Exeter Temple Message notes: Sunday 15th November 2015
Theme: Unsung hero - Hezekiah
Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 29:1-2; 32:1-8, 20-2
By the time Hezekiah took over from his father, the nation of Judah had had a run of extremely bad leadership. However in the midst of them there is Hezekiah whom the writer of Kings gives a glowing report.
"He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done... He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him" (2 Kings 18:3, 5).
Hezekiah was a reformer whose aim was to restore the people to right worship of the Lord. His name literally means "God is my strength,"
That was something that Hezekiah particularly needed to know because at the time many other kingdoms around Judah had fallen to Assyria the super power of the day. Israel, the northern kingdom had already been conquered and Judah was extremely vulnerable.
1. He had a clear goals
“Now I intend to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger may turn away from us”. (2 Chronicles 29:1)
He achieved this aim.
“So the service of the temple of the Lord was re-established.” (2 Chronicles 29:35)
This did not just happen “Without a vision the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
Hezekiah could have easily embarked on a strategy to rebuild the economy and the military and to strengthen the political base of a nation that was devastated. Instead he started at the temple and focussed on spiritual reformation.
Hezekiah’s father had nailed the doors to the temple shut but Hezekiah had opened them and commanded that the temple be cleaned and then used again for the worship of Yahweh. This would have been an external gesture if all that happened was the re-establishment of a program.
In addition he called the priests and the Levites to sanctify themselves. He called for the personal repentance and cleansing of each leader. There had to be a return to the personal holy living, honesty and integrity among them. We don’t like to face the fact that we might need to change but we can’t pray for change in the fortunes of the Corps unless we also pray for God to change us.
The temple was cleaned up, and re-consecrated for worship. The Bible, the imagery of sowing seeds, watering, feeding and waiting patiently for growth is an important aspect of Christian life but we should not confuse patience with lack of faith that God can work in a moment.
The imagery of a spark from a fire having an immediate transforming effect is just as biblical. Moses was a shepherd in the wilderness for years but when he encountered the burning bush he almost immediately returns to Egypt to fulfil his calling. Isaiah is instantly cleansed and empowered when an angel touches his lips with a burning coal. The disciples are changed when the fire of the Holy Spirit is poured out on them at Pentecost.
It is perfectly possible, in a moment of trust and surrender that our hearts can be changed. There needs to be process and progress but sometimes God is waiting for a yes from us so that He can immediately bring peace instead of despair, forgiveness where there was guilt, life where there was death, passion rather than indifference, boldness where there was fear, unity where there was strife.
2. He had an evangelists heart
Hezekiah did not just want the already religious to do their duty properly, he longed for all of his people to re-establish their relationship to God. He knew that the best way to do that was to remind people of what God had already done for them. A great way of doing that was to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. If they remembered the story of how God had loved them, and shown His mercy and grace toward them then that would awaken their desire to return to Him.
That is not a bad strategy for evangelism. People often assume we have to explain complicated theology but there is great value in simply telling the story of what God has done through Jesus and sharing our testimony.
“Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh inviting them to come to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel”. (2 Chronicles 30:1)
He mobilised couriers to carry the message widely, to every border. At this time the people of God were divided into two nations, Israel and Judah and relationships had not been good. Prejudice had grown up between north and south. Hezekiah could have assumed that the people of the northern kingdom were just not interested, were just too bad or just too proud to respond to his invitation. But he made no assumptions.
He did get a lukewarm response and ridicule from some. There will always be opposition to the good news. But some did respond and after a slow start, the first Passover Celebration, was a great success and triggered a turning back to God. It was the combination of passion and action that was instrumental in the reform going to go beyond the doors of the temple and out into the world.
3. He was a man of prayer
“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah.” (2 Chronicles 32:1)
Faithfulness does not mean an end to trouble. In fact it will often lead to suffering. Jesus told His disciples that they would suffer because of Him.
The Assyrians threatened to destroy everything that Hezekiah had achieved. Hezekiah was able to hold the threat back by paying tributes and taxes to Assyria but before long the cities of little Judah were under attack. Hezekiah did what he could do to protect his people. He built up the cities walls, he made sure that there was a safe water supply for Jerusalem that meant the people could withstand a siege, he used all his powers of argument to keep the people holding on but there came a point where he had done all that he could do. Sennacherib also engaged in psychological warfare through a threatening letter which insulted both God and Hezekiah.
So many of Hezekiah’s forefathers had opposed the prophets of God but in response to desperate need Hezekiah partnered with the prophet Isaiah and together, they cried out in prayer to heaven.
“King Hezekiah and the prophet, Isaiah, son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this.” (2 Chronicles 32: 20)
We do believe that prayer works when we are desperate but often our problem is more that we don’t realize how desperate our need is.
The Holy Spirit challenged the church at Laodicea was challenged with these words. “You say “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing, but your do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)
The desperate, unified prayers of Hezekiah and Isaiah accomplished what seemed impossible from a human perspective. It is when we recognised that we are empty, that God is able to act and fill us.
After interceding and crying to heaven, God spoke and Isaiah received this word from the Lord that Sennacherib of Assyria would defeated. (Isaiah 37:28-29)
What Isaiah prophesied happened. An epidemic swept through the Assyrian camp, and overnight they left Judah and returned back to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.
Hezekiah was good news for his people and for his generation. The words associated with him are revival, vision, passion, trust and prayer. Those are words that we hope are synonymous with each of us.
Hezekiah’s secret was that “He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him.”
(2 Kings 18:6)