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Isaiah 37: Trust

Good morning, friends. Please go with me to the book of Isaiah, and this morning we’re going to be reading from chapter 37 as we continue through our series in Isaiah.

We’ve been talking about what God’s kingdom is like, and what our lives are meant to be.

We are meant to live everlasting, quiet lives in the midst of permanent things, relationships, a family that doesn’t break or end. God with us, meals and lives shared, everyone having a place at the table. We are meant to live under the rule of God, himself. He is a good king, a just judge, who brings peace—not just peace for some, or inner peace, or a status quo, but peace together with justice.

In the kingdom of God, everything grows and thrives, bears fruit in its season. Creation, yes, but even God’s people—continually growing and learning, like a child in wonder, but without a limit to what we can experience or know.

Last week, I was arguing, these things we’ve been talking about, the way our lives will be in the kingdom of God, this is not just what God intends for us one day, in the next life. This is what he intends for us now, too, even in the midst of the brokenness of the world. His kingdom is already breaking through in us. We don’t have to live good-enough, getting by lives. We can learn to live abundant lives, daily doing things that will carry on into eternity.

We looked at one of the central themes of Isaiah, this back and forth rhythm of judgement and redemption, heaviness and joy, wounding and healing. In that back and forth, Isaiah is trying to show us that God is not done creating us. Like a surgeon with a knife, he wounds us to heal us. Like a sculptor with clay, if we are not the way he intended us to be, he breaks us down and reshapes us. He’s healing us now, in this life, and he will not stop that work until its done. He will work to redeem the world until every wrong is undone, every wound healed, everything, every person who’s broken pieced back together.

This week, we are going to look at another central theme of Isaiah, something Meg touched on a few weeks ago, but which bears repeating. It’s one of the ways we are able to live now, as we do in the kingdom: we can trust God. Right now, in this life, we can trust that God will do everything he’s promised to do in our lives and in our world.

Now, normally this is the point in the sermon that I would read the passage, but this text isn’t going to make any sense without some explanation. And I know Anne-Elise is thinking right now, “bro, the book of Isaiah hasn’t made any sense without explanation.” But, you know, all the more reason.

Isaiah, at this point in the book, is going to begin to shift. Since chapter six, the book has largely been poetry promising judgement and redemption, explaining the nature of the coming kingdom of God. In chapter 36, there’s a plot twist, and Isaiah switches into writing narrative, history, to explain what’s going on.

Isaiah lives in the nation of Judah, in the city of Jerusalem, which is ruled by a king name Hezekiah. Judah used to be one nation, unified with the nation directly above them, Israel, but the houses of Israel and Judah divided and began to war against each other. At that point, Judah did something despicable. They worked together with an incredibly cruel and violent empire, Assyria, ruled by king Sennecharib, to destroy their own brothers and sisters in Israel. But the hearts of men never being satisfied, Assyria was not satisfied with just ruling over Israel. They moved to conquer Judah, too. And here in the passage we’re about to read, Assyria has conquered the fortified cities of Judah, meaning they’ve destroyed the military outposts on the borders meant to stop armies from getting through to the capital, to where people actually lived. Judah has no armies left, no allies, nowhere they can go, and the army of Assyria is standing at the gates.

In the chapter right before the one we’re about to read, the general of Assyria is taunting them. He’s standing at the gates, shouting to the terrified people on the other side of the wall, he tells them, having just slaughtered their armies, their sons, he says I’ll give you 20,000 warhorses and chariots right now if you have 20,000 people left to ride them all.

Isaiah, after being informed of the situation, naturally, sends word to the king and tells king Hezekiah, I know what it seems with thousands of enemies at our gates, but there’s nothing to be afraid of right now. The Lord has promised Assyria won’t destroy Jerusalem, so of course they won’t. Trust God. So instead of going to war counsels, or going to plead mercy of the general at the gates—those things would make sense—Hezekiah does something absurd. He goes to church.

The general, meanwhile, also sends word to king Hezekiah, saying, don’t think your God will save you. Every other city I’ve conquered had god’s, too, just like yours and I burned their temples and their god’s when I took their cities. Now those gods have ceased to exist. He says, the Lord of Israel will burn right along with Jerusalem.

And I was thinking in writing this how many times I’ve heard predictions in my lifetime from powerful men at the peak of their powers that our God would cease, be conquered and forgotten, all the churches closed.

Our passage is king Hezekiah’s response. Read with me, Isaiah, chapter 37, starting in v.14. [Isaiah 37:14-20]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord, please show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.

I found myself wondering this week what I would have done if I were in Hezekiah’s place. I’ve never been in a city under siege, for which I’m grateful. I’ve never been the ruler of a city, either, much less of a nation. So it’s hard for me to imagine. The closest I’ve come is being the overseer of a church, the head of a household, and from time to time, both of those things have felt besieged in some way. I always hope I would trust in the Lord for deliverance, as Hezekiah, in the end, does here, but I’m not sure. Trust is difficult.

What would you do if you were in his place? Or, I guess, more important to ask is this, what would you do in the place you’re actually in? How can you trust in the Lord where you are Trust is difficult. In our friendships and family relationships, trust is built slowly, over time, and it’s lost in a moment.

Our son, for example, is part human, part flying squirrel. Always has been. He loves to jump and fly and land on my back or have me catch him. When he was younger, he wouldn’t even warn me, or get my attention. He’d be up in a tree or something, and just leap off, fully expecting me to catch him, so naturally in a sermon on trust you know where this story is going.

One time we were playing a game where he was up on our bed, I bent down to grab a ball we were throwing, and he takes a flying leap across the room without telling me, glances off my back, and lands face down on the floor of our bedroom. After he finished crying, lip bleeding, he looks at me and goes, “maybe we shouldn’t play that game again.” But we got over it—kind of. We played that game again, but since then, it’s been, “Dad, I’m going to jump. Are you ready?”

Trust is difficult. In our passage, and as we’ve gone through Isaiah, you’ve seen the problems between Isaiah and king Hezekiah. King Hezekiah did not usually trust Isaiah, but through a lifetime of faithful teaching, the king learned to trust Isaiah, and in this moment of crisis, Hezekiah turns to Isaiah for advice, and Isaiah comes through. He was a good friend in a time of trouble, and we all need those people we can trust.

But it’s hard to trust people for one, simple reason: they let us down. Eventually, no matter how dependable a person is in your life, your trust in them will be disappointed. I was always going to miss catching AJ, if not that day, another. I’m just glad it’s when he jumped off the bed, and not from a high tree limb. We have to learn to forgive each other, say things like, “everyone makes mistakes.” We learn who is worthy of our trust and how much.

Trusting in the Lord is difficult too, and far more complicated. Because you could run, jump to him a thousand times a day for a thousand years, and, child, he will never let you fall. God will not let you down, so you would think it would be easier to trust God than it is to trust other people. But you’d be wrong. Just because God never lets anyone down doesn’t mean it’s easy to trust him. Like I said, trusting God is harder. If anything, trusting other people in our lives is just practice for trusting the Lord.

One of the things that makes trust in God so difficult is, God is so much bigger than we are that oftentimes, he wants different things than we do. We tend to be small and one-track, but God is “vast, [he] contains multitudes.” AJ and I, we had an understanding. Neither of us wanted him to hit the ground. With God, it gets a little more complicated. Like a good father, he wants things you don’t; he sees things you don’t.

Maybe I’m the only one in the room with stories about being younger, and spending months, years even, begging, pleading with God, pursuing things that would not have been good for me, only I didn’t understand. Like a toddler throwing a tantrum: “but I wanted that knife he had in his mouth.” How much of my life have I spent in crisis when I could have trusted the Lord instead?

I remember one time I had an actual crisis of faith over not getting a parking spot. I’ve told you this story before. It’s at least somewhat embarrassing. I was late for a date, and I was praying the whole way over to her apartment for a spot by the door, because otherwise I would have to park across the road, and it would take about ten more minutes. Phil, you would have been so proud, man. I named and claimed that parking spot. I prayed in faith, believing I would get it. And then it wasn’t there, and I was thirty minutes late picking up this girl, and I was angry at the Lord for what I saw at the time as the Lord letting me down.

Later on, after spending the next thirteen years waiting on that same girl, who is chronically late, I see the Lord did not let me down. He just wanted something different. I wanted to be on time. He wanted to teach me, even from the first, how to live with this girl. How to be patient with her, how ten minutes lost does not the world end.

Sometimes there’s more than a parking space at risk. Sometimes you want a person to live, and the Lord wants to resurrect them. Sometimes you want a marriage to work, or an interview to go well, or to buy a house before you have to move out of your current house—just throwing out scenarios here, all hypothetical. And it feels like you jumped, you took some sort of leap of faith believing God would catch you, and then you fall, and you say, maybe I shouldn’t play that game again. But it’s not that the Lord dropped you, it’s that our hearts aren’t enough like his, and we don’t want the things he wants in the world.

Usually he wants something so big, it’s out of our focus, and we are too easily pleased with what we know. We’re like characters in a play, lashing out at our author because we’re in act four, we’re in some sort of chaos or crisis, and God, our author, is telling us, peace child, I’m writing something beautiful here across all of humanity.

But if we can learn to want the same things God wants, if we learn to fashion our hearts after his, we’ll start falling less. We’ll learn, like AJ, to call out to him more often, pray, communicate more, so that we can hear him say, “Yes, jump!” Or slow down, child, it’s not time yet. So in aligning our hearts with his, we can learn to trust him. If we learn to want the same things he wants, it will spare us unnecessary pain and heartbreak, and allow us to trust him in those times when pain and heartbreak were necessary because of the sin and brokenness of our world.

He may not want the same things you want, but he is good, and he is paying attention to you. You can trust that he will be with you always. He’s told us so.

So trusting God is difficult because he wants things we don’t want. Trusting God is also difficult because he’s so holy, he’s so other than what we’re used to, that our mistakes and misunderstandings get in the way. Before Hezekiah turned to the Lord, we talked about how he depended on Assyria in the wars with Israel, then while Assyria was destroying the rest of his cities and nation, Hezekiah had turned, yet again, to a strong empire with a large army—he turned to Egypt for help. Basically he did what made sense in the world we live in—he sought powerful allies, and it would have been a good move if Israel’s God were just like the gods of those nations. What he did made sense, if the Lord was never going to actually show up for Jerusalem, if he didn’t really have any power, or if he was never going to act, then it would make perfect sense for Hezekiah to reach out to Egypt.

I’m proud and American individual enough that usually I don’t trust other people to come help me, I trust in myself. Friend, I hope you don’t make my mistakes.

All my life, as a child growing up in church, I received the advice from people around me not to trust in my own abilities, but instead to trust in the Lord, and I never knew what to do with that advice practically, because in almost every aspect of life, when the Lord acts, he wants you to act alongside him. We don’t just sit around and wait to be rid of sin, for example, we confess, we repent, we play a part in our own sanctification. Or with evangelism, yes, God saves people, but “how will they believe if they have not heard?” Or with works of justice and peace, both come from the Lord, but he expects us to work alongside him.

So what, practically, is the difference between trusting in the Lord and trusting in your own abilities? I wondered. I wondered that for years, as I went through seminary trying my hardest, then worked for growing, thriving churches, always laboring, trying with all of my abilities. I wondered, am I trusting my ability, or trusting the Lord?

Then I started working for a church that wasn’t doing so well. They were close to shutting down when I started. And the will of God wasn’t hard to work out in that scenario: God wants churches to thrive, just like he wants people to thrive, he wants them to be healthy and active, provided for. So, as far as we could tell, our desires were aligned with God’s. We wanted the same things. Could we just trust him, then, to make our church healthier—and if so, why was he waiting so long? Or was he waiting on us to act? Either way, it seemed the enemy was at the gates and the situation was dire. What to do?

We wanted to see people saved, we wanted a greater sense of community, more discipleship, sanctification, life change. It was then that I realized two things which have helped me ever since. I realized my complete lack of ability to do anything I actually want to see done in ministry, and I realized the utter absurdity of prayer. I’m not able to save anyone, or sanctify them. I could be the best preacher in the world, and if the Holy Spirit does not work in the hearts of the congregation, my words will fall on deaf ears. And I can invite you over to dinner all I want, but until Christ allows us to forgive each other our sins, we will never love each other and actually have community between us. And unless the Spirit illumines a person’s heart, my teaching them will not benefit them.

I was completely desperate and in need of the work of God. I was like an infant; I could do nothing for myself, I just hadn’t realized it before. And when I say that prayer is absurd, what I mean is this: it’s the exact wrong plan. You want to see people saved and lives changed, so you’re going to go into some upper room somewhere with no one else and share your heart with God, and that’s the plan? Prayer is absurd. It’s like Isaiah telling the king not to worry when an army has already defeated his armies and is now standing at the gates of the capital. It’s like Joshua needing to sack a city with giant walls, and the plan is to march around it and blow trumpets. That’s absurd, it’s ridiculous. It’s something that only makes sense if God is who he says he is, if he going to show up, if he’s going to act instead of you, if you really are dependent upon him, if you can trust him.

That’s the only way prayer makes sense. If God is like every other god in the world, able to be conquered and burned, then we’re wasting our time praying. But if he is really the one we need to do anything of worth and value in our lives in ministry, then, and only then, does prayer make sense, does fasting make sense, or any of the disciplines we use to seek him. If there’s really hope in him, then we can trust him.

My invitation to you this morning is to place your trust in the Lord. You can trust him to fulfill his promises, to do good works in the world, to love and care for you. He hasn’t forgotten about you or turned his back. He hasn’t stopped paying attention to you. He’s got you, he’ll catch you. I know it’s hard when he doesn’t do what you want, when he’s so other than our experience that what he’s asking you to do just seems absurd. But trust him. He’ll take care of you.