Are We Ripe for Reformation?
Heavenly Father, after a week of news such as we have had this week, I come to worship You with a clear reminder of the sin in the world. Help me and all my fellow Christians to proclaim the Gospel so that the true solution for sin will go out in the world and make a difference, not only for this life but for the eternal life of many souls. I come today worn and tired by the sin that is in me and around me. Forgive my sin, lift me up, refresh me with Your Gospel and Sacrament, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
God’s greatest gift to sinful mankind is His Gospel because it is the power of God for salvation. God also showers the earth with countless other blessings. These blessings are abused when people honor and love the creation instead of the Creator. When sinners continually reject God there comes a time when He turns them over to their own lusts and destruction.
Through His ministry, Jesus had given the disciples everything they would need to make a difference in the world and to preserve themselves from the world. What Jesus had given His disciples was His Word. Children of God live in the world but are NOT OF the world. The Truth of God separates and keeps believers from being "of" the world.
Text: 2 Kings 18:1-8
Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. The Lord was with him; he prospered wherever he went. And he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. He subdued the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.
In Christ Jesus, our Redeemer, dear fellow-redeemed:
“Its been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown…”
Many of you may recognize this as the standard opening to the weekly radio program that tells the stories of a fictional, sleepy, little Minnesota town. If you’ve been keeping up with the real news in the past several days you know that it has been a full week and anything but "quiet."
A plane crash in which all aboard were killed…two successive days of workplace violence in which several lost their lives…a father & son seriously hurt in a hunting accident…the elections…and one week ago today, on Reformation Day, a document was signed between the largest Lutheran Church body and the Roman Catholic Church which says, in effect, we don’t need to celebrate Reformation any more because there is unity on the doctrine of salvation. It has been anything but a quiet week…
So often, immediately after tragedy strikes, there are many voices declaring the need for reform for whatever they feel caused the tragedy. Each political cycle brings out the candidates who find what people don’t like and then promise reform—economic reform, social reform, political reform. In view of the fact that the confession of God’s truth seems to be ever-slipping away from leading churches, we might, ourselves, conclude that we are in need ofreligious reform.
As long as there is sin, there will always be tragedy, imperfections, problems, and errors—in other words there will always be a need for reform. If, in a sinful world, we ever feel that we have reached a level of perfection which cannot be improved or reformed for the better, we have come to a mistaken conclusion. There is a continuing need for reform, and throughout history God has raised up leaders and Reformation movements to accomplish His purposes.
Today we are at a unique intersection in the church year: In the last two weeks we have been reminded of our work in God’s Kingdom--reminded of His mission plan and our role in it. Mission Festival is still fresh in our minds and in our hearts. Last week, we reminded ourselves of the Truth that God has restored to us and preserved for us through the Reformation so that we have our Gospel-treasure which we seek to guard. In the next two weeks, our church year comes to a close during which time we especially focus on judgment and the end of the world and the return of Christ our King.
So today, we’re in the position of remembering our mission plan and the work in God’s Kingdom, having the heritage of Truth to take out in our mission work, and also standing and looking at the world’s sin and the judgment that will come when Christ returns. In this intersection of thought we ask ourselves the question, "ARE WE RIPE FOR REFORMATION?"To answer the question we consider that I. Reform is needed whenever God’s blessings are abused II. Reform is accomplished only byGod’s work III. Reform is a blessing that produces more blessing.
Hezekiah, king of Judah, is often called "GOOD King Hezekiah." He is called good king Hezekiah because there were so many bad and evil kings in the history of both Israel and Judah. That Hezekiah can be described as a good king is indeed itself a wonder of God’s grace, because his father, Ahaz, was one of the most wicked kings in Judah.
Ahaz is the king who refused to ask for a sign when God specifically told him to ask for a sign (cf: Isaiah 7:10ff). Ahaz dismantled the riches of temple to pay tribute to the heathen nations around him (2 Kings 16). Ahaz practiced idolatry as well the witchcraft and superstition God had clearly forbidden and condemned in His law (2 Kings 16:3, cf: Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
We aren’t told that it was Hezekiah’s mother who was a positive guiding influence in his life, but since she is named by name—“his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah”[v.2]—we might well assume that she played a vital role in the instruction of young Hezekiah. Through the work of his mother and/or others, by the age of 25 Hezekiah was ready to fulfill his God-appointed role as "good" king Hezekiah despite the wickedness of his father.
Not only did Hezekiah have a father who provided no good example in how to rule the nation, but the neighboring northern 10 tribes of Israel had done evil in the sight of God and were under His judgment in captivity at the time of Hezekiah’s reign. Judah, likewise, had gone through the ups and downs of good king—bad king. Judah too had angered God with idolatry and all sorts of sin, but with good king Hezekiah God effected a reformation.
[Hezekiah] was twenty-five years old when he became king…he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.” [v.4]
Hezekiah, following the Lord’s will and Word, destroyed the idolatry. He removed the places of worship, removed the idols, but it is the one idol—the bronze serpent—which is especially revealing and has an impact on our thoughts. That idol especially shows the nature of idolatry and the need for reformation.
The bronze serpent went back to the time when the Children of Israel were in the wilderness complaining to Moses about how sick and tired they were of Manna and what did God do…bring them out into the wilderness to die?? In response, God sent fiery, deadly snakes among the people to bite them. When many of the people died because of these poisonous snakes, they cried out to Moses, acknowledged their sin and asked Him to pray for them before the LORD. Moses did pray for them and God told him to build a bronze snake—an image of the snakes that were biting the people—and put it on a pole. Then, promised God, whoever looks on the snake after he is bitten will not die but live
We know from the New Testament and Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus that the bronze snake lifted up on the pole was a picture designed by God to point ahead to Christ who would be lifted upon on cross to save us from death. But for the Israelites at that immediate moment the bronze snake was the symbol to which they looked trusting in God’s promise of life. That snake did not deliver them from death but it was the thing that God had placed before them to look upon in faith trusting what He had said.
The bronze snake was something commanded by God for the blessing of the people, but the kept it and abused it. The people kept the bronze snake and made it into a false god to which they offered incense. They called the snake-god, "Nehushtan" which means "bronze thing." God had given this bronze snake as something to look upon in faith for salvation—a visual aid for the blessing of the people—they called it "a thing of bronze"…and made it their god.
God’s purpose in giving blessings is ultimately the salvation of sinners. It is an added bonus that these blessings also provide benefits for this life. God promises to come through His Word and bless us. He says, “In every place where I record My name, I will come to you and I will bless you” (Exodus 20:24). God richly blesses people to show His love, to provide for them, and to use those things for their soul’s ultimate good. God’s purpose in all that He does for us, in all that He gives us, is our benefit. But it is within our woeful sinful capacity to destroy and abuse every blessing God gives.
We see it so clearly in Hezekiah’s reformation. When Hezekiah destroyed Nehushtan, he was destroying something that had begun as a blessing from God. We see the same thing in the history of Solomon. He had asked for wisdom, God gave him wisdom and riches, blessings to be sure, and Solomon would go on to abuse them.
Food and drink—blessings from God can be abused with gluttony and drunkenness.
Wealth and riches—blessings from God can be abused with self-indulgence and self-credit God warned the children of Israel, “when you have eaten and are full then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you…beware that you do not forget the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10-11).
God gives us freedom, both in Christian freedom and in national freedom. Both kinds of freedom are gifts often abused with a lack of self control.
Physical blessings of marriage—a blessing of God abused throughadultery and fornication.
Technology—a blessing from God abused in the killing of unborn children, selling the beginnings of human life to the highest bidder, and attempts to control things as if we human beings were god.
Science and great knowledge—blessings from God abused by using that "logic" to deny God.
God’s Word, a pure gift of Gospel and Salvation—a blessing from God abused by adding man’s rules and purposes.
The apostle James tell us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Sin is the ability to abuse every good and perfect gift when we misuse it, and whenever that happens its time for something to change.
Are we ripe for reformation. The gifts of God are still abused and often not even acknowledged. There are countless ways in this world in which the creature is worshipped rather than the Creator (cf: Epistle lesson). That gift of the pure truth of justification by faith restored in the Reformation of Luther’s time is taken for granted, despised, compromised.
How about us…personally? Daily our own lives are filled with abused of God’s gifts—not using our talents fully or as responsible stewards; not fully appreciating the Lord’s love and forgiveness and therefore, not fully reflecting that love in our dealings with others; not fully understanding that He is the one in control of our lives not we ourselves.
We know that in our own hearts we are in need of reformation because we come confessing our sins looking for forgiveness and the Holy Spirit’s blessing to create a new heart within us. So, are we ripe for reformation? YES we are, because there is misuse of God’s gifts and where that misuse takes place there is a need for reformation.
King Hezekiah followed the Lord’s instruction and did rid the nation of idolatry. We find that that reform was God’s work. “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. The Lord was with him; he prospered wherever he went. And he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. He subdued the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city [vv.5-8]
In every way, Hezekiah followed the commandments of God, not only ridding his own country of idolatry, but also defeating and subduing the enemies which many kings before had treated as friends—against God’s will. Hezekiah broke-off treaties and stopped paying the tribute Israel has previously paid. Why was Hezekiah able to effect this reformation when other kings would come and continue on in sinful ways? Why was it that the people themselves did not riot against their king and throw him out of office saying, "we won’t follow you Hezekiah!"? It was because Hezekiah in his reforms had God on his side.
God provided a leader to accomplish the reformation of Hezekiah’s time. Through whatever means God used, He had provided training so that Hezekiah did not follow in the way of his earthly father, but was raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Hezekiah put his trust in the Lord, held on to him, and did not let go.
This morning in Bible Class we began to see the same hand of God working a reformation as He provided Samuel as a leader of change compared to the corrupt leadership previously given by Eli’s wicked sons. God provided the necessary means to produce a leader to effect a reformation.
The 16th century Reformation which we celebrated last week is another example of the same thing. God provided the necessary events and guidance to create leaders to effect His reformation. All of these, whether Hezekiah’s reformation, the reformation of Luther’s day, or any other reformation—all would come to nothing without God’s work.
We look around the world and we do see a world that is ripe for judgment. We have the mission of taking the Gospel to those people with the prayer that the Word of God will effect in their hearts the reform necessary to put away that sin and follow Christ. That reform is the work of God. There is NO way to accomplish such a reformation without God. Yet that is what the world so frequently does. The world treats the symptoms. The world sees the need for political reform, social reform, economic reform, but they don’t know what can accomplish a TRUE Reformation.
A TRUE reformation is what God, in His grace has already effected in our hearts. It is a reformation He has accomplished by coming to us through His Word to create a recognition that "yes, I am in need of reformation because of sin" and creating in us the trust to believe that "Yes, Jesus did die for my sins. He washes my sins away and I am redeemed because of what He has done."
You are coming to the Lord’s Table this morning to receive the assurance through Christ’s body and blood that your sins are forgiven. Through that Gospel given to you in the sacrament, the reformation of heart is accomplished. Without God, it is eating bread and drinking wine; but with God—with His Word—the reformation is done! The Word of God together with the bread and wine makes it a Sacrament; makes it so that you are receiving Christ’s body and blood to assure you that "Yes, as I receive this very body and blood of Christ MY sins are forgiven because that body and blood was offered on the cross for MY sins; and I am going to leave this Table strengthened knowing that Jesus died for ME."
Reform of a lasting kind—of a spiritual kind—is only done by the work of God and His grace.
Hezekiah is described as prospering wherever he went. [v.7] The blessing of reformation—the blessing of being brought to faith and walking as a child of God—bring a personal blessing to each believer, but that blessing produces more blessings…and more blessings…and more blessings…etc.
The apostle Paul encourages us to pray “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:2). God’s blessing upon leaders and rulers blesses all the people. When Hezekiah personally prospered as a king, all of Judah prospered and received blessings through what he accomplished.
We also are further blessed by the many blessings God works for others. We are not ever going to solve all the social ills. Our goal and mission is not to solve them, but rather to solve the greater need of sin and let the blessing of salvation then flow out and produce other blessings in people’s day-to-day life. For if we go out into the world with the Gospel and through its power create new believers and thereby tear down the idols of the world, it cannot but help the outward situation of the world. We start with the Gospel. God gives the blessing of salvation to all who believe and then the effects pour out in our day to day lives.
The apostle John writes in His Gospel, “And of His [God’s] fullness we have received, and GRACE FOR GRACE” (John 1:16). God gives grace on top of grace, and then still more grace. He has shown grace to us by providing salvation. He shows grace to us by bringing us into that salvation through faith and day after day He showers more grace upon us. Then when God looks and sees us living under His grace He says, "Because of that, I’ll give you more!" It is an ever abundant grace and blessing which multiplies upon itself because "where sin abounded, grace abounded much more!”(Romans 5:20). Like every other blessing from God’s grace, reform is a blessing that produces more blessing.
There are many who cry out for reform, but try to accomplish it by using the wrong formula. May we look for a dramatic widespread reform sometime in the future…like that of Hezekiah’s or Luther’s day? Perhaps. If the world is to continue, God could very well raise up another leader to accomplish a great reformation; or perhaps God will work in a different way.
What God will do on the broad scale of the world is not ours to worry. Whatever God does will be in His wisdom for His purpose, but regardless of what’s "out there" seek to continually reform our hearts and God has given us the tools to do that with His Word. While we view the world’s troubles and wait for Christ’s return we seek to reform others using the same tool of God’s Word.
The heritage of the Gospel is our tool to accomplish God’s Amazing Mission Plan as we see the need for reform in our selves and in our world. Being aware that we are ripe for reformation and acting appropriately with God’s Word is part of being ready for Christ’s return—which is the topic toward which we will direct more thought next week.
Ripe for reform? YES. Reformation possible? YES by God’s Work. Reformation a blessing? YES because it is our gracious Savior-God who is the Reformer in us and working through us. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt