Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sermon: The Prayer God Hears - 2 Kings 19

You can listen to an audio version of this sermon here.

Please open your bibles to 2 Kings Chapter 19. 2 Kings may not be a book of the bible that you frequent very often! It’s in the very front of your bibles. You have the first five: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These are followed by Joshua, Judges and Ruth and then you run into these doubles: 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles. If you hit any prophets or psalms you’ve gone too far! Again we’re in 2 Kings Chapter 19, we’ll be going through the whole chapter so I encourage you to keep your bibles open.

 For those of you joining us we are on the second to last sermon in a series called “Under Siege” on the life and times of King Hezekiah in the Old Testament. As a reminder to where we are in the story thus far: the nation of Israel was ruled by the kings Saul, David and Solomon, but after Solomon the nation was divided into North and South. The North retained the name Israel and the South was known as Judah. Regardless of how they divided themselves, the larger geo-political issues were still going on and that is basically that the kingdom of Israel finds itself wedged between two nations. To the Northeast is the kingdom of Assyria and the Southwest is Egypt. Both the North and the South decided to rebel against Assyria and try to make deals with Egypt. As a result Assyria conquers the North and we read just two chapters ago (2 Kings 17) that part of the spiritual reality that was behind God permitting the North to be taken into exile was that the North under the leadership of king Ahaz were all worshipping idols and false gods. The South under Hezekiah’s leadership, however, removed all the false idols and worship. We read just one chapter ago that “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel” (2 Kings 18:5). So the North, doesn’t trust God, leans on false idols, false places of comfort, and false things that claim to give life, and a result they are conquered and go into exile. The South, does trust God, and restores proper worship, so what happens to them, do they get attacked? They are attacked too! We discussed how in life, even when we prepare, that there will be these times, these moments where we feel “Under Siege” and are overwhelmed even if we are faithful, in fact Scripture points out that often times those who are faithful can be guaranteed to face troubles because of our faith. So today we join Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19. The field commander of Assyria has basically told the people that there’s been no reason, no confidence to have in thinking they will escape defeat . Your army is pitiful, your king is full of lies, and your god will be unable to help you just like all the other cities and nations we’ve conquered. We’re going to lay Siege to the city of Jerusalem, surround it, and cut of all life so that you’ll get the point, he says in 18:27, of eating excrement and drinking your own urine. This is how bad it’s going to get.

Lets’ read what happens next in the first verses of 2 Kings 19:

When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They told him, "This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. 4 It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives."

So the first thing Hezekiah does, after tearing his clothes – a reminder of how intense this situation is – have you ever been in such grief or under such pressure that your emotions warranted you tearing your clothes off. I sometimes wonder if shirts back then were easier to tear than nowadays or easier to replace. Anyway, after he expresses this despair and goes to the temple he sends a message to Isaiah, the prophet of the Lord. This is HUGE because in the context of the overall story of all these kings since Solomon, all these kings are unfaithful and God sends prophets to them not they go to the prophets seeking a word from God. This is in itself an incredibly valuable lesson for us that in the trials of this life we are to go to the Word of the Lord and if we are his people, like these physical kingdoms Israel and Judah, if we are part of God’s family and we don’t seek Him out, get ready because He will seek you out. Hebrews 12:6 says that “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Maybe there is an area in your life right now that you know that is out of step, or out of place and needs to be brought back into line – I can think of like 15 in my own right now. It’s not that God is going to forsake us or that he will let us go, or that He’ll ever cease loving us if we don’t do all the right things, but God loves us as a heavenly Father so when we ignore these areas in our lives, God is patient, but he disciplines those he loves the same way parents discipline their children for their own good. In the stories of these kings, over and over again they are unfaithful and go their own ways and God sends his prophets, mouthpieces, his Word to them and what Hezekiah does is a complete break from the normal story line because he, himself, on his own initiative sends word to the prophet of God, Isaiah.

Hezekiah’s first step is to go to Isaiah, the prophet of God. In the Old Testament there are three particular offices that are held in the government of God’s people. Kind of like we have 3 branches of government but completely different. The office of prophet had the particular role of being the mouthpiece of God. Sometimes people think that a prophet is someone who tells the future, and that happens sometimes if that’s what God wants to say – usually its repent and come back to me or this is going to happen, but the word prophet (Gk: prophetes) means “one who speaks for a god.”  The other two offices are Priest and King – and I love diagrams so here’s one I stole from Google images. So the King, in this case Hezekiah, rules as God’s representative, the Prophet, in the case Isaiah, communicates and reveals to God’ people the words of God, or the Word of God, and the Priest represents the people before God in His temple, in His throne room through prayers and sacrifices. As an aside, this theology of the offices is why our church has a session of “ruling elders” in ways acting in the kingly office, pastors, who we call “teaching elders”,  bringing and teaching the Word of God in ways acting in the prophet office, and deacons through acts of service, mercy, and sacrifice, particularly concerned with the heart of God’s people in ways acting as the priest office.

So Hezekiah goes to the prophet Isaiah, to hear from God. What does that mean for us? Who should we go to, especially in these times of our life where things are out of control, we feel under siege, who is the prophet that we go to?  Jesus is the only one who fulfills all three of these offices – prophet, priest and king. When we say Jesus is Lord, one of the offices we’re acknowledging is that He is the king of kings, that he is the Lord of our lives, that one day all knees will bow before him as king and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). The same way Hezekiah goes to the Word of the Lord in Isaiah the prophet, we go to Jesus Christ who is the Word of God (John 1). Jesus Christ is the communication, the revelation, the Logos, the Word of God become flesh. Hebrews 1:1-2  is printed in your bulletin and says:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

Verse 3 says “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Jesus is not only the Word of God, He is God. He’s so much better than even the prophet Isaiah, than anything or anyone else we could go to. Don’t go to a psychic, don’t go to Oprah, don’t go to a deceased love one, don’t go to a saint, don’t go to an angel or a spirit, don’t come to me, go to the Word of the Lord – go to Jesus Christ, THE prophet,  the Word of God, God himself.

Because Jesus himself, is all three – prophet, priest, and king, there is more than one perspective in approaching him. As prophet, as the revelation of God, the Word of God, we approach Him through the Scriptures which we call the Words or the Word of God. Christ is the center of these words. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and He is the good news of the New Testament. When we go the Scriptures, the Word of God, God’s revelation, we are going to Jesus. No matter what issue you may be going through, God’s Wisdom, God’s Word is a sure foundation, a solid rock on which you can lean. It’s what we do here every Sunday (and Monday night!), we go to God’s Word and apply it to our lives.

Returning to our reading for today, God speaks to Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah as the Word of God, and says to him in verse 7:  “Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.'" God makes a promise to Hezekiah that the king of Assyria is going to get his. After this communication from God, the king of Assyria sends messengers again telling Hezekiah how all these other nations and cities have fallen and how their gods weren’t able to anything about. So what does Hezekiah do, lets pick up in verse 14

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: "O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim,

Hezekiah goes to pray to God, and in the Old Testament, he went where literally God’s presence was said to reside, behind the veil, behind the curtain, to the innermost room, the Holy of Holies where the throne of God and God’s presence was said to reside. He goes to the throne room of the Lord. When Hezekiah says that God is enthroned between the cherubim, he’s talking about these two cherubim, or angels, on the ark of the covenant that is in the space. The text we read today isn’t clear as to how far or how close he gets to this inner sanctum, this was usually reserved for the high priest, that third office that we mentioned earlier, because it was considered an incredible honor, but also an incredibly terrifying thing to go into God’s presence, to stand before the God of the universe with all his power and might, and you can imagine its overwhelming to think about being directly in God’s presence.

Of course, we can’t go to the temple in Jerusalem whenever we need God, it’s not there anymore, and even if we could something fundamentally changed when Jesus opened up a path to God. As he told the Samaritan woman at the well that it wouldn’t be on the high places, the mountains, like in Samaria, or even in the temple at Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in Truth that people would worship God. We don’t go the throne room in the temple, which was just a shadow of the real deal, but we go directly to the literal throne room of God through our high priest – Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:19-22 says:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

When we are under siege in this life, we have an incredible privilege that Jesus has opened up by the sacrifice  of his blood and body. Christ died on a cross, that in our prayer life we might directly and boldy enter the literal throne room of God, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I myself, am so guilty of this, that we so often don’t take advantage of this amazing privilege to pray for our own circumstances and for others, to speak to God himself, to go into the throne room of God, through what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Now with regards to how we pray and what we pray, we could fill another hour and then another and then another. The title of today’s sermon is “The Prayer that God Hears” because in verse 20 after Hezekiah prays God responds and says “I have heard your prayer.” Of course God is able to hear all things, and can hear all prayers, just like his in all places at all times. Yet there are moments and places in our lives where God is especially present, and there are moments and prayers in our lives where God says, like he does to Hezekiah: “I have heard your prayer.” After pouring over this text there is one aspect about this prayer that stands out to me. Even though Hezekiah is under Siege in  a way that he is fearful about his own life and an entire city under his care, he prays a God-centered prayer.

When he prays, Hezekiah goes to the throne room to Bring Glory to the Lord. Picking back up with verse 15:

15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: "O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. 17 "It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands. 19 Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God." 20 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria.

Hezekiah starts his prayer by recognizing and proclaiming that God is the God, the only God. He’s not a god created by human hands (v. 18), he is on his throne as the Creator of heaven and earth. Jesus when he taught us how to pray begins the same way “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” It’s very often, in this world of instant satisfaction and consumerism, that we mistakenly view prayer as a way in which to get what we want, for ourselves, for our kingdoms. If you want to be sure that your prayer will not be heard, like Hezekiah’s is heard, then focus your prayer life completely on yourself, what you want, and your own kingdom. Here’s a funny video I ran across when preparing for this sermon about the low view of prayer our culture might lead us to.

video


Our prayers, as our lives, should be centered on God, to give him glory through all that we are, all that we do, and all that we pray for. Psalm 79:9 displays the biblical mentality:

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name's sake.

Hezekiah ends his prayer saying “deliver us…so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.” God responds to Hezekiah’s prayer, he answers it, not because Hezekiah is perfect, not because Hezekiah did a ritual or prayed the right words in the right order, but because Hezekiah’s heart was to see God’s glory and name proclaimed to the ends of the earth. In verse 34, God says “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”  God acts, he responds to Hezekiah prayer because of the promises He had made to David and for his own sake. When we rely on God’s promises, when we pray to exalt Him, and to see His kingdom come, this is the prayer that God hears and acts upon. In the final verses of this chapter (35-37) we read


35 That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning-- there were all the dead bodies! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. 37 One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.

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