Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hezekiah’s Bad News

We return to Hezekiah, king of Judah and to another difficult situation in his life. Hezekiah is, again, confronted with some bad news. But he responded well and for that reason he is an example to us. So, we’re going to look at Hezekiah and see how he responded to this situation so that we can get some help in dealing with the difficulties of this life. And along the way we’ll also see Jesus in action and as we do we’ll be able to understand a bit better what He’s doing in these difficult situations.

Listen as I read Isaiah 38.

Put yourself in Hezekiah’s situation. He’s just been told that he is going to die. The news comes not from a fallible doctor. It comes from an infallible God. How do you think you’d respond? We’re going to get to see the real Hezekiah. If you want to get to know a person, to see what’s going on in a his heart, watch what comes out when his life gets bumped. Hezekiah’s life just got bumped. How did he respond? What did this situation reveal about his heart? What came out? The first thing I’d like you to see is what didn’t come out. There was no anger. Hezekiah didn’t respond with furious words or a violent reaction to the news he had just received. Hezekiah wasn’t bitter, thinking that God was somehow unfair to him. There was no, ‘Why me?’ Likewise, there was no despair. He didn’t just give up. Hezekiah got a serious bump, but none of these things came out of his heart. So, what came out? Instead of any of those negative responses, what came out was his prayer. Hezekiah submitted himself to the will of his God. Hezekiah understood that God was God and that He could do whatever He pleased. He rules all things and that included his life. So, Hezekiah’s life got bumped and out came a submissive spirit.

Let’s spend a little time exploring this. Being submissive is not the same as being passive and silent as you blindly obey. We’re not talking about being a mindless robot. That doesn’t describe Hezekiah’s response. When Hezekiah got the news, he didn’t just sit there. No, he responded in the best way that he could. He prayed. He appealed to his God. He took action. But he did so submissively. When his life was bumped what came out was faith, and it was a faith that was submitted to the will of his God. I realize that ‘submission’ is a dirty word in our culture. We are supposed to be assertive and independent – anything but submissive. But here we see a man who has submitted himself to his God, and as we’ll see, he is rewarded for that. Hezekiah is presented to us as an example to imitate here.

Submission is not some skill that you can learn if you try hard enough. Bear in mind that, by nature, we hate the notion of submission. Fallen humanity is, by nature, rebellious against God, insubordinate. This is what our souls are like at the beginning of our lives. But the Gospel deals with us and changes us. However, when someone becomes a Christian his soul is not completely changed in a moment. Change takes time. So, bit by bit, the Spirit changes us until we become like Jesus, who submitted to His Father in everything. So, becoming submissive will take more than willpower. It will take the Spirit’s work of changing you. And He does that by calling you to obedience in specific areas and by calling you to repentance when you fail. And as you respond to His call He molds you into the likeness of Jesus.

Now, consider a couple of things about the nature of submission. First, a person might decide to obey some commands of God because he sees that they make sense. But that is not submission. Submission is obeying God whether His commands make sense or not. Big difference. True submission to God is an attitude of the heart that says, ‘My God knows what He’s doing. I trust Him. So, I’ll do whatever He says even when it doesn’t make sense to me.’ It’s that attitude of the heart, a response of faith, that is to come into play whenever you hear Jesus’ call. Obedience is not the same as submission. Submission calls for more. Those who try to be obedient without being submissive will become selective in what they obey. They will justify their actions, but they are being both disobedient and rebellious. Submission is more than obedience.

Here’s a second thing. Submission to Jesus is not limited to what people call the ‘religious’ part of life. Submission to Jesus includes all the authority structures that He has created. So, let’s use Paul’s list in Ephesians for some examples. When you are on the job, you are to submit to your supervisors. You children are to submit to your parents, not just obey them but submit to them. And yes, you who are wives are to submit to your husbands. That, incidentally, has something to say about you husbands providing appropriate leadership. A person cannot submit in a vacuum. So, a heart’s submission to God will show in all the different authority structures of life.

So, my first thought for you is about Hezekiah’s response. His life received a major bump, and what came out from his heart was a submissive faith.

Let’s move on and take a look at what God is doing here. Is He being fickle? One minute He’s telling Hezekiah that He’s going to die and then He tells Him that isn’t. It’s not as if He’s telling Hezekiah that he’ll die ‘if’ or ‘unless’ or some other conditional statement. It’s just, ‘Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.’ But then, it’s all different. ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.’ Well, it sounds as if God changed His mind. He heard Hezekiah’s prayer and changed His mind. Is that what happened? I don’t know how else to understand our text. Hezekiah’s prayer caused God to change His mind. It’s just another example of something James wrote: ‘The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.’ So, Hezekiah’s example can be a great encouragement to your prayers. Having heard God’s clear statement about his coming death, Hezekiah prayed and asked God to change His mind – and He did. Your prayers make a difference, so pray.

Let’s take a little closer look at this part of our text. To all appearances when Isaiah delivered God’s first message there was nothing more to do. ‘Hezekiah you’re going to die. End of story.’ But it wasn’t the end of the story, was it? Hezekiah didn’t just stop there. He took another step. And everything changed. So, what’s going on? Something similar happened during Jesus’ ministry with a Gentile mother. ‘And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”’ [Let me interrupt here. Understand what Jesus is saying. He is telling this mother that He’s all about Israel. But she’s a Gentile and not Jewish, so He’s not there for her. That’s why He ignores her at first. He even uses the common slur of that day when He calls her a Gentile dog. This seems pretty harsh. Let’s continue.] ‘She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.’ The mother came hoping for good news. First, she was ignored and then she was roughly turned away. She received bad news. But even the bad news didn’t stop her. She persisted and received what she desired. In both cases, that of Hezekiah and of this mother, they received bad news that should have stopped them in their tracks, but it didn’t. Why? Jesus tells us. ‘O woman, great is your faith.’ The woman, being a Gentile, had less to go on than Hezekiah which is why Jesus commends her faith as great. But she knew something. Listen again to what she said. ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.’ She knows that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Son of David who is merciful. And she knows that this merciful Messiah has power to heal. And that was enough for her to act. She believed and so she acted. Hezekiah also knew some things. ‘The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.’ This description of God is repeated over and over in the Old Testament. It is something that Hezekiah would have known. He knew it and believed it.

Our text gives us an example of something that Jesus does to mature His saints. There are times when He speaks in a way that sounds as if there is no alternative when there actually is one. He bumps their lives to see what will come out of their hearts. In the cases of the mother and Hezekiah, what came out was faith, faith in Jesus as one who is full of mercy and grace and love. It’s as if they both were saying, ‘But I know who You are. You are the gracious and merciful Jesus. You aren’t cruel and harsh. You are full of love. So, I will appeal to Your grace, Your mercy and Your love.’ That is how they each responded to the bad news that they received. And they could do that because they knew something about Jesus. Now, more of Jesus has been revealed to you than was revealed to either that mother or Hezekiah. You live on this side of the Cross. There is more about Jesus that you can embrace. So, let me encourage you to get to know your God. And as you get to know Jesus better you too will respond as Hezekiah and that mother did. You too will respond with a surprising faith.

Now let’s take a look at Hezekiah’s prayer. ‘Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.”’ Hezekiah mentions three things to his God. He’s walked in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and he has done what is good. How should we understand this? It sounds like Hezekiah is pointing to his life and his good works as a way to encourage God to change His mind. Should he do this? And the answer to that, of course, is, ‘Yes.’ You need to bear in mind that Hezekiah is relating to Jesus in terms of the covenant relationship that they share. Jesus summarizes this covenant when He says, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’ What that means is that Jesus promises to do everything that a God is supposed to do for His people and that we promise to do everything that a people is to do for their God. So, Jesus has commitments to us to keep as we have commitments to Him to keep. The Bible explains these commitments in some detail. Here’s one example. Moses is speaking to the people of God. ‘You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil…’ And it continues on from there. The main point is clear. Jesus says, ‘If you obey, that is keep your covenant commitments, I will bless.’

This explains something from David as he speaks to King Saul whose life he had just spared. ‘The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the LORD gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the LORD'S anointed.’ David kept his covenant commitment as it related to God’s king. He expected to be blessed.

Here’s the point. Hezekiah was reminding Jesus that he ‘walked … in faithfulness’ to the covenant. He kept his covenant commitments. That is, he did ‘what is good’. Does covenant faithfulness mean sinlessness? Is Hezekiah claiming that he did these things perfectly? Absolutely not! Remember that Leviticus with its sacrifices for sin is also part of the covenant relationship. Forgiveness for sin built into the covenant. So, it is sinners, repentant and forgiven sinners, who keep the covenant with Jesus. Hezekiah is not claiming sinlessness. But he is claiming to have kept his covenant commitments. And how this can be is explained by Hezekiah’s comment about walking before Jesus with a whole heart. Hezekiah knows that he is a sinner but he also knows that he is not a hypocrite. And that’s what he is telling Jesus. The heart of a hypocrite is a divided heart, a heart that commits a little to Jesus and a little to something else. This was the problem with the Pharisees. They were hypocrites with divided hearts and Jesus told them so. This is covenant unfaithfulness. But Hezekiah is faithful. He is keeping the covenant. He was a sinner like everyone else, but unlike so many, he was not a hypocrite. He loved Jesus with an undivided heart. And he tells Jesus so.

Here’s why this is important. You can pray just like Hezekiah did. ‘Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.’ That’s what Hezekiah prayed, and Jesus blessed him. You can pray in the same way. I suspect that our prayers are too timid. We lack the kind of boldness that we see in Hezekiah. But Jesus has promised to bless covenant faithfulness. That doesn’t mean that we’ll always get what we ask for. But it does mean that we will always be blessed. This is Jesus’ response to covenant faithfulness. Remember, we’re not talking about perfect obedience. We’re talking about following Jesus with a whole heart. Isn’t that true of you? To be sure, you sin. But at the same time you have a sincere desire to follow Jesus with a whole heart. You’re not a church of hypocrites. You love Jesus. So, you can pray just like Hezekiah did. And you should. And as you do, Jesus will surprise you with His blessings.

We’ve covered a lot of territory. We’ve talked about the bumps of life, the response of a submissive heart, how Jesus sometimes sends us bad news so that the Spirit’s work in our hearts can be seen, and bold prayers based on covenant faithfulness. I hope that you will take home one thing to consider so that you would be encouraged in your walk with Jesus.

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