King Josiah is lifted up to us as an example of faithfulness to the Word of God, and the worship of His House.
In his day, the house of God enjoyed a reformation of sorts. The Book of the Law of Moses was rediscovered. Attention was given to the Temple that had fallen into disrepair.
Perhaps most importantly, the King led the people in repenting over their sins. He knew how far they had fallen short of the requirements of God. He tore his own royal robes at hearing the harsh condemnation of the Word of God.
How often do we shrug off the Law of God? We may say, “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. Christ died for me.” True, He died, but that does not make our sins a light thing. We should shun evil and flee from temptation, not act like it does not matter.
Like King Josiah, we should continue to rededicate ourselves to recovering the faithful practices of the fathers before us. Josiah reestablished the keeping of the Passover festival. Such a nationwide, universal Passover had not been seen since the days of Samuel. The King led the people in remembering the great acts of God in bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. The Lord had caused death to pass over them during the Tenth Plague, the killing of the firstborn. The tool by which the Lord saved them from death was the blood of the Passover lambs or goats, painted on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. Because of the blood, the Lord spared each household that had it.
These were the foundational redemptive events of the people of Israel as a whole. The Lord brought them out as a nation and planted them in the promised land of Canaan.
May we also fervently recall our Passover, when the Lamb of God painted His Blood upon us to save us from eternal death. We celebrate the better Passover at the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist in which we give thanks that our Lamb has taken away the sins of the world. Our Lamb has made us His holy nation, called out of many nations of the earth. We are the children of God, the true Israel, because Christ died upon the Cross.
Shall we celebrate this Passover meal half-heartedly, or distractedly? Shall we let our Passover go unattended more often than not? Or shall we, like Josiah, thirst for the righteousness of God, hungering to be found obedient and faithful to the God of grace?
Israel was not so steadfast that they always remained faithful. Josiah had to lead them back to the commands and promises of the Lord. If Israel was not so noble by nature that they could not grow lukewarm, how shall we in this Lutheran Church remain faithful, who are only grafted onto the communion of saints? We grow cold easily. We become tired of the ceremonies that God gave to remind us of His grace. We become bored with the House of God, and seek other allurements. Or we become entangled in other gods, gods like money or work or family or laziness. Israel had their idols as well.
May the Lord be merciful to us and keep us in His merciful care.
Josiah sacrificed greatly for the House of God. Our devotion, of late, has become short of the mark. We are not asked to sacrifice sheep and goats and bulls. But as then, so now, gold and silver keep the house running. Are we unwilling to part with cherished riches that we labored so hard for (as if God did not place every gift into our hands)? Hard work was also necessary for the upkeep of the Temple. Are we willing to put a few blisters on our fingers sweeping or pulling weeds or whatever needs doing?
Josiah saw the truth that the House of God is of vital importance. It is the highest of all houses, the foundation of our lives. In the Old Testament Temple, the blood of sacrifices was shed for the forgiveness of sins, pointing to the one Lamb to come. Prayers were prayed continually for the people, morning to evening. Most importantly, the presence of God Almighty was between the wings of the cherubim on the mercy seat, the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of holies. The Lord’s presence was among His people in His House.
Here in our sanctuary in Stevensville, the Lord’s presence is among us, His people. He is here in the speaking of His Word. He is here in His Body and Blood. He is here in the preaching and absolving of His saints. For the Blood of the One final Sacrifice has been shed for the forgiveness of all sins – not shed here, although here the benefits are given out through the stewards of the mysteries. Here prayers ascend continually, as we still ask the Lord to look over His tiny, besieged flock on earth.
Should we be less devoted to this House than Josiah? Unlike him, we see the mysteries of the ages clearly unfolded in the Blessed Virgin’s Son. Yet Josiah’s zeal and obedience to the commandments of God outshine ours, I fear. We who have received much are often slow and lethargic in our acts of love for this House.
May we repent as Josiah did when Israel was negligent. May we see that we are not the shining beacons of obedience that we may hope or imagine we are.
But lest we think Josiah is some perfect saint without a single flaw, he then goes out and throws his life away. He goes out to meet a superior military force led by the Pharaoh of Egypt. God even warns Josiah not to fight, yet he does, and loses his life.
Why does he do it? Why would an otherwise faithful king have such a tragic moment of foolishness?
Perhaps he thought he was fighting on the right side of a conflict against evil. He may have felt a misguided loyalty to the Babylonian kingdom, against whom Pharaoh was going to war. The reason is not clear, and maybe it was not terribly clear to Josiah either.
We do not always see our own reasons clearly. We may do something and wonder later why we were so foolish. We may think we have a very compelling reason at the time. But even the most faithful and obedient saints sometimes ride off into the wrong battles. Even the wisest men stumble into folly.
You are one of the wise fools. You are one of those who are trying very hard to be faithful, yet often stumble instead. Understand that this is our place, we halting, stammering, often silly and confused creatures.
Perhaps we may learn one day to be appropriately humble in our situation. Perhaps we may notice that our friends in the pews are as foolish as we are. If perhaps we see their foolishness more clearly than our own, may we be patient and forgiving and humble nevertheless.
Let us not fight amongst ourselves, because, even now, the terrible foe is waging war on the saints of God. Are we seeing some brief skirmishes in a long, drawn-out campaign, or has the full battle already been joined? It is hard for us foot soldiers to know. This battle is named after the place where Josiah fought and died, Megiddo, called in Revelation Armageddon. The dragon, mighty in battle, is putting to death many believers, and through trickery and treachery destroys many more. He is a terrible enemy, more powerful than a thousand pharaohs.
Yet this battle can only end for our good, so long as we remain faithful to the Lamb who has claimed us with His Blood. If we fall in the fray, we are safe with the Him. If we die with the confession of truth on our lips, what glory is ours in Christ? The Lord will not see our foolish missteps or our misguided misdirections. He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
The Spirit keep us faithful until the end. Amen.
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