We began with King Josiah initiating a temple restoration project. In the process of cleaning up, they rediscover God’s Word, and Josiah has it read aloud to him. As he hears God’s Word, it breaks his heart to realize how badly they have broken God’s commands. So Josiah leads the way in personally rededicating himself, and the people follow his example, committing themselves to serving the Lord with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their strength, in accordance with all that is in God’s Word. The takeaway from week one is that it’s crucial from time to time to recommit to the Lord, in light of all that he has done to redeem you.
In our second ride along last week, we saw the very next thing God’s people did: they began to clean house spiritually. They began to remove the things, places, and people that had been leading them astray, off-track spiritually. Even so for us today, it’s worth considering whether there are any things, places, or people that are pulling you away from wholehearted devotion to the Lord. And then do whatever you need to do, to follow the Lord with all your heart.
Today’s ride along revolves around something called high places.
Recognizing the high places
In the ancient near East during the era described in 1 & 2 Kings, “high places” were widespread and welcomed, but they were spiritual sinkholes.
You’ve likely seen stories from time to time where out of the blue, a massive sinkhole opens up in the middle of a road, or in someone’s yard, and swallows whatever was there: a house, cars, even people. “High places” functioned spiritually like those sinkholes. They were swallowing God’s people in the worst kind of pagan devotion, giving themselves to things God never intended for us to give our hearts to.
As the name suggests, high places were elevated locations—a hilltop or mountaintop—on which a shrine was built and devoted to pagan worship. High places were common among the people who lived in the Promised Land before Israel took possession of it.
What took place at those high places was the lowest of the low morally: so-called “sacred” prostitution, even the sacrifice of their own children to pagan gods like Molech.
Destroying the high places…almost
When the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, they failed to completely remove those high places. Listen to a sampling from 1 & 2 Kings:
“Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burnt incense on the high places.”
1 Kings 3:3
“In everything [King Jehoshaphat] walked in the ways of his father…and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”
1 Kings 22:43
“Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”
2 Kings 12:2-3
“[Jehoahaz] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”
2 Kings 14:3-4
“[Azariah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”
2 Kings 15:3-4
“[Jotham] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”
2 Kings 15:34-35
They were fully devoted to the Lord…almost. For all the good they did, they allowed pockets of places where the spiritual enemy had a foothold in their devotion. The very things that got the original inhabitants of that land vomited out earlier, Israel began giving themselves to.
The New Testament warns against giving room to the devil, giving the devil a foothold.
“…do not give the devil a foothold.”
Revelation gives us a New Testament picture of these Old Testament pictures of incomplete devotion. In Revelation chapter two we hear the Lord Jesus say to three of the early churches…
“You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”
Revelation 2:3-4, to the church at Ephesus
“You did not renounce your faith in me…Nevertheless, I have a few things against you…”
Revelation 2:13-14, to the church at Pergamum
“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you…”
Revelation 2:19-20, to the church at Thyatira
The connection from Old Testament to New, then, is that Christians can have high places. We can fall into partial devotion, by leaving an area or two that ought to be pulled down instead untouched.
A high place is a part of your old way of life that dishonors the Lord, nevertheless you let it remain. It’s a part of your life where you grab the steering wheel and swerve, insisting, “I won’t give this up. I won’t tear this down. I won’t yield this to you, God.” That’s what makes it a foothold.
Why we do this
There are a lot of reasons why we allow “high places” or footholds. One is fear of missing out. FOMO has actually become a thing in current slang, Fear Of Missing Out. So sometimes we leave the high places in place out of fear of missing out, because sin always appears attractive. But it’s not worth it. Behind the bait is the hook. Nothing you ever gain by sin is worth missing out on the Lord’s blessing.
Another reason we let high places stay in place is fear of the unknown. You heard last week about Jenny in Singapore, who even as she removed pagan items from the salon she owned, she was afraid of what might happen. But still she did the right thing. And the Lord blessed her with joy because of it.
A third reason we let high places stay in place is to cover our bases. “Just in case the Lord doesn’t come through, I’ll keep this on the side.” The problem with this is that high places beckon for loyalty. As Jesus said, you can’t serve two gods. “Gods” always compete for our hearts. So the Lord calls for us to remove “high places,” the areas kept away from his leadership.
I need to ask you, is there any clear command of Scripture that until now you have hardened your heart and said, “No way?”
Is there any clear prohibition in Scripture where until now you have dug in your heels, refusing to demolish it?
Is there any place in your life where if Christ were to visit, he would see a place that isn’t set up for him, but rather a high place that is set up against him?
My Heart, Christ’s Home
More than ten million people have read Robert Boyd Munger’s powerful little allegory titled “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” I want to share a highlight with you now. It describes what it’s like to invite Christ into your heart and life.
When you ask Christ into his life, it’s as if Jesus enters a darkened room and turned on a light;
…built a fire in the fireplace;
…started music where there had been silence;
…and filled the emptiness with His presence.
In the joy of Munger’s new relationship with the Lord, he says, “Lord, I want this heart of mine to be Yours. I want you to settle down and be completely at home. Everything I have belongs to you. Let me show you around.”
In the allegory, the first room was the study – the library – the room of the mind. Jesus entered in and looked at the books in the bookcase, the magazines on the table, the pictures on the wall, the favorite sites on the computer.
Munger writes, “As I followed his gaze, I got uncomfortable. I never felt that way about this room before, but with Jesus there – Jesus looking – I got embarrassed.” Mostly because there was a lot of trash there that he had no business filling his mind with.
So he turned to Jesus and said, “I know this room needs some work – will you help me make it what it ought to be, and bring every thought under your leadership and direction?”
Jesus said, “Of course.” Jesus got to work and remade that room into one where he would be at home, and where Munger would want to be there with Him. From there they went to the dining room, the den, and the garage – every nook and cranny.
With each room, Jesus took everything in, and as he did, it became crystal clear what it would mean for Jesus to live there.
Then one day, Munger says he came home and found Jesus at the front door, waiting for him. Jesus said, “There is a strange smell in the house. Something is dead inside. It’s upstairs. I’m sure it’s in the hall closet.”
As soon as Jesus said the words, Munger knew what Jesus was talking about. There was a small hall closet up on the landing, just a few feet square. In that closet, behind lock and key, were things he didn’t want Jesus to see. They were dead and rotting things, but he wanted them for himself and he didn’t want to admit that they were even there.
But all he knew to do was to go up to the closet together, so they did. As they mounted the stairs, the odor got stronger and stronger. Jesus pointed to the closet door, as if saying, “You need to open that to me.”
That’s when Munger says he got angry at Jesus. He had given Christ access to the library, the dining room, the living room, the workshop, the playroom…and now He was poking around in a little two-by-four closet. His closet. His private closet. Inside he said, “This is too much. I am not going to give Him the key.”
Reading His thoughts, Jesus said, “If you think I’m going to stay up here on the second floor with this smell, you are mistaken. I am going outside.” And He started down the stairs.
And seeing Jesus go crushed the man. So he ran down the stairs after Jesus and called out, “I’ll give you the key. But you will have to open the door and clean it out. I’m not strong enough.”
Then, hand shaking, he handed Jesus the key. Jesus took it, walked up to the door, opened, entered, and took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting there, and threw it away. Then he cleaned the closet and repainted it, made it new.
Suddenly, with that dead thing gone, the man felt a release he had never felt before. That’s when He realized that unless He had yielded that closet to Christ’s leadership—his personal “high place”—Jesus would never have been fully welcome in his heart. He wouldn’t have come to know what it was to love the Lord wholeheartedly.
Here’s the takeaway, friend: that favorite sin, that treasured “precious” you refuse to release to the lordship of Jesus, isn’t your friend. It’s your enemy. It’s a foothold for the enemy. And it’s time to be rid of it.
This is why Christ came, friends. He who has been exalted to the highest place calls us to surrender our “high places.” All that Christ has for you is good, and all that the enemy intends for you is harm, as Jesus says in John 10:10…
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
On the high places of old, God’s partially devoted people sacrificed to false gods, hoping those false gods would protect them and bless them. In Jesus, we remember the only sacrifice that brings God’s blessing and favor—the fully devoted sacrifice of Jesus, offered so that we can experience peace with God, Christ’s leadership and company now, and so that we can live with the Lord and his people forever when this life reaches its end.
You heard John 10:10 a moment ago, where Jesus warns that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. There’s nothing good on those “high places.” The very next verse reveals the only sacrifice that brings God’s blessing. John 10:11 Jesus says…
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
John 10:11, 18
With wholehearted devotion, Jesus gave himself for us. And if Jesus laid down his life for us, we can certainly yield to him the “high places” that pull us away from full devotion to him. Pray with me, please.
Lord Jesus, we praise and thank you for humbling yourself and becoming obedient to the Father, all the way to death, even death on the cross. In light of your wholehearted devotion, we give you our hearts. You know how weak we are at times, Lord. So we ask your forgiveness. We ask for the strength to yield any “high places” in our lives. We hand over the keys, Lord, asking you to be Lord over that area. For all you have done for us, for your relentless patience, for your unfathomable compassion, we give you our hearts. Amen.