God is the king of all that was, is and ever will be. Our God – the only God – spoke all that is into existence. He created our world, and he created us to be his representatives on earth. Humanity was tasked to enact God’s will on his creation. Our kingdoms, the places where our wills are done, were meant to be lived in submission to the high King of Kings.
But that isn’t the way the world is. Rather than submitting to God, delighting in his will, we find that we are rebels against God. Sometimes, when driving in the country, I find myself frustrated being behind another car… even if it’s driving at the right speed. Why? Because I want to be in front. I don’t want to have to follow someone else. And I find that I, like us all, have a tendency to do the same when it comes to following God. As rebels against him, we’d rather be the one’s to run things for ourselves.
The problem is, I’m not God any more than you are. We mess up. God made us to be fully complete in relationship with him; to reject him is to find ourselves living lives that fail to satisfy. And to reject him is to reject life, since he is the source of life.
The good news that Jesus came preaching was that God’s kingdom was near. Although we are rebels against God’s rule, that doesn’t mean that God has stopped being ruler. In fact, God has been active since the fall to bring us back from our rebellion to himself. As part of that, he chose one nation out of all the peoples of the earth to be a nation of priests. Israel was meant to represent God to the world; to be a light to the nations.
And yet they, like us, are by nature rebels against God. Having experienced God’s might and power and presence in incredible ways, God’s people eventually decided that what they most needed to thrive and survive wasn’t merely faith in God, but a human king. Yet God’s plans for salvation were big enough to include even the rebellion of his people.
Israel’s kings were meant to rule God’s people under God, leading the people of God in the ways of God. But they too were rebel sinners. Saul, the first king, was unrepentantly so. David, the second king, was a different proposition. He also sinned greatly – but he was a repentant rebel: he threw himself on God’s mercy – and found that God “…will not reject a broken and repentant heart…” (Ps 51:17)
King Saul was the king of rebels and King David the king of forgiveness. Today’s king, Josiah, was the reformer king.
In the years after David, the trend in Israel wasn’t, however, a growing likeness to God. Rather, Israel tended to become less and less dedicated to God, and more and more a nation just like any other, rejecting God and worshipping what was created instead of the Creator. Israel split in two, with the northern kingdom of Israel setting up golden calves as an alternative to Yahweh. Eventually, the northern kingdom’s sin piled so high, that God caused them to be led away into exile, never to return as a kingdom. Things in the southern kingdom of Judah, ruled by David’s heirs, wasn’t all that much better. Over time, they became just as evil as their kin to the north. By the time of Josiah, the focus of today’s message, God was all but forgotten. Just note how excited the priest Hilkiah was to discover a copy of the book of God’s law! The temple had become a place for worshiping not just God, but any number of idols. Religious life included, it seems, sexual immorality and the sacrifice of children to gods. How it must have broken God’s heart to see his people – meant to represent his good and holy name – reject him like this.
Josiah, however, sought after God. And like David, he was moved by a realisation of his own rebelliousness, and God’s sovereignty. He was an incredible reformer, returning his kingdom back to one where God alone was worshiped, in keeping with God’s revealed will.
But history attests that his reforms didn’t survive him for very long. The rot at the core of our humanity will out. Enforced compliance to the will of God can change our behaviours, but not our hearts. Have you ever noticed how much better people drive when there’s a police car in the next lane? But it’s not that a police car changes our desires, making us want to be a better driver. Their presence simply makes us comply our external behaviour. Our desire to do wrong remains. Perhaps we even resent their presence, forcing us to do what is right. (See Jeremiah 44:15-19)
The Christmas king is also a king who calls us to live a life worthy of God’s kingdom. He is a reformer, just like Josiah. But his reforming is of a far better, more lasting sort….