“Going to the Specialist”

Our system for August is the endocrine system, but because of the Fair Service in the park next week, we will have an abbreviated look at that system. The endocrine system controls how the glands and hormones interact with the rest of the body, particularly the organs. The glands produce hormones that help to regulate the internals of the body.

The word itself is made up of the combination of two Greek words. The first word is “endo” which means “within.” The second word is “crinis” which means to secrete. Thus, the endocrine system is about secreting chemicals throughout the body to keep it functioning properly. These chemicals are produced by glands such as the thyroid, the pituitary gland, and pancreas.

Most people do not give a lot of thought to their glands and hormones until something goes wrong. And any number of factors, including unseen factors such as stress, can send our hormones into a state of flux. Many people experience issues with their thyroid, but the most common endocrine issue is diabetes which is the result of the body not being able to process glucose correctly because the insulin produced in the pancreas is either not working correctly or because insulin is not being produced adequately.

Last month our system was the nervous system which allows for communication from our sensory receptors to our brain. The goal last month was to consider how our senses lead us to care for others. This month, we focus more on the communication itself. Again, a slight imbalance in the chemical makeup of a person can lead to a myriad of problems. Likewise, communication issues within the church can lead to many different challenges. And, just as people do not often consider the importance of their endocrine system, people do not fully realize how important communication is within the church.

Consider this, everything the church does is communication. As we worship, we are communicating with each other and with God. Singing is communicating with God. Praying is communicating with God. Announcements are communicating with one another about upcoming opportunities. A sermon is the communication of God’s Word. In fact, all Bible teaching is meant to be the communication of God’s Word. When you arrived today, you spoke to various people. Gathering with others in the church might be called fellowship, but it will involve communication. Evangelism is communicating with others the truth of what Jesus has done. A baptism is a public communication of a personal commitment someone has made. The Lord’s Supper is to be done “in remembrance of me,” so says Jesus. Thus, when we partake of the elements we are communicating to Jesus that we think what He did is worth remembering. Cleaning the church is communicating that we believe the place we come to meet with God is worth keeping nice. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Everything the church does relates to communicating. But to effectively communicate as a church, we must first focus on our communication with God. Why should this be our primary focus? Because it was for Jesus.

The prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer was read earlier. As I have said before, I think the title would be better called The Disciple’s Prayer because Jesus taught the prayer to His disciples. We have no record of Jesus praying this prayer, only stating the words that others might use. But we do have examples of Jesus praying. If Jesus, as God, needed to pray for strength and guidance, then certainly we need to pray as well.

Before I get to our key verse for today, take a moment to read a few verses related to Jesus praying. I have selected a verse or passage from each of the four gospels and have organized them chronologically – near the beginning of His ministry, before He raised Lazarus from the dead, before His death, and one after being raised from the dead.

Mark 1.35: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

After a long evening of healing the day before, Jesus began early before the day’s interruptions began.

John 11.41-42: “So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’”

Notice Jesus words: “I thank you that you HAVE heard me.” That is, Jesus knew His past prayers have been heard. And now, He is confident that His current prayer will be heard.

Matthew 26.39: “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’”

Jesus taught His disciples to pray “on earth as it is in heaven.” Notice in this prayer, He says, “as you will.” He prayed what He taught, but more importantly He practiced what He preached (by following the Father’s will all the way to the cross).

Luke 24.30: “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.”

Again, we do not have the specific words, but in Jesus blessing the bread, I believe a part of the disciples recognizing Him was that He did this the same way He had done before feeding the masses, not to mention seeing the scars.

Of course, we have other instances of Jesus praying – as He was baptized (Luke 3.21, the words are not there, but it says He prayed), prior to selecting the Twelve who would be called apostles (Luke 6.12), before feeding the masses (Matthew 14.19), and after feeding the masses (Mark 6.46), etc.

So, Jesus prayed. And, thus, we should too.

I have provided evidence that we should pray, but now I want to focus on our real need to pray. We have the Bible as our guide, but without prayer, we do not have specific guidance for what God wants from us. Yes, I know we often pray for what we want, but the Bible says that God will give us the desires of our heart when we find our delight in God (c.f. Psalm 37.4).

How do we delight in God? Well, one way would be to follow His will. How do we know His will? Through prayer. Consider the words of Jesus in John 5.

John 5.19: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise…’”

How does Jesus know what the Father is doing? By talking to Him. Consistently. Even constantly.

So, what are we to do? What does Jesus want from us?

Again, we have the Bible as our guide. First, Jesus said the most important thing we can do is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In doing that, we are also to love others. Loving others means we will then heed Jesus words to make disciples. And making disciples is the means by which Jesus is building His Church.

And that leads us to a verse we have reviewed often. We will see it in its larger context again in two weeks, but in response to the greatest statement ever made by any human other than Jesus, Christ Himself responded with a promise. The statement was made by Peter – that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus response was that on the foundation of that truth, He would build His church (Matthew 16.16-19).

That is Jesus’ mission. That is His ongoing ministry. It is a ministry that has been in place for nearly 2000 years and one that will continue, with His promise, until He returns. How do we do it? Well, the Bible provides a lot of good examples and many direct commands on what we should and should not do. But to know specifically what we are to do NOW, in this time and place, what we are to do?

The answer will take communication. First, we must communicate with God. And then we must communicate with each other. We have seen that Jesus communicated with God and therefore, it is most reasonable that we have a need to do so as well. In fact, if Jesus needed to pray, we REALLY need to do so.

God has a plan for each of us individually, and all of us collectively. And communication is the means by which we can know and then fulfill that plan. But it all starts with following Jesus’ example of praying – not just for our needs, but to know God’s heart.

CONCLUSION

The practice of medicine has changed a great deal in recent decades. Certainly, the understanding of the human body has increased drastically since the early days of mankind, but we have seen incredible advances in treatment in just the last few decades. One reason for that is the technology that is now available. But another is the increase in specialization.

60 years ago, if something was wrong, you called the doctor. If your head hurt, you called the doctor. If your heart stopped, you called the doctor. Perhaps the doctor would come see you at your house, but regardless of your ailment, you called THE doctor.

Now, you go to a doctor in order to be told what doctor you need to see. If it is your head, perhaps you will see a neurologist, or maybe an ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist). If it is your heart, you see a cardiologist. Blood? Hematologist. Bones? An orthopedic specialist.

But what if the problem is the Body of Christ? Sure, you call (or blame) the pastor. But the pastor is not THE specialist. Jesus is. We are called the Body of Christ and therefore our care should come from a doctor that specializes in caring for that kind of body. That doctor is not just any doctor. That doctor is the Great Physician. That doctor is Christ. And, thus,…

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

I have already stated several times that Jesus has provided us with an example of prayer. Prayer is essential and yet many (most?) people are unsure of how to pray. The reality is that very few have the prayer life they would like, but when we realize that prayer is not formal, it is merely like talking to our friend, or a loving parent, then our concerns about praying should disappear.

Jesus gave His followers a model. But what is important is not the words, it is the heart. As we seek to know what God wants for us, we will change, and in turn, we can change the world. That’s what Jesus wants. He wants us to change the world one person at a time, beginning each of us, through love and making disciples. And it all begins with communicating with Him.

PRINCIPLE:  If Jesus prayed, we need to pray as well.

QUESTION:  How can you make you communication with Jesus be as natural as you would talk to your closest friend?

OPPORTUNITY:  Breathe Jesus! Then talk to Him as if you were talking on the phone with a friend – taking the time to listen to Him respond.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Most people doubt the ability to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5.17) but if we realize how easy it is to talk to God, we will desire to live our lives in constant prayer.

“The Good Neighbor”

To keep our bodies healthy, we need nutrition. Most of the time we think of nutrition, we think of food. Food is actually the substance that fills us, but it is the nutrients within the food that are important.

What we cannot get in food, we can take as supplements. Many people take a host of vitamins every day for a variety of reasons. One such vitamin is B12. B12 is a key nutrient for ensuring our cells our healthy. B12 is also critical for keeping our nerves healthy. And it is the nervous system that is our focus this month.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the nervous system identifies issues and reports them to the brain. The nerves do not cause a reaction, they only record a sense – sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. That sense is passed to the brain for evaluation and response. If we touch something that is hot, we remove our hand not because of the nerve that senses the heat, but because the brain (a part of the central nervous system) tells the muscular system the affected body part needs to move. Thus, it is vital to keep the nervous system in good working order to know what is happening around us, but without the other systems working in harmony with one another, we would not be able to change the situation.

The same is true of the human body. And that fact is why we are focusing this series on equating the various systems of the human body to the need for various systems within the church – the body of Christ. For us, the nervous system is our sense of caring. Just as our five senses inform us about our own situation – what we are seeing, tasting, smelling, etc., our senses help us to know when others are in need as well. But just like our brain must then inform another system to do something about our own situation, our response to someone else’s need is not because of our observation, but because we make a choice to respond – or not to respond.

It is that choice that is our focus today as we review a familiar parable of Jesus – the parable of The Good Samaritan. Take a moment to read this story and the accompanying parable recorded in Luke 10.25-37.

Many of you have likely heard this story many times. But I want to approach it from the perspective of labels. Labels help us to identify items more easily. Labels help us to “define” something as better or worse. But it is those labels that keep us from love as well. And that is what we find clearly in the story – even in the title of the story. The story is not called Various Responses to the Hurt Man on the Road, although that would be a perfectly accurate title. It is not called The Teacher Answers the Lawyer’s Question, although, again, that title is very descriptive of the situation. The title is the Good (label=not bad) Samaritan (label=bad). Thus, the title given is seemingly an oxymoron. Because a Samaritan cannot be good – at least not in the eyes of most of the people who heard Jesus that day.

The Label Good:

This story begins with two who would be labeled as good.

The Lawyer

We can assume that the lawyer is good – at least the people would say so. This man (v. 26 calls the lawyer a “him”) is learned. He knows Scripture because he answered with the greatest commandment, which is not yet recorded as Jesus stating it being the greatest commandment. Thus, he has some piety and he is well-educated. Therefore, the people would label him good.

The Teacher

We know WHO the teacher is? This lawyer really did not. He knew the Teacher to be someone who was knowledgeable and worthy of respect, but no one fully knew who Jesus really was – at least, not yet. But the lawyer knew the teacher was good enough to ask Him a question. And Jesus, as the Teacher, showed His goodness in His initial response, but also in the story He told.

And that brings us to the unexpected good person – the one who was like a true neighbor.

The Samaritan

If you have heard this story before, you likely know that Samaritans and Jews did not get along. The reason is that the Jews considered themselves whole-blooded descendants of Abraham, but the Samaritans were half-breeds. Indeed, Samaritans were descendants of Abraham, and the area where they lived was inhabited by them when the Israelites came into the Promised Land led by Joshua. But over the centuries, this group intermarried with Assyrians who settled the land of the northern kingdom in the 8th Century BC.

Samaritans would harass Jews who went from Jerusalem to Galilee. And a “good Jew” would go around Samaria to get wherever s/he needed to go. But this fact is what makes the story of Jesus and the woman at the well so surprising in John 4. Jesus goes through Samaria so that he can have a moment with this woman. (John 4.4 says he “had” to go through Samaria.)

What is particularly interesting about the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 10 is that in the previous chapter, Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans. Why? Luke 9.53 gives the reason: His face was set towards Jerusalem. The problem is that the Samaritans did not accept Jerusalem as a holy place and thus despised it. (Samaritans only believed in the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy, and Jerusalem is not mentioned there.) So, just a short time after being rejected, Jesus shows His goodness by telling a story where the Samaritan is the good neighbor in the story.

So, we have three characters in this passage who are notably good. The Lawyer, the Teacher, and the Samaritan.

Before I move to the “bad,” let me clarify that we can assume two others are good, but we do not really know. The man who is injured and the innkeeper are characters about which we know so little, and therefore we cannot infer anything. Many believe the man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho was a Jew, and he might have been (probably was), but the text does not say so. And the innkeeper is given the task to care for the injured man, but we are not told that the innkeeper did it – or that it was done well. We also do not know if any care was provided because payment would be made. Thus, we have to discount these two figures from the labels we are applying because we simply cannot know.

The Label Bad:

The Robbers

The individuals who stripped, beat, and left the man for half dead are obviously meant to be the bad guys in this story. Interestingly, they may be the only characters in this story whose label is accurate.

The Priest

Fortunately for the injured man, a priest came by soon afterward. Verse 31, says “by chance.” In other words, it was not expected. But this moment was an opportunity for a servant of God, specifically one who served in the temple, to provide some necessary help. The Bible does not give a specific reason for the priest passing by on the other side. It is true that priests were not to defile themselves by touching the dead except if the person was a closer relative (and the man was left half dead (v. 30). Others have speculated that the priest feared an attack by the same robbers or that he was going home. But this is a fictitious priest. It is a parable, so we have no reason to speculate on the reasons – only that he did not stop to help.

The Levite

Levites were one of the 12 tribes and their task was to assist the priests. Certainly, the priests were servants, but the Levites knew what it meant to serve other people because they served (that is, helped) the priests. So, if the priest wouldn’t stop, maybe the Levite would. But no. Again, this is a fictitious story so speculation as to why is irrelevant.

Thus, the religious leaders of Israel passed on the opportunity to help a fellow Jew. Thus, even though priests and Levites were usually considered good, in this case, they would be labeled – bad!

If we look closely, most of the main characters are actually different than others perceive them to be. Let’s take a closer look at the lawyer.

The lawyer was thought to be good because of his education. But Luke 10.25 says that the lawyer came to put Jesus to the test. Now some might suggest that the lawyer was simply asking a question (and perhaps he was), but these words seem loaded! We know that the religious leaders would later try to trap Jesus with their questions, and Jesus, Himself, was asked about the greatest commandment near the end of His life as part of a trap. Furthermore, the lawyer wanted to “justify himself” (v. 29). So, it is easy to see the possibility of the lawyer having impure motives, at the least.

CONCLUSION

I started this post talking about nutrients, specifically B12. The label on a bottle tells me what should be in the bottle. If I get enough B12 then my nerves may be healthy and I can recognize the challenges around me. And those challenges may not be mine, they may be the challenges of others. And thus, I need to make certain my nervous system is ready to respond to the needs as He would have me respond. And that is where labels cause a problem.

But that’s the problem. Because most people, self-included, are not who they seem (or claim) to be, at least not always. We just saw that with the lawyer and the priest, and the Levite, and the Samaritan. And sometimes the people are worse, and sometimes, they are better. And sometimes, people change. For instance, I can assure you that during my time in college, no one thought I would be a pastor. I was not a hellion, but I was not even remotely who I am today. Then, I wore the label – sinner. (AB – shirt) Today, here is the label I wear – sinner, saved by grace. (AB – new shirt)

So labeling items such as food and medicines is good and is meant to be helpful. But just like a mislabeled bottle of medicine (say oxycodone in a bottle labeled aspirin) can be lethal, so too can a labeling of people.

So, before I give you the JOURNEY letter, let me show you the power of labels. What is your reaction when you think of lawyers? Teachers? Robbers? Priests? Levites? Hotel managers? Business people? CEOs? Professional Athletes? Grocery store clerks? Amusement park workers? Farmers? Men? Women? People who live in the city? People who live in rural areas? Government officials? Democrats? Republicans? Asians? Hispanics? Blacks? Whites? Millennials? Teenagers? Senior Adults? Homosexuals? Cross-dressers? Etc. Etc. Etc.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  NNURTURE.

I wonder what the lawyer did. I wonder how he responded to the story. In a different story, we are told that the rich young ruler went away sad when Jesus gave him a command. But in this story, Jesus simply says, “You go, and do likewise.” Specifically, I wonder if this story made him conscientious. How did he respond the next time he saw someone in need. It likely was not someone who had been beaten and injured, but it could have been. Perhaps, it was someone who simply needed a drink of water? Or maybe it was someone who needed someone to help them with a task? Or someone to listen to them? We are not told what happened to the lawyer.

But the command Jesus gave was not just to the lawyer…it was to us as well. Like the lawyer, we have a choice of how we will respond.

PRINCIPLE:  It is hard to love people whom we label. It is hard to label people whom we love.

QUESTION:  Whom have you labeled that you instead need to love?

OPPORTUNITY:  When you are tempted to label this week, ask God for forgiveness and to help you love the person instead.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE:   Choose to love one person this week whom you would normally label with a specific act of caring to fill a need. In other words, “Go and be a good neighbor.”

“Seeking the Courage to Respond”

The month of July will focus on the nervous system. The nervous system is the collection of the nerves in our body – a system that allows the body to experience life – both good and bad. For instance, most mornings, my nerves send a signal to my brain that gets interpreted as my back is sore. Many of you can relate. Other times, my nerves send an impulse to my brain which says my wife grabbing my hand is pleasurable. Or perhaps, you eat something new that is interpreted as delicious. Or you smell something that your brain finds repulsive. So, the nervous system allows us to experience life as we react to our various senses.

The sense of sight may not be the most powerful (some experts say smell is the strongest of our five senses), but sight triggers more than our senses. While any sense is able to trigger an emotional response, modern technology allows sight to do so through various mediums like TV. For years advertisers have used this idea against us. For instance, have you ever noticed how much better a pizza looks on TV than it does on the pizza tray on your table? Or think about all of the starving children you have seen on TV, or the computer. You do not need to have the sound on for the emotions to be activated. You do not smell anything different, nor are you touching or tasting anything different, it is simply your sight that sends a signal from the optic nerve to the brain which then triggers some sort of emotion – and the advertiser hopes it is one of mercy (or perhaps pity).

Sight also allows us to discern how others are responding to our teaching, our feedback, etc. Certainly, Jesus could see the looks on His disciples faces as He taught them. Facial responses help us to know if someone is angry, confused, or perhaps has an “Aha!” moment. All of this comes from the sense of sight. But more importantly than seeing something needs to be done is to determine what should be done because of what we see.

The nervous system cannot instruct us on what to do; it only alerts us to the fact that something needs to be done. The focus for the church then is that our nervous system as a church should cause some sort of response. That response first is a recognition that something needs to be done, then knowing what to do, and finally, doing what needs to be done.

As we review John 13 this week, we will see that it was a sensitivity to others that caused Jesus to serve others, and that should prompt us to do the same.

Background

Jesus’ ministry was coming to an end. In fact, he really only had one major act of ministry left before He would fulfill His ultimate ministry purpose – defeating death for those who believe. In fact, as part of Jesus’ final words prior to the story we will review today, that is what Jesus said, “I have come to save the world” (John 12.47). But in this final night with His closest followers, Jesus has a couple of important lessons for them – they are to serve and they are to love (which echoes what Paul wrote to the Galatians as we saw last week, Galatians 5.14).

Jesus Shows His Disciples What It Means to Serve (John 13.1-20)

A review of the other accounts of the Gospel show that Jesus had made intentional preparations to spend this last night with His disciples (see Matthew 26.17-19; Mark 14.12-16; Luke 22.7-13). He knew what was coming; they did not. Verse 1 says that Jesus knew the hour had come. During the dinner, Jesus first provides a lesson of service. Why? Because He could see that the disciples had not yet fully grasped what Jesus wanted them to do.

Then Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

After washing, Jesus returns to His place and shares the reason for this lesson of service (John 13.12-20). Most importantly, Jesus teaches that even though He is the teacher, He has served them. And then He instructs them that they must be willing to do the same. Jesus has seen that something needs to be done – an example must be set. Jesus knows how shocking the example will be in the culture, but He knows what must be done – and He does it. Finally, Jesus does more than simply think about what must be done, or talk about what must be done, Jesus does it.

Then Jesus tells His disciples that this is an example of what they must do.

Much can, and should, be said about other significant components of this passage (e.g. the cleansing Jesus offers, or that our Teacher would serve us by dying for us, etc.), but for today, the focus is simply upon the act of service. But the rest of this text reminds us that the service is to be done in love.

Jesus Commands His Disciples to Love (John 13.31-35)

Jesus speaks of His betrayal by Judas in the verses following what we just reviewed before giving the disciples a new commandment.  Before we get to this new commandment, notice that Judas was still with Him at the table (vv. 22-31, particularly 26-27). This fact is significant because it means that Judas was among those who had his feet washed by Jesus.  We should not infer from this that Judas was born again, but we can conclude that our service is not meant only for those whom we like, or more directly here, who have our best interest in mind. That is, we are to serve others – beginning with those in the church, but that does not mean we neglect those apart from the church. Why?

Because of love.

Our love and care for one another is proof that we are disciples of Jesus. Again, Jesus saw a need. Something needed to be done. We do not have to look hard for evidence that the disciples were often arguing with one another. At times, that argument was about which of them was the greatest (e.g. Mark 9.33-34; 10.35-45). Jesus was obviously the greatest, and yet He humbled Himself. Now, He was clearly stating that He was about to leave, and thus, for them to continue what He had started. To continue required just two characteristics – service and love. And not just a token expression of love; rather they were to exhibit the same kind of love for one another that He had shown to them.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is true for us today. We also prove that we are followers of Jesus by our love for one another. Again, that love must go beyond the walls of this church body, but it begins with a love for those who are a part of this church body. If we can’t do that, then we must question our dedication to Jesus because it was He who said that love would be our proof.

CONCLUSION

I began this message speaking about the importance of the nervous system. But we must remind ourselves that the nerves themselves are only informative. Once the brain receives the signals, then the information is considered and a decision is made. The decision could be to do nothing, or it could involve doing something different. Those decisions could be relatively minor such as shifting our head to see something better or more major like deciding to put on a coat and gloves because it is cold outside (wishful thinking in July!). Regardless, our senses reveal the current information, and then we must decide what comes next.

The truth is that oftentimes our senses reveal that something must be done. Then we must decide what that something is. What should be done? Do we know how to do it? Could someone else help us? Etc. But then, once we have asked those questions, action should be taken. I understand that sometimes inaction is the appropriate action. But often times not acting is from laziness or worse apathy. However, intentionally choosing not to act is still an action. The key is having the wisdom and the courage to know what to do and to do it.

In 2 Chronicles 1, the Bible records the story of a young Solomon praying for wisdom. The result is that God grants Solomon the wisdom he desired, and Solomon is considered the wisest man to have ever lived. (I would clarify the wisest besides Jesus.) But wisdom is both knowing and doing. Solomon knew a great deal, and did many things too, but evidently his wisdom did not fulfill him. Remember, the writer of Ecclesiastes, often presumed to be Solomon, wrote that everything is meaningless.

Jesus, on the other hand shows the purpose of wisdom. That is, the purpose of both loving and service is to bring glory to God (see John 13.31). If we desire to be wise, we must be willing to seek to understand, to learn what must be done, and then to do it – not for our purposes, but for God’s. As we live our lives in obedience to Christ, we will then find our senses heightened so that we will have more opportunities to serve and to love and thus to bring God glory.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

More than knowing He had to set an example of service, Jesus knew His true purpose was to die for our sins and raise again so that we might live. Again, He knew something had to be done. He knew what to do, and actually let what needed to be done happen to Him, having the courage to do it. And that courage brought a glory to God that would not otherwise be possible.

PRINCIPLE:  A follower of Christ is to serve and to love in order to bring glory to God.

QUESTION:  Whom can you love by serving them unexpectedly this week?

OPPORTUNITY:  We often know something must be done, and sometimes know what is needed, but we do not act. Act on what needs to be done this week.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE:   Partaking of the Lord’s Supper

“Radical Treatment”

Last week, I mentioned the importance of the immune system. I mentioned that another system, the lymphatic system, was related. The lymphatic system is responsible for sending lymph throughout the body through a network of vessels to fight infections and to remove unwanted waste from the body (waste, as in, carbon dioxide, and or infections). The lymph nodes are the areas where much of this waste is filtered to it can be properly removed. But sometimes when serving as a filter, the lymph nodes become cancerous. This can happen for a couple of reasons, but one is when cells from a cancerous tumor travel through the lymph vessels and attach themselves to the node. When this happens, we say that the cancer is in the lymph nodes.

The reason this issue is so troubling is that the lymph nodes are where the white blood cells do their work best. If the lymph node is affected, then our natural healing agents, are compromised which often leads to bigger problems. The lymph nodes can be removed but then certain fluids have no outlet and the fluid builds up which is called lymph edema. So, removing the lymph nodes is an extreme measure, but sometimes to heal the body, extreme measures must be taken.

What is true for the human body, is true for the church – the Body of Christ. Those who are born again are the Body of Christ, but a similar expression could be the people of God. Now that term can have a couple of meanings, but in the Old Testament, the people of God were the Israelites. And due to decades of evil, the healing that they needed had to be substantial. They needed a radical treatment because they were about to face the wrath of God. That wrath came just a few decades later, but a generation (or two) was spared because of the radical steps taken by a young king named Josiah.

Background

Josiah became king of Judah when he was eight years old. The most important statement about Josiah in the Bible is “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 22.2). Throughout the listing of kings, one of two statements are made – the king either did right or evil in the sight of the Lord. Josiah did what was right. And given that his grandfather was Manasseh, who not only did evil (2 Kings 21.2), but led others to be evil as well (2 Kings 21.9, 16), for Josiah to do right was not to be assumed when he became king. His father, Amon, also did evil, but only reigned two years; Manasseh reigned 55 years.

Besides being known as the king who was the youngest king in Israel to begin his reign (at age eight), Josiah is best known for instituting a series of changes to heal the nation after it had been led astray by the two previous kings – again, his father and grandfather. Josiah led Judah in four distinct ways that prevented Judah from being overrun by the enemy. As a NT church, we can learn from his actions and allow us to fight off the corruption that might otherwise come.

Restoring the Temple (2 Kings 22.1-7)

2 Kings 22 shares the account of the repairs that Josiah ordered for the temple. Your Bible might title this portion, Josiah Repairs the Temple, or something similar. Verse 3 says it happened in his 18th year, so he was 26 years old. But if you notice, the outline uses the idea of restoring the temple, not repairing it. Why the difference?

Well, in 2 Chronicles 34-35, we have the account of Josiah from the priestly perspective. The books called Kings were written by people who had access to the kings or the kings’ information. The books called Chronicles provide the same timeline, but they do so from the perspective of the priests who served the nation. Thus, the stories have a lot of overlap, but some important details emerge in their differences.

One such difference is recorded in 2 Chronicles 34.3 which says that in Josiah’s eighth year, when he would have been 16, Josiah began a process of removing the altars and Asherah poles which had been set up around Judah. The other altars were erected to make it easy for the people to worship without having to go to Jerusalem – which God had commanded them to do. The Asherah poles were made for the goddess Asherah who was one of the goddesses of the Hittites, a group that the Israelites were supposed to drive out from the Promised Land. Thus, Josiah was intent on restoring the importance of the temple of God, which began with the removal of idols and unlawful places of worship, and then culminated in the repairs of the temple itself.

How does this apply to you and me? Well, we can dress things up as fancy as we want, but if we are still chasing false gods, then nothing we do at the church will bring the healing we need. We can have new pews, new carpet, a nice sound system, etc., but if our hearts are not right, then nothing else matters. Josiah new that Israel needed to be purified before she was ready to truly worship in the temple. The same is true for the church – that is, the people – today.

Responding to the Law (2 Kings 22.8-20)

In 2 Kings 22, we are told that during the repairs of the temple, the Book of the Law is found. In other words, they found the writings of Moses which are called the Pentateuch, or as we know them, the first five books of the Bible – Genesis through Deuteronomy. When this book was found, the priest had it sent to the king where it was read and the king responded by tearing his clothes – a sign that he realized the importance of the Book, the words, and what needed to be done.

So, how did Josiah respond? He wanted to know if it was too late for Judah. Indeed, it almost was. Josiah has a prophetess consulted. Yes, the king and priests (who were males) consulted a woman (named Huldah, see 2 Kings 22.14) for counsel from the Lord. Her words revealed that God was about to destroy the people of Judah for being unfaithful, but God would spare them for a time because of the humility showed by the king – Josiah. Read vv. 18-20. History estimates that Josiah’s reign ended about 610 BC, and by 597 BC, the Babylonians were already beginning to conquer the region and by 587 BC, Jerusalem was captured and the temple was destroyed.

Why did this happen? Because the people had forsaken God for their own purposes (v. 17). How did this happen? In part, it was because the Book of the Law was not considered important. In fact, the book was lost for as many as 75 years. Again, Manasseh was evil and reigned for 55 years (although he did repent at one point) and then Josiah’s father reigned for two years. That makes 57 years. And the work in the temple began during Josiah’s eighteenth year on the throne, so that makes 75 years that is could have been missing, making it likely that it was not read for over 50, at least.

Imagine going to the place where God is worshipped and not knowing where a Bible was. Of course, only the priests read God’s Law at that time. And worship was different then, but Josiah’s reaction is indicative of a person who loves God and desires to please Him. Unfortunately, too many people, even Christians, in the 21st Century take the Bible for granted. If that is the case, what will happen in the future. That is, what will future generations reap because of us if we are not diligent to read, study, and follow the Word of God?

Reforming the Nation (2 Kings 23.1-20)

In the previous sentence, I listed three actions related to the Word of God. We are to read. We are to study. And we are to follow. Josiah did more than hear the words, he asked what they meant. And then he acted. Much of 2 Kings 23 shares the reforms that Josiah instituted after he heard the God’s laws. Now, as the king he had the authority to enact these changes, but the people still had to choose to follow.

First, Josiah gathered all of the people together so they could hear the reading from the Book of the Law. After this was completed, Josiah made a covenant with God to keep the commands, and after Josiah made the covenant, the people joined with him in making one as well (v. 3).

Next, any remaining idols were removed and destroyed. Then he removed priests who had been appointed by kings to make sacrifices (v. 5). He removed the male prostitutes from the temple, and then destroyed all of the remaining places where idol sacrifices were made throughout the land. All of these actions were done because he heard the words of God in the Book of the Law and wanted to turn the people back to following God.

A key for us is what the leader did, the people followed. As the pastor of this church, that is really humbling. It is a reminder of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth when he wrote, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11.1). I have recently told the deacons that God has me evaluating everything in my life right now. I know he is asking me to change some things. Perhaps he will ask you to make changes too. What I do know if that if we want the nation to change, it will begin with the church. And if the church is to change, it must begin with each of us. And we may not like the word change, but the reality is that we are all changing every day. The question is: Are we changing for the better – that is, are we becoming more like Christ?

Restoring the Passover (2 Kings 23.21-27)

The Bible mentions one final change that Josiah made. He restored the observance of Passover. I mentioned earlier that the Book of the Law might have been “missing” for as many as 75 years. So, you might ask, how long had it been since the Israelites had kept the Passover? Well, it was more than 75 years – a lot more.

Before I share an approximate time, let me point out two important points. First, when God instituted the Passover, He said it was a feast they were to keep forever (Exodus 12.14). The feast was to be a memorial for the night of the final plague in Egypt, when all of the firstborn in the land died if lamb’s blood was not spread on the door of their house. The feast was so named because if God saw the blood on the doorposts and the lintel of the house, he would pass over the house. The Israelites did this and had their sons spared. The Egyptians did not and the result was Pharaoh finally allowing the Israelites to go free. Thus, before the very first Passover, God instructed the people to hold the feast every year.

So, as a reminder the first important point was that God instituted the Passover and told the people they were to celebrate it generation after generation forever. The second important point is that the Book of the Law was read to Josiah. Somewhere along the way, the people stopped observing Passover, and they might not have started again if the Book of the Law had not been found, read, and observed.

Just how long had it been since Passover had been observed? Well, it depends on how long you consider the time of the judges to have lasted (and scholars debate on this), but history tells us that David was king about 1050 BC and Saul was king before that, and 2 Kings 23.22 says that the Passover had not been kept since before the times of the kings, nor during some of the time of the judges. History tells us that Josiah’s reign ended in about 610 BC, so the most recently Passover had been observed was 500 years prior, and maybe as many as 800 years. To put that in perspective, the Mayflower arrived in America just less than 400 years ago. The printing press is less than 600 years old. In other words, the people in Josiah’s day likely had very little idea of what the Passover was, and certainly the feast had not been properly celebrated by any of them.

But because of one man’s faithfulness, a country was not only spared the wrath of God for a few decades, but many people rediscovered the origins of a faith that had otherwise been lost.

CONCLUSION

Josiah had to take drastic action. The country had not only fallen away from God, but it appears that few, if any, knew God. You and I might read this story with little appreciation for the difficulty Josiah faced, but do not overlook the challenges that existed. The people of Judah were still worshipping and making sacrifices, but their sacrifices were being made to false gods and under false pretenses. Josiah had to respond and quickly. The traditions of the people had to die so they could make God’s Word became prominent again. In other words, to heal the land, some radical decisions and actions had to happen – and fast.

Likewise, when someone is diagnosed with a deadly disease, action must be taken. As we think about the removal of a lymph node which is infected with cancer, the best treatment may be to remove the node, but such a move is radical. Why? Because these nodes are where much of the healing of the body originate. But once infected, they can cause more damage than good.

The reality is that many people hear what might or should be done, but they do not act. Josiah heard and he acted. Such action should remind us of James 1.22, where we are informed that we are not be hearers of God’s Word only, deceiving ourselves. We are to do what the Word of God instructs us to do.

What are we, as Fairfax Baptist, to do? The answer to that question is forthcoming. A series of conversations will be had over the next several months to evaluate our true health and determine what needs to be done to be healthy for the future. Will a radical treatment be necessary? That is we must know what is for us to do with the help of the Lord. But, whatever is decided, we must not forsake God’s Word like the people of Judah did. Too much is at stake!

Our JOURNEY letter for today is the full word:  JOURNEY.

Life is a journey, and we do not arrive at our destination until after we have died. But we have a choice in that destination, which is determined by our response to the gift of God’s love through Jesus. Once we have decided, the question then is will be live our lives in proof of our love to Him? For as Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14.15).

PRINCIPLE:  Hearing God’s Word should always lead us to evaluate our lives – and change!

QUESTION:  Which teaching of the Bible have you heard, but have not begun to act?

OPPORTUNITY:  We may each have many areas in our lives that we need healed, but we can start by focusing on healing one area at a time.

NEXT STEP(S):

LOVE:   Focus on Jesus’ words that those who love Him will keep His commandments. Show your love for Him by not just hearing His Word; instead be like Josiah and do what it says (James 1.22).