May 20, 2019

Easter 4 - Isaiah 38:9-20

It’s About Time!
1. A Cry for Deliverance
2. A Lesson for Life

Isaiah 38:9-20 A poem by Hezekiah king of Judah after he had been sick and had recovered from his illness: 10 I said: In the prime of my life I must go to the gates of Sheol; I am deprived of the rest of my years. 11 I said: I will never see the LORD, the LORD in the land of the living; I will not look on humanity any longer with the inhabitants of what is passing away. 12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me like a shepherd's tent. I have rolled up my life like a weaver; He cuts me off from the loom. You make an end of me from day until night. 13 I thought until the morning: He will break all my bones like a lion; You make an end of me day and night. 14 I chirp like a swallow or a crane; I moan like a dove. My eyes grow weak looking upward. Lord, I am oppressed; support me. 15 What can I say? He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done it. I walk along slowly all my years because of the bitterness of my soul, 16 Lord, because of these promises people live, and in all of them is the life of my spirit as well; You have restored me to health and let me live. 17 Indeed, it was for my own welfare that I had such great bitterness; but Your love has delivered me from the Pit of destruction, for You have thrown all my sins behind Your back. 18 For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. 19 The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today; a father will make Your faithfulness known to children. 20 The LORD will save me; we will play stringed instruments all the days of our lives at the house of the LORD.

Last weekend we studied a message from Isaiah chapter 40 about waiting upon the LORD. We saw how faith trusts in the LORD’s power and grace and waits for Him to act in our lives. Today, our lesson from God’s Word is very similar, especially since it comes just two chapters before in Isaiah. But the situation it describes is very unique and different.

Most of what you’ll find about King Hezekiah in the Bible comes from the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Hezekiah was a king over the two southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah. He was a godly king. We’re told that he followed God faithfully. And Hezekiah needed God because he was tested greatly and, despite his faithfulness, he wasn’t perfect. Even though we’re not kings, and our generation is far distant from Hezekiah’s, these two things are true of our lives also. We’re tested and we’re far from perfect. Therefore, we have much to learn today as we consider the thought – “It’s About Time!” A cry for deliverance and a lesson for life. 

Hezekiah had a tumultuous life to say the least. If you ever feel like God is being unfair to you, I encourage you to read about Hezekiah. As the king of Judah, he was responsible for protecting his people from devastation and upheaval at the hands of the mighty Assyrian empire. About 15 years before these events, the Assyrians had defeated the 10 northern tribes of Israel. Soon after, they pressed south at the last two tribes which formed the nation of Judah. The Assyrians surrounded the city and set a siege to starve the people out. Hezekiah prayed to the LORD for deliverance and the Assyrian army was destroyed in one night by an angel from God.

One might expect joy or relief after this event, at the very least a period of peace, but in the very next verse Isaiah was sent to tell Hezekiah: “Thus says the LORD, Set your house in order, for you shall die (2 Kings 20:1).” We’re not told why the LORD gave this message. We’re not told what Hezekiah would die from. All we know is that, once again, Hezekiah prayed for deliverance; and, once again, the LORD delivered him. The LORD said that Hezekiah would live another 15 years.
What we have before us today are the thoughts that went through Hezekiah’s mind as he received this response from God. In beautifully detailed writing, Hezekiah paints a picture of the ups and downs of faith. In many ways we hear the cry, “It’s about time!” as Hezekiah so desperately seeks relief from God – knowing that his times and his life are in God’s hands.

The thoughts surrounding Hezekiah’s anguish can really be summed up in something David wrote in Psalm 31. He said to the LORD, “My times are in Your hand.” When Isaiah pronounced that Hezekiah was going to die, Hezekiah had to come to grips with the reality that the LORD was in control. Even if we’re not on death’s doorstep, the same thing applies in our lives. Paul would conclude a similar thought in Romans, “Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's” (Rom 14:8 NKJ)

This is an important realization to come to as a believer. So often, it’s easy to think that God’s late in our lives. We get frustrated when He doesn’t act when we think He should. Consider, again, the theme of waiting by faith which we explored last weekend. The cry of desperation when we see the LORD’s answer often becomes, “It’s about time, God!” as if He’s late or sluggish in His dealings with us.

The thing is, while the LORD constructed time in His infinite power, it’s something that He is above. God is eternal. Therefore, He can never be late because He always is. Lateness can only apply to a creature who is bound by time. So, David says, “My times are in Your hand.” The LORD is always present and always attentive. Even in the most dangerous of settings, when life and death are on the line, God is present. And when He chooses to act, we know it’s the best moment. As the one who oversees all time, God knows when the best moment is for your life.

The cry of desperation comes forth because this is a difficult thing to go through. While we know that something good lies up ahead in any tragedy, because God promises it to be so, we can’t see it immediately. Hezekiah reflected upon this even after He received deliverance from the LORD. Hezekiah describes his life as fragile thread in the weaver’s control, like a fleeting shepherd’s tent that is pitched in one moment and uprooted the next, like a chattering bird who cries out in need. The struggle is so real that Hezekiah even depicts himself as a lion’s victim when faced with his lack of control in the face of God’s plan.

But Hezekiah records these descriptions for more than just portraying His struggle. He wants to remember. Hezekiah wants to remember what the bitterness and anguish feel like and he wants to take that with him in the future. Consider what he writes in verse 17: “Indeed, it was for my own welfare that I had such great bitterness; but Your love has delivered me from the Pit of destruction, for You have thrown all my sins behind Your back.” In verse 15 he also remarked, “I walk along slowly all my years because of the bitterness of my soul.”

Part 2:

Hezekiah used the pain he felt to remind him of what the LORD had done. It was bitterness, but he would take it with him the rest of his days. It was agonizing to endure, but it was for his own well-being. Hezekiah speaks this with the clarity of faith, the 20/20 vision of being able to look back on a struggle and see the LORD’s hand in it. For the believer, the bitterness becomes a reminder of grace. And this phenomenon of faith turns the desperate plea, “It’s about time,” into the gentle reminder, “It’s about time.”

That’s where the LORD led Hezekiah – to appreciate the time he was given on earth – whether it was his last day or whether he had 15 more years. As we might expect, Hezekiah came away from this situation with a new-found appreciation for his life. The LORD gave assurance of this promise in a sign that literally turned back time, as He made the sundial in Hezekiah’s palace reverse 10 degrees. But this event caused Hezekiah to think of much more than just himself – it brought him back to considering the LORD.

The fact that life is about time means more to the believer than just time to cross off more bucket list items or time to spend with family. It means time with the LORD. We call that our time of grace, and it’s a precious gift from God that we far too often take for granted. Hezekiah wrote, The LORD will save me; we will play stringed instruments all the days of our lives at the house of the LORD. Hezekiah thought of going to the house of the LORD not just to praise God, but to spend time with Him. Hezekiah realized once again what a wonderful gift that was. Sometimes, Christians forget that so God reminds them by taking the opportunity away. Sometimes, He takes our time with Him away, not because we’ve forgotten it, but to build another part of our faith that needs nourishment. Just as we need to remember that every moment of life, whether we live or die, is under God’s control; so also we need to remember that the LORD enriches our faith by the trial.

We can look back in history and see examples. The early Christians were threatened by the authorities, many to the point of death. They were threatened by false teachers, to the point of denying Christ. Through these things the LORD taught them that “It’s about time,” the time of grace with Him. And so, the early church defended the sacred books of the Bible. They developed statements of faith like the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. They took the message of Christ to countries and kingdoms where our ancestors came from. The entire time, the LORD was watching over His Church.

We know well of many of the Reformers from the 13, 14, and 1500s who staked reputation and life upon the Word of God. They lived by the same truth – “It’s about time with God” and they made the most of that life. Today, our church and our teachings benefit from their sacrifice. Less than 100 years ago, Lutherans in America were forced to decide between giving up on critical teachings such as the inerrancy of the Bible, God as Creator, and in some cases the very principles of grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone. Faithful Christians were once again called to remember that Life is about Time with God – the Time of Grace to spend in His Word with faithful obedience. Each generation of believers is called to this trial in different ways, to appreciate the time they have been given to witness of God’s love for sinners in His Son Jesus, and to appreciate that gift for themselves. Like Hezekiah, we can reflect with appreciation on this opportunity despite the accompanying bitterness and anguish.

Stacked against such odds, many would have thought that the Church of God would have fallen to the pages of history. Like Jerusalem surrounded by a host of Assyrian soldiers, many today mock believers as weak and on the brink of total loss. And yet we hold the line. Because what we seek to protect is also that which gives us strength. Hezekiah stated, “For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. 19 The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today; a father will make Your faithfulness known to children.”

700 some years after that statement, Hezekiah’s Savior would state similarly, "For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him." (Luk 20:38 NKJ) We rejoice in our Time with God – our time in His grace, we hold the line of His truth as given in His Word, because He is the God of the living, and living men and women praise His name. That blessing in our Risen Savior’s name is worth remembering, and worth cherishing. And by faith in Jesus, we can get past saying, “It’s about time God,” and we can humbly and cheerfully reflect, “It’s about time with my God – the living God for living believers. Amen.

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