The Road to Bethlehem: The Empty Throne

Matthew 1:12
12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat tZorobabel:
The last leg of our journey to Bethlehem actually takes us away from Judah. it doesn’t take place in the promised land as with Abraham, Jacob, Rahab, or Ruth. There is no king in Judah and the throne of David is vacant.  The final group of people that God used to bring about the birth of His only begotten Son is found in the captivity of Babylon.
God promised Josiah that the approaching judgement would not come during his reign because he had a tender, pliable heart toward the word of God. However when Josiah died during a battle in Megiddo this reprieve ended. Jechonias (Jehoahaz in the Hebrew) took the throne and began to lead Judah back into idolatry. He was taken captive by Pharaoh-nechoh and died in Egypt and a puppet king was placed on the throne (2 Kings 23). Not too long after this God rose up the kingdoms around Judah which ended in His people becoming captives of Babylon. While Zorobabel would lead his people back to Judah and serve as Governor of this region under the Persian King Cyrus, the line of David would not regain the kingdom and the throne of David would remain empty until the Son of David, The Messiah would take His rightful place as King of Kings. 
Wow…that’s a lot of history! So let’s translate this into our 21st century lives. What can we learn from this to help us be better followers of Christ today? I think there are at least three things we can take away from our time in God’s word today…
1. Repentance brings Mercy – Josiah’s example of a tender heart should serve as a reminder of the place of repentance in our lives. When we read the Bible we are faced with a choice…Listen and Obey, Or Turn and Walk Away. Ken Haye from the Wilds Christian Camp puts it this way, “There are just two choices on the shelf: pleasing God and pleasing self.” When we choose to take what God’s word says, repent of sin and walk in the steps of Christ we will find the truth in Psalm 23:6, “Surly goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life..”
2. Sin brings Judgement – Jechonias, though raised by a godly father, turned away from the Lord when he took the throne. Perhaps he thought that God’s grace would bleed over to his reign and he was protected from God’s judgment. How many times do we mistake God’s long-suffering and mercy for permission to continue in our sin. We must not take His mercy for granted and instead let His long-suffering turn our hearts toward Him.
3. God gives Grace in the Midst of Captivity – As we see with Zorobabel even during the times where we find ourselves captive by the consequences of our sin, God never forsakes us. God is in the business of Redemption and Restoration and when you and I find ourselves captive to sin, we can turn our hearts back to Him and realize the freedom we can have in Christ!
Today as we ReFocus our hearts and minds on Christ let us determine to keep our hearts on God. We must determine to have an attitude or repentance as we walk in His Mercy and Grace. And when we find our hearts drifting from God, may His patience draw us back to His presence.

The Road to Bethlehem: The Lost Word

Matthew 1:10-11
10 And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 11 And pJosias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:
As we come to the end of this part of the Road to Bethlehem we will look at one final king. Josiah began to reign when he was just 8 years old and comes onto the scene after years of spiritual neglect. Under the previous kings, the people of Judah went back and forth between worshiping the true God of Israel and then falling at the feet of idols. By the time Josiah comes on the scene the temple is in disrepair and the people are confused.
After Josiah had been king for 18 years he orders the restoration of the temple (2 Kings 22). As the High Priest, Hilkiah, is going through his duties he stumbles across a book. When he opens it he is astonished to find that it is the Word of God. Now for you and me, this may not sound like a big deal. Many of us have multiple copies of the Bible in our homes and even on our phones and computers. But we need to remember, the printing press and the internet had not been invented yet. There wasn’t multiple copies of God’s Word so the discovery of it, lost in the Temple no less, was a tremendous and surprising occurance. It is brought to the king who reads it and cries out to God for mercy and then leads the people in a time of repentance. 
I’m afraid something similar is happening in our world today. It’s not that we have lost our bibles. The access to God’s Word is unprecedented! But they remain on the shelf, on the night stand, in our cars or sitting in our pews at church. It is not much different than it was in Josiah’s day. God’s word is sitting in some forgotten area, collecting dust and waiting to be discovered again. How do I know this? Biblical ignorance is at an all time high among those who profess Christ. Many are not sure what they believe, much less why they believe it. False teachers are having a field day in the hearts and lives of those who follow Christ, leading them astray and keeping them from fulfilling God’s plan for their lives. We know where our bibles are, but what good does it do us if they remain closed and unread? In effect, many of us have Lost the Word – not physically, but instead through neglect.
Today as we ReFocus our hearts and minds on Christ let us determine to become students of God’s Word. Some of us will have to go and find it, take it off the shelf and wipe the dust off of the cover. But as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts as His word is read and applied we will find our lives transformed in the Grace of God. And then God can use us as He did Josiah to proclaim the truth of His Word to those around us.

The Road to Bethlehem: Burning Bridges

Matthew 1:7-20
And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 10 And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias;
After the death of Solomon and the splitting of the kingdom by Rehoboam the kingdom of Judah became a roller-coaster ride. King after king reigned over God’s people. Some of them sought after the Lord and led the people to do the same, while others lived lives of sinfulness and idolatry and led the hearts of the people away from God. Through all of this the Grace of God was seen as, even through the times of sinful rulers, God did not turn His back on Judah (1 Kings 15:4). 
Then there were the good kings, like Asa and Josaphat who ruled in righteousness and sought to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord. The bible says that these kings destroyed idols and rooted out sinful practices among the people. King Asa even removed his own mother from the position of Queen because her heart was given over to idol worship!(1 Kings 15:11-13). These were times of great revival for the people of Judah. But, there was one problem. In 1 Kings 15:14 we read this phrase, “but the High places were not removed.”
High places were the center of worship for pagan gods. In Numbers 33:52 the children of Israel were commanded to tear these down along with the idols and graven images. God knows that if we don’t burn those bridges that lead back to our sinful past, all of them, then our hearts eventually we be drawn back across them. This is what happened with Judah. Some of these kings did great in destroying the idols and removing sin, but they left one bridge standing and the hearts of the people continually found their way back across and returned to worship at the dead, stony feet of false gods. Why did the kings keep the high places? Maybe it was to appease the people by compromising just how much change the king would make them go through. But maybe it was something else, something that all of our hearts struggle with…
We don’t like to burn bridges because it cuts off our path of return, of escape just in case we need to go back that way. Rather than destroy what leads our hearts away from God…alcohol, pornography, drugs,(you fill in the blank)…we take it to the closet and put it on the top shelf. Out of sight, out of mind right? But what happens when our sinful heart rears its head and we find ourselves crossing back over that bridge as we go to that closet where our idols are hidden…our high places. Burning Bridges takes commitment. It takes resolve. It is deciding that the sin that you are fleeing from is not worth ever going to again… so you cut off all means of return. Maybe God is calling us today to burn some bridges in our hearts…
Today as we ReFocus our hearts and minds on Christ let’s resolve to burn some bridges. We must determine in our lives that we are going to move forward for God with the battle cry of “no retreats”. What is in your closet today? What is that high place in your life that you are keeping around “just in case”. May we, as the redeemed of Christ, turn our hearts completely toward Him by removing those high places out of our lives.