By Simon ManchesterSunday 12 Jun 2022Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 1 minute
A three-part series on those in scripture who shed tears by Simon Manchester of Hope 103.2’s Christian Growth podcast and pastor at All Saints in Woollahra, Sydney.
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Good morning again, everybody. We’re going to pray briefly and then we’re going to turn to God’s word. Let’s bow our heads together. Our gracious God. Thank you for giving to us a word which is a compass, a light, a food, a sword. And we pray that this portion of your word which you have caused to be recorded would do good to us and help us to bring honour to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, as you know, we’re in a short series where we’re looking at people in the Old and the New Testament who shed tears.
I once had an Englishman come to visit this country, and I took him to one of our best beaches and he stood there looking at this magnificent scene. And he said “paradise” with tears. And we are in a world of tears. And the Bible tells us that the believer is moving to a world without tears.
So we’re thinking of these people who did shed tears in Scripture. And last week we looked at Joseph and the tears to do with relationships. And then this particular Sunday we’re looking at King Hezekiah in the Old Testament and what I’ve called tears of disappointment.
Now, even though we’re focusing on these people in Scripture briefly, we don’t finish with these people because they are actually signposts to Christ. Relationships, of course, find their solution in Christ. Emptiness, finds its solution in Christ, and even disappointment finds its solution in Christ.
So the gospel, which we believe causes us and urges us to look outside ourselves. And I think it’s a tragedy when people are told to believe in themselves and find all their resources in themselves – such limited resources. And when people think that church is a place where you go to be told to do better.
I don’t often refer to the television in sermons. But I did see a trailer for a series recently where a preacher was telling a homeless lady that she should come to their church and be looked after and her comment, her reply was this. “I would rather stay homeless, then be told by a preacher how to live my life.” And I thought, What a sad thought, that that’s what the preacher is to do because when you actually turn to the New Testament, the first thing that Jesus says is that I’ve come to give you a life, not just tell you how to live a life but to give you a life.
Well, 2 Kings Chapter 20 is about a king, Hezekiah in the Old Testament, facing death and shedding tears.
This man Hezekiah, was a good king. He ruled in Jerusalem in about 700 BC. There were very, very, very few good kings, Probably three and only twice we read the Lord was with him referring to a king once to David and once to Hezekiah and King Hezekiah lived in very ominous times. There was a superpower called a Syria which had already wiped out the top half of Israel. And it had come down now and knocked on the door of Jerusalem and basically said, We’re going to take you over as well. And Assyria said to the people of Jerusalem, “depending on your God is a big waste of time. He will be no help to you whatsoever.”
But here’s a key to a good and faithful king – he took the matter to God in prayer and he was told by the Prophet Isaiah that Assyria would move away without firing one arrow, and that’s exactly what happened. God miraculously caused Assyria to move off, but the very next thing we read in Chapter 20 and I read from the text in those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death.
The Prophet Isaiah went to him and said, This is what the Lord says “put your house in order because you’re going to die.You will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what’s good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Well, I want to look at two things. Two mistakes in the life of Hezekiah. Very revealing mistakes. The first one is what I’ve called tears of disappointment, disappointment with God. And the second half of the Chapter 2 Kings 20 is the smiles of self interest. The tears of disappointment and the smiles of self interest are the two mistakes that Hezekiah makes.
The tears of disappointment and the smiles of self interest
First you see what Hezekiah is facing. His country has just been miraculously spared, but he’s about to die, and he must have said to himself, “How can God do this miracle for the nation that’s not a godly nation, but not do a miracle for me who’s tried to be godly.”
And therefore I want you to notice why Hezekiah weeps. He weeps because he’s disappointed with God, he says in Chapter 20:2 – “Lord, I’ve been faithful. I’ve been good” as if to say, and now now it’s your job to do good to me. And he wept bitterly.
Well, disappointment with God is a huge issue. There are lots of people who are not in church today because of disappointment with God. There are lots of people, I guess, in church who are still disappointed with God as if they have done their part and he’s not done his part. And there are books that have been written on this subject ‘disappointment with God’.
Now Hezekiah is disappointed with God because he thinks that having lived a godly life, he doesn’t deserve to die like this. He says in another part of Scripture that he’s in the prime of his life. We know that mortality is a problem. Unless Jesus returns first, we will die. But mortality, we think, is normally somebody else’s problem. Have you noticed that we tend to think that mortality is somebody else’s problem?
Not everybody, when they are told that they will die, sheds tears of disappointment. Some people are very stoic. Some people are very courageous. Some people are very faithful. A friend of mine has contacted me just in the last two days to say that he has terminal cancer. He’s a very faithful man. He’s a very thankful to God man. But he has said in his brief message that he is trusting God, who’s good, wise and loving. So there’s a very impressive faithful response to mortality. But Hezekiah’s tears spring from disappointment. His prayer is basically saying to God, I don’t deserve this. I deserve better than this. I live faithfully. You owe me.
You’ll see that verse three begins with “I’ve lived well” and then the verse ends and “he wept bitterly”. And the point you see is that even though Hezekiah is a good king, he’s deeply infected with a lie that God operates on a set of scales, that God is some kind of celestial slot machine that we put in the coins and he gives out the cans and this kind of slot machine. Thinking this set of scales thinking this legalism comes very naturally to us. It’s the way that our brains tend to work. It’s the way the world works, tit for tat, no free lunch. And it’s also, of course, the way that the world’s religions work. Keep the rules, get the rewards.
Somebody has said, as you may have heard many times, that you can spell the word religion “d o” “d o”. Because, of course, is something that tells you to do, do do and you never know whether you’ve been doing enough. Christianity is completely different. It’s not spelled D o. It’s spelled D o N E because Christ on the Cross called out, It’s done, and Christianity, therefore springs from grace.
The creator gives life. The creator gives all we have. The father gave his Son, Jesus, gave his life every day he gives to us life and breath every day. He loves his people steadfastly. We don’t control this grace. We don’t control this generosity. It’s not as if our successes bring down more grace or our failures remove grace. Now he’s gracious. He’s not a businessman, but we easily fall back into works in our thinking, as if we can earn our life or our benefits.
So before we criticise Hezekiah and say, well, you know what a big baby he was, we need to realise that he’s a mirror into our own soul and he shows us the trap that we easily fall into, which is that we think we can force God to be good to us by thinking that we have been good to him.
That kind of scales tip for tat thinking is far, far removed from the scriptures. If you want an example of this, just think of the way we think of the Covid pandemic at the moment. I met this week with Andrew Browning, an extraordinary young doctor who’s just back from Africa. He’s the most experienced and able fistula surgeon in the world, and he’s just back from Africa, where he has operated on 200 women who were considered by other surgeons to be beyond help.
And he said that it’s interesting in Africa that covid is the least of their problems because they have so many other problems. But in the West, where we have so much we think under control. This covid has become our obsession and our headline for two years because it seems to us in the West that we shouldn’t have problems. This is such a terrible thing. It’s so serious. It’s so unique that anything should happen to us and that we should suffer because we think we don’t deserve it because we’re better and we’re good. And so, for all his faithfulness, Hezekiah is still full of disappointment with God because he hadn’t seen his life on the backdrop of God’s generosity. And we must do that.
Dear friends, we must see our life on the backdrop of a generous God. If we see our life on the backdrop of a God who is obliged to us, obliged to reward us, we’ll always be miserable and will be completely erroneous. But if you want proof that God is gracious and doesn’t operate on the way people deserve, just look at Chapter 20:4 and see how God answers Hezekiah’s miserable prayer – it says in the scriptures – “The word of the Lord came to Hezekiah after he prayed. I’ve heard your prayer. I’ve seen your tears. Surely I will heal you on the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord and I will add to your days 15 years, I’ll deliver you and this city from the hand of the King of Assyria. And I will defend this city for my own sake. And for the sake of my servant David.” You notice in God’s reply that there is no reference to Hezekiah’s good life. God doesn’t say to him. You’re right. You’ve been great, Hezekiah and I owe you a lot. Now he says, “I’ve heard your prayer. I’ve seen your tears. I will heal you. I’ll give you 15 years and I’m also going to defend the city.” This is Grace.
God is still working on Hezekiah to teach him that he’s a gracious God and to show Hezekiah that he operates on the goodness in his own divine heart, not on the goodness that we occasionally produce.
So the prayer of Hezekiah was not that greater prayer, but how comforting that God listens to a faulty prayer, a feeble prayer and so wonderfully answers. I hope you’ll remember this as you pray yourself because our prayers are feeble. Even the Apostle Paul says in the Scriptures. We don’t know how to pray as we ought, but God helps us. And he obviously hears us, even though we pray so feebly.
Well, not only is Hezekiah’s prayer, not that great, but he didn’t even really believe it when God said that he would heal him. Because we’re told in Chapter 20:8 that he had been asking for a sign to back up the promise. Many of you will know from Scripture that the God of the Old Testament in the New Testament found it very wearying to be asked repeatedly for signs, as if God’s word or promise was not enough and here is Hezekiah doing it again. I would like a sign, and God is so gracious. He provides one and using some well known steps in the city of Jerusalem, maybe steps linked to the temple steps, which acted as a kind of a sun dial. He asked Hezekiah whether he would like the shadow of the sun to go forwards or backwards, and because backwards fits the whole idea of life being extended just a little more life being given, Hezekiah says he would like the shadow to go backwards and the god of the universe, who’s perfectly capable of doing whatever he wants, gave him the sign. Now all of this is proof that God is gracious, the greatest proof.
If you were to ask yourself what is the great proof that God is gracious to me? The great proof. The sign which he has given us is the sign of the cross that we should cast our mind back to Good Friday. And we should remember that God did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all that we might be forgiven, welcomed, adopted, carried, kept and delivered. This is the great, great proof that God is gracious. And so Hezekiah’s tears of disappointment are answered when there is a good grasp of the grace of God.
Well, let’s look secondly at the mistake that Hezekiah made in the second half of the chapter, which I’ve called smiles of self interest. We didn’t read these verses. Chapter 20:12-21 we’ve seen Hezekiah thinks very differently from God and the way that God should operate. Hezekiah thinks in “Give me what I deserve” terms of course, if God operated on, “give us what we deserve”, we’d be in very big trouble.
But in the second half, in Chapter 20 of 2 Kings verses 12-21 we see another way in which Hezekiah thinks very differently from God. Because Hezekiah operates unstoppably on self interest. God, thankfully does not. Hezekiah has been given a rescue from Assyria, a rescue from his own death immediately, and he’s been given a sign on top of everything else.
None of this seems to make him particularly wise, humble or pleasant. And so we read in Chapter 20 versus 12-21 that when the other superpower, Babylon, comes with a message, we’re so glad you’re well and some gifts for Hezekiah, he very unwisely shows them around the palace. He shows them all his riches, and we read in Chapter 20:13 – “he didn’t hide anything from the envoy that had come from Babylon.” Hard to know why Hezekiah does this. I wonder whether he was beginning to feel unbeatable. Look at all my power. I’m a very powerful man around for a long time.
It’s hard to say why it was wrong to do this, but it was certainly a very boastful thing to do. It’s as if he was saying to the Babylonians, “I’d like to show you my greatness”. Earlier, of course, in the Old Testament, when people came to Solomon to see his greatness, he would talk to them about God. But here’s the key. Hezekiah is acting here like any pagan king showing off his riches and his power. Well Hezekiah was a very able and successful, we might say, King, but that doesn’t mean he should be boastful.
We’re told in Chapter 20:20 that he had built a tunnel so that water would be able to be brought into the city if ever they were besieged. And I’ve actually walked this famous tunnel, which takes about 20 minutes to walk, and most of it was either knee deep or waist deep. But it’s still there today. Hezekiah’s tunnel. He did great things for the city, but if there was a time in the past where he had a healthy dose of fear of God, a dependency on God, he now seems to have become foolish and reckless.
And for this mistake of showing the Babylonians around his particular wealth and power. He receives a terrible rebuke. Isaiah the prophet comes to him and says, You know that this group, this Babylonian power that you’ve shown yourself to, is going to come in one day and it’s going to capture the city. You’ve basically exposed your city with this piece of bravado. Now what does Hezekiah say when he hears this correction or this rebuke? It’s unbelievable, he says in Chapter 20:19 – “Good. But there will be peace and security in my lifetime.” In other words, he’s okay, says “Fine. I don’t care. It’s not going to be while I’m alive.”
And this is what I consider to be the smiles of self interest. I’ve got my life, I’ve got my kingdom. I’ve got my comfort. I don’t care about anyone else.
One writer calls this a wretched response. Another one says it was spectacular cynicism, but I want you to see that this, therefore is another strand of evil which runs through Hezekiah’s heart and the evil goes like this – as long as I’m okay. This also runs through the human heart. It runs through my heart, and I dare to say it runs through your heart as well.
It’s not just the heresy that ‘God owes me good things’, but it’s this deeply self-centered interest in ourselves. As long as I am okay and I wonder whether you recognise that’s very real for you as it is for me.
When we were at Sunday school in the past, we would learn that sin could be spelled with a big ‘I’ in the middle. How do you explain sin? It’s the big ‘I’ in the middle. I am the centre of my universe. I am owed better by God. I should be allowed every tree in the garden. I deserve an easier path. I don’t really care about other people as long as I am happy. Is that disease capable of infecting the church? Absolutely.
Because we come into the church, don’t we? As people who know the state of our hearts, at least we know something of the state of our hearts, and that’s why we’re so grateful for our Saviour. I hope there’s nobody here this morning who thinks that when you come into the church, you’re coming into a group of people who think they’re pretty great I mean, if there’s anybody who thinks like that, you’ve just missed the point. You’ve missed the truth. No, no, it’s because we look into our own hearts and we see the sin and the evil that is there. And then we look up and see the grace and forgiveness of Christ that we’re able to be honest about ourselves and joyful about him.
So this window into Hezekiah, which is a bit of a shock, is really a window into me, and it’s a window into you. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that the lines separating good and evil passes not through states or nor between classes nor between political parties, but through every human heart.
But my dear friends, there is one heart in the universe, and I hope you know this that does not have a trace of sinful self interest. And that is the heart of God himself. James, Chapter 1:17, says that he’s the Father of light and that there is no shadow in his heart and therefore it’s not just the goodness of God, which we should recognise, but it should also move us to repentance that we are not like Him and to seek his mercy.
We see that we are in need of His grace. We need His grace to forgive our sin and our attitude to sin. And we also need his grace to help us in the addiction that we have to ourselves.
The little child who’s always saying me, me, me grows up to be an adult who’s thinking me, me, me where Paul tells us in Romans 5 “The great news of the Gospel is that in his grace, Christ died for the ungodly to forgive. He proved his love, and Paul also tells us in Romans 5 that to make us new God’s love is poured into our hearts.
The believer has the Holy Spirit and the love of God in their heart, so that they have a brand new help to change from self interest to interest in God himself and other people. We don’t become perfect, but he makes us new.
So I finish my friends by just simply saying to you that we can be disappointed with God if we take our eyes off his grace. But if we put our eyes on his grace will not be so easily disappointed.
We can also be stuck in self interest unless we welcome his grace into our hearts. If we have never welcomed his grace into our hearts, we will be stuck in self interest. But if we have welcomed his grace, his Son into our hearts, then we have help in dealing with our self interest. And we need this transforming grace.
Jesus has plentiful grace and sufficient grace for me and for you. Let’s thank him. Let’s bow our heads.
Our Father. We thank you for giving to us in these verses a painful window into ourselves as we see in this man our sins and attitudes which we have ourselves an easy disappointment, as if we deserve better and a self interest which blocks and wrecks so much of our life. But we are deeply thankful to you that actually, truthfully, factually, you’re a God who is gracious, and we pray that you would help us to see our lives on the backdrop of your grace which has been proven in Christ. And we also pray that the grace of Christ would enter and fill our hearts so that there would be an answer to our self interest and that we would be marked by love for you and love for people. We thank you for our Saviour. We thank you for his plentiful and sufficient grace in his name.