Break down every idol: Cleansing the Temple

Greg_18This is the sermon I preached yesterday at the installation of Rev Alolfo Tembe as the new Principal of the Seminário Nazareno em Moçambique in Maputo, Mozambique.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages are from the Common English Bible (2011).

————-

SCRIPTURE READING: 2 Kings 23:24-25

“Josiah burned those who consulted dead spirits and the mediums, the household gods and the worthless idols – all the monstrous things that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem. In this way Josiah fulfilled the words of the Instruction written in the scroll that the priest Hilkiah found in the LORD’s temple. There’s never been a king like Josiah, whether before or after him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, all his being, and all his strength, in agreement with everything in the Instruction from Moses.”

— PRAYER —

I.  INTRODUCTION

We are a holiness church. What does that mean? It means that we are called to be the righteous people of God, set apart for God’s sacred use. We understand that 1 Peter 1:16 – “Be holy, because I, the LORD your God am holy” – is not a command for the distant future. It is God’s expectation of us right now.

Yet for the disciple of Jesus, both saved and entirely sanctified, it is not enough to point to 2 experiences in the past, no matter how meaningful and wonderful those experiences may have been. We must constantly present ourselves before God. Like the Psalmist, we must pray:

Examine me, God! Look at my heart!

Put me to the test!

Know my anxious thoughts!

Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me,

then lead me on the eternal path!

– Psalm 139:23-24

 

II. THE FIRST COMMANDMENT: NO OTHER GODS, ONLY ME

I visited Yamoussoukro in Côte d’Ivoire (West Africa). There on a large plain in this little village stands the world’s largest basilica, Our Lady of Peace. It is larger than even St. Peter’s in Rome. The amount of money spent on marble alone for Our Lady of Peace was enormous. It is a building of great beauty and splendor.

Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, in Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire
Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire

As I left the parking lot, I noticed another building across the street. It was smaller than the basilica, but still impressive, a building used for worship by another world religion. According to our guide who lived in the area and had joined us that day, the former President of Côte d’Ivoire built both Our Lady of Peace and the other place of worship across the street. When asked why, the President replied that since he was a Catholic Christian, he had built the basilica. But just in case the other religion ended up being true, he had also built them a house of worship.

Some things have not changed. From the beginning, we have wanted to serve many gods. And so the very first commandment that God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai was this: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You must have no other God’s besides me” (Exodus 20:1-2).

III. JOSIAH CLEANS HOUSE: 2 KINGS 22-23

By the time we get to 2 Kings 22, Judah and Israel had been ruled over by many kings. Most were evil. King Amon, Josiah’s father, was only the latest to disappoint God. Of Amon we read in 2 Kings 21:20-22:

He did what was evil in the LORD’s eyes, just as his father Manasseh had done. He walked in all the ways his father had walked. He worshipped the same worthless idols his father had worshipped, bowing down to them. He deserted his ancestors’ God, the LORD – he didn’t walk in the LORD’s way.

In American English, we have proverbs that emphasize the similarity between father and son:

“Like father, like son.”

” He’s a chip off the old block”

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

In the same way, a proverb from Burkina Faso in West Africa observes:

“The goat has horns like his father’s.”

Was it the godly influence of his mother, Jedidah, that counteracted the bad influence of his father, Amon, upon Josiah? It’s hard to be sure, but one thing is clear: Against all expectations, Josiah was different than his dad. Josiah was righteous, and like his ancestor David, a man after God’s own heart.

LESSON ONE: Don’t let your family’s past dictate your future.

Jesse Jackson in 1988 ran for the Presidency of the United States. In one of his speeches, he said:

You see me on TV, but you don’t know the me that makes me, me. They wonder, “Why does Jesse run?” because they see me running for the White House. They don’t see the house I’m running from.

Where you come from is not as important as where you’re going. It doesn’t matter what your heritage is. The story of King Josiah shows that – by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit – we can chart a new course, a better future. No curse from the past can reach from the grave to ruin what Jesus has in store for those who love him! The Apostle Paul said it well in Philippians 3:13b-14:

I do one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

Some people like to talk about generational curses. Are they real? I don’t know, but here’s something I do know: Jesus is stronger than any curse that the devil ever spit from the mouth of hell. If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed. My brothers and sisters, claim your liberty in Christ today!

Josiah did not look back at a wicked past as if he was somehow cursed to continue it. No! 2 Kings 22-23 tells us that – once he had heard the reading of the long-lost covenant scroll uncovered in the Temple – he began to imagine for himself and for the people of God a  different path, a righteous and blessed future. Here’s the story as recorded in 2 Kings 23:1-13 –

When they reported Huldah’s words to the king, the king sent a message, and all of Judah’s and Jerusalem’s elders gathered before him. Then the king went up to the LORD’s temple, together with all the people of Judah and all the citizens of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets, and all the people, young and old alike. There the king read aloud all the words of the covenant scroll that had been found in the LORD’s temple. The king stood beside the pillar and made a covenant with the LORD that he would follow the LORD by keeping his commandments, his laws, and his regulations with all his heart and all his being in order to fulfill the words of this covenant that were in this scroll. All of the people accepted the covenant.

 LESSON TWO: Recommit yourself to God and to God’s laws

Where did they find the scroll? Perhaps it was laid aside and had gathered dust in a forgotten corner of the Temple, but 2 Kings 22:11 says that when King Josiah heard the words of the scroll, he ripped his clothes. This showed his great pain when he realized how far from God and his commandments the people had wandered.

Yet the king realized that it wouldn’t be enough to privately return to God. He as King needed to lead the way and renew his covenant on behalf of the people in a public ceremony.

Nazarenes seek God in prayer at the front of the sanctuary in Gambella, Ethiopia
Nazarenes seek God in prayer at the front of the sanctuary in Gambella, Ethiopia

In the Church of the Nazarene, we have long believed that there is something about public commitment that helps solidify the spiritual decisions we make. It can be at an altar or simply walking forward to the front of the room. Like Josiah, making the covenant publicly is helpful. As pastors or future pastors, we – like King Josiah – have a responsibility to lead the way spiritually. Are we willing to re-commit ourselves to God as spiritual leaders? If we will, then the people of God will follow.

LESSON THREE: Break down every idol

Once King Josiah had renewed the covenant, he didn’t stop there. 2 Kings 23:4 and verses following explain the steps that he took to make sure there were no longer any gods in the land besides the one True God!

Baal and Asherah were the mythical fertility gods, husband and wife who supposedly had sexual intercourse in order to make the fields fertile. Every year, a chosen man and woman would have ritual sex on a platform in front of the people. This was to entice Baal and Asherah to follow their lead and thus make the crops grow.

But what did King Josiah do? Read verse 7:

He removed the Asherah image from the LORD’s temple, taking it to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem. Then he burned it, ground it to dust, and threw it on the public graveyard.

Does your family own a farm? Then let me ask you this: Are you trusting in God alone for rain?

Are you unemployed? Then are you trusting in God alone for work, praying only to Him to provide work?

Are you in a childless marriage? Then are you trusting in God alone to give you and your spouse babies?

Because every time we resort to magical means to resolve any of these things, then we are no better than those who had set up the image of Baal and Asherah in the Temple of God!

IdolotryTophethBeatingDrums_Molech
The Topheth

The rest of chapter 23 explains how Josiah went on a campaign to rid the land of all idols. In verse 10, it tells how they destroyed the Topheth, which was a large calf-like statue in whose arms parents laid their young children as a sacrifice to Molech.

And on it goes — the idols, the rival powers to the one True God, one-by-one Josiah broke them down. One-by-one he cleansed the land as a sign that they were sincerely renewing the covenant with Yahweh. Only He would be their God and they would be His people.

Let me ask you: Do you have any idols that need smashing? Is there anyone or anything, any sinful, hidden activity in your life that has captured your allegiance and that has pushed God aside? Here’s a good definition of idolatry taken from the website of another denomination:

“Idolatry is anything that usurps God’s place as #1 in our hearts.”

IV.  CONCLUSION: Time to cleanse the Temple

What have we learned today? First, let us realize that we are not bound by the mistakes of our family’s past. By the power of God, we can chart a new course. Secondly, let us be willing, like Josiah, to renew our covenant with God, to follow His laws. Finally, Josiah had the courage to cleanse the Temple of all idols. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6 that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Are we willing to let God cleanse us, the Temple? What are the idols that we have set up in our lives that have taken the place of the one True God? Today, you can have a fresh start. Will you let Jesus change you?

——

Image credits:

Our Lady of Peace: Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro

Topheth: Help Me With Bible Study

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s