Tim continues our series in Isaiah by looking at how King Hezekiah responded to the mocking of the Assyrians who were on the doorstep of the Israelites ready to destroy them. From this story Tim encourages us about responding to mocking and persecution for our faith today: any first going to God in humility, then seeking wisdom and counsel. We are called to be faithful in trusting God and to stand firm in our faith!
Sermon preached by Tim Giovanelli on Sunday October 31, 2021.
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Isaiah Week 5 – King Hezekiah
Welcome and Introduction
– Your note books… discipleship culture…
– Again from the Princeton Review on tips for good note taking; “Keep track of direct quotes,personal thoughts, and questions you want answered.”
– Leave here or take home…Now just quickly, it was pointed out to me by everyone over 60 at this church last week that I got Sennacherib’s name wrong last week…
– I said Senna-cherib… when it should have been Sennach-erib
– My pronunciation knowledge of Assyrian royal names in the 7th century before Christ is notwhat it should be…
– My studies of course were in Babylonian royal names of the 7th century…
– So I am glad we can clear that up! I just don’t think Sennach-erib sounds as nice as Senna-cherib… but then again, he wasn’t a very nice guy and it doesn’t end well for him today!So I said last week that we would look in more detail at the story of King Hezekiah in chapters 36- 39 in the Book of Isaiah.
– And it is an interesting section in the Book of Isaiah, because the first 35 chapters have been written in the prophetic tradition…
– And then we get in the middle of Isaiah 4 chapters of historical events, before next week launching back into the prophetic style of Isaiah.
– And these chapters we are going to look at today kind of act as the hinge in the book.
– Up until today we have been dealing with the threat of Assyria and God’s judgement on the people of God for not keeping covenant with God.
– Right – not looking after the poor, worshipping surrounding nations idols and so on…
– But then, also these promises of future hope of a child who will reign justly on David’s throne,who will rally all the nations to the light and glory of God.So it all comes to a head this week with the question from last week of who will God’s children put their trust in?
– Their own strength, alliances with Egypt or just surrendering to the might of Assyria…
– Or will they stand firm, and trust God to deliver them?
– So we will get to the story in just a moment…
– But I also want to do something a little bit different today, I want us to consider how do westand firm and trust God in the face of opposition to our faith…
– So I’ll do that by overlaying a little bit of what Jesus said about persecution and what Paulsays about standing firm in the faith.
– And spend a bit of time considering what it means to trust God when we are mocked for ourfaith or pressured to give in to the worlds attacks around us. OK?So we pick it up in Isaiah 36:1…In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. 2 Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem…From verse 13 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14 This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you! 15 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’
16 “Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 17 until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards.
18 “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Have the gods of any nations ever delivered their lands from the hand of the king of Assyria? Verse 20 Who of all the gods of these countries have been able to save their lands from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”
So the field commander comes to the walls of Jerusalem, fresh off many victories and threatens and mocks the people of God.
– I note the threat is real. They are an unbeatable army with a proven track record of crushing resistance.
– I note he mocks God and King Hezekiah… verse 14 “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you! Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord”
– And I note part of the mocking is a mimicking of God and tempting of his people… they are offered peace, food and vineyards… if they surrender to the Assyrians.
– So that is the state of affairs… and it looks pretty bleak.Now of course today as the people of God, there are those who still face very serious persecution.
– And I can’t really speak to that, as that is not what we face in the West at all… but being a Christian in places like China and the Middle East can still get you imprisoned and even killed.
– And we pause for a moment to consider our Christian brothers and sisters in Afghanistan andwhat they are facing…But even here in prosperous, free countries like Australia we face a mocking of our faith and at times attempts to squeeze us out of the public square.
– And of course Christianity has always had its detractors…
– The 18th century philosopher and critic of Christianity Voltaire said “within a hundred years the bible will be obsolete and will have gone out of circulation altogether.”
– Of course the bible has never been more popular around the world today.
– To modern day mockers like Peter Fitz Simmons who in writing for the SMH takes everypossible opportunity to take shots at the church, Christianity and our beliefs…In Matthew 5:10-12 Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount…Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against
you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
– Now worth noting that there is a difference between being persecuted because of righteousness and for standing up for Jesus….
– And being persecuted because you’re being an obnoxious moron…
– And we need to beware a persecution complex, particularly as I said, when there are peoplein the world today who face much more deeper and real persecution because of their faith.
– But that said, undoubtedly even in my life I have seen the church go from being respected, totolerated to in some places being seen as what is wrong in society.
– And in many fields today, that mocking and tempting out of standing firm, like Hezekiah isvery real, particularly in some professions…I want to show a quick video of one of my heroes, Professor John Lennox who is a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and a wonderful Christian thinker.
– Here he recounts pressure to renounce his faith early in his career… show video
– OK… we will come back to Lennox again later…
So in Isaiah 37, what is King Hezekiah’s response to the mocking threats of the field commander of the mighty Assyrian army?
37 When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord. 2 He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, … to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3 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 moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. 4 It may be that the Lord your God will hear 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.”
5 When King Hezekiah’s officials came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’”
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: 16 “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.
20 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”
So in response to the threats, King Hezekiah sends for Isaiah, and he prays to God for the people of God, to be delivered as they trust in him.
– I note as he comes under attack he humbles himself.
– I note that he seeks out wise counsel in the figure of the Prophet Isaiah for guidance andwisdom and reassurance.
– And finally I note that he prays and trusts God to “deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”
– Humility, wise counsel and dependent prayer!
– And I wonder for us if there might be a model there for what we are to do when we feelmocked, or pressured in our faith?Firstly, humility… and while you may not tear your clothes and put on sackcloth, I wonder if there is a posture there that God requires?
– Sometimes when we are mocked for our faith or people pose serious questions about what we believe, it doesn’t hurt to go to God in humility.
– It is ok to say, yeah, you know what, there are things I don’t understand or that I find challenging. It is ok, to say, on my own strength I don’t have all the answers.
– I note that John Lennox, stopped and in that moment of pressure, said a quiet prayer. Secondly after humility, Hezekiah seeks wisdom and counsel from Isaiah
– Rather than suffering alone or trying to make it up in his own strength, he goes to a mighty man of God for wisdom!
– And it is deeply reassuring, in the same way that the Word of God can be deeply reassuring for us, and wise counsel can also be a major strength to us in our faith.
– And that is kind of how it has always worked… the faith being passed down through the generations of wise counsel and godly men and women.
– One of the most profound moments of my education at Regent College was sitting in class with JI Packer.
– And I remember JI Packer talking about being at Oxford University in the late 1940’s going to lectures by CS Lewis.So we seek wisdom… and back to John Lennox, who as a Professor of Maths at Oxford University became a great apologist for the Christian faith.
– He has famously debated atheists like Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer, defending the Christian faith against their mocking.
– And I note in that video he referenced being helped by the writings of CS Lewis too.
– Now for anyone here who may not have heard of CS Lewis, obviously he was the author ofthe Narnia children’s books.
– But also as a Professor at Oxford University wrote classic defences of the Christian faith likeMere Christianity and autobiographical Surprised by Joy.
– And if you have done the Alpha Course, you will know that much of the first few weeks isbased on Lewis’s argument for the existence of God and reliability of the Christian faith.
– Jesus mad, bad or who he said he is anyone?So let me encourage you, to seek wisdom and godly counsel when you feel like your faith is coming under attack.
– If you feel pressured or attacked or you just have big questions, I can assure you, you are not the first to feel this way
– And there are so many great resources to strengthen our faith in the face of opposition.
– I remember as a younger man devouring the writings of Philip Yancey and NT Wright
– And just reading the gospels and the Book of Acts… you with me?OK, final thing today, how does it all work out for the people of God and King Hezekiah? So, Isaiah 37…21 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word the Lord has spoken against him:23 Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! 24 By your messengers you have ridiculed the Lord.Verse 28 “But I know where you are and when you come and go and how you rage against me.29 Because you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my
hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came. 30 “This will be the sign for you, Hezekiah:
Verse 31 Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. 32 For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
From there, we read that the King of Assyria is warned by God that he will not touch Jerusalem, instead God will defend and save the people of God and his holy city!
– Next we read that God brings judgement on the evil Assyrian army bringing death to its camp
– And King Sennacherib is killed by his own sons.
– The threat of Assyrian invasion thus defeated, and indeed this entire section of Isaiah and thischapter in the people of God’s history comes to a close.
– Hezekiah has trusted God, stood firm and the people of God have been delivered byYahweh’s mighty hand.
– And I note that King Hezekiah in the Book of 2 Kings 18:5-7 is recorded this way;“Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.”Well, while I could be wrong, I don’t know if you and I will ever face quite the same threats as the people of God as recorded in Isaiah 36-37 and 2 Kings 18-19
– And I think sometimes what happens militarily in the OT becomes more true in the spiritual realm in the NT. I might say some more on that in coming weeks…
– But I do know that Jesus calls us to faithful trust and obedience to the Lord our God.
– In the same way that Hezekiah trusted God, stood firm and was considered great amongst
the Kings of Judah
– We too are called to stand firm in the faith and fight the good fight!
Again I can’t help but think of John Lennox. I know his life may look very different to ours, and what he has faced may well be very different to what we face.
– But he has used his life to faithfully trust the Lord and defend the faith.
– Against attacks that a Professor of Mathematics at the most distinguished university in theworld, surely can’t have faith.
– He has been a defender of the faith, a trustworthy servant of the Lord and a great leader andhelp to many with his defences of the Christian faith.
– All the while being a humble, articulate and kind man of God.Let me leave you with 3 verses that I hope will be true in your life and my life. And that are certainly true of King Hezekiah and John Lennox.
– Firstly Matthew 25:23 ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful… Come and share your master’s happiness!’
– Secondly, Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then.”
– Finally Colossians 1:10 “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way:bearing fruit in every good work.”