Sermon Text: The Authority of the Bible

The Authority of the Bible, preached at KBCF Lighthouse Church on June 26, 2011. Text is from 2 Chronicles 34:1-21.

Before we begin to consider our text for today, I have to first set up and explain what will be happening here at KBCF Lighthouse Church starting in 2 weeks when I will be coming back to preach again, and going on for pretty much the rest of the summer.

I will be doing much of the preaching for you in July – in fact, next week, which is the first Sunday of the month, is the only week I won’t be preaching. And so, starting July 10, I will be with you for 4 weeks straight so that Pastor Alvin can receive a much deserved break, and a little bit of time to do some deputation for his ministry.

Anyway, during my 4 weeks with you, I will be starting a series of sermons based on this little book called “What is the Gospel?”, and it has just 8 short chapters. Today, I will kind of be covering Chapter 1… And I do say “kind of” because really the bulk of the chapter is just an introduction to the next four chapters, which is what I will then be covering in more detail with you when I come back in July. Afterward, the last three chapters will be covered by either Pastor Alvin, Pastor Mike, or myself.. Or some combination thereof.

Some quick little details about the book… It was written by Greg Gilbert, who is a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. The senior pastor of that church is Mark Dever, who also wrote a popular book that has helped guide many churches, pastors and elder boards, called “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church”. That book went on to propagate an organization called “Nine Marks”, which produces resources to help build healthy churches. And this book, is one of their publications.

I first heard of the book more than a year ago… maybe around December of 2009, a few months before it was even published. At the time I was just starting to get acquainted with a group called “The Gospel Coalition”, which is headed up by D.A. Carson, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, and Timothy Keller, a reformed pastor in New York City. You probably know him for his book “The Reason for God”, which was actually on the New York Times Best Seller list for a little while.

I had been reading some of Carson and Keller’s books (along with other authors like John Piper and Mark Dever) and I was occasionally doing searches on Amazon looking for more of their books to buy. And well, D.A. Carson wrote the Foreword to “What is the Gospel?” and so, the book actually comes up whenever you search his name.

Now at first I actually ignored the book… I was thinking, basically, “What’s the point of that? I don’t need a book telling me what the gospel is. I already know it!” But I did take note of it, so if one of my friends ever bought it, I would just ask to borrow it from them to do a quick read.

But, fast forward to this past April when I attended The Gospel Coalition Conference down in Chicago. At the conference, they had this massive book store where you could browse through books that you could buy for a discounted rate, and I actually came across this book again. So I picked it up and checked it out And man, after reading just the Foreword and Introduction, I was like “Yes!” “Awesome!”. This is a book that everyone needs to read. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Christian for as long as you can remember or if Jesus saved you just yesterday!

In the Foreword, D.A. Carson actually makes an argument for why the book was even needed in the first place, and he starts off by considering the broader context of christendom in general. He says that in every generation, there are these kind of scandalous questions that could “generate heated debate”. Some past examples of these, Carson explains, include questions like “What do you think of the charismatic movement?”, which I guess would have been 20 or 30 years ago… Or “What do you think about seeker-sensitive churches?” which I still remember was quite a heated topic while I was in high school about 10 years go.

Carson then explains that today, the question that is probably most likely to cause a debate, even though it may not seem likely to us, is the question “What is the Gospel?”

Now I know it sounds pretty ridiculous that such a basic concept of our faith would be up for debate. But there are these things going on around us, that we at the local level may not really see going on, but is really it’s a serious challenge to the message of the true, biblical gospel.

Now for me, in retrospect, I really should have figured it out sooner. Not ’cause I’m smarter or anything like that. But because I had actually already been at the forefront of that debate. I had already interacted with the kinds of people who would basically have a different answer to this question than you and I would.

I went to a Catholic school for my undergrad: University of St. Michael’s College, where I specialized in a course called “Christianity and Culture”. And for that program, I had to study these alternate forms of theology and of the gospel.. For example, in my second year, I took a class that had a unit dedicated to “Liberation Theology” or “Liberation Gospel”. It has its origins in Latin American countries, and basically, it reinterprets Jesus’ teachings as the way to be liberated from oppressive and unjust political regimes, and from hopeless economic and social conditions.

In another class, during my third year, I studied “Prosperity Gospel”, something that probably many of you are already familiar with or have heard of, especially because of one of its current, and more famous proponents, Joel Osteen, author of a very popular book called “Your Best Life Now”.

What the Prosperity Gospel teaches is that there are no problems for the true believer in Christ. You just have to stay positive all the time. You have to believe that God wants you to have your best life now… and that usually means, especially for us in the western world… health. wealth. and prosperity.

Then, I also have this friend, who I actually had met like years before we met again at St. Michael’s… When we were both attending Youth Group at First Alliance Church. Anyway, she was really into “feminist theology”, so much so that she’s studying it right now at Harvard Divinity School. Anyway, she is reinterpreting scripture and the gospel in light of feminism. Of… absolute political, social, and economic equality among the two genders. She’s probably the only person I still keep in contact with from St. Mike’s, and that’s only because I would sometimes post something on Facebook that would get her all fired up, cause it was either criticizing feminism, or it was a quote from a theologian that she would consider anti-feminist. Theologians like D.A. Carson and Timothy Keller.

Now these are just three examples of current, and very vibrant, “versions” of the gospel, and there are still many more examples that I could mention, and many more that are still to come.

But then, also, these examples are quite blatantly heretical, such that anyone, even non-believers, can quickly recognize that something is wrong with them, or at least they differ from the biblical gospel as you and I know it. I love this quote from Matt Chandler, he says: “If you put a word in front of gospel, [well,] you no longer have gospel.”

Pretty simple to understand, right? And yet, Joel Osteen pastors the biggest congregation in the United States. A congregation so big they meet at an old football stadium. And his books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In fact, I remember going to to KBCF once during my visit to the Philippines last August, and there was this guy in the row in front of me, and instead of the Bible, he actually carrying a copy of “Your Best Life Now”.

D.A. Carson explains the problem in this way…

“When ‘evangelicals’ hold highly disparate (or different) opinions about what the ‘evangel’ is (that is, the ‘gospel,’ for that is what ‘evangel’ means), then one must conclude either that evangelicalism as a movement is a diverse phenomenon with no agreed gospel and no sense of responsibility ‘to contend for the faith’ that the Lord has ‘once for all entrusted’ to us, his people (that’s from Jude 3), or that many people call themselves ‘evangelicals’ who do not have any legitimate right to do so because they have left the ‘evangel,’ the gospel, behind.”

And so, making sure that all who call themselves “Evangelical” or “Gospel-Centered” is on the same page as the true, biblical gospel, is pretty much why this book was written… And again, also the reason why Pastor Alvin and I decided to do this series with you. Our sincere hope is that you will be able to glean something for these studies no matter where you are in your Christian walk. We hope that (1) if you are here today and you don’t know the gospel in it’s fullness, that you would learn it, or that (2) if you do already know the gospel in its fullness, then through our preaching, and through studying the book, you will learn to articulate it succinctly and apply it properly in response to some of these competing gospels.. which aren’t gospels at all, but lies that the deceiver has implanted in the church in order to supplant the glorious truth of God’s plan for our salvation. So let’s begin, shall we?

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… 2 Chronicles 34:1-21, ESV

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them. And he broke in pieces the Asherim and the carved and the metal images, and he made dust of them and scattered it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins all around, he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem.

Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had cleansed the land and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz, the recorder, to repair the house of the LORD his God. They came to Hilkiah the high priest and gave him the money that had been brought into the house of God, which the Levites, the keepers of the threshold, had collected from Manasseh and Ephraim and from all the remnant of Israel and from all Judah and Benjamin and from the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And they gave it to the workmen who were working in the house of the LORD. And the workmen who were working in the house of the LORD gave it for repairing and restoring the house. They gave it to the carpenters and the builders to buy quarried stone, and timber for binders and beams for the buildings that the kings of Judah had let go to ruin. And the men did the work faithfully. Over them were set Jahath and Obadiah the Levites, of the sons of Merari, and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to have oversight. The Levites, all who were skillful with instruments of music, were over the burden-bearers and directed all who did work in every kind of service, and some of the Levites were scribes and officials and gatekeepers.

While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD given through Moses. Then Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan. Shaphan brought the book to the king, and further reported to the king, “All that was committed to your servants they are doing. They have emptied out the money that was found in the house of the LORD and have given it into the hand of the overseers and the workmen.” Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it before the king.

And when the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Abdon the son of Micah, Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me and for those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do according to all that is written in this book.”

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Today we’re going to talk about the authority of the Bible as it relates to other forms of authority … the kind of authority that leads some people to those alternate versions of theology and of the gospel that I earlier talked about. And here in this passage what we have is actually the end of an era of wrong authority dominating the hearts and minds of the people of Israel. “Old Testament Revival” would be a good way of describing what was going on. A point in Israel history where they turned back to God and right relationship with Him.

Now before we talk about this revival, though, we first have to understand what they were being revived from. I do have to give you a little bit of Israel’s history so that we can put this passage into context. In Exodus 19, God says this of Israel: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

The people of Israel, were supposed to be a holy people, that is a people set apart from all the other peoples of the world. That’s why by the New Testament times, we essentially have 2 groups of people, Jews and non-jews. Israelites and Gentiles. They were supposed to be complete OTHER than all the other nations of the world, and they were supposed to be that way in every aspect of their existence.

One particular aspect that I need to mention because it directly relates to our passage today, is their political situation. Obviously, ancient Israel – in fact, most ancient societies – were not democratic, certainly not in the way we know democracy to be. And these ancient societies would come to be ruled by individuals. And the point of Israel’s history that this passage is dealing with is a time when Israel has a very full fledged, albeit incredibly broken monarchy going on. They had kings ruling over them.

Now this point about Israel’s society is actually quite interesting, because for a while, Israel didn’t have kings, right? Not counting the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ruling over the family, the house of Israel, Moses really is the first person that we can see in the Bible as a “ruler” over all of Israel, though he wasn’t called a king. Then there was Joshua, then a string of Judges, before finally, Israel chooses Saul as their first king, nearly 300 hundred years after Moses. And yet, while Moses was still the “National Ruler” of Israel, God had already decreed how a king would rise up over Israel.

It says in Deuteronomy 17:verse 14 and 15, “When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you.”

That deals with how a king is supposed to be “set over” the people of Israel. While verse 18, it deals with the conduct of the king once he that has happened.. “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them.”

Now I’m sure you can already guess why I’m reading these passages to you… Because Israel fails horrifically at this! Starting with their very first King, Saul… Who, if you remember in 1 Samuel 8 and 9, Israel insisted on appointing over them against the advice of the Prophet Samuel, and obviously, this against this statute from the the Lord God.

Of course, Saul was complete and utter disappointment, as he turns out to be this wacko nut job, who would be possessed by evil spirit, fall into depression, and become incredible jealous of a harmless shepherd boy that he takes into his home to play the harp for him and write psalms.

So, Israel blows it on their first try, and God steps in. HE anoints that shepherd boy, David to become king, and it is he who would bring prominence to Israel. After David, his son Solomon becomes king also after being anointed by God (That’s in 1 King 1:13), and he reigns over Israel at the height if her power and splendor.

But things very quickly fall apart after Solomon’s reign, as the kingdom is soon divides into the Northern Kingdom, made up of two tribes and retaining the name Israel; and the Southern Kingdom, made up of 10 tribes, which is called Judah. That happens right after Israel makes Rehoboam, Solomon’s son king over them in 1 King 12,

And so, this begins this cycle of kings in the divided kingdom… Israel’s kings are all bad and pretty soon, they’re conquered by the Assyrians, leaving Judah alone in the South.

After Rehoboam there are 14 kings in Judah before we get to Josiah and 2 Chronicles 34, and for the most part, they were up and down… There would be a couple of bad ones, followed by a couple good ones, then bad ones again, and so on.

Now immediately before Josiah, though, is obviously a cycle of bad… although not just bad, but the absolute worst up until that point. King Manasseh ruled for 55 years, followed by King Amon for just 2.. And during their reigns, temples were built to other gods in Judah, and the people have fallen deep into idolatry.

So that’s the context behind the passage we read. Just to summarize… Josiah becomes king at just 8 years old, for whatever reason, by God’s grace, “he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.” At age 16, he begins to “seek after the Lord”, then at age 20, he starts tearing down the temples and altars to other gods. In verses 4 and 5, it even suggest that he actually kills the people who sacrificed to these idols and the priests that facilitated it.

At age 26, he apparently is just finishing the task of getting rid of these idolatrous temples… And finally, he is ready to repair the temple of the LORD. This is where things get really interesting…

It says in verse 14 that in the midst of this work, Hilkiah the priest found “the Book of the Law of the LORD given through Moses.” Now we don’t know exactly what book it was that they found, but scholar, whether Christian or secular generally agree that it was most likely Deuteronomy or a part of it.

And so they take it to Josiah, who has it read to him… Then, as a result of that, he “tears his clothes” … a sign of great distress…. and then commands Hilkiah to basically ask God what else they needed to do to get right with him.

I don’t know about you, but I can just imagine Josiah hearing the words of the Law, being convicted of his sins by God, despite all of the reforms that he had already accomplished. I can just imagine him hearing those passages that I read to you earlier about the monarchy.. Remember that? Imagine him hearing that upon becoming a King, he was supposed to write out a copy of the law for himself, and that he was supposed to “read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them.” He was RIGHT to be distressed.

That’s the end of the story for us today.. But if you want to keep reading, please do! The Old Testament is full of these exciting little stories of how God is working out his plan of salvation, but for now, though I do need to get into 2 observations that I want to make about this passage, and then the implications of those observations for our lives, and specifically, for the next few weeks as we walk through “What is the Gospel?” together.

The first one is this: I just want to note how incredible it is that that little Josiah, the boy-king would end up leading this great revival of the people of Israel. Right? Honestly, he would seem to me like the least likely to have accomplished this.

He begins to reign just after two of the worst kings in Judah’s history, his father Amon and his grandfather Manasseh. He loses his father at such a young age, is thrust into a position of authority… Not that he would have been ruling right away, I really doubt he had control over the affairs of Israel at the age of 8.. but nonetheless, it would been quite an expectation to live up to.

So Josiah is really this very unlikely spiritual superstar, but more than that, it really amazes me that the passage says absolutely nothing about how Josiah becomes someone who does what was right in the eyes of the LORD. look at the first three verses again… Josiah becomes king at the age of 8, he rules for 31 years. He did was right in the eyes of the Lord, because apparently, at age 16, he began to “seek the God of David his father”. That’s it! Out of nowhere, just like that! No sweet, caring nanny who taught him about God. Daddy certainly didn’t do it. No vacation bible schools where he memorized bible verses… not that he could have at the time anyway, because the Bible was literally lost to them. It is what it is. Age 16. Started seeking God.

Now, I don’t want to read too much into this lack of information about Josiah’s spiritual upbringing. But you know what? In light of this lack of information, all I can do is stand in awe and give glory to the one who deserves it most in this situation… Praise the Lord! He’s the one who did that!

You know that is really something that we just don’t do often enough… Give God the glory for the things that he deserves glory for.. Which if you really think about it, is everything!

Let me ask you this. Did you even thank God that you woke up this morning? You probably thanked him for your breakfast, but then what about your drive here. Did you glorify God because you didn’t die in a fiery crash?

It’s not that you’re expected to constantly be thanking God for your very existence. You don’t have to thank him for every single breath that you, by His grace, are able to take. But the question is, is your attitude in life predisposed to giving glory to our creator, sustainer, and our savior?

Keep this point in mind, especially, because on July 10, when we get into “What is the Gospel?” in more detail, my first sermon will be on our Righteous Creator.

Second observation… Despite seeking after God and then his campaign to purge Judah of idols, Josiah was still devastated when the law was read to him.

Did you catch that? 10 years of piety… 4 spent simply “seeking the Lord” and then 6 actively engaged in destroying idolatry, and yet, hearing the law read to him still caused Josiah incredible distress.

That tells me two things… first of all, there is nothing you can do in life that will ever be good enough to compensate for the bad. You cannot save yourself apart from God’s revelation of himself, especially through His written word… That is what brings about repentance.

Let’s go back for a moment to all those alternative gospels that I was talking about at the beginning of this sermon… Liberation, Prosperity and Feminist Theology.. Do you know what these heresies have in common? They each began by denying the reliability and authority of scripture to get them to the truth. They chose other sources of authority to ground their theology on, and as a result they come up lacking.

In chapter one of “What is the Gospel?”, Gilbert talks about three of these sources, I’ll let you read about the other two, but I just want to mention one right now: human experience. Basically this source of authority says “Whatever resonates with me” or… “Whatever I feel is right… must be the truth!”

I mention that first of all because it relates directly two those three alternate gospels that I talked about. At the heart of Liberation, Prosperity, and Feminist theology is the elevation of human experience to the main authority that guides the thinking about God.

Secondly, I mention it because in the western world, and especially here in Toronto and in Canada, this is probably the source of authority that we Christian will constantly be in battle against… Both within ourselves, and in our interaction with those around us. I’m the master of my domain. It’s all about me, me! Therefore how I feel and how I experience the world has to shape the way I view God doesn’t it?

You know the problem with that though? I might feel a certain way today, but I might feel completely different tomorrow. And then, different still the next day. So how can the way I feel or what I experience ever determine the truth about the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever? Praise the Lord for his revelation, even though it sometimes it might cause great distress…

It doesn’t end there, though right? Because what was Josiah’s response to the sorrow that the law brought about? It was to seek God all the more!

I what Paul says in Philippians 2:16… “Hold fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ [you] may be proud that [you] did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

You see, if Josiah had simply enacted reforms And purged the idols from Israel… And he never made it bak to the Word of God…

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