Facing the Times – In the middle of a crisis

                               Sunday 26 April 2020  

Ps Ben Hooman

Thank you again for welcoming me into your homes this day. What an honour to share the Word of God with you. May God enrich our understanding as we open our hearts and minds to receive the truth this morning.

Our core Scripture is out of Isaiah 38:9-14.

In Isaiah 38 we read the remarkable true story of a Godly king by the name of Hezekiah who faced an unexpected and unknown crisis:

“In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death”. (Isaiah 38:1)

We saw that the very first response of king Hezekiah in facing this crisis was to turn to God in prayer:

“Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord”. (Isaiah 38:2)

This story has a very encouraging and joyful ending in that the Lord heard the king’s prayer and wonderfully healed him. From this we learned a very important principle that speaks to us today:

God is sovereign in all things and His sovereignty includes the prayers of His people.

Last week we looked at how God answered Hezekiah’s prayer.

“Now Isaiah had said, ‘Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover.” (Isaiah 38:21)

We saw by this that God normally uses means but there are also some things that only God can do.

Only God can forgive sins, only God can change the heart, only God can raise the dead. Jesus was crucified and died, buried but on the third day God raised Him up from the dead, and because He lives, we will live also.

There are things only God can do, but normally He use means. This is a really important principle, also in the crisis we are facing these days. A new virus is sweeping across the world with severe consequences.

What should we do? We should pray! But we should also use whatever means are available to restrain the progress of the virus. God also works through means, so we should wash our hands, stay at home and practice social distancing. As we do these things, we pray that God will also use these things as means in His kindness and grace to slow and restrain the virus.

That is where we got to in this incredible chapter of Isaiah 38. We looked at the beginning of it and at the end. But what was it like in the middle? Although God restored king Hezekiah, what was it like in the middle of this unexpected crisis?

Today we are going to look at the experience of a Godly man as he waits for God’s deliverance from the crisis. When the crisis first hit, the initial experience was one of shock. At the end of the crisis it was one of hope and gratitude. But what was it like in the middle of it all?

The word that sums up Hezekiah’s experience as he went through this unexpected and unknown crisis, is the word “distress” or “anguish”.

That is what it was like for him and again it speaks to us to where we find ourselves today. We came through the shock of our lives being disrupted and we have affirmed our hope and our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But right now, many begin to experience anguish and distress, especially as we see the increase in infections, the many people may not get an income, and the worst still to come in the weeks ahead.

We need to be prepared and therefore God’s Word is speaking directly to where we find ourselves in the middle of this crisis.

Let us look at the core Scripture in what God says to us today in Isaiah 38:9-14.

“A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:” (Isaiah 38:9)

Then follow the words that are a reflection of his experience after he had recovered. He is writing his inside story of his experience during this crisis. He tells us what he felt, what he feared and we are going to focus on these things as it relates directly to us in these unknown times.

1. He felt three things:

He felt fragile

“My dwelling is plugged up and removed from me like a shepherd’s tent; like a weaver I have rolled up my life; He cuts me off from the loom; from day to night you bring me to an end;” (Isaiah 38:12)

Remember this is a king, he has authority and power, influence and wealth, a life filled with plans, living in a palace. But when the unexpected crisis comes, he feels fragile. He lives in a palace but his own body feels like a tent, fragile and easily taken down.

Is this how you feel today? Our lives are fragile, in fact the whole world is fragile. Everything the world lives for has been disrupted, been put on hold by a tiny virus. That is how fragile the world is!

Therefore, the question: are you feeling fragile? That is part of the anguish that comes in unexpected and unknown times.

Hezekiah then tell us the second thing he felt:

He felt anxious

“I calmed myself until the morning; like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day to night You bring me to an end.” (Isaiah 38:13)

Does this crisis keep some awake at night? I take this verse to mean that the king spent the whole night calming himself down. At the loneliness of night, it seems to be always more challenging and it gripped the king as well as he says: “I calmed myself until morning, I find my mind was racing and difficult to achieve a sense of peace. Anxiety was gripping me”.

Here is a Godly man in his bed finding it hard to sleep. Hours are creeping past and his mind will not come to rest. We will look at why he was so anxious a bit later, but for now we need to notice that anxiety was the experience of a Godly king.

This man walked closely with God. The Bible says that there was never a greater earthly king before or after him, no king more pleasing to God than king Hezekiah. A Godly king that was anxious!

Well, anxiety is part of the anguish that comes with an unexpected and unknown crisis.

Then Hezekiah tells us a third thing:

He was weary

“Like a swallow or a crane, I chirp; I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O’ Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!” (Isaiah 38:14)

Anyone who has been seriously ill knows that sickness is exhausting, but I want us to notice why the king was weary: “my eyes are weary with looking upward”. That can simply mean that he was tired of lying in his bed looking at the ceiling, but I believe there is something than that he is telling us here.

He must have been sick for a while before Isaiah came to visit him to tell him that he is going to die. During that time the king must have called upon the Lord waiting for an answer and he was tired waiting.

Maybe there is a specific prayer you are bringing to the Lord for many years, something that is a desire of the heart. You are waiting for an answer and are tired of waiting also saying: my eyes are weary with looking upward, how long O’ Lord?

Are you feeling weary today? Being weary is part of the anguish that comes within an unexpected crisis.

If we are all together today; I wish that could have been, I would have asked: Is there anyone in the congregation who is feeling a sense of being fragile or anxious or weary, I am sure that what Hezekiah describes here, is getting at what we are feeling in these days with an unknown virus that is with us.

You might think to yourself: Wait but I am a believer and I shouldn’t be feeling like this at all for Philippians 4:6 says to us not to be anxious. The Bible records that this Godly king who walked closely with God, in an unexpected crisis felt fragile, and anxious and weary.

This is not a failure of your faith, but simply the reality of our humanity.

Secondly, he also tells us three things that he feared.

2. He feared three things

Separation from his loved ones

“I said, I shall not see the Lord, the Lord in the land of the living; I shall look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world” (Isaiah 38:11)

Notice what king Hezekiah is saying: I shall not see the Lord in the land of the living. He knows that he will see the Lord in the world to come but might no longer meet the Lord as he has done in the past going up to the temple of the Lord with God’s people.

When we worship together, we behold the beauty of the Lord:

“So, I looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory” (Psalm 63:2)

So, when we worship, we anticipate by faith what we will one day enjoy by sight. Behold, the very face of God!

That is why the king could say with all who were Godly then, and also today: I was glad when they said to me ‘Let us go up to the house of the Lord’. This king was a Godly man and he loved gathering with God’s people, beholding the face of God in worship.

The thought that he will no longer be able to do that, no longer be able to worship with the people of God, was hard for him to bear. He said: “if my days are done, I will no longer be able to go to the temple. I shall look on man no more among the habitants of the world”.

It speaks so directly to the situation we are in today. We miss seeing one another, miss being together, miss worshipping God together at church.

But Hezekiah is not dealing with the inconvenience of a temporary shutdown, he is at the point of death and fears leaving his loved ones. For him it is to soon to say goodbye to the people that he loves. He is a Godly man and ahead of him is an eternal and joyful life, but still really finds it hard to depart from the ones he loves.

Apostle Paul speaks of man called Epaphroditus calling him a brother, a fellow worker and fellow soldier, a messenger and minister to his need.

“Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.” (Philippians 2:27,28)

That is love speaking! Paul knew that if his friend dies, he will be with the Lord but he will have sorrow upon sorrow. That is what Hezekiah feared; “I shall look at man no more”.

Some of us know this anguish, not ready to say goodbye to the ones we love. The Lord has taken home someone you dearly love and you miss them, more so in these days of isolation.

Value your loved ones, love those God has placed in your life and don’t take them for granted. Love them well whilst you can and cherish the gifts of God in your life.

We looking at what this king feared when facing unexpected times of crisis. He feared being separated from the people he loved. And then he thought about his own life and feared being cut off.

Being cut off

“I said in the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years. My dwelling is plugged up and removed from me like a shepherd’s tent; like a weaver I rolled up my life; He cuts me off from the loom; from day to night You bring me to an end”. (Isaiah 38:10,12)

See this picture, Hezekiah is talking about his body as a fragile structure, but now he speaks about his whole life as being like fabric woven on a weaver’s loom.

The threats of your life woven together by Almighty God! Some of these threats are of a bright colour, some of them of darker colours. Together God weaves all the experiences of all the days of your life and there it is woven on a loom. Then one day the weaver comes and cuts the fabric off the loom.

It is done! “He cuts me off from the loom” and your life on earth is over. That is what Hezekiah fears. He says it happens so quickly. “From day to night you bring me to an end”.

An unexpected crisis has brought this man’s life to a grinding halt. Hezekiah became sick and suddenly everything changed and he is not even an old man. He says: “in the middle of my days”.

As we all do, the king assumed to live a long life. He suddenly finds not having many years left and he is in anguish. So many things he still wanted to do, so many good intentions.

Family and friends, let us take this to heart today:

You do not have forever to do what God calls you to do. Seize the day, make most of every opportunity that you have. Redeem the time for it is given to us by God. We must work the works of the One who sent us while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as we are in this world, we are the light, we are Christ to a lost world.

Nothing is more important to use the time now in this world to prepare for the world to come! Use your time for your arrival in the next.

What did Hezekiah fear as he went through this crisis? He feared being separated from loved ones and he feared being cut off and not being able to add anything further to his life.

And then he feared one more thing, that what he fears the most.

God might be against him

“I calmed myself until the morning; like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day to night You bring me to an end” (Isaiah 38:13)

See this picture: The king is lying in his bed at night and he feels as if he is mauled by a lion and that this lion might be Almighty God. Why will a Godly king fears that God might be against him?

The answer is this: A Godly man knows that even at his best, he falls far short from what God has called him to be and to do.

I am so thankful for the honesty of these verses speaking to reality. Hezekiah does not come out of his crisis saying: O, I got to the point of death and I prayed and God miraculously healed me. No, he tells us the inside story, what he experienced, ploughing through the anguish of this unexpected crisis.

He tells us that he felt fragile, that he was anxious and weary. He feared being separated from his loved ones, his life being cut off and what he feared most of all that God might be against him.

This is teaching us something that is extremely important to us today: Believers also experience anguish.

This was the experience of king Hezekiah, a Godly man that walked closely to God. Another example is the apostle Paul.

“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fearing within.” (2 Corinthians 7:5)

If the apostle Paul knew what it was to find no rest for his body, couldn’t settle and establish peace with his own heart and mind, and struggles as fear rises up, how much more we will also feel and fear.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour? But for this purpose, I have come to this hour”. (John 12:27)

Even our Lord Jesus Christ said that His soul is troubled. At the last supper Jesus was troubled in His spirit and when He entered the garden of Getsemane He said His soul is overwhelmed with sorrow.

Is that what you feel today as we face these unknown times? If Jesus our Lord knew what it was for His soul to be overwhelmed with sorrow, so do we. Let us settle this in our minds and in our hearts so we are not caught by surprise in the middle of a crisis. It is clear that believers can experience anguish!

What are we to do if we experience what Hezekiah experienced?

We have council and we have hope even in the middle of this unexpected crisis today. Here is what I want to share with you:

Let your anguish lead you to Jesus Christ!

When you fear being separated from loved ones, let your anguish lead you to Jesus. He knows what it is to be separated from your loved ones. At the last supper He said to His disciples that He will not again drink from the fruit of this vine until the day He drink it with them in His Father’s Kingdom. The Scripture says they sung a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. It was the beginning of Jesus being taken from His friends.

Jesus knows what it is to be separated from loved ones. No one has ever loved with a more perfect love than our Lord Jesus Christ. At the cross He trusted the care of his mother into the hands of John.

For many of us in these times the greatest distress is to not being able to be with the ones. But, when you are separated from your loved ones, let your anguish lead you to Jesus!

We are also not able to help one other in the way we use to. Many pastors this day ask what we are to do. Our primary responsibility is to help people to know the Lord is our Shepherd. The sheep belong to God. When we go through the valley of the shadow of death, He will be with us.

The pastor’s function is not to have people looking at him but to help people to look at Jesus. Let the church not compete for popularity and space on media like Facebook and television like populists, but let people look unto the Lord Jesus Christ and not to you.

There is only one Person who can truly say: I will never leave or forsake you. Not a pastor; a brother or sister; a mother or father; or a friend, but only our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:1,4,5)

When you fear, and when you are separated from your loved ones, let your anguish leads you to Jesus.

When you fear being cut off, let your anguish leads you to Jesus.

Jesus knows what it is to be cut off.

“By oppression and judgment, He was taken away; as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living.” (Isaiah 53:8)

Our Lord Jesus died at the age of 33. He could say with Hezekiah: In the middle of my days I must depart.

But here is the good news we celebrate today and every other day: Death could not keep hold of our Lord Jesus Christ! On the third day He rose from the grave!

For those who trust in Him, death; whenever it comes will only be an immediate translation into His presence. The blood of our Lord Jesus had redeemed us that we may have everlasting life.

 Although cut off from loved ones now, nothing can separate us from the love of God. So, when you feel being cut off, let your anguish leads you to Jesus.

And finally, when you fear that God may be against you, let your anguish leads you to Jesus! If God is against you, what chance do you have? None at all. Thank the Lord that God is for us, a love so great that He gave His only Son to die for us so we can be reconciled with Him.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

I want to say to any one who is still resisting the claim of Jesus Christ upon your life: what are you doing? What are you thinking about? You, yes you, resisting Almighty God! What change do you possibly have?

Listen to the good news of the Gospel for God is ready for you to be reconciled to Him today. When Jesus suffered and died for us on the cross, the hand of God was against Him!

When He bore our sins, He was cut off even from the comfort of His Father’s love. That is why He cried out with a loud voice: My God, My God why have you forsaken Me! He was forsaken so that you can be welcomed. He was condemned so that you could be forgiven. He was cast out so that you could be brought in. Yes, He died so that you might live!

If you fear that God may be against you, let your anguish lead you to Jesus!

In Jesus Christ God is for us, and if God is for us who can be against us. He that did not spare His own Son, how will He not graciously give us what we need?

Let us pray:

Our Father in heaven, we pray that the great reality of our lives in this crisis, whatever we endure, leads us closer to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Thank you for all that He means to us and to all of His people in every circumstance of life. Father, as the anguish of these days is very real, grant that we may cling to our Saviour. Help us to know that whatever we need to face these days are in Him. Lord, we also pray for those we love and for many others who do not yet know our Lord Jesus Christ. May they in their anguish, by Your mercy and by Your grace, be led to our Lord Jesus Christ. In His wonderful Name we pray. Amen.

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