About 640 years before Jesus, Josiah became king of Judah. His grandfather had been King Manasseh and his father had been King Amon, both of whom were evil men. Josiah became king when he was 8 years old. Somewhat surprisingly, given his heritage, the Bible describes his reign like this:
2 Kings 22:2 He 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 to the left.
In the eighteenth year of his reign –about 622 B.C. – he sent Shaphan, the secretary, up to the temple to get, from the priest Hilkiah, the money donated by the people. Let’s read what happened. Read 2 King 22:8-13
A prophetess, Huldah, confirmed that God would still destroy Judah because of the people’s sin. But she added…
Read 2 Kings 22:18-23:3
A great many reforms followed. Items dedicated to pagan gods were removed from the temple and destroyed. Josiah did away with idolatrous priests and temple prostitutes. He destroyed the altars and shrines built on the tops of the hills and slaughtered the priests who served there. He stopped the sacrifice of children to the pagan god, Molek. He stopped worship of the sun. He tore down altars built by previous kings.
It was a time of national revival and repentance and turning back to the Lord. Nevertheless, God’s judgement did come. Judah was conquered and the people carried into exile in Babylon.
About 180 years later, many were allowed to return. They rebuilt the temple and the walls of Jerusalem, under Nehemiah. Then, Ezra, the teacher of the Law, was told to read from the Book of the Law of Moses to the crowd of people assembled in Jerusalem. Standing on a wooden platform, Ezra read from the scriptures from daybreak to noon and the people listened attentively.
Read Nehemiah 8:5-9
As the people heard God’s word, they reinstituted the religious festivals. They listened to the reading of the Book of the Law for quarter of the day and then spent another quarter in confession of their sins and the sins of their ancestors, and in worship of God. And it led to a renewal of the covenant with God.
Fast forward to about 30 A.D., two discouraged men walked the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus joined them (although they didn’t recognise Him.)
Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning Himself.
A little later, their eyes were opened and they did recognise Him, and Jesus disappeared.
Luke 24:32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?”
Fast forward about 350 years. A brilliant young man, Augustine, was searching for truth. His mother, Monica, was a Christian but Christianity did not satisfy this young man. He lived a life of sexual immorality and dabbled in a variety of religions. Because of his mother’s influence, Augustine, retained some attraction to Jesus and he learned of intelligent people who were converting to Christianity and giving up their worldly lives to serve Jesus. But he was powerless to tear himself away from his way of life. In the late summer of 386 A.D., tormented by his confusion, he sat in a garden, where he heard a child’s voice singing, “Pick it up and read it; pick it up and read it.” He thought perhaps it was part of a child’s game but he could not remember any such game. He then realised that it might be an instruction from God. He found a Bible, opened it and read the first passage he saw.
Romans 13:13-14 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not ins sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissention and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Augustine sensed that God was speaking personally to him. Instantly he felt “a clear light flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” He turned from his sin and to Jesus.
Augustine went on to become a bishop and one of the greatest minds in the history of the world. His writings still influence Christian understanding.
Fast forward about 1,130 years to about 1514. Martin Luther was a German Catholic monk who lectured on the Bible in the Wittenberg University. But he had no assurance that his sins were forgiven despite all his efforts at self-denial and attempts to live righteously. He hated this righteous God who judged unrighteous people. And so he searched the scriptures, one day coming across…
Romans 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed –a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “the righteous will live by faith.”
Luther later wrote, “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven.”
Martin Luther rediscovered the gospel which was not preached by the church at the time. The righteous God mercifully gives grace to those who put their faith in Jesus. It is not about our efforts to be good or about performing certain acts demanded by the church or paying money to the church. It is through faith in Jesus Christ.
With this new understanding, in 1517, Luther protested against the practices of the church, leading to the Reformation – a revolution in the church that changed the history of Europe and the world. The alert among you will realise that 1517 is 500 years ago this year.
Fast forward another 225 years to 1738. John Wesley was the son of an Anglican clergyman and a very godly mother. We went to Oxford University and was then himself ordained as a vicar. Later, returning to Oxford, he became part of “the Holy Club” and group including his brother, Charles, who covenanted with each other to live disciplined Christian lives given to serious study of the Bible, prayer, fasting, and charitable works.
In 1735 John and Charles travelled to the United States to be missionaries to the Indians but they were ineffective and returned to England dispirited. Neither was sure that he actually was a child of God. Wesley wrote, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?”
On May 24 1738, seeking God’s grace, he went to a Christian meeting. He later wrote, “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.”
In this instance, it was not the reading of scriptures that had this effect. It was reading an explanation of the scriptures – Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans. Nevertheless, God did in that moment what years of good works had not been able to do. This minister and missionary became a child of God.
Fast forward to May 7 2017. I have no idea how many people will be utterly changed today through hearing, or reading, the Bible but I guarantee that it will happen. The stories we have heard are all high-profile but there are thousands and thousands of others:
- the man watching porn in his hotel room and then picking up the Gideon’s Bible and being convicted of his need for Jesus
- the person about to commit suicide who finds a page of a Bible blown against his leg; who reads it and who discovers that Jesus died for him
- the mother suffering post-natal depression who is visited by a friend who reads little portions of the Bible to her and who learns that God loves her
- the Communist Russian border guard who confiscated Bibles from Christians entering Russia and who picked one up wondering what it is all about – and came to faith in Jesus.
It happens all of the time.
The Bible is like no other book. Other books can be influential in their own way, but no book has the power of the Bible.
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.
No other book penetrates like the Bible and reveals the state of our hearts. And no other book speaks of the saving grace of God like the Bible does. The Bible convicts of sin but it also speaks God’s mercy to the sinner. How can angry, or desperate, people open the Bible at random and their eyes light on a verse that speaks directly to their situation? It is absolutely miraculous. There can be no natural explanation – no explanation except that God speaks through His word. The word of God is alive and active.
It is absolutely incredible that God has given the world a book through which He speaks directly. What a privilege – a personal communication from God!
This term I want to explore how we can hear what God is saying through His word – through this precious, precious gift.