There is no doubt that the homegoing of a young life, especially one whose life promised so much for the gospel of Jesus Christ, is often confusing and, in our perspective, tragic. One author referred to the death of a committed Christian at the early stages of great potential as, The sun going down at noon. But what we learn from these men and women is that the best time to walk with God is always today. We never know what will happen tomorrow.
Sundown At Noon
As you have read for several days now, TWA flight 800 exploded in mid-air, and plummeted into the ocean off Long Island just 17 minutes after taking off from Kennedy Airport. That disaster sent the country into shock and the unanswered questions surrounding that exploding plane are still sending jitters through our national nervous system.
One of the passengers on that plane was a 20 year old believer - Matthew Alexander who was heading out for a short term missions project in France. Majoring in French at Wake Forest, Matthew was planning to use his language skills through a ministry internship that focused on reaching French teenagers with the Gospel.
The last phone call he made was to his 81 year old Grandmother, Helen Alexander. He had kept a close relationship with her and his last letter to her ended with the words, “Grandma, pray for me. Love Matthew.
There’s no doubt about it - the homegoing of a young life, especially one whose life promises so much for the gospel of Jesus Christ, is often confusing and, in our own perspective, tragic.
One author from my library, who wrote 150 years ago, referred to the death of a committed Christian, at the early stages of great potential, as “The sun going down at noon.”
Three Lessons from Noonday Darkness:
*God’s plans, ordained in heaven, are mysterious!
*Human life, lived on earth, passes so quickly!
*The Christian, in the center of God’s plans, can experience tragedy!
Our story has focused these past few weeks on the life of a godly king named Josiah. A young man with so much potential.
Through the narratives in Kings and Chronicles we watched as he ascended the throne as an 8 year old. Htere was something special about him. Then we observed him as a 16 year old displaying deep conviction for the things of the Lord - and in that we were reminded that teenagers, if they will surrender their lives to God, can do mighty things for God’s cause. We have set our sights too low for the impact young people can make. It’s time to raise our sights.
Then, when most young people would be graduating from college, Josiah has set about to reform his kingdom and rebuild the temple. Last Lord’s day, we took time to observe the stunning discovery of an ancient book - the Book of Deuteronomy - and we followed along as Josiah heard, for the first time in his life, the reading of scripture.
Little wonder that drastic reforms would follow.
Jeremiah carefully records some of Josiah’s reforms - let’s pick our study back up there at 2 Kings 23:4. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the hosts of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5. And he did away with the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense. (Now, don’t forget, the kings who appointed them, the kings who set the idols up were none other than Josiah’s father and grandfather; Josiah was turning his back on decades of family practice. In an age when our past seems to be the great excuser of our present - Josiah teaches us and encourages us that our past does not automatically disable our future walk with God.)
Now, we just don’t have time to cover all the reforms of Josiah in detail: let’s move quickly through some of the verses: 6. And he brought out the Aherah from the house of the Lord outside Jerusalem to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and ground it to dust, and threw its dust on the graves of the common people.
You remember Asherah was one of Baals mistresses - her name means “Mother Earth”; she had crept into the religious system until finally, as this verse spells out, she found a home inside the temple. It wasn’t the first time, nor has it been the last time, that the “Mother” image has been tied to religious worship.
The dust of Asherah was scattered upon the common graves - not to desecrate the people, but to bring the image into contact with death - thus defiling Asherah.
7. He also broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes which were in the house of the Lord - let that sink in - homosexuality as part of the religious ceremony - and their apartments were located inside the temple.
10. He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the sons of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech. (the place of child sacrifice is torn down; while some doubt the cruelty of such a place literally existing - archeologists have uncovered in our generation, burial jars containing infant skeletons from the Topheth region. First born children, sacrificed ino order to understand the future, and to please the false gods of paganism.
Question - who first built this place of child sacrifice? Josiah’s father Ammon? Mannasseh, Josiah’s grandfather? NO - it was Solomon. Josiah finally destroys this horrendous place of cruelty.
11. And he did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had given to
the sun, at the entrance of the house of the Lord.
I’ve mentioned before the Assyrian Zodiac which was worshipped - the stars were followed and plans were made according to the movements of the sun moon and stars.
The chief astral deity was, of course, the sun. Chariots and horses played a big part in the worship of the sun. They believed that the sun god drove his fiery chariot across the sky. In this text we’re told that huge statues were created depicting the horses of the sun god - and placed at the entrance to the temple of all places.
The last part of verse 11 refers to the chariots of the sun - they were, no doubt stunning and beautiful in sight - we lived in Irving Texas while I attended seminary; nearby, in the small town of Las Colinas, there was a large commercial office building. In the courtyard they had a display that would literally stop traffic as you saw it for the first time. A well known sculptor had crafted life size bronze horses. There were 4 or five of them, including a young colt. There were fashioned as though they were in full gallop - running through a stream of water. And water jets or fountains had been arranged so that wherever the hoof of each horse touched the water, water would be splashing around. It was breathtaking.
I can only imagine this display of horses and chariots dedicated to the sun god was equally stunning and breathtaking!
Josiah melted them down, destroying the images to false gods that had so captivated the Israelite people.
One more note - the false priests who carried out the false religion are mentioned throughout this chapter. Some would evidently believe, although others, in verse 9 especially, never really repented. The word translated priest is the Hebrew word, kemarim - most believe it comes from the Hebrew root which means, “to be black”. These priests evidently, in their opposition to the worship of Yahweh, whose followers will, according to Revelation, one day be dressed in white - imagine this - these priests were dressed in black robes, black head pieces, black sandals.
Now let me show you a prophetic fulfillment - look down at verse 17 as Josiah has now gone to Bethel to destroy that ancient altar. Then he said, “What is this monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the grave of the man of God who came from Judah and proclaimed these things which you have done against the altar of Bethel.” 18. And he said “Let him alone; let no one disturb his bones.”
Turn back quickly to I Kings 13:1
I KINGS 13:1 Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the Lord, while Jeroboam was standing by tha altar to burn incense. 2. And he cried against the altar by the word of the Lord, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord, “Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall casrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you (they will be executed) and human bones shall be burned on you.”
Some 300 years from that day to the day we’re studying now.
Not one word of God shall fall to the earth - what God says will happen, will happen.
Can you imagine Josiah’s father - ungodly Ammon - picking out a name for his newborn son - let’s see what will we call him. Let’s call him Josiah - maybe he will grown to dishonor the God of Israel as I have done - yet even in the name he chose - God’s will was done.
Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not overpower it.”
Voltair the French antagonist declared war on Christianity with his pen and paper - vowing to wipe out Christianity with his own reason. the French philosopher, did not accept the tenets of Christianity. He even predicted that Christianity would be swept from existence and passed into history within 100 years of his lifetime. Voltaire died in 1778. In 1828, fifty years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society moved into his house and began using Voltair's own printing press to produce thousands of Bibles that were distributed worldwide. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8
Josiah discovered the unquenchable, unshakable book of the law and obeyed.
What occurs next is the grandest celebration of the Passover seen in that generation.
Turn ahead to 2 Chronicles chapter 35
2 CHRONICLES 35
Look at verse 17.
Thus the sons of Israel who were present celebrated the Passover at that time, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days. 18 And there had not been celebrated a Passover like it in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet; nor had any of the kings of Israel celebrated such a Passover as Josiah did with the priests, the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Let me draw from his biography two critical lessons for us all:
What God has written in the past, teaches us how to live in the present. (don’t forget, the Book of Deuteronomy, discovered as they rebuilt the temple, changed Josiah’s life.
What God has prescribed in the past teaches us how to worship in the present.
19 In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign this Passover was celebrated.
For Josiah - this was God’s prescribed way of worship . . . no superstition, no idols, no hocus pocus, no strange incantations - but a worship of God’s grace in passing over the Israelites because they had followed God’s method for redemption (explain blood of the lamb - today we celebrate The Lamb!)
I wish this were the end of Josiah’s story. What a grand conclusion it would have made.
However, as the Word of God so often does, it chooses not to hide the failures of men and women, but expose them.
For that reason, the Word both encourages us in what to do and warns us in what not to do.
In 2 Chronicles 35:20. After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Neco king of Egypt came up to make war at Carchemish on the Euphrates, (now understand this is actually happening 13 years later; 13 years just zipped by between verse 19 and verse 20. some of you feel the same way - where did those last 13 years go? Well, here, the tape is put on fast forward - we’re given the last days of Josiah’s life.)
Egypt goes to war against the rising power which will one day be known as Babylon.
20b. and Josiah went out to engage him 21. But Neco sent messengers to him, saying, “What have we to do with each other, O King of Judah? I am not coming against you today but against the house with which I am at war, and God has ordered me to hurry. Stop for your own sake from interfering with God who is with me, that He may not destroy you.”
The warning from Necho was explicit. In fact, Necho used the name of God twice - the name Elohim. Look back as Necho says, “God has ordered me to hurry - the Hebrew verb means, “God is pressuring me, urging me to hurry.”
What a strange scene - and what a strange messenger of warning from God - nevertheless, the warning came.
And Josiah refused to listen.
Unfortunately, we’re never told what motivated Josiah to fight against Necho.
Perhaps Josiah wanted a larger control over territory that was now up for grabs as Babylon defeated Assyria. Josiah had been subjugated to Assyria, perhaps now he could increase his own kingdom and power.
We don’t know exactly!
Historians tell us that Necho II, was a warlike prince. He was also a crafty business man who purchased two fleets of ships for trade and exploration. In fact, it was under his rule that Phoenician sailors first sailed to Africa.
You need to know that in the plan of God, Egypt would lose in their battle against young Babylon. This would end their dominating power in the Middle East. Babylon would rise, as God’s word had prophesied - Babylon will carry Josiah’s kingdom into captivity - and one of the young Jewish captives named Daniel will continue the story from there.
God knew what he was doing - as Acts 17 declares he sets up the boundaries of nations; he determines the duration of their power. He knew it was time for Assyria to fall and for Babylon to rise and for Judah to be carried away.
Josiah - got in the way of God by not listening to the warning of God.
22 However, Josiah would not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to make war with him; nor did he listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to make war on the plain of Megiddo. 23 And the archers shot King Josiah, and the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.” 24 So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in the second chariot which he had, and brought him to Jerusalem where he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.
By and large, the message and testimony of Josiah’s life was positive. I can just imagine, Jeremiah preaching the funeral with tears - 25 Then Jeremiah chanted a lament for Josiah. And all the male and female singers speak about Josiah in their lamentations to this day. And they made them an
ordinance in Israel; behold, they are also written in the Lamentations. 26 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and his deeds of devotion as written in the law of the Lord, 27 and his acts, first to last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah.
There are timeless lessons in Josiah’s story - for all of us, in any generation, no matter how young or old you may be.
The final acts of Josiah present three clear warnings to all of us who wish to walk in the light as God gives us life:
Lesson #1 Spiritual deterioration that leads to disobedience does not occur without warning,
Put it another way - Spiritual collapse never happens overnight; and it never happens without God being able to say, "I told you so!"
You never disobey God without ample warning - in fact there's really no such thing as falling into sin - you walk into it with your eyes wide open - you run toward sin - you leave your business card or telephone number out so sin knows where to reach you; you call out for sin so it knows you're available.
It may start out small - just one date with a non-Christian, just one luch with a married man; just one bad check; just one sip or snort; just one magazine; just one shortcut here and another one there. . .don't ever say, once you're stranded spiritually or you are bankrupt morally - "It just happened so fast, I didn't have a chance."
Oh no! This sermon alone, is just one more way God is flashing the warning light to you . . . can you see it?!
The warning to Josiah came from the lips of an unbeliever - a warning that should have driven him to the true prophets of God - there was Jeremiah on call - we do not read that he was ever consulted.
The second thing I believe we can learn from Josiah’s collapse is this:
Making wise decisions in youth does not guarantee wise desicions will be made in old age.
C.H.Macintosh wrote a century ago in his commentary - Genesis Notes
That’s another way of saying . . . there is never a point in your life where you can coast on the past - the New Testament is filled with exhortations to the believer to be alert - be on your guard - you don't coast to the finish line, Paul said; like an olympic runner you race to the finish line (4 by 100 relay!)
The final lesson is this:
The best time to walk with God is not yesterday, or some day; the time to walk with God is today.
My boyhood home had a plaque with that familiar phrase - it hung where everyone could read: “Only one life, twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.
I don’t know what your past has been like - no one knows what your future holds, but I do know, on the authroity of God’s word, the best time to walk with God is now!
David Livingstone, the famous missionary to Africa wrote in his journal in 1871 the words, “Oh my Father, help me to finish my work in Thine honour.
The only way you and I can join ranks with the likes of him is to walk with God today.
Sing - In my life Lord, be glorified. . .
"Many a vessel has sailed out of harbor in gallant style with all it's canvass spread; amid cheering and shouting, and with many a promise of a first-rate passage; but alas! Storms, waves, rocks and quicksands have changed the aspect of things; and the vessel that commenced with hope has ended in disaster."