October 31 commemorates what was perhaps the greatest move of God’s Spirit since the days of the Apostles. This work of God led to the reboot of the Christian Church and the greatest transformation of Western society since the apostles first preached the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire. That transformation has continued to impact the entire globe of nations.
On October 31, 1517, a monk and law student named Martin Luther nailed a hand-written list of 95 discussion topics for debate to his local church door. This led to what we now call the Protestant Reformation.
The medieval church leaders had gotten so far away from the truth of the Scriptures in their teachings and practices. People could buy salvation for their dead relatives. Church tradition reigned supreme over the study of the Bible. Good works were taught as the means to merit God’s favor. People were held in bondage to fear, guilt, and manipulation.
But, God acted. He chose to use ordinary people who were His faithful followers to reboot the Church of Jesus Christ. They returned to what was clearly preached in the New Testament that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). And, good works result from our faith but are not the grounds for our right standing in the Lord’s eyes. God’s declaration that we are not guilty, forgiven of sin, and righteous in His sight comes through our faith alone. The Father transfers to every believer the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This reboot also confirmed the authority of the Scriptures over tradition and recaptured the biblical view of the priesthood of all believers. We can all go to God on our own without any mediator other than Jesus.
But, all of this change came about because the faithful endured God’s painful pruning of the Church. God weeded out those who were not His and preserved a remnant of faithful Christians who were wholeheartedly committed to Him. They and their descendants changed the world. Because of that reboot, I am a Christian living in a nation where we can openly live out our faith as God intended.
Reboot often is associated with pain and suffering. It certainly did with the Reformation. But, the renewal that happens leads to much rejoicing. We see that in God’s steadfast love for the nation of Israel.
God’s steadfast love shown to Josiah
I already knew that the ending of 2 Chronicles would be sad. People of Judah and Jerusalem were taken captive to Babylon, the city was ravaged, and the Temple was destroyed. But, God's sovereignty and His love used these awful things to purify a remnant for Himself of people faithful to Him.
God didn't want to take such drastic measures. Israel’s purpose was to represent God on earth and proclaim His glory and holiness to the pagan nations around them. But, the people chose wickedness over and over. That wickedness demanded that God take action. God's wrath cleans and restores. It is an extension of His love. I know that sounds crazy. But, don’t you do everything you can to clean your home of viruses that make your family sick? You do this out of love for your family. God’s wrath is His discipline. It’s an extension of His love. Stiff-necked humans let themselves get absolutely filthy. This filth pollutes God’s creation. But, God's love provides a way for those who want to get cleaned up and restored to their purpose.
Remember what Isaiah said?
When [God’s] judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.” (Isaiah 26:9-10)
That's what happened to the Jews.
When Josiah became king at age 8, he must have had a child-like faith in spite of his wicked father. Maybe he had a great mother. We know that Hilkiah the High Priest was a strong, godly influence in his life. By the time Josiah was 16, he began to seek God. I've seen that happen in teens and young adults when they turn the childhood faith they got from their parents into a personal faith for themselves. Josiah sought God for himself as a teenager. You probably know some teens who have done the same thing.
By the time Josiah turned 20, he was prepared to act as a godly leader for his people—purging Judah and Jerusalem of idolatry. At 26, he tackled restoring the Temple. The Bible says he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. And, what was right for his people. Those who were cleaning the Temple found the books of Moses. These were read to the king. God’s Word always causes a response. Josiah was so moved that he inquired of the Lord what to do. God's answer through the prophetess Huldah spurred him to bring the people together so he could read God's Word to all the people. Don't you love that?
After reading it, Josiah renewed the covenant with God for himself then had the people do it for themselves. That's a good leader. As long as he lived, the people obeyed God. Leadership makes such a difference to the direction people take. During this time also, the Passover was celebrated in huge fashion with great attention to detail. What a time of rejoicing!
Yet, as he got older, Josiah got more confident in his own decisions and relied less on the Lord. At the age of 39, Josiah acted against the better judgment of Pharaoh Neco, a pagan king, who said that coming out to fight him was actually opposing God. Instead of inquiring of God from one of the prophets available to him—Jeremiah, Zephaniah, or Huldah, Josiah foolishly fought Neco’s army anyway and was killed in that battle. This left his nation reeling in shock and mourning, unprepared for what would take place next.
God steadfast love purifies His people
Then comes the downward spiral. Several of Josiah’s sons were placed on the throne, one by Pharaoh and two by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. All four of them did evil in God's eyes. One ended up as a captive in Egypt. Two of them were taken captive to Babylon. Do you see a pattern here? Who would have willingly raised his hand next to become king? Not me! Well, Nebuchadnezzar chose Josiah's son Mattaniah (who would have been about 6 when his father died) and gave him the name Zedekiah. Nebuchadnezzar was the boss. Zedekiah was the puppet. But, God was still sovereign.
Picture this. Enemy soldiers surround the city. Jeremiah the prophet was actively bringing God's Word throughout the 11 years Zedekiah was on the throne. Jeremiah delivers one particular message from God to Zedekiah. This is God’s offer to him,
“If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. But if you will not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from them.” (Jeremiah 38:17-18)
The young king and his officials inside the city walls stubbornly refuse to leave, saying, "We won't lose. We won't give up our special city.” Jeremiah kept giving them the real news. "You won't win. God has given this city to Nebuchadnezzar. The people will die of starvation and disease. The city will be burned. Your family will be destroyed unless you surrender."
Zedekiah’s response was not to accept God’s protection if he surrendered. Instead of obeying God, Zedekiah chose to protect himself and listen to his peers, to ignore the conflict and hope it would go away. It didn’t. Zedekiah’s entire family was killed; he was blinded and held in chains. Even up to the last minute, God’s steadfast love offered a gift to a stiff-necked king.
I’ve often thought about God’s offer to spare Zedekiah and the whole city of Jerusalem from destruction. All Zedekiah had to do was simply surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. He could have saved the lives of many people and perhaps the Temple from being destroyed! But, he refused to follow Jeremiah's counsel! He became stiff-necked. He hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord.
That reminds me of the simplicity of the Gospel message. It says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” So simple yet so hard for many people to accept. They hang onto their own way to live life and face the future rather than God’s way. Just like Zedekiah.
And what really grabbed my attention is that the leaders of the priests became idol worshipers again, defiling the Temple. The chief priests. Within 20 years of Josiah's death, the evil cancer of idolatry had returned. God had to clean up the filth—again! This is how He cleaned and purified His people.
The wicked and unrepentant died at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.
Those whose hearts were pliable were taken captive to Babylon for 70 years. There, they learned to trust God alone and give up any idolatrous behavior.
After the 70 years, the faithful were allowed to return to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and their homeland.
Isaiah was dead by this time. But, he had spoken of God’s plans to discipline His people in order to purify and strengthen them. Listen to these familiar words in Isaiah chapter 55 and place them into this context:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:8-12)
God’s discipline of Israel had a purpose. His words spoken through the prophets would accomplish the purpose. And, there would be rejoicing!
God's steadfast love brought back a remnant of faithful Jews to regain their land and their purpose to once again be a light for the Gentiles. Israel clung to their God for the next few hundred years, thus preparing them for the coming of their Messiah. I would have given up on such a stiff-necked people. God didn't. His steadfast love planned a future for them. Thankfully in His steadfast love, He is still wooing those whose hearts are pliable towards Him. He planned a future for us as well.
God’s steadfast love planned for the future
As bad as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple looked, God caused it to work for good for His people, that eventually benefited you and me. He had a greater purpose than purifying His people.
The Jews were captive in Babylon, cut off from the Temple, and surrounded by pagan religious practices. So, they concentrated on what they had—their God and the Law, what they call the Torah—the first five books of the Bible. While they were in exile, they kept their identity as God's people and learned how to live out their faith through personal piety and prayer rather than the sacrifices that were no longer available to them. The center of worship became something new—the local synagogue. As a result, Judaism became a faith that could be practiced wherever the Jews could meet and the Torah could be read.
The dispersion of Israel that began with the exile accelerated during the years that followed so that by the time of Jesus, Jews filled every land in the Middle East. Those Jews living outside of the land of Israel were called the Diaspora. This prepared the way for the Christian gospel. The missionaries of the early church began their Gentile ministries among the Diaspora, in their synagogues, using the Greek translation of the Old Testament prepared ~200 BC that nearly everyone could read. Within many Jewish synagogue congregations were “God-fearing” Gentiles—the non-Jews who believed in the Jewish God and followed the Law to some extent.
God had the bigger picture. He turned something that looked bad into something that was great for not only the Jews but also for Gentiles throughout the Persian, Greek and Roman Empires. God is so good in everything He does!
One more historical nugget: During the time period after the exile, a religious group formed to keep Israel pure from idolatry. They did this by promoting the keeping of the Law as the only way that the Jews would be able to live righteously before God in a world that had changed drastically since the days of Moses. We know them in the Gospels as the Pharisees. Even though they had become petty and legalistic by the time of Jesus, they had helped to make sure Israel never again turned to idols thus purifying it for the coming of Jesus Christ.
And, when Jesus came to earth, the power of God’s presence was manifested in a very personal way. As Tony Evans says, Jesus is God’s selfie. Jesus said, “When you look at me, you see the Father.” He lived His life in dependence on God so that we would know how to do that, too. Jesus gave His life for us on the cross so that we could become new creatures with complete forgiveness of our sins and a reconciled relationship with our God. Jesus rose from the dead so that He could give His life to us through the Holy Spirit that lives inside of every believer. And, because of the power of God’s presence in us, Jesus can live His life through us.
Dear listener, be like the men and women of the Reformation. Take the truths of Scripture to heart. Come to God and be saved by His grace alone through your faith alone. Commit your life to following Him, renewing that commitment every day And, rejoice because of what He has done and is doing in your life. Our God’s powerful presence helps you to do that!
Let Jesus satisfy your heart with the power of His presence. Then, live in that power!
I’m Melanie Newton, and you’ve been listening to Satisfied Series 6. I hope you will join me for another series and continue to be satisfied by His love.