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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Power of Prayer in the Life of King Hezekiah
Text:2 Kings 20:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Prayer
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-04-30
Updated:2017-07-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 86:1,6                                                                                        

Ps 26:2,6,7

Reading – Isaiah 38; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Ps 99:1,3,4,6

Sermon – 2 Kings 20:1-11

Ps 34:2,3,7

Hy 83:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation, in Luke 11:9 Jesus says these words to us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Simple commands, yet astonishing. For his words reveal the great privilege that we have when we pray. This is the heavenly power that we access whenever we call on the Father’s Name in Christ, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”

Our text centres on the prayer of one of God’s children, so it’s worth reflecting a moment on your own life of prayer: How is this going? Looking back on the last month or two months, do you feel like you’ve been praying more, or is it less? Is this a practice that has been strengthened with you, or perhaps has it struggled? Has the seeking become less diligent, or the knocking not so confident? Have you been forgetting to ask? Genuine, God-focused prayer is essential to our walk with Christ. A praying Christian is a living Christian!

All the same, the practice of prayer can raise a lot of questions. Have you ever wondered, “Why does God seem to answer some of my prayers, and not others?” What about the Christian who prays and prays, but still ends up disappointed? Was the asking still worthwhile? Did it do anything? We have more questions: Is prayer by itself enough? Do we ‘let go, and let God,’ as they say? What’s our duty in combining prayer with action?

We can’t fully answer all these questions. But the Word of God provides us with insight and wisdom. In particular, our text reveals some truths about prayer, and about God’s grace in answering our petitions. I preach the gospel to you under this theme,

            The LORD graciously extends the life of King Hezekiah:

1)     an illness and its prognosis

2)     a prayer and its answer

3)     a healing and its sign

 

1)     an illness and its prognosis: Two Kings, the book we open today, is a book of church history. And like so much of church history, it’s a story that is disturbing and promising at the very same time. Disturbing, because we often see the church wandering from the good path of God’s Word. Yet promising, because in spite of our sin, God remains faithful.

Which brings us to Hezekiah. This Hezekiah was in the chosen line of David; he was a king in Judah. By the time of his reign, the northern tribes had already been dragged into exile by the Assyrians. The LORD had enough of their idolatry, and brought his judgment against them.

After seeing hundreds of thousands of their countrymen slaughtered or banished, you’d think Judah would get the hint—they’d see what is at stake when you know the LORD, and they would renew their commitment to Him. But if anything, they became complacent. They prided themselves on their longevity as a nation, and they found security in the temple, even while worshiping false gods. So Judah too, was threatened with destruction—they too, hear the rattling of the chains of exile.

But this period is not without hope. Hezekiah was a bright light in a time of darkness. If we go back a couple of chapters, to chapter 18, we can read of his reforms, “He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden images and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it… He trusted in the LORD God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him” (vv 4-5). This was a good king.

In the same chapter (18) and the following one, we see his faith in action when the Assyrians invade Judah. With a massive army laying siege to Jerusalem, many thought it was time to negotiate a surrender, or to call on the surrounding nations for help. But Hezekiah’s trust in the LORD is unbroken. He humbly prays, he goes to God’s house and seeks the LORD’s will—and God delivers the city by killing 180,000 Assyrians. Even in a time of great testing, his character is shown to be steadfast. Such is the man we meet in our text.

The passage begins by saying, “In those days…” (v 1). A quick word about that: our passage comes after 2 Kings has told us about that siege of Jerusalem, and the sudden destruction of the Assyrians. You would naturally conclude then, that today’s text takes place after those events. But it doesn’t, it happens before. We know when King Hezekiah dies—the year 697 BC. If you count backwards from there the fifteen years that God gave him after his illness, you can figure that the event in our text probably took place in 713 or 714 BC. We also know that that Assyrian invasion was in 701—which is years after our text! So these events aren’t in perfect order. Some commentators suggest that this story was borrowed from the book of Isaiah, and then inserted here with a few changes.

At any rate, “in those days Hezekiah was sick and near death” (v 1). What he had was probably a variation of the bubonic plague, because verse 7 tells us Hezekiah had “a boil.” The plague is an agonizing disease. It infects and swells the glands in your groin and armpits. It’s also deadly, killing most people within three or four days. There’s little that can be done.

So the LORD sends Isaiah, “Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live” (v 1). This was a small mercy: Hezekiah doesn’t have to be uncertain about the outcome of this illness, but he knows that he should prepare himself for death. He could make known his final wishes. He could say his good-byes to his family. He could examine his heart for unconfessed sin, and get ready for passing into the next life.

God shows grace, but it’s upsetting all the same. Here’s Hezekiah, probably a man only in his thirties, with so much to live for. Among the line of Judah’s kings, he stands with David and Josiah for being a man of honour and godliness. Yet he’s not preserved from a terrible illness, and an early death. At once, we want to ask: Why would God take him? Hezekiah had showed himself to be an effective leader, a faithful reformer—precious to God’s people, who so needed godly kings. Why should he have to die now?

It makes us think about the apostle Paul. We read in 2 Corinthians how he received a thorn in the flesh. This was some serious hindrance, a physical or mental handicap that troubled him for years. Paul was a successful worker for the gospel. But couldn’t he have accomplished even more if he’d been freed of this burden? Traveled more, written more, preached more, if only he’d been healthy! To our way of thinking, it doesn’t make sense to afflict Paul with a thorn. It seems wrong—a waste of human ability.

We’ll come back to this later on. For now though, consider Hezekiah. He has received the Lord’s message. It sounds so final, as God’s Word always does: no arguing, right? No grumbling against his will! This is how it is. Yet Hezekiah has insight into the LORD. He knows that while God reveals his will, and that it may seem unchangeable, God still wants to hear the prayers of his people. He wants our petitions and pleas, even as we struggle to make sense of what God is doing. Like when Moses was told by God that He was going to destroy Israel for her sin—Moses doesn’t just “accept” that, if you will, but in prayer he seeks God’s face. He humbly reminds God of his promises; he pleads with God to defend his honour among the nations; he asks that God would relent. And God does.

This is one of the deep mysteries of prayer. God may reveal his will to us in a very clear way. Maybe through an illness, like in our text—and a prognosis from the doctor that doesn’t look good at all. You’re going to die, or your loved one is going to be severely limited for the rest of his days.

Or maybe there’s another situation that seems completely hopeless: parents who think there’s no chance of a child repenting and coming back to church. Or a husband and wife who conclude there’s zero possibility of restoring their marriage—it’s just been too hostile, for too long. Or there can be some other misery that just endures, year after year. We won’t receive direct word from God, like Hezekiah did, but all the evidence points in the same direction—that this is not going to change. That this is God’s will for me, for us, for my loved one. It’s just the way it is.

In times like that, does God want us to be silent? To stop praying? Not to ask for healing anymore, nor pray for a change of heart, nor petition the LORD for some other change? The example of Moses, and Hezekiah, and Paul, tell us differently. Pray without ceasing. Pray, and do not lose heart. The Father wants to hear from his children. Maybe it changes, what we pray for. It does change, as life changes. But we keep praying, because we recognise what the Almighty God can do.

 

2)     a prayer and its answer: So Hezekiah will pray, “Remember now, O LORD… how I have walked before you in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in your sight” (vv 2-3). This is a striking prayer, isn’t it? It’s a prayer that few of us would offer. Its theme is Hezekiah’s devotion: “Remember my faith,” he says, “don’t forget how I removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars!” Isn’t this sinful pride, at a moment when he should be humble? Is he trying to claim a bit of credit with God?

But it’s not so unusual. David does similar things in his prayers, like in Psalm 26, “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity” (v 1). Without a hint of embarrassment, he points out his righteous life: “I have been holy in your sight, O LORD.” How can David or Hezekiah do this? They can, because they know the LORD. God has vowed great blessing to his believers. Surely God is good to those who are pure in heart! (Ps 73:1) That’s what God always said, so now Hezekiah will plead that God be faithful. “Remember that I’m yours, and I’ve always been yours. So please hear my prayer.”

Notice something else about this prayer, how Hezekiah doesn’t ask to be healed. It’s what he wants, but he just reminds God of his covenant mercies, “Remember me, O LORD.” So it’s a bold prayer, but also a humble prayer. Hezekiah won’t presume to tell God what He needs to do, “You know, God, this is going to be the best course of action. Let me share my wisdom with you.” No, he places himself into God’s hands, like he’s saying: “Whether I live or die, let me remain with you. Don’t forget me.”

And that’s something we can all do. We can plead with God through his promises in Christ. By faith in Christ, we are righteous. In Christ, we are holy. That lends our prayers a real confidence: “Father, I know that you won’t abandon the works of your hands in me. Father, you’ve already given the greatest gift—your Son—so I do trust that you’ll give me everything else that I need as well. Father, remember the covenant promises that you’ve made to me, your child.” In Christ, we can always pray with great confidence!

It’s a heartfelt prayer Hezekiah offers; our text tells us he “wept bitterly” (v 3). Why does he cry? Was he afraid to die? It’s natural to dread that. Death can give rise to many fears, even in the most believing heart. But Hezekiah is concerned for more than his own skin. He is king, so news of his death will be received with gladness by his enemies, maybe even move them to attack. He also hasn't yet received a child from the Lord, so there is nobody who can take over the throne. With his death, from a human perspective, there is much to be anxious over.

In Isaiah 38, we’re allowed to listen in on Hezekiah’s tearful words: “In the prime of my life I shall go to the gates of Sheol; I am deprived of the remainder of my years” (v 10). In the first half of this prayer, there’s unquestionably a great misery: “My eyes fail from looking upward. O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me!” (v 14). In his prayers he’s a broken man.

And then see the LORD’s response. It’s put so beautifully in our text, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears” (2 Kgs 20:5). Beloved, God never ignores our suffering. God never turns away our prayers, looks away from our tears. He hears, He sees! And for the sake of Jesus his Son, God our Father holds our lives in his faithful care.

How clearly that can be seen in our passage, “And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him…” (v 4). This is an immediate answer. Isaiah hasn’t even left the palace, and God tells him to go back! Today it’d be like asking God for money to cover the bills, and some unexpected funds come in the same morning. It’d be like praying earnestly for wisdom, and the LORD sets just the right Bible passage before you as your answer. That happens, right? Such is God’s power and providence: He can answer our prayers in a moment.

Yet it’s not often that our prayers receive that kind of response. Scripture doesn’t teach us to expect it. God can’t be bound by our schedule, by the timeline we had in mind. But seek God’s face—yes, even if it looks hopeless. Place yourselves before him in true faith, and bring to him your sorrows and joys. He hears, He sees! And know that whatever God’s answer to us, it is right—it is good. For it is his will, and the Lord of heaven and earth does no wrong.

This was God’s response: “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of my people…” (v 5). Hear how God draws attention to Hezekiah’s unique position. He was “the leader of my people;” literally, “the captain.” That was a fundamental truth: as the king went, so went the nation. And God still desired to bless his people.

In answering, God exceeds every expectation. For He grants immediate healing. What’s more, Hezekiah’s life will be extended by fifteen years. And to top it all off, “I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria” (v 6). In God’s grace, Israel will enjoy the continued stability of Hezekiah’s kingship, and protection from enemies. What a rich response to a simple prayer.

But then we’re back at that hard reality, aren’t we? Not every prayer gets answered like this. Seldom is there that instant response we’re hoping for. Often we receive something very different from what we asked—even the opposite. God doesn’t always give healing. God doesn’t always grant repentance. God doesn’t bring a partner into everyone’s life, and He doesn’t bless every marriage with children. Those good gifts of the LORD are withheld, even after years of prayers and tears.

Someone might say, “Well, I know why: I’m not a king, like Hezekiah was. I’m not so  important to God’s plan—that’s why He didn’t answer.” But then we think again of Paul. He prayed for that thorn to be removed. And he didn’t just pray once, like Hezekiah did, but three times—it was his earnest prayer. And what was God’s answer? The thorn will remain. The hardship will stay. And this is what God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (v 9).

His prayers would not be ignored—Paul had his answer! Only his prayers wouldn’t be answered how he wanted. Healing might’ve meant more effective labour. But God’s will was for Paul to be weak. Because when he was weak, the Lord’s strength was seen more clearly. That’s always true: whenever our human ability is diminished, whenever we show how fragile we really are, that’s when divine ability is ramped up, grace abounds, and God is praised.

Beloved, when you pray, you don’t know how God will answer you. You don’t know if his response will be just what you wanted, or if it will exceed your expectations, or if it’ll be disappointing. But this we know from Scripture, from Hezekiah, from Paul: that God hears all the prayers of all his children. Not one of our prayers, offered in faith, is ever ignored. God hears, He sees, and He answers!

For we also know that for every believer, God’s grace is sufficient. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. For whatever God has called you to do or whatever burden you must bear, the LORD is enough. Rest in Him. Have peace in Him. His love in Christ will not fail you.

 

3)     a healing and its sign: When he brings God’s answer, Isaiah must also bring medication. For he instructs that a lump of figs be laid on Hezekiah’s boil. This is what’s called a poultice: a moist substance, often heated and spread on cloth over the skin to treat a wound. In Bible times, figs were commonly used for opening boils, so they would discharge their pus, and the healing could start. It’s interesting that even though God promises a miraculous healing, He doesn’t reject the use of medicine. God has given these things, still today, for our use. They need God’s blessing, but they’re there for us to use.

The poultice does its work, but perhaps Hezekiah doesn’t feel better right away, or he wonders about that fifteen year extension. So he asks for a sign. Is this a lack of faith, doubt in God’s ability? Not at all. He just wants confirmation that this amazing thing will come to pass. Notice Hezekiah isn’t rebuked for his request, and he’s even given a choice: “Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees or go backward ten degrees?” (v 9).

Isaiah refers here to the sundial once built by Ahaz. As the sun progresses across the sky, it casts a shadow on the dial’s markings. And Hezekiah chooses what is most miraculous. It was natural for the shadow to advance—how about going backwards? It’s also a most fitting sign, for it’s like the LORD is “turning back the clock,” as Hezekiah’s life and health are being restored, and his days are lengthened. Commentators debate whether the day was actually longer, like in the time of Joshua. Did the sun really move backward that day, or it was just an optical illusion? But the sign’s effect on Hezekiah was clear. The LORD will restore, just as He said.

Maybe there are times we hope for a sign of confirmation, like Hezekiah got. Maybe when we’re seeking God’s will in a difficult situation. We just want a sign in answer to our prayer, something to show without question that the Lord cares for us, or that He’s leading us. But there’s no need for a sign: God has already given the most amazing confirmation of his love and promise!

He’s given it in Jesus Christ. For when Jesus came into this world, He came to restore sinners to God. He came so that even the effects of sin would be removed—so that even bodily disease, and physical death, could one day be reversed. Hezekiah got an early taste of that, like the many did who got healing from Christ during his ministry. For Jesus took upon himself all of this life’s brokenness, all of its misery—He even took on death.

Jesus suffered, He cried out, but his sufferings were not taken away. Unlike King Hezekiah, Jesus was allowed to agonize, right until the most bitter and painful death on the cross. Jesus prayed too, but there was no relief. God made time stand still, so that Christ could suffer eternal death. Through this, Christ has taken away the curse of sin, and brought us back to the Father. So look to the cross! It is the infallible sign of God’s great love. It shows us that we’re deeply loved by God, that we’re forgiven all our sins, and adopted as his children.

After receiving this great mercy, what should be our response? What should we do? Consider Hezekiah, who had a new lease on life. He served God in thanksgiving. He sang of this in Isaiah 38, “You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for you have cast all my sins behind your back…The LORD was ready to save me; therefore [I] will sing my songs with stringed instruments all the days of [my] life, in the house of the LORD” (vv 17,20). “I will praise Him,” says Hezekiah, “all the days of my life.”

If you’ve been healed and restored in Christ Jesus, then join Hezekiah. Join him in song. Join him with prayer that continues and is never put to one side. Join him with thanksgiving. For every day that God has allowed you, bring your praise to God, and to his Son, our Saviour.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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