A Radical Commitment to the Bible

2 Kings 23:1-3

8 November 2009

Woodley Baptist Church

Morning service

[Reading: 2 Kings 22:1-13 & 2 Kings 23:1-3]


It would be very helpful if you could keep your Bibles open at 2 Kings chapter 23, which is on page 395 of the church Bibles.

If you've done what I just asked, you are now holding in your hands something extraordinary.

You are holding a book that's more than 3000 years old.

You are holding a book that is illegal in several countries of the world. Just last week, the government of Malaysia confiscated 10,000 Bibles on their way in to the country.

Possessing a copy of this book a few centuries ago in Europe could have got you killed. Even today, you could be liable to arrest and beatings, at the very least, in some parts of the world.

Yet it is by far the best-selling book worldwide. In all its versions it is estimated that between 2.5 and 6 billion copies have been sold. At least parts of this book are available in 2,400 languages.

You are holding a miracle. Perhaps the second most extraordinary miracle since creation, second only to the incarnation of God's Son. You are holding words from the Creator of the Universe. You can open it at any time, anywhere, and hear God's voice.

You are holding something extraordinary.

The Bible Rediscovered

As you know, our topic this morning in our series on Radical Christianity is A Radical Commitment to the Bible

Our current series on Radical Christianity is prompted by the 400th anniversary of the Baptist Church that we celebrate this year. It was in the year 1609 that refugees from religious persecution in England gathered in a bakery in Amsterdam to read the Bible together. And it was this group that became the first recognisable Baptist congregation.

The background to the origin of the Baptist church is the massive religious reformation that was taking place across Europe in the 16th century and into the 17th. The key great driving force behind the reformation can be viewed as the rediscovery of the Bible: the translation of the Bible into everyday language; the wider availability of the Bible due to the newly invented printing press; a commitment to expository preaching, explaining what the text means; the taking of the Bible out of the hands of a corrupt ecclesiastical elite and putting it into the hands of ordinary people. This immense upheaval utterly changed the social, political, religious, intellectual, and even scientific landscape of Europe, and profoundly influenced the development of America. Rediscovering the Bible literally changed the world.

For the meat of this sermon, I actually want to go back much further, to a much earlier rediscovery of the Bible and time of reformation. I want to have a look at the passage that John read earlier, from 2 Kings chapter 23.

These events took place during the reign of king Josiah in Jerusalem in 622BC. He was 26 years old and had been king since he was eight. Now, Josiah was one of the most godly kings Israel ever had: chapter 22 verse 2, He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.ref

Unfortunately, Josiah's reign followed close behind that of Manasseh who was the most evil king that Israel ever had. Manasseh ruled for 55 years, and under him the whole nation turned away from God. He desecrated the temple in Jerusalem and built shrines and altars to idols all over the land. And somewhere during his reign, the Book of the Law, which was the extent of the Bible of the time, was lost.

When Josiah becomes king, he decides to restore the temple, and in the course of the restoration the Book of the Law is rediscovered, which we read about in chapter 22. Shaphan read from [the book] in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes... "Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us."ref

Cut to the heart by what he hears, Josiah decides he must rededicate himself and the people to God. And that's what happens in chapter 23 verses 1-3.

Please have a look at these verses. One thing you can see is that the word "all" occurs quite a lot. And that's what I want to structure my points around. All the people; all the words; and all the heart and soul.

All the people

First, a radical commitment to the Bible involves all the people.

Verse 1, Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets — all the people from the least to the greatest.ref

Then at the end of verse 3 we find all the people again. The writer is at pains to make sure we know that all the people, from the least to the greatest were present at the reading of the Book.

This has always been a fundamental Baptist tenet: the Bible is for all people. Biblical understanding and interpretation is never limited to an elite or privileged class of Christian. Every single believer has both the privilege and the responsibility of seeking out God's word for him or herself.

Of course, some are better equipped than others to do this. Some are theologically trained; some are gifted and called to be teachers. But no-one has a monopoly on Bible truth and interpretation, and every single believer has access to the truth for themselves, from the least to the greatest.

A half-hearted commitment to the Bible hands over all the work of Bible study and explanation to others; a radical commitment to the Bible recognises that every one of us has a stake in understanding the Bible and hearing God through it.

And people have died to make this possible again for us. Perhaps you know the story of William Tyndale, to take a well-known example. He was burned at the stake in 1536, although they did him the kindness of strangling him first.

Tyndale's life's work was to translate the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into common English that everyone could understand. He had a passion for placing the word of God into the hands of ordinary people so that, 'The Church could no longer effectively dictate its interpretation'.

This was a real issue at the time. Soon after Tyndale's death, Henry the Eighth restricted, by law, Bible reading to men and women of noble birth alone. He complained to Parliament that 'the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung and jangled in every ale-house and tavern'. Well, I say, wouldn't it be glorious if this were true today!

In the end, Tyndale's work was not in vain. His translation makes up about 80% of the the Authorised Version published more than 70 years after his death, and which became extremely widely distributed. His vision was fulfilled.

A radical commitment to the Bible involves all the people.

There are many Christian believers around the world today who have very limited or no access to the Bible at all — up to 50 million in China alone. If we are radically committed to the Bible this will distress us.

In my family we support the Bible Society and Open Doors, both charities who work to get God's word into the hands of Christians worldwide, and I recommend them to you.

As a church we support the Sawers family and the Hoskens family in their respective work for Wycliffe Bible translators, and this is a good thing.

But I wonder: is it sometimes easier to support getting the word to people "out there" than it is to be completely committed to the Bible back here?

A radical commitment to the Bible involves all the people. That means you, doesn't it, whoever you are?

Over the centuries, God led dozens of his greatest saints through immense persecution and agonising deaths so that you and I might have the privilege of hearing and understanding His voice. How dare we neglect his word!

What are you doing to get more of God's word into your life?

All the words

Second, a radical commitment to the Bible is to all its words.

Look halfway through verse 2 of chapter 23, He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord.ref

Admittedly, the Bible that Josiah had found was quite a bit shorter than the Bibles we have today. It may have been the first five books of our Bibles, or it may have been only the book of Deuteronomy. But the writer is keen to that we know that Josiah read to them all the words in it.

Now, not only is the book of Deuteronomy a bit heavy going at times, but there's also a whole bunch of curses and other unpleasantness in there. Frankly, wouldn't it have been better for Josiah just to give them some edited highlights, a quick executive summary, some bullet points on a PowerPoint slide?

But Josiah knows that a radical commitment to the Bible is a commitment to all its words, because they are all God's words. Our Bible reading reading is deficient if we content ourselves with rehearsing a few well-known Bible verses and stories and never strive to explore the whole book.

A radical commitment to the Bible is to all its words.

We were all out in the garden raking up leaves yesterday which reminded me of an illustration John Piper uses. If all you want is a pile of leaves, he says, then you just need to scrape the surface. But if you want to find gold, you need to dig down deep.

We don't skip bits because they seem dull, or difficult, or irrelevant to our lives today, or they teach doctrines that we don't like. We seek to wrestle with all the words to hear what God has to say to us.

So we should have a Bible-reading plan, as individuals and as a church. Something that, over time, takes us through the whole range of Bible material. We don't need to read it all at once, but over time we should be aiming for something deeper than a few little leaf-like blessed thoughts.

It's all God's word to us: not just John 3:16, Romans 8:28 and Psalm 23. He has so much more to say to us! Let's be more radical in our Bible reading. There's plenty of help available. During the quiet time after the sermon, have a think about how you can set about hearing all God's words.

All the heart and all the soul

Third, a radical commitment to the Bible is with all the heart and all the soul.

Look at verse 3, The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord — to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul.ref

This is about application, about how far we let God's word into our lives. A radical commitment to the Bible means that we seek to apply what it says in all our lives. Not just letting God's living word into our head, but into all our heart and all our soul. A radical commitment to the Bible is life-changing.

Josiah only had Deuteronomy, which is widely regarded, along with Leviticus, as being one of the least exciting parts of the Bible. Yet as he read it, it caused him to tear his clothes and weep in anguish. It turned his life upside down.

How much more should the complete Bibles that we have speak into our hearts and souls? We have in our hands the whole story of God's plan to save us: not just a glimpse, but the whole thing, culminating in Jesus, his own son who died for us.

If our Bible reading is not causing us to weep and rejoice, to break out in gratitude and anguish, in joy and sorrow, then, frankly, we're not doing it right. If our Bible reading is not life-changing, then we're not doing it right. We're not engaging our hearts and souls.

A radical commitment to the Bible engages all our heart, all our soul. No part of our life is out of scope for God's word.

The same goes for our life together as a church. God's word, the Bible, informs and guides every aspect of our lives together. Therefore, if we are radically committed to the Bible as a church, those who are in any kind of ministry here should be people who commit themselves to hearing, understanding and obeying the Bible with all their hearts and all their souls.

In particular, as we seek to make staff appointments in the near future, this should be one of the key factors that guides us: is this someone who paddles in the shallows of God's word, or someone who has thrown him or herself into the depths? Someone who is gripped by the word.

A radical commitment to the Bible is with all our heart and all our soul.


To conclude. Last week, David Cameron described his Christian faith like this, "My own faith is there, it's not always the rock that perhaps it should be. I've a sort of fairly classic Church of England faith, a faith that grows hotter and colder by moments".

What do you think he means by "a classic Church of England faith"? It's a caricature, and not necessarily representative of the churches I know, but I expect he means an unthreatening sort of faith. A faith that keeps God a bit at arm's length. A faith that behaves itself well, and is largely confined to Sunday mornings. A faith that doesn't make too many demands on the rest of life. Above all, a faith that is deeply suspicious of anything that looks a bit radical. Of course this is a terrible stereotype — some of my best friends are vicars — no, really! But I suspect that's what he means by a "classic Church of England faith".

My question to you, and perhaps a question to ponder during the quiet time after the sermon, is this: do we want to be that sort of church, or a church that makes a difference in the world?

If we want to be an ineffective comfort-blanket of a church, then let's sideline our Bible reading to a few nutters like myself, let's stick to a few Bible sound-bites in our reading and preaching, let's forget any idea that it might make a difference in our lives.

But if we want to be a church that truly hears God's words and does his work in this world — a radical church — then let's be like Josiah and like the reformers. let's commit ourselves, every one of us, to hearing God's word: all of the people. Let's commit ourselves to exploring the whole of what he has to say to us: all of the words. And let's commit ourselves to applying and obeying what he tells us in our lives: all our heart and all our soul.

This is a radical commitment to the Bible.