Sunday, March 30, 2014

Accept God's Free Offer! - Isaiah 55:1-13

Accept God's Free Offer! - Isaiah 55:1-13
By pastor Lee Hemen
March 30, 2014 AM

How many churches offer Sunday School as a means of baby-sitting to over-worked parents so they can be safely separated without guilt from their children for an hour or so? How many adults think that the thirty-minute sermon on Sunday is all they need in studying the Bible, depending on the emotional high they get from the worship service? They fail to understand they are missing an important part of the Christian life--relating to other believers, building unity and fellowship of the local church! Too many settle for a cheap grace experience rather than mature growth. Why would anyone invest so little in their spiritual life when God wants to give them so much more?”

God declared He would restore Israel creating a righteous nation that would grow in number, territory, and faith. God would protect His people rather than punish them. God freely invited Israel to seek and know Him. He alone could provide the forgiveness, love, and restoration Israel needed. God’s salvation would extend even to all outcasts, such as eunuchs and foreigners, if they also obeyed God and followed Him. Those who returned to God would find peace and forgiveness. Despite God’s offer, some in Israel continued in their sinful ways, disobeying God in every way imaginable. Isaiah explains why we need to accept God’s free offer…

READ: Isaiah 55:1-13

The words of God are not like WinCo or Wal-Mart; you cannot gain your understanding of them on the cheap. Isaiah teaches us that accepting God’s free offer is the…

I. Best Value! (Isaiah 55:1-5)

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.” (Isaiah 55:1-5 NIV)

  1. To call Israel to turn to God and find life, Isaiah employed the image of a street vendor selling wares in the open market. Street vendors, including vendors who sold water, were a typical part of daily life. They would be the Home Shopping Network or telemarketers of today. In every case, the individual attempts to make their product something you can’t live without. In contrast, God offers an essential necessity of life. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Just as humans can survive only a few days without water, so humans cannot live a true life without God! Isaiah emphasized the urgency by using the imperative verbs “come, buy, and eat.” Israel badly needed what God could supply, and Israel would never find a better value! God offered it “without cost”. Israel could not buy what it needed because God offered it as a gift. Christians recognize who paid the purchase price; Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sin; and as a result gave us forgiveness and new life! Unfortunately when offered the best as a gift from God, many willingly settled for less. They chose what failed to satisfy and nourish them rather than what would bring them abundant life. God pleaded with the Israelites to pay attention and come to Him. “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” Just as Israel could only experience true life by repenting and living in a right relationship with God, we can find life only through faith in Jesus Christ. “See”, Isaiah relates, God had made a “covenant” with David, promising to establish his throne forever. If the people would turn to God and follow Him, Israel would glorify God in a greater way than David. David was “a witness to the peoples” by creating a strong, united Israel. God’s empowered David to defeat Israel’s enemies and establish a kingdom. Investing in the best, Israel would find itself witnessing to those it did “not know”. The nations would listen to Israel’s witness, see its splendor, and come seeking God’s truth. Accepting God’s free offer found in His word was the best value for Israel just as it is for our lives!

  EXAMPLE: By His power, God would save and restore His people. Israel’s restoration would be a witness to the nations of God’s reality as one true God. God first offered His spiritual nourishment to Israel, but He extended His offer to all the people of the world. God continues to offer what we most need, abundant life through His Son Jesus Christ. God offers us salvation. All we need do is accept His free gift. What can be a better value or investment for our lives? How has God’s gift of abundant life been the best value in your life? Accepting God’s free offer is the best value for our lives!

Rather than used things, we all like new things. We learn that accepting God’s free offer leads to a…

II. Brand-New Life! (Isaiah 55:6-7)

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7 NIV)

  1. Isaiah urged the Israelites to seek God. Seek sometimes refers to going to a place to worship God, but Isaiah knew his people needed to do more than simply participate in the temple worship. The Israelites needed to seek God continually as Lord of their life. They needed to repent of their sin, learn about God’s character, and follow God’s guidance for living. They needed to “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” Isaiah’s call to seek God while He may be found emphasized Israel’s necessity to act quickly. Was the prophet implying that at times God does not want to be found? Even more serious, was he implying that at times God cannot be found? The answer of course is no to both questions; as long as one is alive, God may be found. Interestingly, Scripture reminds us that it is God who does the finding! However, Isaiah was announcing a time of grace, the perfect time to hear God’s call and respond. He was emphasizing the importance of taking action immediately. Then, God does something interesting; He called all to Him, “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Wicked individuals disobey God, which leads to rebellious actions against God and others. Such people resist God and His invitation to develop a relationship with Him. As long as the wicked rejected God, they cut themselves off from an abundant life; yet, even the wicked could be “freely” pardoned! Isaiah reminded the Israelites that repentance led to God’s incredible compassion and forgiveness, not to God’s righteous anger and judgment. Accepting God’s free offer leads to a brand-new life!

  EXAMPLE: New and abundant life can be found only in God. It is not found in momentary things, relationships, or in cheap grace. God calls us to develop a relationship with Him not so He can increase our guilt and punishment but so He can provide us with brand new life! Remember, Jesus reminds us that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV) What have been the most wonderful aspects of the new life you have received through Christ? Accepting God’s free offer leads to a brand-new life!

We often forget that God has a plan for each of our lives, we often fail to realize His potential in it. We discover that in accepting God’s free offer, He has a…

III. Blessed Purpose! (Isaiah 55:8-11)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:8-11 NIV)

  1. This perhaps is one of the most important verses in the Bible for people to understand and learn. Isaiah emphasized the vast difference between God and humans. God thinks on a scale completely different from humans, planning and accomplishing what is beyond our wildest imagination. We have learned much about our world, science, and medicine; but we cannot ever comprehend all of God’s infinite wisdom and knowledge. Just as He reminded the Israelites, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways!” we need to understand this fact as well. God’s ways or behaviors differ drastically from ours. We might look at human sin and declare forgiveness an utter impossibility, but God created and enacted a plan to provide forgiveness to all who come to Him in faith. We likely would have declared God’s covenant with Israel null and void due to Israel’s continual disobedience, but God kept His promises to Abraham and his descendants. God’s ways show us how far we are from God and His standards for life. Rather than simply marveling at or ignoring God’s ways, we need to seek to know God on a deeper and more mature level and to live by His standards. In fact, God reminds us that, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” As high as the farthest reaches of the universe are, God’s ways are beyond our complete understanding. We cannot begin to imagine the greatness of God! Isaiah’s words provide us a helpful perspective. We cannot cross the chasm separating us from God and command Him to do our bidding. Instead, God has crossed the chasm in Christ and invited us to live for Him! Rain comprised a crucial natural resource in ancient Israel. If the rains fell and watered the crops, the people would have food that year and seed to plant for the next year’s crop. If the rains failed to come, the crops would wither and die, creating famine. Just as rain sustains physical life on earth, so God’s Word sustains spiritual life. God’s Word calls people to repent so they might experience forgiveness, abundant life, and a right relationship with their Creator. God’s Word then sustains this life by providing guidance, comfort, and help. He reminds us that “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it!” In accepting God’s free offer, we discover a blessed purpose!

  EXAMPLE: God’s Word always has proven reliable. What God declares, He will accomplish. The invitation to Israel to seek God and find life rested on His unchanging nature and love for His people. God’s invitation to us to enjoy an abundant life in Him rests on the same basis. When we seek God, His Word accomplishes its blessed purpose of providing us new life. What has God’s Word accomplished in your life? In accepting God’s free offer, we discover a blessed purpose!

And, finally, we discover perhaps the best part of accepting the free offer of God: It brings…

VI. Bountiful Joy! (Isaiah 55:12-13)

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers, the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.” (Isaiah 55:12-13 NIV)

  1. The Old Testament uses the verb “go out” to refer to Israel’s exiles’ returning to Judah from Babylon. It conjures a powerful picture, but Isaiah had in mind more than freedom from an enemy and a return home! Isaiah envisioned his people moving into a new, deeper, more faithful relationship with God. As slaves and captives joyfully left the places where they had suffered, so Israel would move joyfully into the future with God. They would, “go out in joy and be led forth in peace”! God would peacefully guide His people into a wonderful new life. Even the “the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands!” Wow! What a beautiful picture! Israel’s turning to God would make all of creation rejoice! Sin affects not only our relationships with God and others but also all creation (Rom. 8:19-21). God’s work with His people creates a rippling effect through all nations and all creation, multiplying joy. The people of Israel knew all too well how thorn bush and brier could overtake an abandoned field. Their conquest resulted in the neglect of fields as these enemy armies took Israelites into exile. Thorns and briers choked fields that once had produced good crops. Replacing the thorn bush and briers with pine and myrtle indicated the land had become productive once more, just as He does in the life of the repentant sinner. Although Isaiah believed God would bring the exiles home from Babylon, the prophet referred to a new spiritual fruitfulness among his people. Seeking and obeying God would result in Israel’s being a witness to all the world. God’s work through Israel would make a name for God by revealing His nature to all people. This would be entirely for “the LORD's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.” Transforming Israel and creation completed the promise trilogy of God in Isaiah 54-55. First, God pledged His everlasting love to Israel (Isa. 54:8). Second, God promised to establish an everlasting covenant with all Israel like that with David (55:3). Finally, God declared He would transform His creation, acting in love and faithfulness to create an everlasting sign of His nature. What a wonderful thing to know that in accepting God’s free offer results in bountiful joy!

  EXAMPLE: Isaiah perfectly described the joy filling those who accept God’s free offer of abundant life. A continuing, maturing relationship with God creates a deep, abiding joy that can celebrate even in times of difficulty. God invites all to seek Him, to be transformed by His love, and to experience the joy only He can provide. How has God brought deep abiding joy to your life, not the temporary happiness we often try to replace it with? Scripture reminds us that God sings and whistles for those He loves from the ends of the earth! What a wonderful thing to know that in accepting God’s free offer results in bountiful joy!

1. Accepting God’s free offer found in His word was the best value for Israel just as it is for our lives!
2. Accepting God’s free offer leads to a brand-new life!
3. In accepting God’s free offer, we discover a blessed purpose!
4. What a wonderful thing to know that in accepting God’s free offer results in bountiful joy!

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Recognize God's Ways! - Isaiah 53:1-12

Recognize God's Ways! - Isaiah 53:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 23, 2014 AM

God often works in ways contrary to human thinking to accomplish His glorious purposes. Bill, a college student, spoke to the church’s senior citizens’ group about his summer missions experience. He had been in Cambodia helping to create a sanitary water supply for a community. He told about the backbreaking work; the wonderful, generous people he met; and his call to return as a missionary to the area. After Brandon left, some complained he had not dressed very nicely. Others wished he had gotten a haircut or at least combed his hair. Still others pointed out he had made three grammatical mistakes and they wished students would pay more attention to speaking skills.

What factors sometimes cause you not to recognize God’s ways of working? As we look at the work of the Suffering Servant that Isaiah speaks about, let’s focus on ways we can recognize God’s ways of working in our life. Isaiah described God’s Servant as called to restore the people of Israel to their homeland and to speak His salvation to all the earth. The Servant’s faithful obedience would stand in stark contrast to the people’s disobedience and lack of faith. Israel and Judah fully experienced God’s punishment of destruction and domination by a foreign power, but God would bring them new life. To deal with Israel and Judah’s root problem of sin, God would send His Servant. The Servant would suffer, but through His suffering, He would bear the punishment for all human sin and provide forgiveness. They needed to recognize God’s ways…

READ: Isaiah 53:1-12

We first discover that…

I. God May Use Unlikely People! (Isaiah 53:1-3)

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:1-3 NIV)

1. God inspired Isaiah to write four poems or songs about His Servant (Isa. 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12). My message today focuses on the last Servant song. Isaiah had begun this song by describing the Servant as One who would “act wisely” and be “highly exalted” (52:13). Prior to His exaltation, however, people would be appalled by His suffering (52:14). When the Servant had completed His mission, people would be astonished at what they saw (52:15). Isaiah prophesied the Israelites who saw the Servant and witnessed His voluntary suffering would not understand God was working through His Servant to accomplish their salvation. This divine revelation came through the arm of the Lord, symbolizing God’s presence, strength, and saving activity. The people of Israel could not see the true identity of the Servant because they concentrated on His appearance. They saw only a tender shoot… a root out of dry ground. Like a plant barely surviving in dry conditions, the Servant seemingly displayed no potential to accomplish anything of value. In fact, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Not content to just ignore God’s Servant, Israel despised and rejected Him. His suffering did not fit the people’s ideas regarding how a Savior should look and act, so Israel failed to value Him as the One sent from God. Despised did not carry the emotional meaning for Israel that we associate with the word, it meant, “To consider something or someone as worthless or insignificant.” In fact, we are told that He would be “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Esteemed expresses an accounting concept. When Israel listed the Servant’s assets and liabilities, the balance shifted heavily to His liabilities. Israel expected nothing of value or importance from this Servant. God may use unlikely people!

EXAMPLE: Israel had difficulty seeing as God sees and we often do as well. God often chooses people for His service we would never choose. We may say God can use anybody but not really believe it. We need to be sensitive enough to see God at work and encourage rather than abandon or criticize individuals. What individuals do you know who exceeded people’s expectations by allowing God to work through them? Remember, God may use unlikely people!

II. God May Use Unexpected Means! (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But 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. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV)

1. The Israelites would not understand that the Servant “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” When the Servant suffered, they assumed He suffered justly for His sin. Only after His death, would anyone realize the Servant had suffered for all our sins rather than His own. Israel completely misjudged the Servant, as many do today. Pierced and crushed describe the Servant’s terrifying suffering. Pierced typically described a stab wound that brought death. Crushed could describe an individual whose spirit had been utterly broken or an individual who had been killed. Both words emphasize violence.  Do not make the mistake in thinking that the Servant's "passion" paid for our sin, it did not. The Servant died for the people’s transgressions and iniquities. Transgressions emphasize sin as intentional rebellion. Even though we know God’s command, we deliberately disobey, demonstrating our complete disrespect for God and His law. Iniquities indicate the crookedness of our human nature. Rather than recognizing we are created in God’s image and following God, we delight in unrighteousness and in following our own desires. We willingly become less than God has intended. Sin robs our life of peace. We only can find wholeness and satisfaction through a personal relationship with God. As we look back at the life and death of the Servant (Jesus Christ), we realize our punishment was placed on Him; but we also realize His punishment brought the opportunity for our healing. The Servant’s ultimate suffering, his death, for our sin and disobedience has made possible a new start, a new relationship with God, and true peace and wholeness. The phrases “we all” and “each of us” emphasize all Israelites and all of us bear responsibility for the Servant’s sufferings. As much as we might like to remove ourselves from the list of guilty parties, we cannot. The comparison of humans to sheep provides a condemning portrait of sinful humanity. As sheep pursue their desires oblivious of others, so we pursue our desires typically thinking only of our needs. We make choices without considering the consequences. We too need a Shepherd. Yet, “the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all!” God punished the Servant when He should have punished us! God sent Jesus to die and rise again that we might have salvation. Miraculously, God can take the worst circumstances and from them accomplish His good purposes! God may use unexpected means!

EXAMPLE: Isaiah 55:8 states, God’s ways and our ways differ dramatically. No one saw the true nature of the Servant’s suffering until after the Servant’s death. The disciples did not understand Jesus’ suffering and death until after His resurrection. God continues to work in unexpected ways to accomplish His will. Rather than expecting God to work in ways we think appropriate, we need to recognize God is at work around us and within us--often in unexpected ways. How has God worked in unexpected ways in your life? Remember, God may use unexpected means!
Contrary to what much of the world believes, we learn that…

III. God May Use Undeserved Suffering! (Isaiah 53:7-9)

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7-9 NIV)

1. The Servant certainly had just cause to protest His treatment. He could have pleaded His case, condemned those who rejected and despised Him, and met violence with violence. Instead, He responded to unjust treatment with a calm demeanor and a peaceful spirit. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” As a lamb went mutely to be shorn or to be offered as a sacrifice, so the Servant offered no protest as He faced death. Unlike sheep who do not know their fate, the Servant knew what would happen to Him. Knowing the injustice of His suffering, He accepted His death. A lamb could not make forgiveness available. Only a faithful, willing Servant could bear the punishment for a disobedient, rebellious humanity. The Servant offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice and substitute. The Servant experienced violent treatment. “Taken away” could refer to a deceitful action or to the sudden removal by violence or force of something precious. “Cut off” almost always refers to an act of violence. Such punishment might be understandable for a person whose sin deserved horrible consequences. Yet the Servant had done nothing to deserve it. People wrongly assumed the Servant’s suffering was justified. No one realized the Servant suffered for others. It was “By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” Based on the common (but false) idea that sin causes all suffering, people buried the Servant in what they considered an appropriate place, with the rest of “the wicked, and with a rich man.” Having been crucified with criminals Jesus was assigned a place of death with the wicked, and later He was given a tomb of the rich man Joseph. Only later would people understand the Servant had engaged in neither violence nor deceit. Violence characterizes humanity at its worst. “Deceit” describes the action of an evil individual maliciously intent on causing trouble or destroying others. The Servant engaged in neither behavior. His actions and His thoughts indicated His innocence. We realize that God may use undeserved suffering for His glory!

EXAMPLE: While we cannot explain all suffering in our lives, sometimes God works miraculously through an individual’s undeserved suffering to bring salvation and deeper faith to ourselves or to the lives of others. The faith of Christian martyrs as they suffered and died helped spread the gospel. The quiet faith of some with terminal illness brings hope and belief to those around them. God can work despite and through tragedy to accomplish His purposes. What have you learned in your suffering or that of others? Never forget, God may use undeserved suffering for His glory!
Yet, for those who trust in Him…

IV. God Rewards the Faithful! (Isaiah 53:10-12)

Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12 NIV)

1. Astonishingly, we learn that “it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer”! God worked through the Servant’s suffering and his final death, placing on Him the guilt of and the punishment for the people’s sin. The Servant willingly accepted the burden and carried through God’s purposes. Isaiah described the Servant as a “guilt offering”, an offering for individuals who had sinned unintentionally but later become aware of their sin would offer a guilt offering to make restitution (Lev. 5:14-19). Thus, the Servant’s offering of Himself was an atonement not only for consciously committed sins but also for unintentional sins. When the people realized and accepted what the Servant had done for them, the Servant would experience the reverse of what people had believed He would experience, “though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand”! He would enjoy the blessings of those favored by God. He would see His descendants, live a long life (eternally), and accomplish God’s will for His life. Since the Servant died, God would bless Him after His burial in a resurrected life. If we labor and see no useful results, our toil seems meaningless; and we become discouraged. If we labor and see useful results or the promise of useful results, we feel satisfaction. The Servant experienced the same satisfaction. “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.” As a result of the Servant’s faithful obedience, God would reward Him. Like a king returning from winning a battle and bringing spoils with him, the Servant would come triumphantly. Once they had been condemned by sin, but through His sacrifice, they now are redeemed and made right with God: “For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” God rewards the faithful!

EXAMPLE: Applying the faithful obedience of the Servant and Jesus to our lives can be difficult. However, God does not call us to bear the sins of people. God has accomplished that miracle through Christ. God calls us to be faithful instead. God will reward our faithfulness. Some may find recognition and fame, but we all will experience the strength of God’s presence, the joy of allowing God to work through us, and eternal life with Him. What greater rewards could we receive? How has God blessed you as you have served Him? Remember, God does indeed reward the faithful!

1. God works through persons whom society rejects or views as insignificant.
2. God uses even unexpected means to accomplish His purposes.
3. God works even through people’s undeserved suffering to accomplish His purposes.
4. God works through His faithful people and rewards them.

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Worship No Other! - Isaiah 44:16-22; 46:1-5, 8-9

Worship No Other! - Isaiah 44:16-22; 46:1-5, 8-9
By Pastor Lee Hemen   
March 16, 2014 AM

George leaned over to his wife and grumbled, “Will this sermon ever be over? We’ll never make it home in time to see the game!” Jena sat at her desk watching the clock. “Of all days to work late,” she thought to herself. “I usually spend time in prayer before working out, and I’m stuck here. I really need to go by the fitness center because I have not worked out all week. Looks like I’ll skip prayer tonight.” “I’m going go on vacation,” thought Matt. “I deserve a break. I won’t be able to give my tithe to church, but I think the church will survive without it.” Our worship of God is often reflected in how we invest our lives. Perhaps our worship is not where it needs to be and we are suffering the consequences of our lack of worship.

The trials the Israelites were going through, was due to their inconsistent worship. However, God promised to restore His people. Only He possessed the power and ability to do so. Depending on idols created by human hands would lead to disappointment and ultimate destruction. King Cyrus of Persia would be part of His plan to return the exiles from Judah to their homeland. The Babylonian gods (idols) would not be able to protect their people nor to prevent God from carrying out His will, since the false gods did not exist. God would use Babylonia to punish His people for their disobedient worship. How does this affect us in our day and age? Let’s discover how…

READ: Isaiah 44:16-22; 46:1-5, 8-9

There is a…

I. Worship That Blinds! (Isaiah 44:16-20)

  1. Here as he often did, Isaiah used the past tense of future events, so certain was he of their fulfillment. He lived almost 200 years before the events he described would happen. After Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylonia, he issued a decree that allowed Jews to return to Judah. Isaiah describes the Babylonians’ idolatry; the exiles’ involvement in worshipping false gods; the Babylonian gods’ failure to defend their nation; and God’s uniqueness, dependability, and grace. Isaiah had begun his discussion of the powerlessness of idols by describing how metalworkers created idols (v. 44:12). He then focused on the actions of woodworkers who carved idols. They first cut down a tree for a block of wood for carving. Then, with half the log, the worker built a fire to cook his meal and warm himself from the evening’s chill! After having acted in a rational manner in making a fire, the worker then acted irrationally by carving an idol from the second half, bowing down to it in worship, and asking it for deliverance! Such actions made no sense. How could one section of a log produce a sacred image used in worship while the other produced mere firewood? In clear terms, Isaiah indicated the foolishness of idol worship. Idols were mere creations crafted from everyday materials according to the imaginations of a human worker. Only those totally unable to think rationally would not realize the obvious silliness of worshiping an idol carved from half a log when the other half was firewood! Having abandoned God and the desire to understand His will, God allowed them to close their minds to all truth. God allows people to pursue their misguided paths, straying farther and farther from Him. Like a grief-stricken parent, He called to His unresponsive child, Israel. They saw their actions as normal and saw no harm or consequences in what they did. However, they would face the consequences. Through their idolatry, the people created something detestable, disgraceful, and unworthy of God. The worship of idols was an insult to God and indicates people’s spiritual blindness, “He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’” All they had left was ashes. Idolaters pray to an idol; but they may as well pray to a chair, stool, or a heap of ashes! It was worship that blinds!

  EXAMPLE: Prophesying to the exiles in Babylon, Isaiah saw they would be so caught up in idolatry, that they would not comprehend their sin or free themselves. Rather than accept God’s greatness, they would bow to idols made in their image and seek to control God for their purposes. What are some of the idols that have blinded your worship? The more we worship false gods in our lives, the more hardened our hearts become to the voice of God and the more closed our minds become to God’s reality and truth. Worshiping false gods blinds us to God and the blessings of life in Him.

There is also a…

II. Worship That Blesses! (Isaiah 44:21-22)

  1. Judah’s idolatry would separate the people from God and continue to lead them farther away from Him, but He would refuse to stop loving them. God would encourage His people to remember what He had done for them. God had called a man named Abraham to become the father of a great people. God had led His people out of slavery in Egypt through Moses and into Canaan under Joshua. He had provided David as their king. He also had provided guidelines and prophets to help people maintain their focus on Him. God’s actions throughout history reveal His character. He loves His people even when they do not return His love. He shows grace to His people when they deserved none. He would never forget or abandon His people. “I will not forget you.” He reminds us. God had called Judah not just to receive His blessings but also to serve Him. As a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, God’s people were to witness to His grace, forgiveness, and love. Unfortunately, their idolatry resulted in their being punished, defeated, and exiled. The Jewish exiles in Babylonia probably believed returning to the land of Judah constituted their greatest need. In reality, like today with many believers, sin comprised their greatest problem and forgiveness was and is their greatest need. To return to Judah without having turned from their sin and to God left them in the same state that led to the exile. God reminds them and us, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” This is true for us as well! God assured His people He would stand ready to give them a fresh start. He would forgive their sin and redeem them. They needed only to repent in order to experience worship that blesses!

  EXAMPLE: Living here where ocean moisture often meets the dry air of eastern Washington and Oregon, we often drive to work through thick, early morning fog; but by mid-morning the fog has completely dissipated and the sun brightly shines. As the sun dissolves the morning fog and the wind drives away the clouds, so God removes sin. No matter how terrible our sin, God can forgive it. No matter how long we have closed ourselves to God, He can break through with His love and life. No matter how insignificant we may think our service to be, God can use us to bless those around us and help transform their lives. We need to repent in order to experience worship that blesses!

However, we must remember to never be a part of a…

III. Worship That Burdens! (Isaiah 46:1-2)

  1. We often allow things in our lives to become idols that weigh us down with the pressures of life; such as relationships, family, jobs, school, Facebook, texting, or other pursuits. The Babylonians worshiped Bel, also known as Marduk, as their chief god and Nebo, Bel’s son. Bel served as god of the city of Babylon and Nebo as god of the city of Borsippa, about 10 miles south. Nebo took on great significance as the number of important Babylonian kings’ named after him, for example, Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus. Each year during the Babylonian New Year’s Festival, worshipers carried the images of Bel, Nebo, and other gods on their shoulders or on animals in a procession into the city. This is why Isaiah mentions, “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary.” They supposedly revealed what would happen to the nation in the next year. However, the Babylonians’ worship of Bel and Nebo proved useless. The Persians conquered Babylon; and after loading their carts and donkeys; they carried away these images that previously had been paraded through the city with reverence. The gods could not save their own images, much less save the empire. The Babylonians had believed their gods wielded great power; but these idols could not ease their burdens nor rescue them! Instead, the idols were loaded onto the backs of and carried away by beasts of burden. “They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.” Isaiah’s words were to serve as a warning to the Jewish exiles in Babylonia. The idols they had begun to worship in Babylon had no power because they did not exist. Babylon’s trust in their gods proved fruitless. The exiles needed to recognize that worshiping and depending on false gods did not provide salvation but only the burden of false hopes. Trusting in false gods can only lead to disappointment. When difficult times come, false gods can neither sustain us nor provide hope. They burden us with the demands of their worship!

  EXAMPLE: One day I found my grandson straining to lift a pair of ten-pound weights over his head—an ambitious feat for a three-year-old. He had raised them only a few inches off the ground, but his eyes were determined and his face was pink with effort. I offered to help, and together we heaved the weight up toward the ceiling. The heavy lifting that was so hard for him was easy for me. Are you worn out from ongoing problems? Are you weighed down with stress and worry? Are your choices in life bringing unnecessary burdens? Jesus is the only real solution. Approaching the Lord in prayer allows us to cast our burdens on Him so that He can sustain us. What sin is burdening your heart today? The false idols of life burden us with the demands of their worship, God never does.

We, however, enjoy a…

IV. Worship That Bears Up! (Isaiah 46:3-5, 8-9)

  1. Sometimes, it can be tough to get those you love to listen to your concerns for their lives. God tells them, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.” As Isaiah prophesied, the great Babylonian Empire that believed it was invincible fell to Persia. The Babylonian idols and those who worshiped them were carried off by the Persians as spoils of war. It underscored the foolishness of trusting in false gods and the necessity of trusting in the one true God. The remnant of Israel that witnessed Babylonia’s fall later saw God restore them to return home. God had been with Israel from the beginning, caring for His people when they were few in number and helping them grow into a great nation. The Babylonian gods had not and could not carry their people, which testified to their non-existence. Only God had carried and saved His people, and only God would continue to do so. God loved His people as a good parent loves a child. God invited Israel to compare Him to other gods. Had any other god nurtured or shown compassion to Israel? Had any other god demonstrated the power to save and been committed to Israel? The answer was no. No other god compared to God either in commitment to Israel or in power to accomplish His will. What about how God has dealt in your life? God tells them to, “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” They needed to remember God had created, had led, and was committed to His people. Remember refers not just to recalling an event or fact but also to acting on that basis. God called His people to remember two things. First, He urged them to remember His nurturing, guiding activity in their history. Second, He encouraged them to remember that no other god could compare to Him. God alone existed and had the ability to save His people. Only God could bear up Israel through difficult times and bring His people to a restored faith and wonderful future. Our worship of God is the only worship that bears up!

  EXAMPLE: In times of hardship, people can feel abandoned. Friends and family may desert us. Perhaps they believe the victim deserves the difficulty as punishment for sin or perhaps they do not know what to say or do to help. Sometimes the future can seem bleak. In such times, only God can bear us up. From the beginning of our lives, God has been present; and He will continue to offer His presence, strength, and guidance. We can depend on Him if we trust Him with our lives instead of the things we foolishly cling to. Worship of Him who bore us is the worship that bears up!


Worshiping false gods blinds us to the true identity of the only living God.
Worshiping only God brings us the blessings of forgiveness and service.
Worshiping false gods will not help but will only burden us.
Only God can carry us through life’s devastating experiences.

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Take Comfort In God's Strength! - Isaiah 40:1-8, 10-11, 27-31

Take Comfort In God's Strength! - Isaiah 40:1-8, 10-11, 27-31
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 9, 2014 AM

We live in a world that worships the immediate. When the Polaroid SX-70 camera was introduced in 1972, it revolutionized photography. An article by Owen Edward in Smithsonian magazine described the camera as “a miracle of physics, optics and electronics.” When a photo was snapped, “a blank square would emerge from the front of the camera and develop before our eyes.” People were sold on speedy, immediate results. In today’s world, digital cameras offer instant gratification that makes Polaroid cameras obsolete. Sadly, far too many want God to immediately gratify their emotional spirituality in much the same way. When times get tough, they want Jesus to fix it immediately.

People respond differently under stress. Some lose hope, some get depressed, while other seek God’s strength and comfort. The nation of Judah was facing consequences for their ungodly actions, but the Lord held out hope for them as a nation and as a people. Things might have seemed rough now, but they could take comfort in God’s strength! Let’s discover how…

READ: Isaiah 40:1-8, 10-11, 27-31

What do you do when you feel stressed about life? We discover that God cares about and offers His strength to people when they feel overwhelmed by life. We can take comfort in God’s strength by…

I. Encouraging One Another! (Isaiah 40:1-5)

  1. Isaiah 40 initiates a new tone in Isaiah’s message. The word comfort implies more than patting a hand and speaking clich├ęd encouragement. Comfort describes compassion toward one who grieves over the loss of a loved one. God does not suggest but commands comfort. The word’s repetition emphasizes its importance. God’s use of my people and His identification of Himself as your God, recalls the language of His covenant with Israel. Speak tenderly means speak to the heart. The phrase refers to words that do more than temporarily soothe. These words offer real hope and belief in a new future so those paralyzed by life’s difficulties can live confidently, knowing God’s love sustains them. Isaiah used the past tense of future events, so certain were their fulfillment. God gave three announcements for His people. First, their hard service has been completed. Their period of great difficulty, caused by their ungodliness or the difficulties of the world, served to call them back to the right path. Second, God stated Judah’s sin has been paid for or pardoned. God’s people remained sinners, but here God promised forgiveness by His grace alone. Third, Judah had received double for all her sins. God’s law stated a thief needed to repay double the value of any stolen property. Judah had stolen worship and obedience from God, and Judah’s punishment met that criterion. Double meant Judah had suffered God’s complete punishment, yet comfort had begun. God promised, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’” John the Baptist would ultimately fulfill this promise. All obstacles to safe and quick travel would be removed. “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Uneven ground would be smoothed out. For a people discouraged by national and personal difficulties, the return of God seemed impossible. God invited them to believe He would return even though they could not see it. God wanted His people to have faith in Him. “And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” God’s glory would appear again among His people, and not only Judah but also all mankind would see. God’s return to Jerusalem would have significance for all people. We can take comfort in God’s strength by encouraging one another!

  EXAMPLE: God’s nature guaranteed His promise would come true. Just as God sent punishment to call His people back to Him, so He would come as promised to give His people comfort, hope, and renewal. When life’s difficulties come our way, we need encouragement to endure the tough times and move beyond them. We also need to encourage others when they experience difficult circumstances in life. Often our witness to the comfort, strength, and encouragement God and others have provided us, helps others as they weather their storms. We can be bearers of God’s comfort to others. How do you encourage people in difficult circumstances? We can take comfort in God’s strength by encouraging one another!

We can take comfort in God’s strength by…

II. Acknowledging Our Weakness! (Isaiah 40:6-8)

  1. Here, we hear a chorus of angels. One commands, “Cry out!” Another responds, “What shall I cry?” or pronounce. The people of Judah in the Old Testament era must have seen the great empires like Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia as incredibly powerful. The size of their cities, the number and grandeur of their temples and palaces, the vastness of their empires, and the wealth and majesty of their royal courts must have overwhelmed God’s people. Despite outward appearances, human glory fades quickly and never approaches the glory of God. In fact, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.” Human glory compares to grass and seasonal flowers, dependent on the sun and rain for sustenance. Even humanity’s longest-lived people live a brief time compared to God’s eternal existence. Even humanity’s wealthiest, most powerful individuals and their goodness proves temporary. God’s love never fails but our response to His love often does. God remains reliable while humans remain unreliable. Because of hot arid winds, green grass can turn brown and flowers wither. In the same way, God overpowers those who oppose Him.” The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass.” Armies cannot prevent God from delivering His people. If we cannot stop God, we also need to remember we cannot save ourselves. Only God can do that. If God’s promise depended on our strength, we would have no hope. Fortunately, God’s promise rests on His eternal, powerful, and loving character! Humans and nations come and go, but God’s Word remains forever. In a world where people fail to be dependable and consistent, God remains completely reliable and unfailingly merciful. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Before we can experience God’s comfort and strength, we need to acknowledge our weakness.

  EXAMPLE: Our strength fails. We become discouraged. We cannot save ourselves. When we confess our weakness and dependence, we discover God’s strength and encouragement. What events in your life have helped you acknowledge your weakness and God’s strength? We can take comfort in God’s strength by acknowledging our weakness!

We can take comfort in God’s strength by…

III. Relying on God’s Protection! (Isaiah 40:10-11)

  1. The voice speaking for God spoke directly to Jerusalem, instructing the city to proclaim the coming of God “You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”(v. 40:9). God returned to Jerusalem in power as a triumphant king whose rule has been established by his victories. “See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him.” When kings returned from successful campaigns, they brought with them spoils of victory. God also brought his reward back to His city. The King who had punished His people for their sin returned with power to restore them. In fact, “his recompense accompanies him”! Powerful rulers often rule by fear, imposing their will with no concern for their people’s welfare. Such rulers selfishly focus on their comfort and pleasure. God, however, returned to Jerusalem to serve as caring shepherd, not as military dictator. What a beautiful picture Isaiah gives us of God! He describes God as caring shepherd in three ways. First, he tends his flock from enemies and starvation. He meets the needs of His people. Second, He “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart”. The weak he compassionately helps. The fold in a shepherd’s robe provided a natural pocket in which a lamb could be carried warmly and safely. God notices the special needs that each of His people has and seeks to meet each one’s needs. Third, God gently leads those who need special care and assistance. A nursing ewe had increased responsibility in having to care for herself and her lamb. God helps those who experience increased responsibilities, providing His strength and guidance. We can take comfort in God’s strength by relying on God’s protection!

  EXAMPLE: As we recall the Christian church’s history, we can name individuals whose stand for Christ brought them into conflict with authorities and led to their execution. To some people, such examples prove God’s failure to care for His people; but that perspective misinterprets God’s care. Life brings difficulties and sufferings to all people, even Christians. Yet in times of difficulty,
Christians can draw from God’s strength and encouragement, both directly from Him and through fellow Christians. As Christians we also can rest assured our salvation remains securely in God’s hands. God always provides us with what we need most: His presence and salvation! How have you relied on God’s protection during specific times in your life? We can take comfort in God’s strength by relying on God’s protection!

We can take comfort in God’s strength by…

IV. Depending on God’s Strength! (Isaiah 40:27-31)

  1. God had acted in the past by bringing Israel into Canaan. Yet His people believed God often did not pay attention to them. Many in our day ask the same question, wondering why God does not intervene to stop evil in the world and rescue His people who suffer. In the next few verses, God provided the answer through Isaiah. He bluntly asks them, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God’?” God reminded His people of His differences from them. He is everlasting while humans are trapped in time. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” He is the Creator while we are His creations. His strength knows no limits while our strength gives out. He possesses infinite understanding while our knowledge, despite our scientific breakthroughs, remains severely limited. “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” God is not like His creation. He does not become exhausted and have to abandon or postpone His purposes. God works on a greater scale than we can imagine. We live in the present and think about the future, but God thinks and works for a future far beyond our perception. At most, we can see where He has been and get a glimpse of where He is going. Since God never suffers exhaustion, He can provide strength and encouragement to us. God also wants to supply what we need. God freely gives His strength to those who call on Him. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall…” God makes a way available for us to receive His strength. Whiel we may grow weary, “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Those who trust in God find renewal. An eagle soars, allowing the powerful wind currents to bear it up, so we too allow God’s Spirit to lift us up. We can take comfort in God’s strength by depending on God’s strength!

  EXAMPLE: When we think of athletic competition, we think of young men and women in top physical condition. As we age, we simply do not have the strength and agility we possessed at one time. Yet even young people in great physical condition become weary. They fall to their knees unable to complete the race. They fall behind in the final lap, unable to swim at the speed they hoped. If outstanding athletes who have trained for years become weary, then so will the rest of us. When life calls for us to run to accomplish what needs to be done, God provides the physical, mental, and spiritual strength we need. To receive strength from God we need to trust in Him. We can take comfort in God’s strength by depending on God’s strength!

1. We can encourage one another because God is working redemptively in His people’s lives.
2. By acknowledging our weakness and holding to God’s eternal truth, we can find comfort in God’s strength.
3. As we take comfort in God’s strength, we can rely on the Lord’s protection and provision.
4. By depending on God’s strength, we can find comfort in Him.

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Do You Take Your Burdens to the Lord? - Isaiah 37:10-12, 14-20, 33-37

Do You Take Your Burdens to the Lord? - Isaiah 37:10-12, 14-20, 33-37
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 2, 2014 AM

What do you do when you are faced with difficult situations? Do you run and hide, do you get angry, or do you depend upon the Lord and His guidance? You can tell a lot about an individual’s faith not just during the mundane ordinary times, but how they conduct themselves during bleak situations. She was young and not prepared to be a single mom but her life choices had brought her to this point. With a baby on the way, no support from the baby’s father, she had some tough decisions to make. She first began to work on her relationship with God, worked herself through college, got a better job after graduating, and raised her child. At a church gathering, she met a godly man who loves her and her child. Whom do you take your burdens to when faced with tough decisions?

Sennacherib had left Lachish and was at Libnah, about five miles north of Lachish. Word had come that Tirhakah was coming to assist Judah in her fight against Assyria. Tirhakah was called the Cushite king of Egypt. He was from Cush, south of Egypt, and ruled Egypt at that time. In 701 Tirhakah was an army commander; he actually did not become king of Cush until 690; but since he was king when Isaiah wrote this account, Isaiah called him the king. Hezekiah had a tough decision to make. He could depend on Egypt or God. Whom he took his burdens to would show his true character, let’s discover what happens…

READ: Isaiah 37:10-12, 14-20, 33-37

Let me ask you, do you take your burdens to the Lord when…

I. Facing Bleak Circumstances (Isaiah 37:10-12)

  1. Sennacherib became king after his father Sargon II died in battle in 704 B.C. Typically, when a strong king died, nations subservient to him rebelled hoping to gain their independence. Early in his reign, Sennacherib dealt with rebellions in the eastern part of his empire; finally defeating the Babylonians in 703 B.C., he then turned his attention to the west. Hezekiah, king of Judah, lead a rebellion of small nations. He hoped Sennacherib would prove weaker than Sargon and he trusted Egypt to provide military assistance. Sennacherib met the Egyptian force about 20 miles west of Jerusalem, and soundly defeated them. He then moved against Lachish, a crucial, fortified city of Judah. Hezekiah surrendered to Sennacherib and paid a heavy tribute. Sennacherib first sent a high-ranking Assyrian official, to convince Hezekiah to surrender. Egypt could not aid Judah and Hezekiah’s leadership could not be trusted. Hezekiah consulted Isaiah, who encouraged him to rely on God. Sennacherib sent another message to Hezekiah that emphasized God did not possess the power to save His people, “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, “Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.” Surely, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them--the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar?’” He claimed the people were being deceived by God. Saying God did not deserve His people’s trust constituted horrible blasphemy. Sennacherib appealed to cold hard facts. Since becoming king, he had moved decisively to quell all rebellions. No nation had stood before him. He had conquered greater, stronger nations than Judah; so Judah had no basis to believe it would be an exception. Nations conquered by the Assyrians had served and depended on their gods. In every case, these “gods” could not defend their nations, which fell to the Assyrian power. Sennacherib listed nations Assyria had conquered; some are unknown to us. Sennacherib stated these nations’ gods could not protect them and Judah’s God would not either. The situation seemed bleak. Isaiah and Hezekiah knew God had acted in history before to deliver His people and believed He would act again. Through Isaiah, God would encourage Hezekiah and His people to trust Him even in bleak circumstances.

  EXAMPLE: It seemed hopeless; he was recently married and now was facing cancer. How could someone so young be caught by such a dreaded disease? Looking back now, he realizes just how he came to totally depend on his faith. In fact, it has renewed his current situation in understanding that God is there always. How has God helped you in difficult circumstances you have faced? We all face bleak circumstances in life. Loved ones or we contract deadly diseases or suffer tragic accidents. We face seemingly hopeless financial reversals. Such experiences try our faith as we wonder how or if God can help. During such times, we need to remember our God can help us face and survive bleak circumstances.

Let me ask you, do you ease your burdens by…

II. Praying to Almighty God (Isaiah 37:14-20)

  1. After reading the message, Hezekiah immediately took it to the temple and unrolled the scroll before God. Hezekiah knew God comprised Judah’s only hope. First, Hezekiah referred to God as “O Lord Almighty”. This phrase is associated with the Ark of the Covenant and with God as ruler of a great heavenly court. Assyria possessed a huge army, but Hezekiah knew God wielded far greater power. Second, Hezekiah called God “the God of Israel” linking God to His chosen people. Hezekiah was confident God knew and loved His people. Third, Hezekiah spoke of God as “enthroned between the cherubim”, a description also associated with the Ark of the Covenant and with God’s status as ruler over all nations. Fourth, Hezekiah emphasized God’s uniqueness by declaring, “You alone are God.” Fifth, Hezekiah described God as “over all the kingdoms of the earth.” Sennacherib might believe in his ability and that his mighty army rendered him invincible, but he ruled at God’s pleasure. Hezekiah knew God maintained complete authority over all governments. God had allowed Sennacherib to rise to power and could easily destroy him. Finally, Hezekiah praised God as the one who “made the heavens and the earth.” God works in His world to sustain it and to direct events to His ultimate purpose, not our desires. Sennacherib likened God to the false gods of other nations he had conquered. He criticized Hezekiah for trusting in God for deliverance, believing Hezekiah was making a great mistake. Hezekiah knew that not trusting in God would be the greater mistake. Hezekiah asked God “Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.”  Sennacherib had mocked the true God, and Hezekiah asked God to punish Sennacherib's blasphemy. Hezekiah acknowledged the truth of much of Sennacherib's message, “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.” However Hezekiah wanted God to show the whole world His true power and might, “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” Knowing God means we experience God as Lord and we live on the basis of His lordship. Hezekiah based his prayer on God’s character. Hezekiah knew neither he nor his people could claim to be righteous. They had sinned. His main concern focused on God receiving glory. All too often, we pray asking God to accomplish what we desire. Instead, we need to pray to God to act to bring glory to Him even if our desires are unmet.

  EXAMPLE: Often times we speak at God instead of speaking to God when we pray. Intimacy with the Lord is not obtained in a onetime experiment when we need His guidance and strength for our momentary blip. Hezekiah got down right honest with God because he realized he had nothing to lose. The scourge of the known world was at the gates of his city! He had tried using his own resources and failed and he had tried gaining a worldly answer by relying on Egypt, which failed miserably as well. He knew only his honesty could save his kingdom and himself. All too often, we pray asking God to accomplish what we desire. Instead, we need to pray to God Almighty to act to bring glory to Him even if our desires are unmet.

Let me ask you, when you take your burdens to the Lord do you…
III. Experience Divine Reassurance (Isaiah 37:33-37)

  1. God spoke to Hezekiah through Isaiah, stating He knew of Sennacherib's blasphemy and would preserve Judah by sending the Assyrian home (Vv. 37:21-29). “Because you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.” God also promised a remnant would survive and flourish in Judah. God then encouraged Hezekiah, stating, “He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it.” An enemy’s army would surround a city to ensure no food or supplies entered and no people escaped. Then they would construct an assault ramp, where they would employ battering rams. God declared Sennacherib and his army would not engage in any siege tactics. Not a shot would be fired. Jerusalem would survive unscathed! Jerusalem and Judah would survive because Sennacherib would return to Assyria “by the way that he came he will return”. He would return home in shame, beaten by the God he had blasphemed. God would save His city and people not due to their great righteousness and trust but because of His character, “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!” Sennacherib had blasphemed God, accusing Him of being just another powerless deity whom he easily would defeat. God would prove him wrong by destroying the Assyrian army so they would know the power of God. God also would save His people to maintain His promise to David. God’s sparing of Jerusalem and Judah emphasized His faithfulness and grace. God accomplished Judah’s salvation in a miraculous manner, “Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning--there were all the dead bodies!” God’s angel killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers! When morning dawned, the survivors broke camp and left! After returning to Assyria, Sennacherib never invaded Israel again. His sons assassinated him in 681 B.C. as he worshiped in a temple (Vv. 37:38). Sennacherib had defeated nations and destroyed gods, but in the end, the true God whom he had blasphemed defeated and destroyed him. God answered Hezekiah's prayer in a powerful, miraculous way. We can experience God’s reassurance just as Hezekiah did by trusting in Him alone.

  EXAMPLE: Sometimes God acts to spare His people, but at other times, people do not experience miraculous intervention and sometimes even die for their faith. Yet in every crisis situation God provides His strengthening and comforting presence and His guidance so we may face what comes with courage and trust. We never plan to go through some of the tragedies of life we encounter. However, we can experience God’s reassurance just as Hezekiah did by trusting in Him alone.

Let me ask you, do you take your burdens to the Lord when facing bleak circumstances; do you ease your burdens by praying to Almighty God; and when you take your burdens to the Lord do you experience divine reassurance? You can just as Hezekiah did…

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.