Prerequisites for Revival
As we review the year 2001 we see a disturbing trend: the widespread fear of terrorism has disturbed our complacency. Our sense of security has been challenged and found wanting.
Unfortunately this has not affected other significant trends. There is spreading evil, the promotion of alternative religions and lifestyles, and the continuing decline in church attendance. Each of these factors were prevalent in Josiah's time, yet during his reign that trend was reversed. We need to study Josiah's story to discover what we can apply into our situation today.
WHEN IDOLATRY DOMINATES EVIL PROLIFERATES
Josiah's grandfather, Manasseh was crowned when twelve years old and reigned for fifty five years (2 Kings 21:1). He overturned Hezekiah's godly influence. He rebuilt the high places, the altars of Baal, made Asherah, burned his son as a sacrifice, practised soothsaying and augury, consulted mediums and wizards. He even set up an idol in Solomon's Temple. "Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood" (2 Kings 21:16). The Quest Bible notes, "Like Ahaz before him, Manasseh sacrificed sons, probably to the god Molech. They too would have been his victims. Ancient Jewish tradition also blames him for the death of Isaiah. Some think Isaiah's death is meant when the book of Hebrews talks about those sawed in two for their faith."
So evil was Manasseh that God promised to punish Jerusalem and Judah with, "Such evil that the ears of everyone who hears it will tingle ... and I will cast off the remnant of my heritage, and give them into the hands of my enemies" (2 Kings 21:12f). The early years of Josiah's life were spent in the end of Manasseh's reign and the short reign of Amon (his father) when evil and idolatry were so rampant.
Today we also see idolatry everywhere. Men worship their cars showering them with more tender loving care than their own children. Women worship soapies: they suffer withdrawal symptoms if their television set breaks down. Children worship Game Boy and Harry Potter. Young men worship booze and sex in that order - they can tolerate celibacy but not sobriety. Young women worship Mills & Boons, fashion, and rock musicians.
In 1994 Christianity Today reported Elvis fans revere him as god. Fans gathering in New York, Colorado, and Indiana raised their hands, spelled and chanted Presley's name, and prayed to him. Rev. Mort of the First Presbyterian Church of Denver alleged devotees believe Elvis watched over them. If someone reports seeing Presley, the high priests of the church of the Risen Elvis hold worship services. They have enshrined an image of Elvis on an altar surrounded by candles and flowers.
We do not know what inspired Josiah to reverse the apostasy of his grandfather and father. Yet we do know that before Josiah's reign, Isaiah preached against idolatry, and during it Jeremiah and Zephaniah prophesied. Isaiah proclaimed, "When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you! The wind will carry them off, a breath will take them away. But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and shall inherit my holy mountain" (Isaiah 57:13). Before Josiah was born, Isaiah was martyred for his uncompromising preaching.
Zephaniah preached that the Day of the Lord was coming when God would sweep away all flesh. His complaint was that the people's faith in God was corrupted by idolatrous additions. "I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of idolatrous priests along with the priests those who bow down on roofs to the hosts of the heavens those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom" (Zephaniah 1:4f ).
Jeremiah, prophesying in Josiah's reign, announced that, although the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been faithless and was sent into exile, nevertheless, "Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah" (Jeremiah 3:11). Not all Israel had gone into exile, however, and God promised that if they repented, "I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jeremiah 3:15).
There can be little doubt that such inspired preaching moved Josiah to eradicate idolatry and the occult out of his kingdom and even the remnant of Israel. The more Australia sinks into the sinking sands of secularism and alternative lifestyle, the more it needs to hear, "Thus saith the Lord."
REVIVAL TAKES TIME
Many of us believe that revivals are hectic frenetic events in which God overwhelms his people over a short period. Josiah's revival contradicts this notion. "Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign .... in the eighth year of his reign, while 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 graven and molten images" (2 Chronicles 34:3).
Now "in the eighteenth year of his reign ... he sent Shaphan and Maaseiah ... and Joah ... to repair the house of the Lord has God" (2 Chronicles 34:8). That is, Josiah was crowned at eight, converted at sixteen, began purging idolatry at twenty, and began to repair the Temple when he was twenty-six years old. In God's timing this was a blink of an eye; but for Josiah, this progression took nearly half of his life (he died aged 39 years old).
REVIVAL INVOLVES CLEANSING
We tend to believe personal revival occurs when we make a commitment to God then get rid of our idols. Josiah got rid of his idols, then found the law, then made a covenant. John Wesley founded his Holy Clubs years before his Aldersgate experience. These clubs taught the members discipleship. Afterwards members came to faith in God, then came the Revival that changed urban England.
Secondly, Josiah's purge of idolatry was both thorough and extensive, "and in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon and as far as Naphtali in their ruins roundabout, he broke down the altars, and beat the Asherim and the images into powder, and hewed down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. (2 Chronicles 34: 7). These cities were part of the kingdom of Israel which was conquered by Assyria. They were now directly controlled by Babylon. Yet Josiah purged them too.
TOP DOWN REVIVALS ENDURE
Many of us believe true revivals do not involve political leaders. The leaders in the Welsh Revival and American Camp Revivals were often unknown laity.
Josiah's revival started with the king, was highly structured, and endured. Josiah was converted at sixteen, and the revival extended till his death at age thirty nine years. Wesley was converted at aged 35 in May 1738 and died aged 88 years old.
REVIVAL NEEDS GOD'S LAW
Many Christians so emphasize grace and God's love that they only preach the New Testament. Their favourite text is, "For Christ is the end of the law" (Romans 10:4). Yet people do not appreciate good news without knowing the bad consequences they can escape.
When Hilkiah found the Law while cleaning out the Temple the revival took on a new complexion. As Josiah heard Shaphan read God's punishment for those who flouted His holy law, he tore his robes as a sign of repentance and ordered his entourage, "Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah" (2Chronicles 34:13). Paul said, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).
REVIVAL NEEDS A SPIRITUALLY ENLIGHTENED HEART
Despite the evil and apostasy of Judah, Josiah's retinue were able to find a prophetess, Huldah. Isaiah had been martyred, new-ageism abounded, but they found a servant of God in Jerusalem. Had this woman played a part in Josiah's conversion to Jehovah?
Josiah had not asked if God would forgive him or the people: only what God was going to do to them. Josiah was experiencing a second crisis. He made no attempt to justify himself: no appeal to his good works.
Nor did the prophetess change the curses of God in blessings. "I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the King of Judah has read" (2 Chronicles 34:16). The preacher must not ignore or deny that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) or that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
Yet the prophetess went on to say to Josiah, "Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord... and because you tore your robes before me in my presence I have heard you.... Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place" (2Chronicles 34:19f).
Josiah may have remembered God's word in Isaiah 57, "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit" (Isaiah 57:15). David wrote, "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. " (Psalm 32:2).
Josiah's Response to God's Grace
As a result, Josiah assembled the people, read God's law to them, and "renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord - to follow the Lord and keep his commandments, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul" (2 Kings 23:3). This action of acknowledging the guilt of Judah, seeking to know what God would do, and renewing the covenant is the Old Testament equivalent of the Second Blessing. Josiah reigned for thirteen more years and he continued to eradicate idolatry, witchcraft, and all occult worship from the land by removing their priests as well.
Dr. Chapman said to a gathering of preachers, "We have reached the place where one man plays a handsaw and another gives a 'Life's Story' gathering a big crowd and we call that a revival; that is a farce. Tears, sweat and blood are the price of a revival, and some of us are not willing to pay the price."
Gipsy Smith was once asked how to start a revival. He answered, "Go home, lock yourself in your room, kneel down in the middle of your floor. Draw a chalk mark all around yourself and ask God to start the revival inside that chalk mark. When He has answered your prayer, the revival is on."
Josiah discovered the truth of God's promise to Solomon, "If my people who are called by my name, humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). Australia is full of idolatry, other religions, and alternative lifestyles. We must humble ourselves before God, repent of sin, seek God and pray for Australia. Will you join me in earnestly praying for revival here in Belgrave, in Melbourne, in Australia?
Graeme Beasley is the pastor of the Belgrave Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Southern District Director of Seniors Ministries.
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