These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
Last week we spoke of the place and value of prayer. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are his ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8). Or as another scripture has it, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established” (Proverbs 19:21).
Jesus arrived in Bethany and proceeded to prepare the two sisters and all the onlookers for the miracle that was going to take place. Without their co-operation and the necessary faith Jesus would have been severely hampered in what he was going to do. You may remember that it is recorded that when he was in his home town of Nazareth “he could do no mighty work there” (Mark 6:5), “because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). Similarly when we come to look at the healing of Jairus’ daughter Jesus had to put out the scornful mourners, and keep with him only the few who had faith.
So we see this week that Jesus deals separately with Martha and then Mary to tackle their grief and disappointment. He then raises their hope and faith. He also prays in front of the crowd, as he says, “for their sake” (v.42). Finally he gets them to take the first practical step of faith: “Take away the stone” (v.39). This opens up the possibilities. Either there will be a stink or there will be a deathly hush.
And now Jesus raises the dead, not through prayer, but through the creative word of command: “Lazarus, come out” (v.43). This loud proclamation was not said to the people or to God, but to Lazarus. As we have read earlier this week we are expected to speak to the mountain. In this case it is Lazarus who has to respond. That’s what faith is: hear and obey. James makes this very clear in his letter when he wrote, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
Outside the grave of Lazarus, Jesus said the word. The young man came forth. The people were given a further work to do: “Unbind him and let him go” (v.44). Once again we are involved in the process of healing and deliverance.
Lord, it is incredible but true, you raised the dead. I believe, help my unbelief, and may my faith grow. Amen.
The prayer request of Martha and Mary for their dying brother, Lazarus, was non-prescriptive. They sent messengers to Jesus with the words, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (v.3). This plea allows the Lord to do what is right in his time, but it becomes clear that the sisters had it clearly in mind what he should do. He should come at once, lay hands on Lazarus and make him instantly better, or simply 2say the word2 from where he was. That is why when Jesus eventually turned up they each in turn accused him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21, 32).
Time and again we read of the accusation against Jesus that he does not care because he does not do what he is expected to do. They think that if he is loving he would do what they ask. They had faith to believe that he could heal the sick. But their faith ran out when Lazarus died. Yet Jesus was testing their faith and leading them on to greater faith. He said to them outside the tomb, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (v.40).
Now Jesus knew what he was going to do. He had been in prayer to his Father whilst miles away in Bethany (not the Bethany where Martha and Mary lived!). He could have said the word whilst there and Lazarus could have been healed. He could have travelled back to Bethany and laid on hands. But no, he delayed until Lazarus had died. By the time he arrived the man had been dead four days (v.39).
So when he stood outside the tomb he was not trying to bring Lazarus back to life through prayer. He prayed for the sake of those standing by (v.42), to help lift their faith. He knew that God was a God of the ‘impossible’, but others did not. In this case the faith of all was needed for such a mighty miracle to be done. This is what prayer does; it brings us into our Father’s presence so that our spirits can be instructed and we start to think and believe with the mind of Christ. Next week we shall see the result!
Lord, you walked so serenely and confidently, knowing the will of your Father. Help me to listen and learn. Amen.
1 Where else do we read the accusation that God does not care?
During the following weeks we are learning how to exercise the authority that God through Christ has given us. We are not simply limited to asking God to do things, but are hearing from God what we should be doing, doing it and seeing the power of God at work.
Sometimes we are faced by an immovable object, a ‘mountain’ (v.23). This may be to do with money problems e.g. how to get a mortgage or overcome debt. The problem may be trying to achieve planning permission. It might be to do with a church leader who is blocking progress. Whatever the ‘mountain’, we first of all pray about it. We lay the problem before our God. It is not our place to tell him what to do! However, as we pray and listen we may discover that his purpose is to move that ‘mountain’. He then tells us: “You move it!”
We are not used to this task. Somehow we think that miracles take place if God chooses to do something. But the fact is that most miracles simply do not take place because we do not exercise our authority. We are instructed, “YOU say to the mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’” (v.23). This may sound incredible, but that is only because we have lost sight of the dominion that we have been given.
Of course we cannot do this on our own authority or to fulfil any selfish ambition. This authority lies with those who have faith. And what is faith? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). No wonder Jesus said that man shall live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
“Say to this mountain …” (v.23) follows the cursing of the fig tree by Jesus. In Matthew it follows the failure of the disciples to cast out the demon from the boy at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration. The faith that they lacked needed to be like “a grain of mustard seed” (Matthew 17:20); in other words, alive and growing.
I know O Lord that with you nothing is impossible. Help me to act upon that knowledge for your sake. Amen.
“only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (v.8) RSV
Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” This is true, very true
(see ‘Explore More’ below); but more often than not prayer needs to be followed by action, and without that action prayer becomes comparatively ineffective. Prayer is meeting with God, bringing into his presence our concerns, and then listening to him to know what he wants us to do. Once we know what his will is, we go out and do it. If, however, we continue to pray and to say, “Please, please” then we are not receiving any answers nor are we receiving any directions.
Prayer brings us into line with God so that we can then go and work in step with him. God doesn’t create gardens and husband cattle, we do. He said, “Have dominion …” (Genesis 1:28). God wields much of his authority and his control through us. If we do not move in this faith but wait for God to act then little will be achieved.
The centurion in today’s readings expresses it so well that Jesus is positively amazed. He remarks, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (v.10). So, what was this exemplary faith? The centurion knew that things happened through the exercise of authority: “I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes” (9). Action is achieved by order not by request.
We shall see through the following weeks that Jesus healed no one through prayer! Oh yes, healings were preceded by prayer, for Jesus always found out what his Father in Heaven was doing, but when it came to the crunch prayer became action and authority: “Come forth”, Stand up”, “Come out”, etc.
The centurion knew that Jesus didn’t even have to come into his house or wave his hand over the sick servant. “Only say the word” was the message that the centurion had conveyed to Jesus. Again and again Jesus had healed and delivered the possessed through the word of command. This is the faith he wants us to exercise. He has given us authority, just as he gave the twelve and the seventy two. If we don’t it is probably because we have no idea what God is doing or what we should be doing. It is not our will that we are commanding, but his. We need to find that divine-will from our Father otherwise we will not only be ineffective but possibly also presumptuous.
Lord, thank you for the authority that you have committed to your people. Help me to minister in your name. Amen.
1 Who was healed without seeing Elisha, but by command?
“Isaiah said … ‘This is what the Lord says …’” (37:5) RSV
All that we have read in 2 Kings over the last few weeks is more or less repeated in these four chapters of Isaiah. They serve to emphasise how much Isaiah was involved in the nitty-gritty of politics and national affairs. Woe betides any church that lives only for its own growth and its local situation. We are part of a movement that seeks to bring God’s timely words of warning or encouragement to those in power.
Isaiah seems to have been a lone, yet much respected voice. We should welcome any opportunity that is offered to us, or our church leaders, to be involved in national or local affairs. Our mission is not just to individuals, though of course it is that. Our mission is to the world that God made and loves.
Isaiah was at the King’s side to encourage his religious reforms. He was there when Assyria was at the gates of Jerusalem. He was there at Hezekiah’s life-threatening illness. And he was there when Hezekiah betrayed the nation and thereby invoked God’s judgement.
A prophet is not there so much to foretell, as to forth-tell. He has the task of bringing God’s immediate and relevant word to people. Whereas the priest represents the people to God, the prophet represents God to the people. The prophet needs to spend time with God so that he has an open ear. He also needs to spend time keeping up-to-date with local and world affairs. Within himself he brings God and the world together, and then hears what God has to say and what God is doing.
Jesus (our PROPHET, priest and king) said that he only did what he saw his Father doing (John 5:19), and only said what he heard his Father say (e.g. John 15:15). In our own small way we need to follow in his footsteps. And we need to pray for Christians who have access to high places, that they may be courageous. We also need to pray that people of influence will be prepared to heed the truth.
Lord, you have called your Church to be a prophetic voice in this fallen world. Help us by word and deed to fulfil this high calling. Amen.
We might be forgiven for thinking that Hezekiah would continue faithful to his God for the rest of his days. After all, he had seen God do a mighty miracle in delivering his kingdom from the hand of Sennacherib and his colossal army. He had also been miraculously delivered from a fatal boil. Surely, fortified by such great interventions by God he would be even stronger in his commitment to restoring Israel’s true religion.
But no, Hezekiah was swept away by pride and confidence. Maybe the feeling that he was in some way especially loved by God and spiritually privileged, gave him the illusion of being special. Pride will get us every time. The occasion of his downfall was a visit by envoys from Babylon. He thus received a potential enemy into his house. With pride he allowed these spies (as they turned out to be) to see all his treasures. Pride makes us blind and naïve.
It took the prophet Isaiah to point out to him the error of his ways. You no doubt remember how the prophet Nathan had to point out to David his sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed.
Sometimes we cannot see our own folly. We justify to ourselves what we are doing. Or maybe we are so blind we are blithely unaware of our actions. As Jeremiah says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Knowing this we need to make sure that we are teachable. Will we listen if someone approaches us and points out to us the errors of our ways?
If we do not, then let us note the consequences for Hezekiah. Isaiah told him (vv.16-19) that his kingdom would be lost, together with its treasure and even some of his own family. Sadly he took no notice, because it wasn’t going to happen in his own lifetime! But his son, Manasseh, was to be one of the most wicked of kings, and to make it worse he reigned for 55 long years.
Keep me Lord from presumptuous sin. May I be humble, biddable and open to correction. Amen.
1 What is the wisdom that we need to guard against folly?
“… became sick and was at the point of death” (v.1) RSV
There is nothing like sickness to rob us of energy, or hope, or a wholesome perspective on life. Hezekiah had had a fantastic first fourteen years as king of Judah. He had brought about an enormous religious reform, and he had seen the Assyrian army sent packing by God. Yet we now read of him lying in bed with a boil on his bottom, feeling that the end of his world had come.
His success and his popularity became as nothing to him in the face of personal mortality. He felt so depressed that “he turned his face to the wall … and wept bitterly” (vv.2-3). And to make matters worse the prophet Isaiah arrived with a short and simple message, “you shall die” (v.1). However Hezekiah did not give up but prayed.
Isaiah had hardly got out of the house before God told him to go back and deliver a different message. This time he told the sick man that he would live another fifteen years. What an amazingly quick answer to prayer!
The cure took three days and involved the application of a poultice of figs. It also required a faith-booster for Hezekiah. The shadow on the steps (a primitive clock) went backwards rather than forwards; this “sign” (v.9) was granted him so that he could believe the word of Isaiah that he would recover. Figs alone were not going to do it; it needed faith as well.
Not all sickness is healed, but this account of Hezekiah’s recovery is an encouragement to us that despite a fatalistic prognosis, God may in his mercy deliver us and restore us to his service. Hezekiah’s prayer for healing is recorded only in Isaiah 38:9-20. He was to live another fifteen years, but the sad thing is that he wasted them. We shall read about that in our next session. Meantime let us resolve to make the most of the time that is given to us, especially if we have had a miraculous escape from death.
Thank you Lord for every day you give me. May I live each one to the full and for your glory. Amen.
“… the Lord … slew 185,000 … of the Assyrians” (v.35) RSV
Miracles are not always ‘nice’. They are not all about healing people. Even Jesus cursed the fig tree and saw it wither and die the next day (Matthew 21:18-20). God is involved in every aspect of life, and that includes war. It is therefore not improper to attribute the death of 185,000 troops to God’s “angel” (v.35).
In fact, historians tell us that God’s angel worked through some sort of plague, possibly brought on by mice or other vermin. The expression “angel” refers to the unseen hand of God. But as with the acts of creation or the death of the firstborn in Egypt, there is also a scientific explanation. These two explanations are not mutually exclusive but are complementary to one another.
The things that make this a miracle are that a) it comes in answer to prayer, b) its timing is so perfect, and c) it solves an impossible problem. Miracles are not necessarily beyond our understanding, but they cause us to wonder in amazement, and our eye of faith sees that it is God at work.
Hezekiah’s prayer had allowed God to intervene in a most unexpected way. It was a classic case of, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The Assyrian army was decimated and disheartened. They withdrew with their tails between their legs. On arriving home in Nineveh the king, Sennacherib, was assassinated by two of his sons. What a rout!
The answer to Hezekiah’s prayer was way beyond what he could have imagined. God’s ways are not our ways. Our duty is to bring any unsolvable situation into his presence, and leave it there. God will act and life will go on. However, sometimes God’s purposes are not to give deliverance but to allow judgement to work itself out; this was the case years later when Jeremiah foretold the fall of Jerusalem. We cannot tell God what to do, but we allow his will to be worked out.
Lord, your arm is not shortened that it cannot save. Great is your might. Teach me to bring all things to you. Amen.
“Hezekiah … spread the letter before the Lord” (v.14) RSV
Fear can come in many forms. Its power lies in the fact that it undermines faith. We lose our peace because we are temporarily overcome by the reality of our problems.
You may remember this is what happened to Peter when he took his first steps on water: “when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, cried out, Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). Well, it was just the same with Hezekiah. When he read the letter from the besieging Assyrian army and when he knew all the havoc they had wrought further up north, he was full of apprehension.
However, he did the right thing. Previously he had tried to buy them off and he had prepared by digging a water course into Jerusalem, but now there was no other option left to him, he must pray. There is a beautiful simplicity, even naivety in what he does. He takes the threatening letter with him into God’s presence (the Temple), and spreads it out in front of him. He then reminds God of his love and care for his people.
This leads him into asking the Lord to sort out the problem. Hezekiah is not being prescriptive but he is definitely looking for a solution.
There are many, many ways to pray, but there is no technique that compels God to fulfil our will. Prayer is, one way or another, a matter of coming into God’s presence, opening our heart to him, reminding ourselves of his promises and commitment to us, and then resting in the assurance that he has heard and will answer (as the old Prayer Book says) “as is most expedient for us”.
As the old hymn goes: “What a friend we have in Jesus … What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Are you facing intractable problems? Pray!
Thank you Lord that nothing is too big or too small to bring to you in prayer. Make me eager to talk to you. Amen.
1 Who was in the custom of praying three times a day?
“(he) stripped the gold from the doors of the Temple … and gave it to the king of Assyria” (v.16) RSV
After Hezekiah had been king of Judah for four years the Assyrians, under Sennacherib, defeated the northern kingdom (Israel). Ten years later they were at the doors of Jerusalem. Hezekiah’s first line of defence was to try to buy them off. He stripped the temple of its silver and even took off the very gold from the doors which he had only fourteen years earlier put on.
The crisis of a foreign and powerful enemy was upon him. At first appeasement seemed the prudent approach, but it was not going to work. Fortunately Hezekiah had had the presence of mind over the previous years to build a tunnel from outside Jerusalem to inside, in order to bring water so that they would not die of thirst during any siege. This tunnel ended at the Pool of Siloam in the city of Jerusalem, and it can be walked through to this day.
The Assyrians did not go away. Instead they increased the pressure, sending alarming and threatening messages. But the people in Jerusalem loved and trusted their king. How vital it is for a leader to win the hearts and minds of his people. They did not try to reason with the enemy but left it to their King.
When we are under attack and our enemy frightens us, we too must turn to our Lord, for he has promised never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Certainly we need to stand our ground and not run away. But as we stand and face the enemy, calm in the strength of the Lord, we will find the enemy will flee (James 4:7).
When Jesus was attacked by the Devil in his Wilderness Temptation we read that he calmly and resolutely stood his ground. He countered each assault with the word of God, and eventually, it says, “the devil left him” (Matthew 4:11). He was to be attacked from time to time but each time he resisted and was successful. Let us be encouraged.
Lord, with you I can face any foe. Grant me the confidence to stand my ground and to see your deliverance. Amen.
“He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (v.3) RSV
The Kings of Judah (the southern kingdom) were on the whole a fairly rum lot, though not as bad as the Kings of Israel (the northern kingdom). But there were a few notable exceptions, Hezekiah being one of them. This man came to the throne aged 25, and for the following fourteen years did an excellent job as king. He was totally dedicated to cleansing Judah of its idolatry. This was the more amazing since his father, Ahaz, had been wicked, even burning one of his sons as an offering (2 Kings 16:3).
We do not need to repeat the sins of our father(s). By the Lord’s strength we can break the mould and be free to follow God’s ways. We read, “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel … he held fast to the Lord … and the Lord was with him” (vv.5-6).
Hezekiah was zealous for his God. Much more about his reforms can be read in 2 Chronicles, chapters 29 to 31. There we see he repaired the Temple doors, and then rededicated the Levites. In turn they cleansed and sanctified the inside of the Temple. Sacrifices were made for the sins of all the people. The Levites then conducted renewed worship with songs and prayer. Thus he cleansed their religion.
Hezekiah then arranged a back-to-church initiative; this was to take place at the Passover Festival. Everyone from far and wide was invited by letter. Very many people responded and there was a great assembly, and they worshipped and feasted for seven days! Finally everyone was encouraged to give generously – always a sign of revival. True revival affects our pockets!
How we need to pray for a leadership that has the commitment and influence to turn our country back to God- centred living. We need to be turned from the ways of Ahaz to the ways of Hezekiah.
Thank you Lord for the Luthers and Wesleys who have turned people back to you. Raise up, I pray, brave leaders today who will turn us back to true religion. Amen.