Topical Scripture: 2 Chronicles 34:1-8
In May of 1993, a television show premiered on MTV whose name I cannot repeat in a sermon. You know the title: Beavis and . . .
Beavis and his “associate” aired through 1997, though reruns are still being shown. The show dealt explicitly with teenage issues such as drug abuse, sexual identity, and violence at school.
Contrast Beavis with Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, the star of the Leave It To Beaver show. This now-classic sitcom aired from October 4, 1957 to September 12, 1963, and has been in reruns for 40 years. The parents were Ward and June; the brother was Wally. Friends were named Eddie, Larry, Whitey, and Lumpy. The Cleaver family dealt with problems such as bullies at school and getting a date for the prom.
Which is more true to life today, Beavis or Beaver Cleaver? What does God’s word say to our “leave it to Beavis” world?
This weekend we honor our high school graduates, as do churches and communities across our nation. Youth number more than one billion in our world. And theirs is one of the most significant seasons of life.
The psychologist Erik Eriksen described eight stages of human development from birth to death. In each stage, a person is confronted with a challenge unique to that stage. Eriksen called stage five “puberty and adolescence.” The primary task in that stage, according to Eriksen, is to develop identity, to define who we are.
This process does not end when we leave high school. We spend the rest of our lives determining our identity, our basic purpose in living. So here’s my question for our graduates in particular and the rest of us with them: who will you be when you’ve become who you are?
I want to offer you a role model this morning, with the passionate prayer that you will follow his example today.
What God can do with just one person
In the year 640 B.C., Josiah became king of the nation of Judah when he was eight years old. His father, King Amon, was so corrupt that his own court officials assassinated him in his palace, and put his young son on the throne in his place. Not an encouraging start to one’s administration.
But young Josiah made the right self-definitional decisions, setting a direction for his life which would change the destiny of a nation.
As a child, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David” (v. 2). He chose to follow the example of his godly ancestor.
Then, when he was sixteen years old, “he began to seek the God of his father David” (v. 3). This phrase means that he made his faith personal. He chose for himself a passionate commitment to Jehovah God.
And when he was twenty, he put his faith into courageous practice. Despite overwhelming popular sentiment, he purged the nation of the idols and pagan images which had polluted its soul (vs. 3-4). He banished the idolatrous priests which had corrupted its spirit (vs. 4-7). These moves infuriated the mighty Assyrian nation which threatened Judah’s future, but the resolve of this young king could not be shaken.
And even more significant greatness lay ahead.
At age 26, in the year 622 B.C., Josiah commissioned a massive renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem (vs. 8-13). The Temple chambers, so long neglected and in ruins, were cleaned out and repaired.
In the midst of the work, Hilkiah the priest found the “Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses” (v. 14). We call this the book of Deuteronomy. Written in 1406 B.C., it had been lost and forgotten for most of 800 years. Imagine finding a part of the Bible which had been for the most part ignored since the time of King Arthur.
When King Josiah read this rediscovered book, “he tore his robes” in personal repentance (v. 19). Then he acted boldly on this repentance.
The king sent his priest to consult with the prophetess Huldah, who warned them of imminent divine wrath because of the nation’s unspeakable sinfulness (vs. 22-28).
In response, this young king called together the leaders of the entire nation. He climbed up to the rebuilt temple and read Deuteronomy to them personally (vs. 29-30).
He pledged his personal obedience to this revelation from God: he would “follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul” (v. 31).
He led the entire nation to pledge themselves to this covenant with him (v. 32).
The result? “As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their fathers” (v. 33). And the nation was saved.
But this young king wasn’t finished. In gratitude for God’s forgiveness, he led the entire country in observing the Passover, a religious ceremony which had been neglected for generations. Here’s how successful he was: “The Passover had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had ever celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with the priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem” (v. 18).
Unfortunately, Josiah’s life did not end well. In self-sufficient pride he led his army into battle against the Egyptian Pharaoh, and was killed by an archer’s arrow.
But here’s how the nation felt about their young king: “…all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him. Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the men and women singers commemorate Josiah in the laments” (vs. 24b-25).
When Israel remembers her history and her greatest kings, among her most revered leaders is the young man who saved his nation. This is the story of Josiah.
Now, what does his story say to ours?
Who will be Josiah today?
If this young king could preach today’s message, he would challenge high school graduates and the rest of us to take three actions. First: ask God to make your life significant, no matter your age.
David was a boy when he killed Goliath and saved Israel from the Philistines (1 Samuel 17). Joash was only seven years old when he became king of Judah and “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 24:2). Joseph was 30 when he saved Egypt from famine, and Israel with her (Genesis 41:41). Mary was 13 when God chose her to bear his Son. When Timothy became pastor in Ephesus, the largest church in Christendom, he was of such an age that Paul had to warn him, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Bill Gates wrote his first computer program when he was 13, started Microsoft when he was 20, and became a billionaire when he was 31. Steve Jobs invented the Apple computer when he was 21. Bob Mathias won the Olympic decathlon in 1948 at the age of 17. Yehudi Menuhin was hailed as the most gifted natural violinist ever to have appeared on the concert stage, at the age of 11.
On the other hand, Moses was 80 when he led Israel out of Egypt, and Joshua was 80 when he led the people into the Promised Land. It is never too soon, or too late, to ask God to use your life for something significant.
Second, ask God to make your life significant, no matter your circumstances.
Josiah’s father has been assassinated, and he finds himself in charge of a nation on the edge of extinction, at the age of eight. He is surrounded by pagan priests and idolatrous people, with wicked Assyria breathing down his neck. But this young man saved his nation, by the power and grace of God.
The circumstances our youth face today are no less discouraging. Most of us have no idea how tough their lives can be. During the Leave It To Beaver generation, teachers were asked to describe their top disciplinary problems. Their answers: talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, wearing improper clothing, and not putting waste paper in the trash can. In the Beavis generation, the same question was asked, with these answers: rape, robbery, assault, burglary, arson, bombing, and murder.
Nearly half of our nation’s 20.7 million middle and high school students drink alcohol every week. Alcohol-related car crashes kill nine teenagers every day. At least 15 Highland Park High School students have died in alcohol-related accidents in the last ten years.
45% of high school seniors say they’ve tried illegal drugs. Between 1992 and 1995, the number of eighth graders using illegal drugs doubled; among tenth graders, it jumped by two-thirds; among seniors, by half.
On every side, our youth are assaulted with violence, immorality, and despair.
Every school day at least 100,000 students take guns to school. Gunfire is the second-leading cause of teenage deaths.
40% of America’s teenagers are sexually active. One teenage girl out of ten becomes pregnant every year in this country. 40% of all girls will be pregnant before they reach the age of 20. Three million teenagers are diagnosed with a sexually-transmitted disease each year. 20.1% of America’s teenage girls have had an abortion.
2,000 teenagers commit suicide every year. And for every suicide, there are 350 failed attempts.
But you don’t have to become what your culture is. Like Josiah, you have a choice. You can ask God to make your life significant, no matter how much pressure our society puts on you, no matter how unpopular righteousness is.
I found this week a powerful statement: to lead the orchestra, you must turn your back on the crowd. Make that choice, today.
Last, ask God to make your life significant, until it is done.
Josiah’s end was tragic. His astounding spiritual and political successes birthed in his soul the self-sufficiency and pride which always lead to ruin. The king whom all the pagan priests and Assyrian warriors couldn’t touch was killed by a single Egyptian arrow.
If he could stand here today, he would plead with every one of us: ask God to make your life significant, until it is done. You are not finished serving God until he calls you home.
In 1946, the National Association of Evangelicals published an article on men who were “best used of God” during that organization’s first five years of existence. The article highlighted the ministry of Chuck Templeton. Billy Graham was never mentioned. But five years later, Templeton was out of the ministry and no longer even believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ. And God has used Billy Graham to touch more lives than any person in Christian history.
His secret? I asked that question this week of Dr. Sterling Huston, a member of Dr. Graham’s leadership team for 35 years. Dr. Huston says that Dr. Graham has never lost his sense of inadequacy, his knowledge that he must depend on God for his life and work to be significant. Dr. Graham’s greatest fear is that, at the end of his life, he will do something to bring disrepute on the cause of Christ. And that is why he never will.
I have prayed this week that God would do no less than raise up another Josiah among us today. That the Holy Spirit of Almighty God would so stir our minds and inflame our hearts that the next Josiahs would be raised up from this congregation. Josiah has been gone for 2,610 years. Billy Graham is 83. Who will be next?
Would you have the courage to ask God to make your life significant, to use you to shape this culture and even this world for Christ? Would you ask God to use your life no matter your age, or your circumstances, until you are done?
I close with the famous words of Henry Varley, preaching to a packed church building in England: “The world has yet to see what God will do with, and for, and through, and in, and by, the man totally dedicated to him.” From the balcony of that auditorium, an uneducated shoe salesman named Dwight Moody stood to his feet and said, “I will be that man.” And 100 million heard the gospel through him.
For this generation, who will be that man? That woman? Will you?