, and a damaged collection basket, they find a black book. The person who discovered it picks it up, walks over to the window, and starts leafing through its yellow pages. The title page says: 'The Bible. The Word of God.'

She starts reading the first chapters, browses through the Old Testament, reads one of the gospels, and she is totally astonished by what she reads. Wait a minute, this says that God created the world; it tells about the miracles that Jesus has done, and He says that He is the Son of God. And when she starts reading Paul's letters, she is dumbfounded to read about the Christian way of life. She's never heard this. All she can remember from her youth are some stories, but they had always told her that you should not think they really happened. Miracles? Impossible! Creation? No, that's outdated. She grew up in a modern world. And when she had grown up, she had never heard about the Bible again and never read it.

Can you imagine that something like this could happen? How could this happen to the church of Christ? Can this happen to our church?

This was the situation the church was in the time of Jeremiah. God's Word had been abandoned. God had been ignored and forgotten. His people bowed down to other gods, because they believed that those gods would give them rain, food, and happiness. They did not expect these daily blessings from their God any more. Instead, they had followed their own ideas and turned to gods that did not even exist. For their safety, they did not rely on God, but made alliances they with surrounding countries.

In this time, the reformation of Josiah took place. God had removed Himself from His people because they had abandoned Him and His Word. Now, however, He sent them a young king who believed in Him and a prophet to speak His words. When God's Word that had been hidden for decades was found, it shows its power and brings a change in the people of God.

This is the message for today:

(It was hidden; it is accepted in faith; and it will be fulfilled)

When Josiah became king, there was not much to be excited about in Israel. Of the twelve tribes, only two were left. The other ten had been taken into exile 80 years earlier. The whole country had become an Assyrian province. The glory of Israel was gone, and the country had fallen into oblivion; it was a backward part of the Assyrian empire.
The glory was gone, even on a deeper level. Earlier, when you looked beyond the glory of the kings, the beauty of the palaces, and the prosperity of the land, you would have found the greatest treasure of Israel: God living amongst His people and the worship of the living God as the center of Israel's existence. But that had been lost ages ago. Josiah's father and grandfather both had been godless kings. And this decline of Israel's spiritual condition had been going on for centuries. Many kings had not obeyed God and had led Israel astray. The believers were small in number; idolatry and witchcraft were the order of the day. Only a few kings were faithful, like Hezekiah, who launched a reformation. But most of the population probably ignored it, and the next king undid many of the changes and rebuilt the altars that Hezekiah had destroyed.

During the last 60 years, for as long as people could remember, Israel had been full of idols. 55 years of Manasseh's reign had left Israel stained with innocent blood and stripped of any true worship of God. High places and idols had been restored, poles had been erected for fertility gods, and Israel was worshipping the stars instead of the God who had led them out of slavery into freedom in this beautiful land. The king led the people on a path of sorcery and witchcraft; they had exchanged God's Word for occultism.

His son Amon followed his example, he was not much better, but a murderous plot stopped him from doing more damage.

What is behind all this?

A rejection of God and His Word. He had impressed on them what He had done for them. He had given clear guidelines, laws and regulations to teach them His will. He had told them repeatedly that obeying his will was the only way to love and worship Him.

The undermining and destruction of the true religion is not just a matter of changing your mind, coming to different insights and moving on to a more advanced way of thinking. It is a concrete rejection of God's way of living, His revealed will for your life. It is rebellion against God's control over your life, and a conscious rejection of the direction He has set for your life. God had given Israel freedom and peace in their own country, but always with the warning that they would lose it if they were to follow their own thoughts and live according to their own ideas and desires. But Israel as a nation had never been willing to listen to God and to fully trust in Him.

What is the result of this?

First they start to worship God in their own way: they make images of animals and worship God in that way. And before you know it, God has been forgotten and other gods, idols, have taken His place. The living God, the creator, has been exchanged for creatures, deaf and mute things, and people expect their life and prosperity from them.
After they have abandoned the first and second commandment, the other eight soon follow, like in ten pin bowling. Society becomes corrupt; injustice takes the place of justice.

And what happens with the Word of God?

Well, its significance is obscured. Who wants to be reminded of God's will when you choose to live in your own way? Who wants to be told that God exists and claims your life and obedience, when you ignore him in daily life? No, after a while, you don't really want to hear that any more.
First, you start to leave out certain parts you don't like, and after a while the rest doesn't make sense either. And who in his sound mind would find it important that their children know the Bible, when they themselves don't believe in God any more?

When you don't want to listen to God any more, when you want to choose your own path in life, you will no longer have any need for the Bible.

How familiar is this situation in Israel to us, compared to our modern world! Many people in the U.S. still claim to have an affiliation with a church and believe that God exists, but they don't read the Bible any more. Society runs by its own rules, God's will doesn't have a place there. After all, you are not allowed to impose your religion on others!

If you think it's not that bad yet, you can look over the border, and you'll be shocked by the direction of Canadian politics.

In such a time Jeremiah is going to do his work. He must speak the Word of God which had been abandoned for as long as people can remember.

The king had to have a copy of the law near his throne, and read it during his whole life: prescribed reading for a king in God's country. But this had disappeared. And you can guess that there would not be much Bible teaching to the youth in a temple that is full of smoke of idol sacrifices.

The Word of God had been removed from all parts of society. If somebody wanted to know the future, he did not study God's Word or ask His prophets, but he went to sorcerers and mediums, in order to consult the dead. In politics, the kings followed other advice and made alliances with powerful nations.

Indeed, rebellion against God's will had led to a complete disappearance of God's Word in public and private life.

God has been true to his promises, and He always will. This was His promise to Israel if they rejected Him and broke the covenant:

"I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, 'Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?' And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods. (Deut 31,17-18).

God is not passive. He does not just let things happen; when people reject Him, He does not say 'well, too bad'. The relationship He makes with us in the covenant is based on trust and controlled by his promises. It is a dynamic relationship, in which He want us to respond to His words, and in which He responds to what we say and do.

The deteriorating situation in God's people, then, is not a blind fate that comes over them. This is God's response to Israel's rejection. He hid His face from them, and took His Word away from them. The disappearance of God's Word is both a sinful activity of people and a judgment from God as a result of their sins.

However, this is not the final word. God remembers and keeps His promise to Abraham that He would make Him into a great nation; and His promise to David, that there would always be someone on David's throne to reign over God's people, who will bring blessing and peace with God. He gives them a faithful king to lead them, to reorganize public life according to His will, and to remove the idol worship from His temple and His chosen nation.

Finally, a king who "did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left." (2Kings22,2). His heart in the right place, he is a straight shooter who wanted to serve God.

Maybe in his first years he was too young and did not understand much of what was going on. He was only 8 years old when he was crowned king. But in 2Chronicles 34 we read that in his 8th year, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David. Here is a 16-year old boy that is pretty serious! And 4 years later, he took action and started to obey God's word in the daily affairs of the country: "he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images."

See, it is one or the other: if you are serious in serving God, you cannot tolerate idols on your watch. Josiah saw clearly that serving God in public life required a firm choice on his part. Restoring the worship of the living God required that the idol worship was rooted out. He was not in two minds and tolerated everything, as if it made no difference.

Then, a couple of years later, he makes a plan to restore the temple, collects money to pay people for repairing and rebuilding the place of worship.

We can say that as a result of his obedience, the book of the law is found. God does not hide Himself any more. First, He raised Josiah in the knowledge of His name, and now He makes His hidden Word found by His people. When the workers get to damaged and unused rooms, they find the book of the law. They present it to the king and read it to him.

And what a remarkable response we see! The words of this book hit him like a rock. He rips his expensive robes apart as a sign of mourning. He was deeply struck in his heart by the Word of God.

What are the words that hit him so deeply? What is this book?

This must have been a specific book, because it is also referred to as 'the book of the law'. Not just any book, but a book that had been known to the priests. Only it had disappeared and its reading had been discontinued in the temple. The contents had faded from memory.

This is probably the collection of the five books of Moses, commonly called 'the law'. And you can imagine that the book of Deuteronomy, with its repetition of all the laws and stipulations of the covenant, and its underlining of God's promises and the threats in case of disobedience, left quite an impression on the king. He feared God and knew His will, but to hear all this read to you in detail and to realize that God's people for centuries had not obeyed any of it was a devastating experience.

Josiah takes the Word of God seriously. He acknowledges God's claims on His people. He recognizes that Israel has deserved God's anger. He does not hide behind his fathers, but includes himself, taking responsibility for what the people have done in the community of the covenant, in which the sins of the fathers affect their children, and the children suffer the consequences of their parents' disobedience:

"Great is the LORD's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us."

Then, he seeks God's guidance and counsel for the terrible situation he and the people are in, and sends messengers to a prophetess.

Josiah differs from his predecessors. He takes God's words seriously, and takes them to heart.

How much do we take God's threats seriously, and mourn about the situation the church and the country are in, because people have ignored God and rejected His will?
Are we concerned about this?

Can we shake off our individualistic thinking, and see ourselves as part of God's people of different generations?
Do you treasure God's Word and realize its significance for your life and for the society you live in?

Thank God for the blessing that His Word is available and that God does not hide Himself for us, as a response to the lawlessness and rebellion against Him in our society.
Even in the deepest crisis of God's people, He did not allow His Word to disappear completely. When we realize that this is because of His grace, we are encouraged to speak His Word to people who have abandoned it or who have never known it because their parents and grandparents threw it away.

The way Josiah responds is in repentance. He knows that God is going to do what He had promised, and that He will carry out the threats of leading his people into exile. The ten Northern tribes had already been taken away, but this did not worry the people of Judah. They entertained the false hope that God would spare Judah, because His temple was there.

Josiah realized that this was a false security when Judah continued to resist God. During the reign of Manasseh God had promised that He would wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, there would be nothing left. He would "forsake the remnant of His inheritance and hand them over to their enemies." Now Josiah heard with his own ears that all this had been prophesied by Moses when he repeated God's laws and the stipulations of the covenant centuries earlier.

Josiah knows that God is going to do this. Great is the anger of God, and when it burns no one can quench it. Forest fires can burn hundreds of acres, cause millions of dollars of damage, and claim lives, but in the end, they will die out. However, when God is angry with His people for forsaking Him and exchanging Him for worthless idols, they cannot stop His anger.

Therefore Josiah humbles himself before God and repents. He asks for God's guidance, and His intention must have been to avert this terrible punishment from Judah and Jerusalem.

God's Word is powerful. It had been rejected and hidden; but it was found by God's grace. And now it proves its power in the fulfillment that God announces.

What did you think when you read or heard God's answer through the prophetess? Didn't you find it shocking and painful? Nothing can stop the execution of the judgment on Judah! God's anger will not be extinguished. There is only one positive thing: Josiah himself will not see the destruction and catastrophe that Israel has deserved.
I can think that Josiah was thankful that he would not see the judgment in his days, and would be spared the agony. But he must have taken pity on the people because God's judgment would come in any case. Although the execution will not be immediate, the judgment remains.

You will probably ask this question: 'Isn't God merciful? Why doesn't He forgive the sins of the people?'
Well, remember that Josiah repented and wept about the judgment, and that God responds to His repentance and humility. Having a faithful king does not bring a whole nation to repentance and faith. The changes he brought about in society, in the public places and official ceremonies, may not have been enough to change the hearts of the people.

When we start reading the book of Jeremiah, we find that the resistance against God's word and his prophet continues, and that Jeremiah needs special protection from God. Israel just did not want to believe that God could ever abandon His own temple and make it a curse because of the abominations of the people. Not only does Jeremiah's preaching fall on deaf ears, their response is even hostile. They try to kill him, and the next kings do not like his prophecies when the city is under siege; they put him in jail for high treason.

God's people have provoked God in the past centuries, and made Him angry with their idols and injustice. They have misused His gifts and trusted in their own powers for protection, rejecting God's punishments that were meant to call them back. God says in 2Kings21,15:

"Because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day."

How great was God's patience with this nation! But during all those centuries their sins have accumulated and reached the limit.

But what will happen to the promise to David? If the rest of Israel is going to be sent into exile, what is going to become of that promise?

Not even a faithful king could save the people from disaster. He could not bear the punishment for them. He could not make them repent.

Israel had to go into exile so that they would learn that their own power would get them nowhere; they could only expect disaster.

Their hardened hearts could never fulfill the requirements of the old covenant. The covenant itself was unable to save them. The law only brought their sins to the surface, but did not offer any solution. The Old Testament does not end with a hopeful perspective.

However, what our text does not mention is found in the rest of the Bible. The promise to David will be fulfilled. God's punishment on the sins of His people is not His final word. His final word is Jesus Christ. And when we read the Old Testament, we always need to find out how He relates to the passage we are reading.

The one-way street leading to the exile is intended to warn us about the foolishness of trusting our own power and understanding, and the futility of resistance against God. It should lead us to Christ, who has brought a new covenant in his blood. This is what we celebrate at the table of the Lord's Supper. 'This is the new covenant in my blood', He assures believers. His blood, this stands for his obedience to God's will unto death. He paid the price for our sins. All our sins, the hardness of our hearts, the unwillingness to submit to God, our hatred against Him, and what we think to be our innocent ignorance of God's will - He took it all upon Him. God punished Him in our place, so that we will not have to bear the punishment for our sins any more.
Here is a King who is able to save His people, by taking their place, something Josiah could not do. He could only point the people in the right direction, and prepare the way for Christ.

Obedience in the covenant is now: to believe in Him, the savior sent by God. To repent from your sins, and to believe that Jesus has provided the only payment for your sins. It means to bet your whole life on His obedience in your place, knowing that it is certain and cannot be undone.
The obedience that God wants from you is submission to Jesus Christ by believing in Him and by listening to His Word. Read it, meditate on it, store it in your memory and in your heart, and accept it in faith. Believe that the Spirit of Jesus Christ will enable you to do all those things.

Yes, the promise is fulfilled and will be fulfilled. Someone has taken our place and has carried our punishment. We no longer stare into dark future with eternal punishment looming at the horizon. We don't need to be afraid of judgment any more. You can rest in Jesus Christ, and trust that instead of exile and devastation, the kingdom is waiting for you, and that your Savior will welcome you there.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Dirk Boersma, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2003, Pastor Dirk Boersma

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