The Geneva School Chapel, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022

Dr. Michael Beates, Chaplain

All this fall semester, we’ve been looking at the “cloud of witnesses” – those people from the deep past who showed faith in God, believing the promises of God. Well today we look at two of the later kings of Judah, good kings in the midst of many bad ones.

Hezekiah was king in Judah for about 5-6 years when the northern kingdom of Israel, famous for apostasy, child sacrifice, and wickedness, fell to the Assyrian empire. God promised Hezekiah that though his kingdom of Judah would also fall and his decedents would be carried away in exile, he would die in peace.

Isaiah was the prophet who spoke during his reign – and this is the Isaiah who had already promised during the reign of a prior king that one would be born who would be the salvation of Israel and a light to the Gentiles. Things were bad, but they were going to get worse before the promises came to pass.

But here is the thing with Hezekiah – he had moral courage and righteousness, even though he knew doom would eventually come. In 2 Kings 18:3–7 we read “Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD.”

When he began trying to bring Judah back to faithfulness, he destroyed an ancient relic from the time of Moses – the bronze serpent on the pole. That took massive strength of leadership and moral courage to destroy a 1,000-year-old relic from the time of Moses. But the truth is, something that had been a good thing had become, over time, a bad thing. That relic had become an idol. Even good things can become bad if we turn them into idols and worship the man-made object instead of worshiping God.

Friends, this is still true today. Good things can actually lead us astray from God if we allow them. Have you seen the ads for a new movie, show, something, call “Violent Night”? It’s playing off a time-honored song about Jesus’ coming, but it turns something beautiful and profound into something dark and violent. Yes, . . . it can happen in our day too.

But Hezekiah had the courage to say no to a good thing that had turned bad.

Well, jumping ahead a couple of generations, after a couple more really kings, Hezekiah’s great-grandson Josiah finally came to the throne later on.

The Kingdom of Judah was already past the point of no return. No matter how much Josiah tried to turn the ship and do what was right in God’s eyes, the kingdom was too far gone to recover. I call it an example of “The Niagara River Principle.” Years ago, living near Buffalo, I had a boss take me out on his boat on the Niagara River. At some point we came upon signs that warned not to pass that point. It was the “point of no return” for small boats. Go any further and you will be swept over Niagara Falls. But the Falls were about 8 miles down stream still. You could not see them, hear them, and the water was deceptively calm.

For instance, water runs at 7mph leaving Lake Erie into the Niagara River, but runs at 40+ mph just above the falls.  Water running at 25 mph has the force of 700 mph wind. The actual “point of no return” is 6 miles away from the falls.

The point is, the Kingdom of Judah had gone too far. That kingdom, despite the attempts of Josiah, was going to go over the falls. Judah would be conquered by the Babylonians at some point after Josiah’s death and God’s people would spend 70 years in exile in a foreign land.

But here’s the shocking thing about the reforms of Josiah: the Israelites had forgotten about God’s Word – the Scriptures had been lost in piles of “stuff” in the Temple (2 Kings 22). Hard to imagine! And worse, they had forgotten about Passover . . . for hundreds of years (2 Kings 23:21-ff). It sounds like even by the time of King David Israel had already forgotten this most important rite of remembering God delivering His people from slavery in Egypt, how He had saved them by the blood of a lamb on their door posts and had led them out to freedom to the Promised Land.

Think about this! It would be as if the Pilgrims forgot Christmas and we, 400 years later, somehow stumble upon and rediscover this lost, vital, profoundly important rite of remembrance. This is why way back in Moses’ time in Deuteronomy 4:9, God told the Israelites to remember the things their eyes had seen, not to let them slip from their hearts all the days of their lives; but to teach them to their children and their children’s children. But someone in some early generation simply had not passed on the tradition of Passover. And it only takes two generations of forgetting for important things to disappear.

Could such a thing happen in our day? Certainly! And in fact, I think in many ways it has happened. So many people – so many of our neighbors – think Christmas is about snow and parties, reindeer and presents . . . and they forget it’s about a baby who was born in Bethlehem Immanuel, God with us in human flesh, who came to die for our sins in Jerusalem.

My family watched the old Christmas classic movie Miracle on 34th Street the other night. Do you know . . . the name of Jesus never even is mentioned in that film? Already, just after WWII in our country, Christmas had turned into a social phenomenon of good will toward people, giving gifts, and being nice.

But we have to remember and cherish the true story of a baby born in Bethlehem, to be the Messiah for all the world for those who believe. But so many people simply have forgotten this.  So when you hear songs on the radio or at the mall about a “holly, jolly Christmas” remind yourself that there is far more to the story.

Are we as a culture too far down the river? Are we going over the falls? I don’t know.  We certainly hope not! But God is the One who raises up kingdoms and princes and He is the One who brings down empires and kings, all in His timing and for His glory.

Our job is to be like Josiah: to hold on to stories the culture has lost, to remember God’s story, to sing about the Jesus who came to save His people from their sin. Having inherited the Word of God, we are to be a people who stay in the Word of God, reading it, studying it, as we pursue Christ’s calling on our lives. We need to tell these things to our children and to our children’s children so that God receives the glory.

May God give us all the moral courage to throw away those things that have nothing to do with worshiping God . . . even perhaps things that once were good but that now threaten to take us away, to distract us from the God who saves. And may we never forget the Good News sung by the angels to shepherds that night. So, come let us adore Him. Christ is born, Christ is born, Christ is born for you.