Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Word and Sign (2 Kings 20:1-11)

For the Scripture passage go to:

Faithfulness. The faithfulness of God is at stake in today’s text. On many levels we struggle with God’s faithfulness. How is God faithful? How do we know that God will be faithful? How do we respond to that faithfulness? We all come to a point in our lives when we have doubts, when the burdens of our selves weigh down on us. What do we do? Do we attempt to look inward for some subjective feeling about our faith? Will we make the claim that our assurance of God’s faithfulness is based on our feelings of his faithfulness? Or will we know God’s faithfulness through His words and His signs that he has given to us through his messengers? I say, we must take seriously these words and signs that God gives through His messengers.

In those days, Hezekiah became sick unto death. In those days tells us when this incident occurs. Hezekiah’s sickness occurred during the time that the Assyrians were moving against Judah. The previous narrative told of the Assyrian army begin driven out of Judah. “In those days” tells us that this story is taking place in the midst of the Assyrian invasion. The Assyrians had begun the invasion, but they were not yet laying siege against Jerusalem. So this taking place before Sennacherib’s blasphemy in the two previous chapters. Knowing this timing will help us to better understand the promises that God makes later in the text.
Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah…came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” We see here the prophet’s WORD OF DEATH. Hezekiah was already sick, he may have even had the feeling that it was a great sickness, but Isaiah confirms the worst. He gives a WORD OF DEATH to Hezekiah. “You shall not recover.” This was about 14 years into Hezekiah’s reign as king. He was in the prime of life, a superstar of sorts. He had reestablished Temple worship and had invited the remnants of the Northern Kingdom to find refuge and return to the true worship of God at the Temple. Yet, none of those good things were to avail. His sickness was unto death. There was no changing the facts of the matter. Hezekiah was as good as dead.
Likewise, we have a WORD OF DEATH given to us. We aren’t sick with a physical illness, but we are sick unto death with sin. We are born in sin and our WORD OF DEATH is found throughout Scripture. Ephesians 2 says that we are born dead in our trespasses. Romans 3 says that there is none righteous and that all have sinned. Our WORD OF DEATH is that we are already dead. None of our works will avail us, though they may be helpful to our fellow man, they serve in no way before God. How will we respond to this word?
We know Hezekiah’s response. His response to Isaiah’s WORD OF DEATH was one of utter dependence upon God. It says that he turned to face the wall and prayed, “Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart and have done what is good in your sight.” Here the ESV doesn’t quite capture the full tone of Hezekiah’s opening words. It could be translated as “I beg you, O LORD, please remember…” Hezekiah is begging the Lord to hear him and remember him. He goes on to say literally, “remember that I have walked to and fro before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart and the good I have done in your eyes.” Hezekiah almost sounds like he is claiming his works as a reason for God to take notice of him. But he isn’t. The word for faithfulness always has God as a reference, whether directly or indirectly. Hezekiah isn’t being self-righteous here, but is meaning that all of his faithfulness has been based on God’s faithfulness, the only reason he could ever be faithful is that God was faithful first. His having a whole heart and doing what is right is because of God, not because of himself. “And he wept bitterly.” Hezekiah was distraught. He was broken. He didn’t understand why God was letting him die when God had always been faithful to him previously. He wept a great weeping in his turning to God in response to the WORD OF DEATH. His response was one of utter dependence.
Hezekiah turned toward God and cried out to him in prayer. Hezekiah showed forth his deep faith in God and His faithfulness. He knew that only God could change the circumstance he was in. This prayer is much like the praying of King David when he prayed that his first child from Bathsheba might live and not die. King David said, “When the child was still alive…I said, “Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” This was utter dependence upon God as the only one who can change the circumstances one may find himself in.
What of us? Is our response to the WORD OF DEATH we receive one of weeping bitterly? Of crying out to God in desperate dependence? Do we trust God enough to seek Him when we’re confronted with the sin that exists within us? Do we trust God enough to cry out to Him that we need forgiveness?
And after this WORD OF DEATH and cry of utter dependence something happens.
We see a WORD OF PROMISE come out of this prayer. God’s answer was virtually immediate! Before Isaiah had left the middle court of the palace, God’s WORD OF PROMISE came to him. He told Isaiah to return to Hezekiah for he had heard his prayer and seen his tears and said of Hezekiah, “Behold I will heal you! On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to you life.”
This is the speed of mercy from God. When one turns to Him in utter dependence, knowing that there is nothing he can do and crying out for forgiveness from God, God responds with mercy upon that person. He gives to that person the Gospel of Christ. God tells us that Christ died for our sins. When we are confronted with the WORD OF DEATH in the law by God, God also gives us His WORD OF PROMISE that is found in the Gospel about Jesus Christ.
But yet, there is more to God’s WORD OF PROMISE. God goes above and beyond what Hezekiah was seeking. Hezekiah turned and wept about his sickness, yet God promises to do more than just heal him. This is where we thoroughly see when Hezekiah’s sickness occurred. God declares that He will deliver Hezekiah and Jerusalem out of the hand of the Assyrian king. The king of Assyria had not yet come against Jerusalem and God is promising to deliver the city from that future siege! This is truly above and beyond what Hezekiah was seeking from God. Hezekiah only thought of healing, God a WORD OF PROMISE that would show His great faithfulness.
God’s WORD OF PROMISE is beyond what we seek after. For us, God’s promise is not only for forgiveness in Christ for the person that turns to him, but a complete renewal of the whole person. God gives completely new life to the believer, to the one who trusts in His promises. We are raised to new life through the forgiveness that God gives to us, when we are only seeking simple forgiveness for our sin. God’s WORD OF PROMISE truly goes above and beyond what we ask.
Quickly following this WORD OF PROMISE to Hezekiah, Isaiah calls for a cake of figs to be brought and laid upon the boil so that Hezekiah might recover. The Hebrew is even more explicit. It says that they laid the cake of figs on the boil and Hezekiah lived. There is an immediacy to the action in the narration. It’s like the narrator jumps to the end of the story in order to show the reader just how quickly God is faithful to his word.
We see that the narrator has jumped ahead because of what follows: Hezekiah asks for a sign that he might know that he will be healed. This doesn’t make much sense if the previous verse had already happened because it says that Hezekiah lived. When we compare this narrative to the same story in Isaiah 38, we see that Isaiah followed the WORD OF PROMISE with the SIGN OF PROMISE. That SIGN OF PROMISE was that the shadow would go back 10 steps. Hezekiah was offered an option; he chose the more difficult, the more absurd of the two choices. That is, Hezekiah asked for the shadow on the steps of Ahaz to turn back 10 steps because it would be easy for the shadow to lengthen 10 steps. Hezekiah was unwilling to depend upon his feelings of assurance here. He desired for the Lord to give a sure sign, and objective sign, that healing would take place. He recognized that the shadow lengthening ten steps would happen whether or not he was healed. So that would have given no assurance to him, but if the shadow went back, that was an act of God and that would give him assurance that God done this SIGN OF PROMISE. It was something that he could trust in; something that would let him know that God would be faithful. It was a SIGN OF PROMISE that didn’t depend upon Hezekiah, but solely depended upon God! And so, it was. The Lord brought back the shadow 10 steps on those steps and Hezekiah was given the assurance that God would do all that he had said he would do.
And so for us, though we have not asked for it, God has given us sure signs, SIGNS OF PROMISE, which tell us he will forgive us in Christ. He has given to us sacraments that we can look to in times of doubt about forgiveness, in times of struggle with our faith. God’s SIGNS OF PROMISE to us are baptism and the Eucharist. Through these God’s forgiveness is declared on account of the work of Christ. They are objective, outside of us, not dependent upon us for what they declare. Whether we believe them or not, baptism and the Eucharist tell us about God’s forgiveness in Christ. We can trust that what they say to us is true for they are dependent upon what God has revealed to us in Christ. In baptism God claims us by putting His name on us and in the Lord’s Supper God gives us Christ to feed on. They tell us that Christ is for us, that there is forgiveness in Him alone and that we can trust in Him for that forgiveness. We need to take seriously what God is telling us and doing to us through these SIGNS OF PROMISE, lest we attempt to find our assurance inside of ourselves and base it on something subjective.
God is faithful. We see that faithfulness displayed through His words and signs. He has given them to us that we might find comfort and assurance. He has given them that we might trust in Christ’s forgiveness more and more; to trust in the forgiveness that we need every moment of our lives. Hezekiah learned of God’s faithfulness through God’s WORD OF DEATH, WORD OF PROMISE, and SIGN OF PROMISE. We, likewise, should take heed. We should hear that word that declares us to be dead so that we might have ears to hear and eyes to see the WORDS AND SIGNS OF PROMISE that God gives to us. The WORD OF DEATH is not the final word. It is but the first word that must be received so that the WORD OF PROMISE and SIGN OF PROMISE might actually give to us the assurance that we desperately need. Rejoice, for we are forgiven in Christ. Trust Him and trust His WORD AND SIGNS OF PROMISE.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. very focused and memorable - i'll carry around WORD OF DEATH, WORD OF PROMISE, SIGN OF PROMISE in my head for a while!

    hope you all are thriving... let's go get coffee one day if you have some free time - i'd love to catch up. babies welcome!


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