Josiah Cleanses Judah and Renews the Covenant / Paul writes to the Romans: July 12th 2021

2 Kings 23:1-24:7

Josiah, the King of Judah, read the newly rediscovered Book of the Law to all the people of Judah. He renewed the covenant with the Lord and all the people pledged themselves to it (2 Kings 23:3).

Josiah ordered the priests to remove all the pagan articles from the temple. They were burned outside Jerusalem. He ‘did away’ with the pagan priests. He desecrated the high places and broke down the shrines and thoroughly purged the country of other heathen worship sites. Chapter 23 is a comprehensive list of all the altars and shrines that the kings of Israel had built to vile and detestable deities. King Solomon had started the rot by building high places on the ‘Hill of Corruption’ even though he was supposedly the wisest man ever (2 Kings 23:13).

Josiah also cleaned up Samaria and Bethel in the north of the country while the people of this region had been deported to Assyria (2 Kings 23:19). The king then gave the order to all the people to celebrate the Passover, as it was written in the rediscovered Book of the Covenant. The Israelites had not celebrated Passover since the time of the Judges.

Josiah turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength – as we should do (2 Kings 23:25).

However, it was too late to turn the Lord away from his fierce anger. God was planning to remove Judah from his presence, just as he had done to Israel. He would reject His city and His temple (2 Kings 23:27).  However, at least Josiah died with a clean conscience. He had tried to make his people right with God, but we know from the Book of Romans that righteousness can never be earned by human actions.

Josiah was killed in a skirmish with the Egyptian army.

Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, was anointed king and managed to do evil in the eyes of the Lord even though he only reigned for three months. Pharoah Neco, who had killed Josiah, his father, put Jehoahaz in chains and deported him to Egypt. He appointed another one of Josiah’s sons, Eliakim / Jehoiakim, as king and demanded a hefty levy of gold and silver which Jehoiakim exacted as tax from the people of the land.

Jehoiakim reigned for eleven years and carried out evil deeds. Josiah’s sons had obviously learnt nothing from their relatively righteous father. It was now time for the end of Judah. The country was invaded by the Babylonians. Jehoiakim became the vassal of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, for three years and then unwisely rebelled. The Lord sent raiders to destroy Judah. The earlier reign of the evil King Manasseh had sealed Judah’s fate and even the reforms of Josiah had been insufficient to assuage God’s wrath. Manasseh had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood and, at this time, the Lord was not willing to forgive his evil deeds (2 Kings 24:4).

The king of Babylon took over the whole of the country (2 Kings 24:7).

Romans 1:1-17

Today, we start Paul’s letter to the Romans. He wrote this letter from Corinth around AD 56 towards the end of his third missionary journey as he was preparing to visit Jerusalem. The letter was eventually delivered by Phoebe to the Roman believers, some of whom may have been converted on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem before eventually settling in Rome.

Romans isn’t an easy read and so we will take it slowly. MacArthur describes it as the ‘preeminent doctrinal work in the New Testament’. One of its main themes is that we can’t buy our way into heaven with our good behaviour – eternal life is an unearned gift of love (grace) from God. God justifies us guilty, condemned sinners through our faith in Christ. We were made righteous in God’s eyes through the shedding of Jesus’ perfect blood when he died for us on the cross.

Paul described himself as a (willing) servant of Jesus set apart for the gospel (the good news) of God. Paul was a servant out of love and respect for his master. God had long promised us this good news throughout the holy Old Testament scriptures. Paul regarded himself as an ‘apostle’ – one who is sent. Jesus had personally commissioned him and started him on his personal mission than all the other apostles.

Jesus – in his human nature was a descendant of David. There are two genealogies in the gospels. The one in Luke 3:23 was actually the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The version in Matthew is his father Joseph’s genealogy. MacArthur (2021) points out that ‘the royal line is passed through Jesus’ legal father, and his physical descent from David is established by Mary’s lineage’. So Jesus was not descended from Solomon – who went rogue. Jesus was descended from David’s third child with Bathsheba, Nathan an older brother of Solomon. Jesus was both fully human (from Mary) and fully God (from the Holy Spirit) – so he could both die in our place and be a high priest who can relate to humankind.

https://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/library/bqa/id/184/why-does-jesus-have-two-different-genealogies-matthew-11-16-luke-323-38.htm

It was Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that proved that Jesus was the Son of God (Romans 1:4). When we are baptized, the same Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, comes to live in us so that He can also raise us to eternal life.

We, like all the Gentiles, are called to the obedience that comes through faith. Paul wanted to come to Rome so that he and the Roman Christians could be ‘mutually encouraged by each other’s faith’ (Romans 1:12). We all learn and benefit from different Christian communities coming together to worship, work, teaching and relaxation.

Paul was never ashamed of the gospel: ‘It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ (Rom.1:16). The gospel revealed that we can be made righteous with God through our faith in his son, Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. This is an undeserved gift that we cannot earn. It is beyond price.

Psalm 84:1-7

As Christians, we know that we are not yet in our ‘forever home’. We are alien visitors to this worldly planet, a completely new species and never quite feel at home. We long to see the living God in his dwelling-place (Ps.84:1). We have an unquenched spiritual hunger for God.

Blessed are the saints who have already made it to heaven and are waiting to intercede on our behalf. They are for ever praising God (Ps.84:4).

When we ask Jesus into our hearts as our personal saviour, we are starting on our pilgrimage back home to God. We will go from strength to strength because our strength is in Jesus, the Creator of the world. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is forever within the baptized. He refreshes us and enkindles his fire within us so we can be renewed and burst forth with power.

Image: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/st-paul-saint-iconography-painting-2176669/

Joash Repairs the Temple / Death of Elisha / Paul’s Trial before Festus: July 6th 2021

2 Kings 12:1-14:22

Joash was seven years old when he became king of Judah and he reigned for forty years. He was instructed by Jehoiada the priest and generally ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (2 Kings 12:2) – apart from not removing the high places (traditional sites of pagan worship).  

Joash told the priests to use all the money collected in the temple to repair the temple. The priests were slow to start repairs but quick to collect the money. After several years, Joash enquired why there had been no progress. This finally prompted the priests to employ the necessary craftsmen (2 Kings 12:11-12). The priests then acted with complete honesty with regards to handling the money for the repairs.

Joash paid Hazael, King of Aram, all the gold from the treasures of the temple and the royal palace to persuade him not to attack Jerusalem. Even when a king is working on a project for God, money is still required to both pay for it and protect its future. Eventually, Joash was assassinated by his officials.

Meanwhile, the evil king Jehoahaz ruled Israel. As God was angry at the nation for its idolatrous ways. He kept Israel under the oppressive power of successive Aramean kings.

Jehoahaz eventually asked for God’s help and God did respond due to the severe oppression of the Israelites by the Arameans. The Israelites were delivered from Aram and lived in their own homes. However, they continued with their idolatrous behaviour.

The army of Israel had been virtually wiped out by the Arameans leaving the country undefended. Jehoahaz was succeeded by his son Jehoash.

Jehoash carried on with evil behaviour in the tradition of Jeroboam. Jehoash went to visit Elisha, when the prophet was terminally ill. Elisha told the king to shoot an arrow from a bow through an East window, while he put his hands on the king’s hands. This arrow symbolised an upcoming victory over the Arameans (2 Kings 13:17).

Elisha then told the king to strike the ground with his other arrows (presumably also shooting them through the window). Joash rather half-heartedly just struck the ground three times. Elisha was angry at Joash’s lack of zeal and passion. Elisah explained that if the king had struck the ground five or six times his enemies, the Arameans, would have been completely destroyed. Now they would only be defeated three times. If we are offered a chance to receive a blessing or grab hold of a prophecy, we should do it with enthusiasm. We shouldn’t be lukewarm when it comes to the promises of God. We should keep vigorously striking the ground until God tells us to stop.

Elisha died and was buried. Later, when a dead man was thrown into Elisha’s tomb in an emergency, the dead man sprang back to life when his corpse touched Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21). This is why the Mother Church venerates relics. God still works miracles through the dead bodies, bones and possessions of the saints.     

Amaziah, the son of Joash, became king of Judah. He carried on in the positive footsteps of his father (2 Kings 14:3). He executed the assassins who had murdered his father but excused their sons. He defeated ten thousand Edomites but then arrogantly challenged Jehoash, king of Israel. The king of Israel warned him not to ask for trouble but Amaziah did not back down. His country, Judah, was subsequently routed by Israel. Israel broke down six hundred feet of the wall of Jerusalem and plundered the temple and the royal palace. This was a new low in the relationship between idol-worshipping Israel and the more righteous Judah.

Acts 25:1-22

After Paul was held in jail for two years, Governor Felix was succeeded by the splendidly named Porcius Festus.

Festus visited Jerusalem, where the chief priests and Jewish leaders had still not forgotten or forgiven Paul. They still wanted to kill him in an ambush and so asked Festus to have Paul transferred back to them.

Festus convened a court back in Caesarea. Paul appeared before the Jews. They still could not get any of their serious charges to stick because they could not be proved. Paul gave his defence and explained that he was innocent of all charges (Acts 25:8). If we are ever accused falsely by belligerent prosecutors we can remember Paul’s trials and know we are in good company.  

Festus asked Paul if he was prepared to go to Jerusalem. Festus cared more about appeasing the Jews than justice. Paul refused. No-one had the right to hand him over to the Jews as he had done nothing wrong. Paul appealed to Caesar and would now have to be sent on an all-expenses paid trip to Rome.  

King Agrippa and his sister, Bernice, visited Festus. Agrippa was fascinated to hear about Paul. He wanted to hear about the ‘dead man’ (Jesus) who Paul claimed was alive. Paul would once again deliver his testimony to influential people.

Psalm 81:1-7

God is our strength and we should sing his praise with enthusiastic joy. We shouldn’t mumble worship songs and hymns; we should sing them vigorously feeling proud to make loud music and strike our tambourines.

Jesus rescued us from slavery. He hears us when we cry out in distress. We will be tested to teach us endurance and character but he will always rescue us. He removes the heavy burdens from our shoulders and gives us rest. He invites us to share his light yoke with him as he walks gently in step with us every day of our lives. Jesus set free our hands so we could help him carry his righteous burden. This will be a joy because Jesus our saviour is humble, his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt.11:28-30).

Image: https://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/paul-festus-agrippa/

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