The Original Reformation

Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.

And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the gate of the city. However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech. 11 And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts. And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 And the altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the Lord, he pulled down and broke in pieces and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. 13 And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 14 And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men.

15 Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. 16 And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. 17 Then he said, “What is that monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.” 18 And he said, “Let him be; let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came out of Samaria. 19 And Josiah removed all the shrines also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which kings of Israel had made, provoking the Lord to anger. He did to them according to all that he had done at Bethel. 20 And he sacrificed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem. – 2 Kings 23:1-20 ESV

When it came to reforming and healing the deadly spiritual malaise in Judah, Josiah had his work cut out for him. And when reading the list of his reforms, it’s easy to focus on all the positive steps he took to course-correct Judah’s spiritual trajectory. But why was all of this necessary? How had things gotten so bad in Judah that the king was forced to commit all his time and resources to this spiritual reclamation project? The reader should be shocked and appalled by the abysmal condition of the nation’s faith community. The moral state of the people of Judah had reached an all-time low. And Josiah revealed the extent of their moral decline by reading to them portions of the rediscovered Book of the Covenant – the Pentateuch. And it seems likely that his reading included this foundational and oft-repeated admonition from the original Ten Commandments.

“Do not make idols or set up carved images, or sacred pillars, or sculptured stones in your land so you may worship them. I am the Lord your God. You must keep my Sabbath days of rest and show reverence for my sanctuary. I am the Lord. – Leviticus 26:1-2 NLT

Josiah had already begun an aggressive temple renovation project designed to repair the long-neglected house of God. But these restoration efforts were more than cosmetic in nature. Josiah was having to purge and purify the sanctuary of God from the desecrating presence of altars to a litany of idols. His predecessors had repeatedly displayed their disregard for God by defiling the temple that bore His name. They had turned God’s house into a veritable showroom for displaying all their false gods, and the sheer volume of these abominations is staggering.

Then the king instructed Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second rank and the Temple gatekeepers to remove from the Lord’s Temple all the articles that were used to worship Baal, Asherah, and all the powers of the heavens. – 2 Kings 23:4 NLT

The king removed the Asherah pole from the Lord’s Temple… – 2 Kings 23:6 NLT

He also tore down the living quarters of the male and female shrine prostitutes that were inside the Temple of the Lord – 2 Kings 23:7 NLT

He removed from the entrance of the Lord’s Temple the horse statues that the former kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun – 2 Kings 23:11 NLT

The king destroyed the altars that Manasseh had built in the two courtyards of the Lord’s Temple. – 2 Kings 23:12 NLT

Josiah was a busy man, and his reforms didn’t stop at the temple. He was determined to do whatever it took to remove every last vestige of idolatry from the land of Judah. He ordered the destruction of every last shrine or altar dedicated to a false god, and there were a lot of them. Pagan shrines and high places could be found through Judah, from the capital city of Jerusalem to Geba in the north and Beersheba in the south. Their ubiquitous presence required Josiah to launch an extensive seek-and-destroy mission that began in the temple, extended to the valleys just out Jerusalem, and then reached all the way to the northern territory of Israel.

While the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and the people had been taken captive, the shrines and altars to their false gods remained. So, Josiah sent special demolition teams as far as Bethel to destroy the altar that Jeroboam had erected years earlier.

The king also tore down the altar at Bethel—the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he caused Israel to sin. He burned down the shrine and ground it to dust, and he burned the Asherah pole. – 2 Kings 23:15 NLT

This was in direct fulfillment of a centuries-old prophecy declared by God against the rebellious Jeroboam. After God had split the kingdom of Solomon in half, He had awarded the kingship of the ten northern tribes oto Jeroboam. But Jeroboam had displayed his loyalty and gratitude by erecting a golden calf in the city of Bethel. This newly appointed king of Israel repaid God by abandoning Him. So, God sent a young, unnamed prophet with a message.

“O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” – 1 Kings 13:2 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, the prophecy of God became a reality. Josiah tore down the altar dedicated to the golden calf and then had the ground desecrated by burning human bones on it.

Then Josiah turned around and noticed several tombs in the side of the hill. He ordered that the bones be brought out, and he burned them on the altar at Bethel to desecrate it. (This happened just as the Lord had promised through the man of God when Jeroboam stood beside the altar at the festival.) – 2 Kings 23:16 NLT

The scope of Josiah’s reformation initiative is truly staggering, and it reveals just how bad things had gotten in Judah. The sheer volume of false gods being worshiped by the people of God should leave us dumbfounded. There were shrines to Baal, Topheth, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Molech – just to name a few. But there also altars dedicated “to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and to all the powers of the heavens” (2 Kings 23:5 NLT), as well as horse and chariot statues dedicated to the sun (2 Kings 23:11).

Josiah was faced with a truly formidable task but he took it on with dedicated determination. He tore down, burned down, cut down, smashed, and desecrated the thousands of altars to the myriad of false gods that permeated the landscape and the hearts of the people of Judah. Josiah took his role seriously because he feared God greatly. His reading of the Book the Covenant had reminded him of the dire consequences facing the people of God if they failed to remain faithful to their covenant commitment. He was well aware of what had happened to the northern kingdom, and he knew that Judah was just as deserving of God’s judgment. They had been equally unfaithful and the evidence was everywhere. So, Josiah took it upon himself to cleanse the land of its idolatrous stain. But the greatest challenge he faced was turning the hearts of the people back to Yahweh. He could remove the idols from the land, but could he remove the spirit of idolatry from their hearts? Time would tell.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You, O Lord, Are God Alone

1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he has set out to fight against you.” So he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” 2 Kings 19:1-19 ESV

When King Hezekiah’s three emissaries returned with a report of all that the Rabshakeh had said, he was overwhelmed with grief. This self-absorbed and overly confident commander of Sennacherib’s army had ridiculed Hezekiah for placing any hope of rescue in Egypt. Pharaoh would prove to be an unreliable source of help against the much larger and better equipped Assyrian army. And Sennacherib’s cocky commander scoffed at any notion that the God of Judah would come to their aid. Speaking on behalf of his equally arrogant king, the Rabshakeh had boldly declared, “What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (2 Kings 18:35 NLT).

Demoralized by this devastating news, King Hezekiah immediately entered into a state of mourning and sought refuge and solace in the house of God. From there, he sent a  message to the prophet Isaiah.

“Today is a day of trouble, insults, and disgrace. It is like when a child is ready to be born, but the mother has no strength to deliver the baby. But perhaps the Lord your God has heard the Assyrian chief of staff, sent by the king to defy the living God, and will punish him for his words. Oh, pray for those of us who are left!” – 2 Kings 19:3-4 NLT

These were dark days for the nation of Judah, but Hezekiah held out hope that Yahweh would still come to their aid. From his vantage point within the walls of God’s house, Hezekiah must have recalled the prayer that Solomon had offered up to God when he had dedicated the newly constructed temple.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

While Judah had not yet been defeated by the Assyrians, things were not looking good. Their massive army was camped outside the eastern walls and Hezekiah knew it was just a matter of time before the siege brought Jerusalem to its knees. But he still held out hope, turning to the prophet of God and begging him to seek Yahweh’s divine assistance. And the message he received from Isaiah must have sounded far-fetched and too good to be true.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.’” – 2 Kings 19:6-7 NLT

God had heard every boastful and blasphemous word the Rabshakeh had said. And Isaiah assured Hezekiah that he had nothing to fear because God had something in store for Sennacherib that would throw a major wrench into his global conquest plans. The great king of Assyria would suddenly find himself facing unexpected attacks on a number of fronts that would eventually force him to abandon his siege of Jerusalem. But even though Sennacherib had reallocated his forces to other battlefronts, he was not going to give up on his plan to conquer Jerusalem. So, he sent another message to King Hezekiah, demanding that he give up his Don Quixote-like quest for divine rescue. Sennacherib treated the God of Judah with contempt, declaring that He would prove just as powerless as all the other gods of all the other nations that had fallen to the Assyrians.

But Hezekiah took Sennacherib’s letter into the temple and spread it out before the Lord. Then he prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God” (2 Kings 19:15-16 NLT).

Hezekiah reminded Yahweh that all the other gods had failed because they were nothing more than the figments of man’s fertile imagination.

“They were not gods at all—only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. – 2 Kings 19:18 NLT

But Yahweh was the living God. He was the all-powerful creator God who had made the heavens and the earth. He was seated on His throne in heaven and fully capable of dealing with King Sennacherib and his seemingly unstoppable army. And Hezekiah called on Yahweh to intervene and demonstrate His sovereign power by rescuing His chosen people. And when the one true God does what no other god could do, delivering Judah from the hands of Sennacherib, all the nations of the earth will recognize “that you alone, O Lord, are God” (2 Kings 19:19 NLT). 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Preserving and Protecting the Line of David

13 When Athaliah heard the noise of the guard and of the people, she went into the house of the Lord to the people. 14 And when she looked, there was the king standing by the pillar, according to the custom, and the captains and the trumpeters beside the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing trumpets. And Athaliah tore her clothes and cried, “Treason! Treason!” 15 Then Jehoiada the priest commanded the captains who were set over the army, “Bring her out between the ranks, and put to death with the sword anyone who follows her.” For the priest said, “Let her not be put to death in the house of the Lord.” 16 So they laid hands on her; and she went through the horses’ entrance to the king’s house, and there she was put to death.

17 And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord’s people, and also between the king and the people. 18 Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the Lord. 19 And he took the captains, the Carites, the guards, and all the people of the land, and they brought the king down from the house of the Lord, marching through the gate of the guards to the king’s house. And he took his seat on the throne of the kings. 20 So all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword at the king’s house.

21 Jehoash was seven years old when he began to reign. 2 Kings 11:13-21 ESV

For six years, Joash, the young heir to David’s throne, had lived in the temple of Yahweh – and right under Athaliah’s nose. The house of God proved to be the perfect hiding place for the young boy because it would have been the last place Athaliah would have ever looked. Like her parents, Ahab and Jezebel, she was a committed Baal worshiper. So, any chance of her running into Joash at the house of God would have been highly unlikely. In this story, the temple of the one true God plays a significant role. It is a reminder that, in Judah, Yahweh still played a major role in the lives of the people. While some of the kings of Judah had successfully introduced the worship of idols, the people had not abandoned Yahweh. The temple Solomon had built still stood, and the sacrificial system remained in place. Jehoiada and his fellow priests faithfully maintained God’s house and looked after the spiritual well-being of God’s people. And now, Jehoiada had provided sanctuary for God’s chosen king in the house that bore God’s name. And it must not be overlooked that the temple of God had direct ties all the way back to King David.

It had always been David’s dream to build a great temple in honor of Yahweh. But God informed David that He had other plans.

“And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-13 ESV

God went on to promise David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). God was going to build David’s house or dynasty.  But it would be David’s son, Solomon, whom God would give the privilege of constructing a house that would bear His name and in which His glory would dwell. And now, the house built by Solomon had become the means by which God fulfilled His promise to preserve the house of David. Joash, the descendant of David and the rightful heir to the throne of Judah, was alive because he had been given sanctuary and protection in the house of God.

When word got out that Joash was alive and that he had been crowned the king of Judah, the crowds flocked to the temple to see if the news was true. And it wasn’t long before Athaliah was told about the great commotion taking place at the temple of Yahweh. So, she went to see for herself.

Much to her shock and surprise, there stood her seven-year-old grandson, Joash, very much alive and well, and wearing a crown on his head. In a matter of seconds, Athaliah’s house of cards began to crumble. Her insidious plan to eradicate all the heirs to her son’s throne had failed. For six years she had lived under the delusion that she had successfully secured her place as the queen of Judah. But little did she know that God had been protecting and preserving the seed of David until he was ready to take the throne. And it must not be overlooked that when Jehoiada placed the crown on the head of Joash, he had also presented the young king with a copy of the Mosaic Law.

Jehoiada brought out Joash, the king’s son, placed the crown on his head, and presented him with a copy of God’s laws. – 2 Kings 11:12 NLT

This practice was in keeping with the commands of God concerning the kings of Israel.

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

Athaliah, an ungodly and unauthorized queen, was standing before the God-appointed king of Judah. And this young man was backed by the law of God, the priests of God, and had the full support of the people of God. But declared the entire scene to be nothing less than an act of treason. She refused to acknowledge Joash as the rightful heir to the throne because she refused to acknowledge Yahweh as the one and only God of Judah.

But her claims of treason were met with an order from Jehoiada the priest, commanding that she be taken from the temple and executed. She was the one who had been guilty of treason and so, she was the one who deserved to die.

With her death, a spirit of revival broke out in the land of Judah. Jehoiada immediately “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people that they would be the Lord’s people” (2 Kings 11:17 NLT). In a sense, he called the people to repent and return to the worship of Yahweh. They had a new king but Jehoiada knew that it would mean nothing without a renewed commitment to God. Joash was just a seven-year-old boy with no leadership skills or experience. But if he and the people under his care would recommit themselves to the Word and the will of God, they would find themselves enjoying the blessings of God once again.

In a decisive demonstration of their renewed zeal for Yahweh, the people tore down the temple of Baal. Its very presence indicates that Athaliah and her ungodly relatives in Israel had played a major role in the declining spiritual state within Judah. The city of Jerusalem, home to the temple of God, also had a temple dedicated to Baal, the false god of Ahab and Jezebel. But in the revival-like atmosphere that accompanied Joash’s crowning, the people were moved to eradicate every last vestige of Baal worship from their midst.

They demolished the altars and smashed the idols to pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars. – 2 Kings 11:18 NLT

With Athaliah and her false god out of the way, it was time for Joash to move from God’s house to David’s palace. So, Jehoiada led a processional from the temple to the royal residence, where “the king took his seat on the royal throne” (2 Kings 11:19 NLT). And at that moment, God reaffirmed the promise He had made to David.

Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever. – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

God was committed to keeping His word because He had a far greater plan in store that would involve the line of David. His preservation of David’s house was crucial because there was to be one final descendant of David who would rule and reign, not just over Judah and Israel, but over all the kingdoms of the world. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this coming King and the day when He will bring salvation to the world.

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. – Isaiah 11:10 NLT

Joash had been protected so that David’s line could be preserved. Despite the unfaithfulness of His people, God was faithfully keeping His promise to David so that His plans for the future redemption of the world could be fulfilled in Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Called To Oneness.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 ESV

Back in chapter one, verse 8, Paul said, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Unbelievers cannot understand the wisdom of God revealed in the death of Christ – namely, that one man’s death could provide eternal life for those believed in Him. Now, Paul states that “the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” Man’s wisdom doesn’t impress God and it will never make anyone right with God. If anything, the wisdom of man becomes a barrier to accepting the truth of God’s redemptive plan as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The wisdom of men is futile and totally incapable of remedying mankind’s sin problem and state of condemnation before a holy and just God. So why, Paul asks, would we make much of men. Why would we create false idols out of men and women, worshiping them for the role they played in our salvation, while overlooking the fact that it was God who sent His Son to die, gave His message of reconciliation to those He called, and sent His Spirit to open the hearts of those who heard that message. No man has the right to boast of his usefulness to God, and no one should elevate the messenger over the One who sent the message.

Paul’s real concern has to do with division in the body of Christ. He started out his letter with the plea, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV). He accused them of quarreling and bickering over which man they followed – “each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Their disunity was causing divisiveness. So Paul reminds them that they are the temple of God. Not just as individuals, but as the local body of Christ. He is speaking to the church, not the individual. How do we know this? Because in the Greek language, the personal pronoun, “you” is plural, not singular. Peter confirms the idea that the local church is the temple of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God.

“…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:5 ESV

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul said the same thing:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV

As God’s temple, the local church is to be valued and protected. If anyone does anything to harm or destroy the integrity of the church, they will answer to God. Paul warns them, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV). Disunity destroys. It damages from within. We have been called by God to love one another, not debate and display contempt for one another. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminded them of their oneness in Christ.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV

In the prayer He prayed in the garden on the night of His betrayal, Jesus asked the Father, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21 ESV). It is our unity that displays the reality of the church’s role as God’s temple. God alone can bring together people of every age, from every walk of life, ethnicity, economic strata, and social background, and mold them into one family. All sharing one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Paul reminds the believers in Corinth, “So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23 NLT). Each of these men had been given to the church by God. They were to be seen as gifts from God intended for the building up of the body of Christ. As Paul told the Ephesian church:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

And God gave these gifted individuals to the church in order that it might grow and prosper, “until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). Disunity is destructive. Divisiveness is counterproductive. Boasting in men robs God of glory and the body of Christ of its power. Making celebrities out of God’s servants ends up deifying them and diminishing the effectiveness of the local church. The church may grow in numbers, but it will lack the power of God’s Spirit. When we make much of men, we experience less of God.

Knowing God.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:15-23 ESV

Paul was grateful to God for the believers in Ephesus. He was thankful to God that they had heard the word of truth, the gospel, and had believed. As a result, they had received the Holy Spirit, as a guarantee of their future inheritance of eternal salvation. And Paul gave God all the glory. But he also gave God his thanks. He thanked God for the news he had received about the believers in Ephesus regarding their faith in Christ and their love for one another. They were growing. Their relationship with Christ was maturing and the presence of the Spirit within them was bearing visible fruit. And Paul knew that it was all due to the gracious work of God in their lives. He had made it possible. He was the one who had called them and He was the one who was sanctifying them. And one day, He would be the one who would glorify them, “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV).

But Paul didn’t just express gratitude to God for all that He had done. He let his readers know that he regularly petitioned God for their ongoing spiritual well-being. And he was very specific as to what he asked God for. This was not so much a prayer as it was an outline of his how he prayed for them. It seems that Paul wanted them to know just exactly what he viewed as necessary and of highest priority for their spiritual health. The first thing He asked God to do for them is quite revealing.

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him… – Ephesians 1:17 ESV

Here Paul is asking God to give the believers in Ephesus the capacity to know Him better. God, the transcendent, holy, unapproachable God of the universe has chosen to make Himself known to men. Had God not chosen to reveal Himself, no man or woman would ever be able to comprehend Him or hope to have a relationship with Him. In his letter to the Romans, Paul expressed the “otherness” of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?” – Romans 11:33-35 ESV

Yet he told the believers in Corinth…

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. – 1 Corinthians 2:9-12 ESV

Because we have the Spirit of God living within us, we have the capacity to know the mind of God. We have been given the privilege of understanding the things of God. And it is primarily through the Word of God that He has chosen to reveal Himself to us. Paul was not praying for a mere intellectual knowledge of God, but an experiential, personal and intimate understanding of who He was and all that He was doing in their lives and in the world around them.

But Paul’s prayer for a growing knowledge of God had an ulterior motive. He wanted to see their hearts enlightened. For Paul, the heart was representative of the individual’s entire inner being. He knew that as they grew to know God better, they would be radically and totally transformed from the inside out. It is as we come to know God, that we truly come to know ourselves and the world around us. A clearer and more concise understanding of God gives allows us to comprehend truth and of view the world as it really is. It is as we have our understanding enlightened that we begin to see that this world is not all there is. There is more. Much more.

that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints – Ephesians 1:18 ESV

…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe… – Ephesians 1:19 ESV

Paul wanted them to know the hope to which God had called them. He knew that they were going to experience difficulties in this life. He knew that their faith journey was going to be rough at times. So he wanted them to fully understand that God’s divine plan for them included their future glorification. He wanted them to know that God’s power was great enough and His promise reliable enough to see them through any circumstance they may encounter in this life. God’s “immeasurable greatness” was working on their behalf at all times. And just so they would know how immeasurable that greatness really way, Paul described it for them.

…according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… – Ephesians 1:19-20 ESV

The very power that raised Jesus from the dead and allowed Him to return to His rightful place at His Father’s side, is the power working on behalf of every believer. It is the power that will one day make possible our own glorification and the redemption of our bodies. What God did for Jesus, He will do for us. And He is already sanctifying us, transforming us into the likeness of His Son, day by day, through the power of His Spirit and according to His divine redemptive plan. Paul wanted his readers to know that God was in complete control. His Son was at His side and interceding on behalf of His body, the church.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV

As we come to know God better, we come to trust Him more fully. We grow in our understanding of His sovereignty and His Son’s work on our behalf. We are His people. We are the temple of His Spirit. And as Peter reminds us, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV). God is at work in us. He is doing great work through us. He has great plans for us. And the better we know Him, the more we will trust Him to do what He has promised.

 

Built To Last.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. – 1 Peter 2:4-8 ESV

Peter reminded his readers that they have “tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:3 ESV). He is χρηστός (chrēstos) – kind, gracious and benevolent.And as a result, we come to Him – not just once for salvation, but continually and repeatedly for help and hope as we live our lives on this earth. By coming to Jesus, our Lord, out of our longing for “pure spiritual milk,” we grow. And together, as the body of Christ, we are “built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV). Jesus becomes the foundation stone upon which the body of Christ, the church, is built. We come to Him, in spite of the fact that He has been rejected by the vast majority of our peers. To us, He is a living stone, the chief cornerstone on which our spiritual lives are built, both individually and corporately. But to others, He becomes nothing more than a stone in their path over which they stumble. To us, He is foundational and supportive. To others, He is fictional and irrelevant.

The key point in this passage seems to be that God desires to build something out of those who place their faith in Christ. He has a grand plan for their lives. Like an architect, He has a design for each and every individual whom He has set apart as His own. Like our Savior, we are living stones, no longer lifeless and dead in our trespasses and sins. We have had new life breathed into us by God Himself, and He has plans for us. He is building us into a spiritual house. Peter compares us to the temple itself. Together, as God’s people, we are the temple, the habitat of God. Paul supports that same thought when he writes, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV). It is interesting to note that the personal pronoun, you, that Paul uses is plural in these verses. He is referencing the corporate body of believers in Corinth, not individual believers. While the Holy Spirit dwells within individual believers, He also inhabits the corporate body of Christ, the church. Paul says this very same thing in his second letter to the Corinthian church. “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17 ESV).

But not only are we the stones who make up the temple of God, we are the priests who offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV). Paul told the believers in Rome, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). We are to be living stones and living sacrifices, offering ourselves up to God for His use. Like the priests who served in the temple, we belong to God. We live to serve Him. One of the greatest sacrifices we can make to God is to willingly and submissively allow Him to do with our lives what He sees fit. When we allow Him to use us as stones in His spiritual house, we are sacrificing our desires to Him. We are giving up our dreams in order to fulfill His. And we will not be disappointed. Peter assures of this very thing when he quotes from Isaiah 28:16:

therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: Whoever believes will not be in haste. – Isaiah 28:16 ESV

The phrase, “will not be in haste” refers to someone acting in a panic, rushing about in disappointment and surprise.When we build out lives on Jesus, we will never end up disappointed or let down. And when we allow God to use us as stones in His spiritual house, we can have every confidence that the final product will be perfect and complete, without flaws and designed to last for eternity. And we should see it as an honor to have God choose to use us as part of His grand, eternal construction project.

But the sad truth is that Jesus was rejected by His own people. The gospel of John reminds us, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11 ESV). But the rejected one became the chosen, precious one. They stumbled over the very one who would become the cornerstone of the true house of God. They found Him to be an offense to their religious sensibilities. He was not the one for whom they were waiting. He did not fit the bill of the Messiah for whom they longed. So they rejected Him. They had Him crucified. And Peter tells us, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8 ESV). God was not surprised by the reaction of the Jewish nation to His Son. It was all part of His plan. Because, as Paul tells in his letter to the believers in Rome, the rejection of Jesus by the Jews opened up the gospel to the Gentiles. “Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (Romans 11:11-12 ESV). They failed to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and, as a result, the gospel was taken to the Gentiles. But as Paul goes on to say, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins’” (Romans 11:25-27 ESV).

The Jews will one day be added into this grand structure which God is constructing. He is not done yet. He is building something beautiful and eternal. His plan is flawless and His timing is perfect. He knows what He is doing. Each stone has been personally selected by Him and is being placed where He wants it in order to create a living temple in which He will dwell for eternity.

 

Our Uncontainable God.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! – 1 Kings 8:27 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

As Solomon prepared to dedicate the temple he had just constructed, he offered a prayer of consecration to God. He was setting apart this very special building as the dwelling place of God. But even as he prayed, he realized the futility and extreme absurdity of what they were doing. They very idea of men trying to create a structure adequate or large enough to contain the God of the universe was absurd. Solomon’s prayer reveals his understanding of God’s immensity and transcendence. While the false gods worshiped by other nations could easily be contained in temples and shrines, the God of Israel was far too great and omnipresent to be contained in a single structure, regardless of how beautiful or large it might be. God Himself had said, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV).

So was all the effort and expense Solomon had put into building the temple nothing but a waste of time? No. God had given Solomon permission to build the temple for which his father David had long dreamed. Solomon was well aware of the history of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the stories regarding the tabernacle. It was within the Holy of Holies that God’s shekinah glory rested. God had ordained the construction of the tabernacle and had agreed to meet with His people there. Within the tabernacle, hidden from the view of men, the glory of God hovered over the mercy seat which sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. It was there, once a year, that the high priest sprinkled the blood of a spotless animal in order to atone for the sins of the people. It was David’s original intent to create a new dwelling place for the Ark. Ever since the people had lived within the land of Canaan, the Ark had been without a proper resting place. So David had dreamed of creating a house in which to keep the Ark. “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent’” (2 Samuel 7:1-2 ESV). God had approved of David’s plan, but it was Solomon who was allowed to bring it to fruition. The marvelous structure Solomon had constructed was not intended to contain or house God. That would have been impossible. It was created to provide a proper home for the Ark and allow for the continued atonement for the sins of the people of God. But the sacrifices made each year within the temple had to be more than just religious rituals performed out of some sense of duty. God expected the sacrifices to be accompanied by repentance and a sense of contrition. Years later, the prophet Isaiah would write, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV). Isaiah would also end up warning the people regarding their casual use of the temple and their contemptuous regard for the sacrificial system. Speaking on behalf of God, Isaiah wrote: “‘What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. ‘I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me!’” (Isaiah 1:11-13 NLT).

The temple could not contain God. And the sacrifices of men could not obligate God to forgive them for their disregard and disrespect for His holiness. As God had said, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” God didn’t live in the temple. He lived within the hearts of those who loved Him and recognized their need for Him. Our God is uncontainable and uncontrollable. We can’t manipulate Him or make Him do what we want. We can’t live our lives according to our own standards and then expect Him to bless us just because we go to church, periodically read our Bibles, or offer up the occasional prayer. As those who claim to believe in Jesus Christ, we are the dwelling place of the most High God. We are His temple. He lives within us. Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV). “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord’” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17 ESV). What an amazing reality. The uncontainable, uncontrollable God of the universe has chosen to dwell among us. He has determined to live within us. We don’t need a building. All we need is belief in the redemptive work of His Son Jesus Christ and hearts that are willing to repent of our love affair with sin and self. Then God Himself takes up residence within us. Paul writes, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7-8 NLT). The undeserving contains the uncontainable. The unremarkable contains the uncontrollable.