God's Purpose in Illness and Healing (Isaiah Sermon 43 of 81)
February 24, 2013 | Andy Davis
Pastor Andy Davis preaches a verse-by-verse expository sermon on 38:1-22. The main subject of the sermon is God's purpose in sickness and restoration of health.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Someday, maybe soon for some of you, maybe a little bit further distant for others, you are going to be in a bed of pain, or you're gonna be sitting in a chair alongside a loved one who's in a bed of pain, and as you go through that experience, your faith is going to be assaulted by the Devil. He's gonna try to convince you that God no longer loves you because he's not listening to your prayers for healing. My purpose today is to strengthen you for that fight. I wanna get you ready so that your faith may actually flourish in that time, because it's not just possible, but it's absolutely certain that if the Lord doesn't return in our lifetime, we are going to die. And it's going to be some disease or some injury that's going to take us out of this world, that's a guarantee, if we're not that mysterious final generation. And I believe the Lord means for his faith-filled people to face death unafraid with courage and with boldness, and I think it's only the ministry or the word that can get you ready for that time, and I wanna give that to you today, I wanna give you what you'll need to fight that good fight of faith, now, through the word of God, through Isaiah 38.
In some way, the events of Isaiah 38 are less dramatic, less spectacular than the events of Isaiah 37, the slaughter of 185,000 Assyrian troops, but I guarantee you're gonna fight this battle. You're not necessarily gonna fight that one, but you'll fight this one, and you'll either fight it alongside the bed of a loved one or you're gonna fight it yourself, and when you're laying there in that bed and you're feeling sensations you've never felt before, and you wonder if your time is drawing near and you feel that pain in your body, and perhaps at that particular moment, you're alone, loved ones have gone home to rest or whatever, and the room is darkened and you hear the sound of the machines that are doing their work to keep you alive, and you're just there with your thoughts. Oh, that your thoughts at that time would glorify God. Oh, that you would realize, it is for you that Christ came and he came to save you, body, soul and spirit, to save you completely. I wanna give you the strength that you need.
The Puritans call the sabbath the market day for the soul. So they picture your soul like a hungry person that needs food and nourishment in order to live. That's fine, but today, it's more the arsenal day for the soul, okay? I want to equip you with weapons, I wanna equip you with what you will need to fight the good fight of faith when Satan comes after you in that darkened hospital room and tries to tell you that God doesn't love you, and that God has abandoned you, and that you are forsaken because of this pain and because the healing hasn't come yet. I guarantee you, the healing will come. I guarantee it, based on the resurrected body of Jesus, I guarantee you that some day you'll be in a perfect body. You may have to go through physical death in order to get there, but I guarantee you, as James 5 said, “The Lord will raise him up.”
I. The Scourge of Sickness
And so we come in this chapter to the sick room of Hezekiah king of Judah, and here we see a mighty king, courageous, faithful to God, reduced in some condition to that of a quivering baby, facing the wall, crying and praying. Here we see the devastation of disease, a silent invisible internal enemy, not like the Assyrians outside the walls, but some kind of disease inside his body destroying life from within, but here also we see the almighty power of God in healing Hezekiah displaying his power over every disease and sickness that there is. Here we are led to ask the deepest questions of life: God's goodness in our pain and suffering, his purpose in it. Why does he allow it? Why even perhaps does he bring it? Is he really powerful enough to heal it, and if so, why doesn't he heal it every time?
Here we have the opportunity once again to lift our eyes from the history of the Bible to our own personal condition, and our own personal situation, our own personal questions, our own personal suffering, our personal fears and torments, the limits of our own personal faith, our own personal sins and how they accuse us at those times, and ultimately we are led to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” So ultimately, I believe all roads in the Bible lead to the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ. So ultimately, Isaiah 38 is going to bring us to Christ the healer, the savior of the world.
Now, in Adam, we are told, scripturally, all sinned, and in Adam all die. Thus it's told to us in Romans 5:12, “Just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” We sinned in Adam and then we die in Adam, 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Sickness and injury, pain and suffering are part of the Adamic curse, the curse we have in Adam. So in this chapter, we come face-to-face with the issue of sickness and by extension injury, the problem of illness, of disease, of pain and suffering. Now, we live in a world of injury and disease, of pain and suffering, we know that, and you know it more and more as you get older and older. When you're younger, you're not so aware of it, but as you get older and older and you make many many trips to the hospital to visit loved ones or for your own sake, you will know, and you do know that this is a world of pain and injury, and sorrow and suffering.
"Sickness and injury, pain and suffering are part of the Adamic curse, the curse we have in Adam. So in this chapter, we come face-to-face with the issue of sickness and by extension injury, the problem of illness, of disease, of pain and suffering."
And sickness and pain assault every category of persons on the face of the earth. High and mighty alike like King Hezekiah, down to the lowest of the low, down to orphans in poor countries, sickness and disease and pain hits the body. Now the body was made, it was crafted for the glory of God. It says in Psalm 139:14, “I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, marvelously made, but there is no part of the body, there is no bodily organ, there is no bodily system or function that is immune to disease and pain and suffering. None are exempted, every part of the body is subject to its own set of diseases and injuries, and it's astonishing the variety and misery of sicknesses and injuries worldwide. The World Health Organization categorized in 2007, 12,420 possible diagnoses, 12,420 in the International Classification of Diseases, the ICD. Talking to Walter Lee this morning, he said, there are more now. They keep adding to them all the time. Oh, please stop! Twelve thousand is enough, don't you think? But several more thousand have been added.
Now I know they mean well, they really do. They really want to diagnose these things so that they can be healed, but I tell you there's only one healing to all 12,420, and that's the shed blood of Christ, the resurrected body of Christ, that's it. And Jesus alone can heal from all of these, but in the International Classification of Diseases, there are 17 major categories such as infectious and parasitic diseases like malaria; neoplasms, I didn't know that word, but that's tumors that grow, new tissues that grow like a cancerous tumor, possibly Hezekiah had something like that; diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs like leukemia; diseases of the immune system, like AIDS; diseases of the nervous system, and sense organs like MS or migraine headaches or blindness; injuries and poisoning, all different kinds of diagnoses.
So our sin-cursed planet is a seething cauldron of disease and injury and pain and torment, and it's hard to even imagine the ears of the Lord as these cries for healing go up to him. It says in James, “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” Well, the same is true of the cries of those suffering this kind of pain. God hears it, he hears it all, said to Hezekiah, “I have seen your tears, and I've heard your prayer. I hear you. I know that you're suffering.” It staggers my imagination to think of all that God is listening to at every moment, and Christ is, as I said, the only cure. Isaiah 53:5, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” The physical healing of both the body and the soul are part of the atonement of Christ. They're both included.
Christ in his time on earth, healed every disease and sickness imaginable among the people, but he beautifully in Matthew 9:6-7, linked his healing of the body to the forgiveness of sins, that he also has the power to do, the healing of the soul. He linked the two together. You remember the paralyzed man. They made an opening in the roof and lowered him down, and Jesus looked at that man in his paralysis, and without having healed his body, he solved his real problem, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” We cannot measure the value of those words spoken by Jesus the savior. Of course, the people who heard him say it were offended, "Only God has the power to forgive sins. Who is this man who speaks like this? This blasphemy!" Jesus knew their thoughts and said, "Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Rise and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins…he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Rise and walk.’ And the man got up and went home.” And so Jesus linked the two, the physical healing of the body, the forgiveness of the soul, of the sins, linked together, and they are both included in the work of Christ. So that's by way of introduction.
II. Hezekiah’s Misery and Prayer (vs. 1-3)
Let's look at Hezekiah's own condition, and we begin in verses 1-3 with Hezekiah's misery and his prayer. Isaiah 38:1, “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death.” It seems to have been, as I said, some kind of boil or disease, producing an outbreak on the skin, maybe a tumor, don't know for sure. Verse 21 speaks of a boil of some sort. In any case, it was a very serious condition, and Hezekiah was, it says, at the point of death. Now, it may be that he sought from Isaiah a prognosis, a prediction. “Where is this heading? Where am I going? Am I going to be healed or not?” It doesn't say that he did, but Isaiah son of Amoz, the prophet, came and gave it to him anyway. He said to him, "This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." Well, this was the very news that Hezekiah was fearing, this is what he was afraid of, and as soon as he heard it, he was filled with grief, but consider, I would urge you, carefully the words that Isaiah said, "Put your house in order because you're going to die." Those words have pressed on my heart, that and verse 17, I think are the two takeaways for me. Verse 17, “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered this affliction.” I think theologically, these are the two great takeaways from Isaiah 38.
"Put your house in order because you are going to die." What does that mean to you? What do those words mean to you? And I'll hit it again at the end of the sermon, but I'll just say it now. You're going to die, so get ready for it. Let it not come to you as some surprise or some shock. Don't think I never thought this would happen to me. Don't be surprised when pain and suffering come on you. It's going to happen. It is appointed unto each one of us to die, and after that to face judgment. I'm not pitting Hebrews 9:27 against 1 Corinthians 15, which says, “Lo, I tell you a mystery, we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” I'm aware of that verse, but if the Lord does not return in our lifetime, you will die, and so this is the prophetic word to you. You may feel very healthy right now, you may be young in the prime of your life. I'm telling you, if we are not the final generation, you will die. An injury or a disease will take you out, and so these words speak right to my heart, “Put your house in order.”
"You may feel very healthy right now, you may be young in the prime of your life. I'm telling you, if we are not the final generation, you will die."
What does that mean? Well, to Hezekiah, it meant, get everything ready in your house, give orders to your house. The Hebrew word is strong in terms of give charge to your house, set it in order, put it in a good arrangement. For a king, especially, this meant choose a successor and get him ready. The problem was, there's no biblical indication that Hezekiah had a son at this point, so I don't know how he would have heard that. For any person, it means making sure that there's no unfinished business in your life, no unconfessed sins toward God, there's no unforgiveness or broken relationships horizontally, there's no broken promises. Nothing left undone. Put your house in order. Bring order out of chaos. This is the work of life. Do the works while you can, while you have strength to do them. Put your house in order; you don't have much time left. You may think you have decades left, you may, but even decades will pass like a mist in the morning. So put your house in order, you're going to die.
Well, Hezekiah, having heard this word, he turns his face to the wall and he's filled with grief and misery. Look at verses 2-3, “He turned of his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, ‘Remember, O Lord, how I've walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly.” He doesn't accept this word from Isaiah, doesn't accept it. He reacts with great misery and sorrow as though there could possibly be no joy beyond death. The turning of the face to the wall and the weeping bitterly is not a good sign. Wicked king Ahab, King of Samaria, did the same thing when Naboth refused to sell him his vineyard, as you remember, and then there was the ungodly son of David, Amnon, who was filled with lust for his half-sister Tamar, and did the same thing, turned his face to the wall and cried and moaned. Hezekiah is doing the same thing here, lying on his bed, sulking, face to the wall, not accepting, struggling, but he is essentially different than these other two ungodly ones. He turns his face to the wall, yes, but he prays. He prays to God. It's the best thing that he could have done.
Now, the basis of his prayer, a bit shallow. How would you summarize it? “Remember God, how good I am. And all the good things that I've done.” Friends, can I just urge you, don't do that if it's you that's on the sick bed. Don't turn and say, "Remember how awesome I've been in your service, and don't you want that awesomeness to continue?" That's really not the point. Hezekiah had been faithful, he had walked with the Lord in whole-hearted devotion, the Scripture testifies to that. He'd been faithful in religious revival, getting rid of the high placesc, hallenging the King of Assyria, he was a man of faith, and the Scripture testifies to that, but the more faith you know, the more you know, you don't pray like this. Amen? Because you're just aware, as David said, "My sins are more numerous than the hairs of my head." And you just know that you have a sense of that sinfulness, that corruption, and that's not gonna be the basis of your prayer at that time.
And Hezekiah... I think, I sense here, I don't know for sure, but I sense a sense of injustice here. Do you sense that? "God, this is how you treat your servants?" As someone said, "If this is how God treats his friends, no wonder he has so few of them." Well, that's disrespectful. God only treats his friends, those who have been reconciled to him through faith in Christ, with lavish grace and blessing, even through sickness and even through death, still grace and blessing, lavish. But there's a sense of, "This isn't fair, God. This isn't what I expected when I serve you. I've served you well, and this is how you're treating me?" What a contrast, I think, with the apostle Paul in Philippians 1, and I wanna commend to you the apostle Paul's attitude in Philippians 1:20-24 as the best attitude you can possibly have toward life and death. There is no better attitude than this. The goal of your sanctification in this area, where we're heading toward in this sermon is to get to this point where you can say these things. Paul's wrestling with his own future, doesn't know if he's going to be executed for Christ or not, doesn't know. Wrestling with that. And this is what he says, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." So Paul's number one goal is this: “I want Christ exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Now, if I'm to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I'm torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it's more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Convinced of this, he said, “I know that I will remain.” So friends, that's it. I am eager and excited to keep on living, so I can serve God's people to the glory of God. But I'm even more eager and excited to die, 'cause then I get to go be with Jesus. If you can get to that point where you could actually in a very healthy way, be torn between the two, then you have arrived at health in this area. Head toward that. Pray toward that. Point toward that.
III. God’s Promise of Healing…and Its Fulfillment (vs. 4-8, 21-22)
Now, in verses 4-8, God makes a promise of healing, and we see its fulfillment in verses 21-22 at the end of the chapter. “Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah,” verse 4-5, “‘Go and tell Hezekiah, “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer, seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.” So the word of the Lord comes to Hezekiah through Isaiah. This is a regular pattern in these chapters. Isaiah is God's official mouthpiece, and God speaks to Hezekiah through the prophet. It was God who spoke through Isaiah the warning of the sickness, and now he speaks the opposite word, a word of blessing and healing.
Now, God makes a promise to Hezekiah, sears him as a matter of fact. He identifies himself as “the Lord, the God of your father David.” God says he has heard Hezekiah's prayer and seen his tears. In Psalm 56:8, it seems that God collects our tears in a bottle. He always remembers them, he knows when we are weeping, he understands our pain, he is there, he's compassionate. I really believe, by the way, this was the point of Jesus's great sorrow, right before he raised Lazarus from the dead. It's his compassion for the sufferer. Martha and Mary at that time and throughout thousands of years ahead of history, all the times that his providence, his will would bring sorrow and sadness and grief and pain to his own people, he is compassionate with that, he weeps with those who weep, he feels it. He said, “I have heard your prayer, I've seen your tears.”
And then he makes some astonishing promises to Hezekiah, “I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.” Now, the first one's just interesting me because of its specificity. Suppose he had said, “I will add to your life. Praise God, you're gonna be healed, I'll add your life,” but he doesn't say that. “I will add fifteen years.” Now he has an unusual blessing that we usually don't get. I'm not sure we'd want it. Do you wanna know how many more years you have left? I don't. I'm just happy to leave that to God. Amen. “You have four more days. Use it well.” Oh, oh, don't tell me that. “You'll be paralyzed.” Better not to know. You know how I know it's better not to know, because you don't know, and so God is good. But it's just unusual, he says, “I'm gonna add 15 years to your life.”
And he says, “I'm gonna defend the this city from the king of Assyria.” Now, some people think that statement proves that the events of this chapter actually precede the events of chapters 36-37. A lot of scholars think that, but I don't think it's necessary. I think that the king of Assyria was still a threat even after he lost 185,000. You could think he was gonna go back, raise another army and come back five years later, and he says, "Well, whether he does or he doesn't, it doesn't matter because I'm gonna defend this city from the king of Assyria." So I take it in just the order it's written, 36, then 37, then 38, 39.
So what was God's sign concerning the healing? Actually, that's the very thing Hezekiah had asked, “What will be the sign that I will go up to the temple of the Lord?” He wants a sign that he will be healed. Now in 2 Kings 20, where the same thing is covered, there's a little more information there, and apparently Isaiah and Hezekiah go back and forth. Say, "What shall I do?" "Tell you what, let's look at the shadow on the stairway of King Ahaz. Let's look at the shadow on that." "Okay, should I make it go ahead or should I make it go back?" So they go back and forth, and Hezekiah says, “Well, it's no big thing for it to go ahead, that's the way it usually goes. Make it go back 10 steps.” Very interesting, I think it's like a sundial, and if you're sitting there in the room, you could see as the day progressed as the sunlight went across. Maybe you have a room like this in your house and it just moves across and more and more of the room gets in shadow as the sun progresses, and it's like a sundial, it's like a timekeeper, and in effect, “Just make it go backward, make time go backward.”
Now, you would not believe all of the speculation on this, there is on the internet. On and on they go. Christian astronomers at NASA have worked on this one. I just find it interesting as an engineer, it's like, “These are the missing hours that we had over the 5,000 years of history. We found the 24 hours, so why were you just looking for 24 hours, it has to do with significant figures and engineering, you just don't... We weren't missing just 24 hours, but we found it here in Isaiah 38.” Friends, look, I'm not saying God isn't able to make the earth revolve backward for a while or stand still or turn upside down and back again. God can do all of those things. One person said, “It's like the shekinah glory of God, and a moving star at the time of the birth of Jesus, that stopped over the house of Jesus, a moving star. And so there was a localized shed of light and darkness that God did just for Hezekiah.” Look, I think you can believe that too, and not think that God couldn't have stopped the earth or made it go backwards. Let's move on, shall we? In any case, there was a sign that came and Hezekiah was convinced that he would be healed.
Now, the question for me is not so much what happened with the shadow. The question is, how do you reconcile this statement with God's earlier statement, “Put your house in order because you are going to die; you will not recover”; and how do we harmonize that statement with, “I have heard your prayer”; and how then does the sovereign plan of God fit together with human responsibility and influence? How do we harmonize this with like, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Did you add 15 years to the book? How do we work this out? Well, friends, everything was known by God, ordained by God before one of them came to be. As we've said before, has it ever occurred to you that nothing has ever occurred to God? Things don't pop into God's mind. “Oh, yeah. Now you've prayed. Okay, well, in that case, etcetera.” It doesn't work like that. Everything was known by God before the foundation of the world, and I don't think he added anything to his book. He already knew that Hezekiah would weep and pray, what then?
The real problem is, how do you harmonize with the statement, “Out your house in order because you're going to die; you will not recover”? What do you do with that? Well, I think the best I can make of it is this, God never tells us the whole truth, it's just that everything he says is the truth. And so what he left off was, “Put your house in order because you're going to die; you will not recover… [Unless you pray to me, and if you pray, I'll answer the prayer and I'll extend it as far as you're concerned, 15 more years.]” It's the best I can make of it. If you want to tell me that God changed his mind, you're going to have other problems. If you're gonna tell me that God learned something new when Hezekiah prayed, you're going to have other problems. This is the best I can harmonize.
But at any rate, God healed him. How did He heal him? Well verse 21 implies a certain procedure, like a medical procedure, he said, "Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover." Now, God doesn't need the poultice, he doesn't need the figs, he doesn't need medicine, he doesn't need anything, but God frequently does use intermediate means like prayer, like tears, like the preaching of the gospel by missionaries, like medicine and medical skills by doctors. He can use them to achieve his ends. Like, for example, spit and mud wiped on a man born blind's eyes so that he then could see. God used that for some reason, and so he uses in the same way, some kind of poultice of figs smeared on the boil and he was healed. But we know that ultimately, it was the Lord who healed him.
IV. Hezekiah’s Thoughtful Praise (vs. 9-20)
Now, the rest of the chapter is a psalm of praise that Hezekiah wrote concerning all of these things. Verses 9-20, Hezekiah's thoughtful praise. He looks back on his suffering and looks back on God's power with new eyes, he's gone through this experience now, and he's thinking about it and reflecting back, and he writes a poem basically saying where he's been and what he's learned.
First, he recounts his bitterness concerning this whole thing, the bitterness he felt at the time, verses 10-14, “I said, ‘In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years?...I will not again [look or] see the Lord, the Lord, in the land of the living; no longer will I look on mankind, or be with those who now dwell in this world. Like a shepherd's tent my house has been pulled down and taken from me. Like a weaver I have rolled up my life, and he has cut me off from the loom; day and night you made an end of me. I waited patiently till dawn, but like a lion, he broke all my bones; day and night you made an end of me. I cried like a swift or thrush, I moaned like a morning dove. My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens. I am troubled; O Lord, come to my aid!’” So in these verses, Hezekiah bitterly feels that God is robbing him or taking from him the best of his years, he's stealing time from him. One of the hardest lessons of life is to understand that your days, your hours, your years are in the hand of God, that “in him you live and move and have your being,” Acts 17. Like God, like Daniel said to Belteshazzar, “You did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.” Like James teaches us to say, in James 4:15, “You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord's will, I will live.’” My life is in his hands, and he doesn't owe me another minute, he doesn't owe me another year. God can't rob something that already belonged to him and you belong to him, and he has the power and the right to do anything he wants with your days and with your body, because they belong to him.
Now, his deepest pain here is that he will not again see the Lord in the land of the living, and there's a bitterness aspect of this. “God is doing this to me. Has God become my enemy?” “Like a shepherd's tent my house has been pulled down and taken from me. Like a weaver, I've rolled up my life, and he has cut me off on the loom; day and night you made an end of me. I waited patiently till dawn, but like a lion he broke all my bones; day and night you made an end of me.” Verse 15, “He himself has done this.” “It is God who's doing this. In effect, God, you are killing me. Does that mean you don't love me? Is that what this means?”
Now, some people will tell us that God never does this kind of thing to anybody ever, the health and wealth people, the prosperity gospel people that tell you that God only means for you to be healthy and prosperous, and that God just would not do this to your body, ever. But that is false, it's not biblical, and it will rob you of genuine spiritual comfort when it's going on, you need to see God's hand in it and understand it. God does this. Everyone who dies, it's God that takes them out. Do you understand that? Everyone who dies. In Psalm 104, “When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.” Psalm 90:3, “You turn men back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, O sons of men.’” Isaiah 40:24, “No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and the whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.” God kills everyone that dies, he does. He could easily sustain their life, no matter how severe their injuries or their illnesses. He could easily heal them, it would be no problem for him to do it, and not only that, he is providentially in control of the circumstances that bring it about. This is something God does, and Hezekiah was right in all this. “You are doing this to me, God.” Maybe he was wrong in what it meant, but he was right, that God was doing it.
Now, for the wicked, it's an expression of God's wrath every day when he takes them out of this world. For the righteous, however, it's a display of his grace and mercy. None of those that God has taken out of the world would want a return trip. Amen. All of the righteous ones who are up in heaven praising God, free from death, mourning, crying and pain do not wanna come back. And so it says in Psalm 116, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” It is not hostile. He's not angry. He is loving you and caring for you.
Hezekiah cries out in grief in agony, cries “[verse 14] like a swift or thrush,” he moaned “like a mourning dove. My eyes grew weak as I looked toward the heavens. I'm troubled; O Lord, come to my aid!” He cries out to God, he's moaning, he's in pain, but now comes the lesson, verses 15-17, “I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul.” That's NIV. ESV and other translations have it a bit differently, but I think in the whole context, I really think the NIV has it right. “I will walk quietly for the rest of my life because I went through this bitterness,” I think is what he's getting at, “I'm gonna quiet myself because of what's happened here.” Verse 16, “Lord, by such things men live; and my spirit finds life in them too. You restored me to health and let me live.” And now here's the key, the second key, verse 17, “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.”
Hezekiah was humbled by all this, do you see it? Do you see how humbled he is by this process? His disease, his sickness, his pain humbled him. Anguish of soul produced humility of life. “By such things,” he says, “[godly] men live,” and Hezekiah says he's more alive now than ever before. “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered this anguish. I learned God's grace to a sinner like me.” At the beginning, he's saying, “Remember my whole-hearted devotion.” At the end, he's saying, “Surely…you put all of my sins behind your back.” He wasn't talking like that at the beginning; he was talking like that at the end.
"Hezekiah was humbled by all this, do you see it? Do you see how humbled he is by this process? His disease, his sickness, his pain humbled him. Anguish of soul produced humility of life."
Now, the ultimate problem he gets with in verses 18-19. “How can we praise you if we're dead? The dead don't praise you.” He says, “The grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living—they praise you, as I'm doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness.” This is a bit strange because in effect, Hezekiah is saying, “Don't you know that dead people can't praise you?” You know what I think Jesus would say to him at this particular one moment? “Hezekiah, you're absolutely right. But you don't understand where Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are right now.” You remember the Sadducees who denied the resurrection? What did they say? “Death is all there is. When you die, that's it. It's over.” Jesus said, “No, it's not. Haven't you read in the burning bush where he said, He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” So Jesus would say, “Hezekiah, you're right, but they're alive. They don't have a body right now, but they're praising God. And so he is right now the God of the living Abraham, and the God of the living Isaac, and the God of the living Jacob. And he means for them to have bodies, they just don't have them yet, they're waiting.” And so the end result, people will spend eternity praising God. Verse 20, “The Lord will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord.” Amen and hallelujah.
V. Lessons from the Sickbed
So what lessons can we take from the sick bed? First, come to the cross, dear friends, come to the cross. Pain is a messenger that takes you either to despair or to the cross, that's where it's gonna bring you. It's gonna bring you to despair, or it's gonna bring you to the cross of Christ. Pain always tells you something is wrong, and therefore it's a gift of God, and you know what the big thing that's wrong? We're not in heaven yet, that's a big thing that's wrong, and God wants us to be in heaven, and so let pain, physical pain bring you to the cross of Christ, where Jesus suffered physical pain and death in our place. He died on the cross, and his blood was shed for sinners like us. How is it that God put Hezekiah's sins behind his back? How is it? By what justice does he take our sins and throw them in the depths of the sea to remember them no more? By the blood of Jesus, by the shed blood of Christ, trust in him. Trust in him. God has power through Christ to forgive sins.
Secondly, “Put your house in order, because you're going to die.” So what do I mean by that? Well, it's appointed to you to die, and after that, to face judgment. Get ready for it. Get ready for it. Sickness and death is a shot across the bow saying, “The next one's coming right for you. Get ready for it; it's coming.” But what does it mean then to put your house in order? Well first of all, know that death is inevitable. Secondly, do what I just said a moment ago. Flee to Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and trust in him that all your sins may be forgiven. But then go beyond that. Look at your relationships. Are your relationships in order? Any broken relationships, any unforgiveness? Look at your holiness. Are there any sins that God wants you to be putting to death and you're procrastinating, thinking, “I'm gonna have time to do it. I'll do it in two or three years. I can't deal with it right now.” Put your house in order. Put your house in order.
I look at it this way, a few years ago, my kids were collecting state quarters, you guys know what I'm talking about? State coins, and they got a cardboard display thing, for free, with 50 slots in it, you know, and they were collecting them and they were going after these states and they were looking for specific states, and I came to find out that those quarters I thought were mine really weren't, they belonged to them. So if it's a state they're missing, it was confiscated, pretty much. Well, I think that God has a set of good works for us to do, and he says in Revelation 3:2 to the church at Sardis, he says, “I have not found your deeds complete in my sight. I don't have the full set yet. So do those good works [Ephesians 2:10] that I have ordained for you to do. Go do them. And don't put it off, don't put it off like you're gonna have time to do it. Get the full set of your good works, get them done.”
People talk about a bucket list. You know what I'm talking about, a bucket list? You know what's on the bucket list? A bunch of exciting, self-pleasing things that people wanna do. Skydiving, bungee. I'll tell you what, if I knew I was gonna live 15 more years, if God gave me that prophetic word, I might be a little more daring. I don't know, maybe that's not the thing, but I know I got 13 more years ago. I am indestructible. Well, no, I don't think that's what we should have on our bucket list. You know what I'm saying? Not bungee jumping and skydiving. How about internal journey holiness, dear friends? How about not being an irritable, selfish, impatient person anymore, put those sins to death. Now, okay. How about being generous to the poor and needy and ministering to those in the urban setting. If God lays that on your heart, do it now, don't wait. You wanna be more evangelistic? Be it now, don't wait. Put your house in order. You're gonna die. Get your good works done, get involved in missions. You've been meaning to, you've been meaning to. Don't mean to anymore; do it.
Trust in Christ during illness. Yours and others, focus on Jesus, set your heart fully on Jesus, look to him. Say to yourself, “Jesus is able to heal this disease.” Don't focus on the disease, it does not matter what disease it is, which of the 12,420 diagnoses, it doesn't matter. He's got them all covered. He can heal them all. Or 17,000, Walter Lee, wherever you are... 18,000, He can heal them all. Tell yourself that. Remind yourself, it says right in the gospel of Mark, “He has done all things well.” There's nothing he cannot do, and he is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is just as capable of healing you now as he was then. Trust in that, focus on it.
And then secondly, pray for healing. Having focused on that, pray for it, ask him for healing in faith. “If any of you is sick?” James 5, “He should call the elders of the church to anoint him with oil and pray over him. The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he'll be forgiven.” But sometimes God doesn't heal, he doesn't will healing this side of the grave. Actually, sometimes he may mean this particular malady to take you out of this world. It could be his will. Trust him. Paul had a thorn in the flesh that God did not remove. I can't believe that some prosperity gospel, or health and wealth people tell us, “Paul didn't have enough faith.” Oh my goodness! And you think you will have enough? “I'm better than Paul when it comes to faith.” Do you see how useless that teaching is, how useless, and it's actually got a poisoned barb because in the midst of your suffering, you're now told you also have a spiritual problem, you don't have enough faith. How comforting is that? It's just not true.
So pray for healing and understand it may not come and suffer well by learning Hezekiah's lesson, be in training now for lesser illnesses and lesser pains, suffer well, so you can die well. Suffer well, so you can die well. John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, said this, I'm putting it in more modern language. He said this, “You only get one chance to die. If after you've died, you have not died well, you will not get a chance to come back and do it better. Now, you can die poorly and still go to heaven. Amen. But don't do that. Prepare to die well, suffer well and die well, and you do that now by understanding God's goodness in your affliction, his kindness to you. He is training you and preparing you and shaping you through that illness.”
Sixth, set your hope fully on the next world. We are aliens and strangers here, we're passing through. This is not our final home, and disease and sickness and death are ways that you can know that. This is not our final home. We're aliens and strangers. So therefore, “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Christ is revealed,” 1 Peter 1:13. And at that point, “he will,” Revelation 21:4, “wipe every tear from your eyes and there'll be no more death, mourning, crying and pain.”
And finally, embrace again wholeheartedly, the doctrine of the bodily resurrection from the dead. You are going to have a resurrection body, and it's described in 1 Corinthians 15:42 by contrast with your present body, “So will it be with the resurrection from the dead. The body that is sown it is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” These contrasts tell us what you're going to get. No longer perishable, but imperishable. You will die in a measure of dishonor, there's no avoiding it. Bedpans and changing of tubes, and the pain and the suffering and all of that stuff, it's dishonorable and ugly, and so also the actual corruption that the morticians deal with and all that. It's sown in dishonor, but it's gonna be raised in glory, friends. Your body is gonna be glorious. It's gonna be radiant. You're gonna shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father. And it's sown in weakness. When you can barely move your right arm or your left arm, you can't get up like you used to do and go like you used to go, and you're just weak. Yes, but you'll be raised in power, and fatigue and weakness will be no part of your future experience. Close with me in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the lesson that we've had today concerning sickness and injury and illness, and Father, I pray that you would give us power and strength and grace to believe these words and be ready to suffer well and die well, and also if it's not us, if we're doing it alongside loved one, a husband or a wife, even a son or daughter, or a parent, a mother or father, brother or sister in Christ, Lord, help us to be filled with faith and to give faith and to give hope to the suffering person. O Lord, fill us especially with an understanding of the value of the shed blood of Christ and his resurrection victory. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.