3rd Sunday of Advent
2 Chronicles 32;1-9, 16-21
Come, oh come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
Imagine that you were diagnosed with a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine – a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No! It would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. What about prayer? How important is prayer to your daily routine? Is it something that you do once in a while? Is it what you do when you happen to find the time? Is it something that you turn to only when you’re desperate and hopeless – like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life when he’s about to end his life by jumping over the bridge? Is prayer that thing you do that is like children sitting on Santa Claus’s lap spelling out their wish list of all the things they want? What is prayer? How do you view prayer?
We are continuing our advent preparation by preparing with a king, the Old Testament king Hezekiah, for The King, King Jesus. Today we’re learning with Hezekiah how to “supplicate.” In other words, how to pray. And we’re going to specifically focus on three things: The balance of prayer, the basis and objective of prayer, and the power of prayer.
First, the balance of prayer. You notice the context of this event. “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib, king of Assyria came and invaded Judah.” Remember how faithful Hezekiah was? He returned the people back to worshipping the true God, reopened the temple of the Lord and rededicated it, last week we looked at how he faithfully celebrated the great Passover of the Lord. After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, now he faced the powerful and ruthless king of Assyria. Sennacherib’s father Sargon was the Assyrian king who finished off the northern kingdom of Israel. Apparently after Sargon died and Sennacherib took over many of the nations around Judah chose to rebel to gain their freedom so Sennacherib came with his vast army to put them in their place. In fact, the Hebrew word for Assyrian could be translated “horde.”
Just the word of the Assyrians coming was enough to frighten any king. The Assyrians were known for their inhumane cruelty and bloodshed. And now they were capturing city after city and heading straight for Jerusalem. Where is God in all of this? Why is He permitting this? After all Hezekiah had so faithfully done doesn’t he deserve something from God? Perhaps you’ve had those same kinds of questions when one thing after another just piles up on you in life. Luther says that it’s precisely when God seems hidden that people have the greatest opportunity to exercise their faith in His promises.
So, what does Hezekiah do? He knows he is no match for the Assyrian horde, so he prepares by strengthening his defenses. He stopped up all the springs outside the city so the Assyrians would have trouble getting water, he also dug a channel underneath Jerusalem so they would have water from the Gihon spring, he repaired the wall, built another wall, and had a bunch of weapons and shields made as well as appointed military officers.
So, what’s the proper response to trouble or challenge? Prayer or work? When you’re facing a crisis- what should you do? Should you sit on your hands, pray, and trust that God is going to deliver you? Or do you get busy and do everything you can to fix the problem? Some people are more pragmatist and some are more idealist. The pragmatist insists on getting busy and doing something in the face of a challenge. The idealist insists on simply trusting God and praying. The idealist will look at the pragmatist and say, “You have no faith! Just trust in God!” And the pragmatist will look at the idealist and say, “You’re tempting God!” The pragmatist can easily think that it’s his actions that save him and the idealist can easily become carelessly confident and become lazy.
Hezekiah demonstrates the balance of prayer. Both prayer and work go together. Trust in God and using the means, resources, and abilities He’s given me, go together. Hezekiah both prays and gets to work, but all the while he depends on the Lord’s mighty power to deliver him. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”
That leads to our second point: the basis and objective of prayer. Over the years there have been many military commanders or leaders who have tried to fire up and encourage their troops. Maybe they’ll direct their troops to the glories they will win or to their nationality, like, ‘We’re Americans!’ or to their noble cause, like freedom and liberty. But the basis for Hezekiah’s trust and prayer is the might and strength of the Lord. And his objective is not personal glory, is not a larger kingdom, is not fame, his objective is that “all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” His objective is God’s glory and His honor.
Sennacherib had sent his messengers to mock, ridicule, and insult the Lord, claiming that the Lord would not be able to help the people of Judah. He meant to crush their spirits, to frighten and terrify them so they would just give up. But Hezekiah bases his prayer and his trust on the Lord’s power and for the Lord’s glory. For no matter how bloodthirsty and terrifying the Assyrians were all they had was the arm of flesh, “but with us is the lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”
I think we all want to pray more and to go deeper in our prayers. We know that a natural outgrowth of reading, studying, learning, meditating on the Lord’s Word and receive the sacraments is a desire to pray. But someone once said that nothing really helps us go deeper in our prayers than simply being hopeless and desperate on our own. The Assyrians had over run every city and were now about to take Jerusalem. Hezekiah probably felt like he was in a pool with the water up to the neck- only the Lord could rescue him from this situation.
We too face many things in life. What Assyrian army is laying siege to your life? What is it that is leading you to be hopeless and desperate on your own? What is it that is stealing away your joy and gladness this Advent season? Is a fear for an uncertain future? Is it some kind of sickness or illness or simply growing old? Is it the terror of loneliness or thinking about spending the holidays with a loved one not present who has passed away? Is it the threat of Satan’s continuing onslaughts of temptations or your own sinful flesh? What Assyrian army is laying siege to your life and sapping your joy in life, your strength, and making you feel desperate?
With Hezekiah prepare for battle by first turning to the Lord. Why so? With them is only the arm of flesh, but with you is the Lord your God to help you and to fight your battles. Your true King, King Jesus, has come. He has taken everything that condemns you, everything that threatens your eternal life, all your sin upon Himself and won the victory with his death on the cross and His resurrection! He has trampled every enemy underfoot and depending on his strength you win the battle over everything that threatens you. So pray, based on the Lord’s unlimited strength and for His glory.
And how do you know? As you face fears, concerns, worries, troubles this Christmas season, how do you know that the Lord is with you? How do you know that He cares that much about you? How do you know He will deliver you? The Lord has given you the sign: The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – God with us. God Himself became a human being in order to rescue you. So, you live in the city of God and even though the entire world is exploding in chaos around you, you can always enjoy perfect peace- for the Lord is with you, He has rescued you and He will rescue you.
And finally, the power of prayer. Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, trusted in Him and you know what the Lord did? The Lord sent an angel and annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king – 185,000 soldiers died. Sennacherib withdrew in disgrace. Judah was delivered and could live in peace. What is the Lord able to do? Anything. The Lord, the ruler of the universe, takes our prayers into account, chooses to work through our prayers in His master governing of the universe to accomplish His will. That’s power! Luther commented that God’s command and the prayers of His people are the two pillars which support the world. God uses your prayers. If it wasn’t for Christians and their prayers the world would have ceased to exist long ago. Prayers are powerful and God always answers prayers in the best way, he will always answer your prayers in the way that you would have asked if you knew everything He knew. And how do you know that? We look to a different battle, a battle fought in a garden, a battle that involved sweat like drops of blood where God’s own Son pleaded to not drink the cup of God’s wrath for all sins, but only as God wills it and God said no. Since Jesus willingly faced the worst battle ever for you and me, we know God loves us dearly, we know that God will use His power to help us, we know that the prayers of God’s people are powerful and effective.
So this Advent season- supplicate. Pray- balancing trust in God with faithful work, basing your prayer on the incredible strength of God and that he might answer your prayer in a way that gives God glory, and trust in the incredible power of prayer.