Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jesus Draws Near

In last week’s sermon we saw how Hezekiah responded to a serious problem, the arrival of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, who had thoughts of conquest. Last week’s sermon can be summed up by saying that Hezekiah drew near to Jesus. This week’s sermon is part two. This week we’ll see Jesus respond to Hezekiah. This week can be summed up by saying that Jesus drew near to Hezekiah. And this is simply another instance of a promise being kept. James wrote, ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’ That’s what happened with Hezekiah. He drew near to Jesus and Jesus kept His word. We’re going to look at the details of what that meant for Hezekiah and what it means for you.

Listen as I read Isaiah 37.

The first thing that I would like you to see is that Jesus heard Hezekiah’s prayer and responded to it. Jesus spoke to Hezekiah. ‘Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”’ This response to Hezekiah was unnecessary. Jesus could have just acted and gotten rid of Sennacherib. The problem would have been solved, and Hezekiah would have benefited all the same. But Jesus didn’t do it that way. Hezekiah appealed to Jesus and Jesus responded. He spoke. Hezekiah knew that he had been heard. And he began to enjoy some of the comfort that the Gospel promises even before anything else happened. Jesus spoke and told him that everything would be okay.

There is this curious strain of thought that says that during biblical times Jesus spoke to all sorts of people, Hezekiah, Abraham, David and lots more, but once the Apostles left the scene, Jesus hit the mute button. He doesn’t speak anymore. It seems odd that in the days of the fullness of the Spirit, Jesus steps further away from His people and maintains what can feel like a stony silence. This doesn’t seem right. I rather think that we are supposed to expect Him to respond to us. I think that we are supposed to expect Him to speak. After all, the author Hebrews wrote, ‘Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion…”’ In Revelation Jesus said, ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ It could be different. ‘Therefore, as the Holy Spirit has written, “Today, if you read His words…’ But that’s not was we have, is it?

There is in us something of an emotional need to know that we have been heard. A wife tells her husband something and he is silent. Did he hear her? Is he ignoring her? What is he thinking? How many marriage problems would be completely avoided if husbands would just learn to say, ‘I see what you mean, dear. Let me think about that for a minute.’ It makes a difference when we know that we’ve been heard.

So, while I realize that there are all sorts of qualifiers to be added here, danger points identified and cordoned off, the main point is, I think, obvious. When you draw near to Jesus you should expect Him to draw near to you. And part of what that means is that He will somehow communicate to you that He has heard your cry and that He is going to do something about it. If that is not included, what could it possibly mean that Jesus draws near?

I have purposely left this a bit vague. And one reason for that is that I have not finished figuring it all out. But my goal here is not to try to nail down how Jesus might communicate with you or exactly what the Bible means by, ‘… if you hear His voice’. I’m working on those things. My goal here is to speak to your expectations when you do draw near to Jesus. It makes a difference if you really do expect Him to draw near to you in a way that you can experience. Having that expectation makes a difference in how you draw near to Him. It also makes a difference whether you will draw near. What I’m trying to do is shift prayer away from that thing religious people are supposed to do. I want to encourage you to enjoy prayer as a conversation with a really good Friend. What I’m against is empty religious ritual. What I’m for is the fact of the Resurrection: Jesus is alive – and speaking – today. He’s not dead or so far removed from us that He might as well be dead. He is very much alive. And He draws near to His people in meaningful ways. So, when you draw near to Jesus, expect Him to draw near to you. Expect Him to somehow let you know that He’s heard you. Knowing this will be a comfort to your soul.

Now, Jesus doesn’t simply speak. He also acts. And there are two things that He does in our text. First, there is this matter of the assassination of Sennacherib. Jesus promises that it will happen. ‘I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’ And then, He does it. ‘Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword.’ This is just another example of the Scriptural principle: what Jesus promises, He does. There will be times when you will be tempted to doubt that. When that happens just be aware: Satan is at work. He knows that Jesus’ promises are a powerful encouragement to the saints, so he will try hard to get between you and those promises so that you will not depend on them. It’s at that point that you will try to live on your own resources, and that will never work. Be aware of the evil one.

A key promise for me comes from a popular Psalm. ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.’ When I have a fresh experience of evil I can tell myself, ‘But Jesus promised to be with me, to protect me in this valley, to walk with me until I get to the other end.’ And as I believe that He will keep His promise, I find that I am not afraid. Jesus has taught me that what He promises He does. And that has made such a difference in my life. So, I would encourage you to get to know the promises of the Word and then to cling to them with as much faith as you have. As you do that, you will see how Jesus is faithful, and life will become more and more filled with joy.

Now, I find it interesting that according to the smart people, Sennacherib’s death did not happen right away. In fact, it occurred twenty years after his invasion of Judah, that is, twenty years after this promise made to Hezekiah. It is important to understand Jesus’ sense of timing. It is usually very different from ours. We are such an impatient people. So, imagine Hezekiah hearing this promise about Sennacherib’s demise, and yet there is no news of a new king to take his place. Instead, year after year, Hezekiah hears about some new decree of the same old king, King Sennacherib. So, what about this assassination? What we need to do in situations like this is simply trust Jesus. We need to tell ourselves – and I mean that quite literally – He knows what He is doing and that at the right time He will keep His word. I have no doubt that twenty years later was the perfect time for Sennacherib to die. And when I get to heaven the reasons for that delay – and every other delay – will be made evident. I can wait till then and so can you.

Then there’s the other thing that Jesus did. ‘And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh.’ Jesus didn’t need to do this. The plan was to get Sennacherib to leave. Simply hearing that rumor of a foreign army on the way would have been enough. But for reasons of His own Jesus included doing something quite remarkable. He destroyed the enemies of His people. He sent an angel and they were all dead. And just to give you a sense of how many 185,000 is, the city of Erie is only a little more than 100,000. Try to imagine waking up one morning only to find that everybody who lives in the city, plus everyone who lives in Millcreek, plus 30,000 more, are dead. I wonder what Hezekiah thought when he woke up one morning to the same thing.

So, when you draw near to Jesus don’t limit His response to things that you might expect or can easily explain. Sometimes He will surprise you. Something from Paul fits here. It’s the beginning of one of his doxologies. ‘Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…’ When Jesus draws near to us He is not limited to our small thoughts about what He might do in the situation. He does remarkable things, even miraculous things. He did something miraculous for Hezekiah. And while I wouldn’t want you to expect a miracle every time you find yourself in need, I would like you to expand your expectations when you do draw near to Jesus. James wrote, ‘You have not because you ask not.’ Our expectations are often too small. Jesus still does miracles for His Church. Maybe we should expect more of that of Him.

Thus far I have been dealing with the question of how. How did Jesus draw near to Hezekiah? And I’ve told you that He spoke and He acted. My last thought deals with why. Why did He respond in the way that He did? And He tells us. ‘For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.’ One reason Jesus acted was because of the promises that He made to David. This just reinforces what I said earlier. Keeping His word is important to Jesus. And even though David is no longer around, there are some promises to him that Jesus needs to honor and wants to honor. So, here is more encouragement to believe that Jesus will do what He promises. Life works so much better when you are assured that Jesus will keep His promises.

It is, however, very important that you see that keeping His promise to you is not the only reason that He acts. It’s not even the most important reason He acts. No, He does what He does, first of all, for His own sake. Jesus acts for His own glory. That is, in fact, His primary motivation. Some people are put off when they hear language like that. It sounds so self-centered. They think, ‘I should not act that way. Why should Jesus?’ So, people will either accept this as an accurate description of our God and reject the faith, or they will deny that this actually is His chief motivation and find something else as the prime reason He does what He does. And the usual candidate for that prime reason is us. We become the most important reason Jesus does what He does. It’s wrong for us to be centered on us, but it’s okay for Him to be centered on us. I hope that that sounds as terrible to you as it does to me.

What most people don’t take into consideration when they raise questions like this one is that we are creatures and He is not. God made us and when He did He had a particular purpose for us. He made us, and everything else in creation, to glorify Him. As I’ve told you before, the reason for our existence is to make Jesus look good. That’s why we were created, and that’s why we’ve been redeemed. So, in another place Isaiah wrote these words of Jesus: ‘I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’ You were made to make Jesus look good. You were made for His glory.

Of course, there will be those who, when they hear that, will respond with some snotty remark like, ‘Oh, so now we’re supposed to become slaves to some egotistical God.’ The fact of the matter is that, since He is the Creator who made us, He can define our existence any way that He wants. He has made us for His glory. You exist to make Jesus look good. But that isn’t the only answer that the Scriptures give. Living to make Jesus look good is, actually, in your best interests. Because of how He has created you, your yearnings and desires are most satisfied when you diligently pursue this reason for your existence. You will enjoy your life more fully when you focus on making Jesus look good, when that becomes the ultimate goal of your life. Instead of that being slavery, it is your freedom. Living this way fits best with what you are as a creature.

Now, all of this has something important to say about your drawing near to Jesus. He has made you some tremendous promises, promises that He intends to keep. He invites you to draw near to Him so that He can draw near to you and, in this way, take care of you so that you will flourish beyond what you could ask or think. He wants to see you shine. And you will. He promises. But I hope you never be confused about who is the focus of the universe. You exist to make Jesus look good and not the other way around. And that explains how you draw near to Jesus, including in times of trouble. And so, we find Hezekiah including some important words in his prayer. ‘So now, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD.’ Hezekiah understood the priorities. Jesus and His glory is the focus. And what needs to happen is that His glory is seen by all. And as important as it is to Hezekiah that he and the rest of Judah be saved, there is something more important than saving their lives. So, when trouble strikes, pray. Draw near to Jesus. Remind Him of His promises to take care of you. Cry out to Him. And expect Him to come and rescue you. But as you do all of that remember that the first goal in all of this is that Jesus will somehow be made to look good. His glory is more important than your safety.

A good way to summarize sermons of the last two weeks is to use James’ words, ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’ My hope is that the Spirit will make that promise a little more real to you so that you will thrive.

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