Today we're going to be looking at Isaiah 38 and 39. I was thinking this week as I pondered these passages that the Bible is a lot like an anti-virus program. Have you ever been hit by a computer virus? It's tragic how it works: your computer is going along just fine, but there's this virus lurking in your system that you know nothing about. Everything seems fine and normal, and then, BOOM! All of sudden this virus leaps out and starts eating your files and writing over your hard drives and rewriting registries. It's a technological disaster!
Sin is a lot like a computer virus in this way: you can be living your life following Jesus, trusting him, loving, him and everything can seem fine on the surface, but there can be pockets of sin underneath that you're not even aware of. This sin can suddenly rise up, and you find yourself feeling things and saying things and doing things that you can't believe you're feeling, saying, and doing. Sin can be under the surface and can rise up and attack you just like a computer virus can.
There's good news, though. God does not leave us defenseless in these situations. He's given us an anti-virus program: the Bible. If we will regularly scan our hearts with Scripture, by his Holy Spirit God will give us a warning—like those red warning letters you get on a computer—and you can click "Destroy" or not. See how powerful the Word of God is? It not only reveals our sin, but it also gives us means by God's grace to destroy the sin.
I think one of the main words God wants to speak to us in these two chapters of Isaiah is this: Scan your heart with God's Word to see the sin that's there—especially one particularly devious an insidious kind of sin that we're going to see in these chapters today.
The blessings that precede pride
Let's start with chapter 38. What's the point of chapter 38? In verse 1 we see that Hezekiah is sick and dying of a terminal illness: "In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, 'Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.'" Now, in that verse, God is not promising Hezekiah that he's going to die. We know that because of the ensuing verses. What God is simply saying to Hezekiah is: If you have a fatal disease, unless there's supernatural intervention, you're going to die.
So Hezekiah does the right thing. Look at verse 2 and 3: "Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, 'Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.' And Hezekiah wept bitterly." Hezekiah does the right thing. He's facing an impossible situation, and he calls on the One for whom nothing is impossible. And God responds to Hezekiah's prayer: "Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: 'Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.'" When Hezekiah turns to the Lord in desperation, God says: Yes, I will heal you of this illness; I will add 15 years to your life.
What happens next is astonishing as well. In the last verse of the chapter, we read that Hezekiah asks God for a sign: Give me a sign so I know that you're really going to do this, he asks. And look at this astonishing sign God gives, described in verses 7 and 8: "This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps. So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined."
Here's what's going on. We know that the sun doesn't really move up or down—that the earth is what moves—but the sun is going down in the west, and as the sun goes down, shadows are growing longer. That's how it works, right? But God does exactly what he said he would: the sun comes back, the shadows shift, and Hezekiah says, "Whoa, this is God. Yes, I'm going to be healed!"
I would guess that some of you aren't 100 percent sure that those kinds of things really happen. Maybe you're a brand new Christian learning about Jesus Christ and what the Cross is all about, and you're thinking, That couldn't have happened, because it goes against the laws of physics or science or cosmology. And you're right; it does.
Here is why I believe this happened. I believe that God created everything that exists. There are many reasons why I believe that, but let's just start there. And because God created everything that exists, he created the laws of science and the laws of physics and the laws of cosmology. The God who created these laws is above them, so he can suspend them and modify them and do whatever he wants to them. That's what miracles are, right? Miracles are the natural law suspended in some way, and that is what God does here. If there's a God who spoke everything into existence, this is no problem for him! God is not under the laws of science; God's above the laws of science.
So God gives Hezekiah this powerful sign to assure him that he would be healed, and then Hezekiah responds with a poem, basically saying, "I was in need, and God, you met me." Let's read verse 17 to get a feel for what is happening in Hezekiah's heart as he's experiencing all this: "Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back."
As we come to the end of chapter 38, I think Isaiah wants us to feel what Hezekiah was experiencing of God. He wants us to be blown away by who God is as experienced by Hezekiah.
There are seven things I want to pull from Hezekiah's experience. First of all, Hezekiah saw the amazing truth that God had cast all of his sins behind God's back, which means God had forgiven all of Hezekiah's sins. Hezekiah knew that he had sinned against God. He knew that he deserved judgment from God, and Hezekiah understood that God had completely forgiven all of his sins—his past sins, present sins, and future sins. God had completely forgiven Hezekiah.
How can a just God forgive this man's past, present, and future sins? It's because of what, at the time of Hezekiah, would happen 700 years in the future: Jesus, the Messiah, dying on the cross, being punished for Hezekiah's sins. And so the moment Hezekiah repented and put his trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—trusted his mercy—at that moment all of his sins were completely forgiven because of what Jesus would do. It's the same today: the moment you turn and put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, as your Lord, and as your treasure, at that moment all of your sins are completely punished in what Jesus did 2,000 years ago, and so you're completely forgiven: past sins, present sins, and future sins. So Hezekiah is rejoicing that God had cast all of his sins behind his back. Isn't that an amazing thing?
Some of you are still feeling the burden of guilt before God. You don't have to feel that! Not because you're not guilty, but because God sent Jesus to take your guilt and punishment you deserve upon himself, to be punished in your place! He loves you that much.
Second, Hezekiah saw that God loves him. Verse 17: "In love you've delivered my life from the pit of destruction." Even though he's sinned against God, even though Hezekiah deserved punishment from God, because of what Jesus would do, God looked upon Hezekiah with love and compassion. And so because of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross, the Creator of the universe, who's sovereign over everything, he can look on you right now with love and compassion and care and affection. That is sweet, isn't it?
Third, Hezekiah saw that God hears his prayers. In verse 5 God says, "I have heard your prayer." So think about it: Here's the God who has created everything. He's massive, sovereign, powerful, and the moment Hezekiah turned and talked to him, God heard his prayer. Hezekiah didn't need to get in line; God didn't have to figure out who it was who was praying to him. No, because God's infinite, the moment you come to God and talk to him in the name of Jesus, he gives his complete and undivided attention. It's an awesome thing.
Fourth, Hezekiah understood that God saw his tears. Verse 5: "I've seen your tears." Isn't it precious that God would say that? "I've heard your prayer. Hezekiah, I saw your tears." I'm sure some of you have wept alone this last week for some situation or other. Do you realize that God saw your tears this last week? He didn't just see them, but the word seeing here means he cares?
He would say to you, too, "I heard your prayer. I saw your tears." This is what Hezekiah was experiencing of God.
Fifth, Hezekiah saw that God has power to heal sickness. Verse 5 again: "I will add 15 years to your life." Hezekiah has terminal sickness, but God just says, "Be healed," and he's healed. Because of Jesus Christ, if you're trusting him, every sickness will be healed, either in this life, as it happened with Hezekiah, or in the life to come, where you will be raised up and joined with Christ forever in the new heavens and new earth with a brand new resurrection body. God has power to heal every sickness.
Sixth, Hezekiah saw that God helps him when he is weak in faith. Isn't that precious? So here Hezekiah says, "Is there a sign you can show me? I'm having a hard time believing. I'm terminally ill and miracles don't happen every day. Would you strengthen my faith that you're going to do this?" And God makes the sun go back. The point is that God is merciful in your weakness. Every time you come to him feeling your weakness in faith, if you will come sincerely and ask him, "Would you strengthen me? Would you help me? Would you give me a sign? Would you work so that my faith will be strengthened?" he will never leave you alone. He will always help you. He may bring some other follower of Christ to call you up; he may have your spouse say something to you; he might bring you something in the Scriptures; he might have the sun move back. There are all kinds of things he could do. But he will never just say, "You get strong, and then let's talk." He will always strengthen you when you come to him humbly and earnestly, needing and longing to be strengthened in faith.
Seventh, Hezekiah saw that God controls the solar system. Just think about the size of the solar system and how God can just say, "Sun, would you move back a couple degrees," or, "Earth, would you move back a couple degrees," and it happens. God's that big.
So in chapter 38, Isaiah wants us to be feeling what Hezekiah experienced of God.
The deceitfulness and danger of pride
Now, what's the point of Isaiah 39? Verse 1: "At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered." So picture what's going on here: Babylon is the massive empire to the east. The king of Babylon hears that Hezekiah, king of Judah, has been miraculously healed from a terminal illness, and so he sends his son with some diplomats, some letters, and a present to go and basically say, "Congratulations! We're celebrating with you your amazing recovery. This is an astonishing thing!"
Now put yourself in Hezekiah's shoes. You've been healed of a terminal illness. You were going to die, but now you have 15 more years to live. You've just seen that God has cast all your sins behind his back. You've just seen that God loves you, that he hears your prayers, that he sees your tears, that he has power to heal, that he helps you when you're weak in faith, that he's in control of the whole solar system. So you've just had this amazing experience of God. Not only that, but you've been to the temple where they've sung Psalm 96:3: "Declare his glory among the nations, his wonderful deeds among all the peoples."
You've just experienced God's glory in taking care of you, and you're told to proclaim that. So when the king of Babylon's son arrives with his diplomats, what will you say to them? What will you be longing to have them see? Will you be longing to tell them about what God had done?
That's not what Hezekiah does. Look at verse 2; it's tragic: "And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them." "Welcome! Let me show you all my stuff! Look at my storehouses! Look at all this gold I have!" It sounds like you'd get a little bored watching Hezekiah show off; it'd be like watching a long slideshow with your uncle or something, right? What Hezekiah longs to have the Babylonians see is himself, not God.
In a very short period of time, from the end of chapter 38 to chapter 39, Hezekiah has forgotten about God, and now his passion is to exalt himself. There's a massive switch from what he was experiencing and feeling and saying in chapter 38 to what he's experiencing and feeling and saying in chapter 39. And God brings a word of judgment to Hezekiah for this in verses 5-7:
Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."
Here's what Hezekiah's just heard: Jerusalem's going to be conquered, and everything in Jerusalem that you've got, that your fathers have stored up, is going to be carried to Babylon. Your sons are going to be captured, taken to Babylon, and castrated to be eunuchs in Babylon's court.
How does Hezekiah respond to God's judgment? We can see how far he's moved from God by what he says in the beginning of verse 8: "Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, 'The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.'" Good? Jerusalem conquered? All the wealth of Jerusalem taken to Babylon? Your sons captured and castrated to be eunuchs in the temple? Good? How is that good? Look at the second half of verse 8: "For he thought, 'There will be peace and security in my days.'" This won't happen until after I'm gone, he thought. Everything's good. Hezekiah is completely bound up in pride and self-exultation. Isaiah has crafted these two chapters such that at this point we are simply stunned: What happened?! What happened to Hezekiah? A few verses before, he's thanking God and praising him; a few verses later, he's completely bound up in pride and self-exultation. How is that possible?
This massive change is possible because of sin—the deceitfulness, the insidiousness, the deceptiveness of sin. Hezekiah had been born again. God had taken out his heart of stone and given him a heart of flesh. He knew the living God. But he still had, like all of us who have been born again through faith in Christ, what scholars call "indwelling sin"—little viruses in the system. We have pockets of sin. And what Isaiah especially wants us to be thinking about here is the insidiousness of the sin of pride. We can very easily do exactly what Hezekiah did and succumb to the sin of pride. That's what Isaiah wants to teach us in chapter 39.
Just like Hezekiah, you and I can very easily slide almost seamlessly into the sin of being self-focused, proud, and self-exulting. It just feels so right when you're there, doesn't it? You feel so justified in it. A sad example: Last Sunday, I had just come back from being at a men's retreat, and God had given me much undeserved grace while I was there. I was sharing with my wife some of the things that the Lord had done: he'd helped me—given me energy and some helpful things to say. And then, a sentence came out of my mouth that just reeked of cockiness and pride and boastfulness. And it just stunned me. In the course of about 20 seconds, I moved from thanking the Father and aware of his undeserved grace to boasting. And you've experienced that, too, haven't you? Just like Hezekiah, one moment we can be strong and trust in Christ and humble before the Cross and loving him, and then, what happens? This pride rises up. It's deceptive; it's insidious.
Let me give you a quote from which I've found very helpful. It's talking about Jonathan Edwards, who wrote in the 1730's. Edwards was a missionary to the American Indians and one of my heroes. Edwards called pride "the worst viper that is in the heart" and the greatest "disturber of the soul's peace and sweet communion with Christ." He ranked pride as the most difficult sin to root out, and "the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lusts." Whoa!
Now why is pride so serious? It's because the warnings from the Bible about pride show how serious and sobering it is. Can you think of any warnings about pride in Scripture? The ones I thought of are in James 4 and 1 Peter 5: God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Could there be anything more frightening than to think of Almighty Creator God being opposed to you? Nothing would be more frightening than that.
So what Isaiah wants us to feel from chapters 38 and 39 is that we need to take more seriously the possibility that there are pockets of pride in our hearts, and so to be vigilant and to let the Scriptures scan our hearts on a regular basis to find if there are those viruses of indwelling sin—particularly the indwelling sin of pride. We need to pray, "Holy Spirit, through your Word, search my heart. Are there pockets of pride?" Because God will do that by the Spirit through the Word; he'll show you those pockets, and he'll give you power by his means of grace to destroy them.
The need to examine ourselves for pride
Let me give you a few questions to ask yourself that can help detect if you're succumbing to pride.
First question: Do I feel superior to others instead of feeling humbled before God? If you look in your heart and find a sense of superiority over those around you, rather than a deep sense of humility before God, that would show a pocket of pride.
Second question: Do I find pleasure in people noticing me, rather than in people exalting in Christ? You leave a conversation and think, I really told that story well. I made them laugh, instead of, Oh Lord, did I leave that conversation exalting you?
Third question: Am I more aware of someone else's sinfulness than my own? Whose sinfulness are you the most in touch with? I just see your outsides; I don't see your hearts. I see my sin much more clearly than I would see yours, because I see the inside of me, right? So we all should be more keenly aware of our own sin than the sin of others. But isn't it easy to be more preoccupied with other people's sin? You find yourself doing that, don't you? You've got your list about your wife, about your husband, about your boss. Examine that.
Fourth question: Do I talk about what exalts me instead of talking about what helps others? When you're in a conversation, why do you talk about the things you talk about? I'm angry about my rights and what I think I deserve. I hate sin because it makes me look bad, not because it dishonors Christ, right? Does anybody else fall into this?
Lastly, Do I feel bad when others are noticed more than me?
These questions are helpful in scanning our hearts. Is there that virus of pride that's lurking inside me that could erupt anytime and move me from an Isaiah 38 into an Isaiah 39?
So what can we do? If pride is that insidious, that deceptive, if it can slip into us as easily as Jonathan Edwards says it can, if it's that hard to discern and root out, what can we do? The good news is God has given us an anti-virus program right here: God's Word. Do you remember that prayer from Psalm 139: "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" God will always answer that question. So if we open our hearts up to the Lord and say, "Lord, search me and know me and show me," he will show you! He will show you!
The problem is that we don't take indwelling sin seriously enough. We don't fully understand what our hearts have indwelling them. I mean, mostly we're new creations; we have a new nature; we're born again and clothed with Christ's righteousness. Christ is really increasing righteousness in our hearts as we grow—that's all glorious truth which we need to celebrate more! But on this side of heaven, there's indwelling sin, and Isaiah would tell us, "Be vigilant. Be humble. Be aware. Ask God to show you." As we do that, he will. And he won't just show us; he'll give us means of grace by which we can destroy the virus.
The process for dealing with pride
Let me just give you three suggestions that I have been practicing and want to practice more. First of all, confess the sin of pride, trusting Jesus' death on the cross to forgive you for that sin, and trusting his resurrection power to cleanse you from that sin. First John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness." When you confess from the heart, his power goes to work; he will cleanse. The guilt is lifted—Jesus paid for it—and you're washed clean. So, confess it humbly and meaningfully to the Lord.
Second, pray for the power of the Spirit to conquer your pride and to strengthen humility. If you're trusting Jesus Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you; the third person of the Trinity is living inside of you with his awesome power to squash pride. I've been praying lately, "Lord, crush my vanity. Just destroy it." And when you ask the Father in Jesus' name, "Crush my pride. Create in me a clean heart. A broken and a contrite heart you will not despise," God will do that.
Now, you can't make this happen on your own. If you leave here today thinking, I guess this is a good idea. I should stop being proud. I should be more humble, you will not do it! If you think you did it, it's because you're too proud! Apart from Christ we can do nothing! So you've got to confess, pray.
And third, nurture awe at God's glory, brokenness for your own sin, and love for the Cross through Scripture. Find Scriptures that display God and his glory, and nurture awe and wonder at his sheer glory, because as he is exalted before you, the proportions between you and him become even more enhanced or larger. As you exalt him, it will humble you. Then, nurture brokenness for your sin. One passage I would encourage you to ponder is Hebrews 10, which warns us not to pursue willful sin, because when we sin, we crucify Christ afresh. I remember the first time I pondered that and let that Scripture give me brokenness for sin. Jesus, it's like I'm there and I'm nailing you to the cross one more time. Can you imagine how you would feel if that's what you were doing? Let Scriptures like that help you see the dishonor to Christ that your sin has caused, and let it bring brokenness for sin.
And then, look at Scriptures which nurture your love for the Cross. On the cross, Jesus' suffering was suffering for my sin, and he's there paying for my sin because he loves me. While I was still his enemy, he loved me. He died for me. God demonstrated his love for me by sending his Son to be punished in my place. So the love of God, the love of the Father by the Holy Spirit, is displayed on the cross. See that.
Pondering the Cross, I thought of this hymn: "When I survey the wondrous cross"—when I think about the wondrous cross—"on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I could as loss"—as nothing—"and I pour contempt on all my pride." How does that happen? It happens by surveying the wondrous cross; seeing Jesus Christ. When you see him by faith, the Holy Spirit works to crush your pride. He will give you a humble heart. You will love him, and that virus will have been found and destroyed.
So here's what Isaiah wants to say to us today: Be more vigilant in noticing pride in your heart. None of us are vigilant enough or aware enough of the subtleties of pride in our hearts. I'm not; you're not. Be vigilant, and be encouraged, because God will show you, and God by his means of grace will enable you, and you, through Jesus Christ, will see your heart changing. You'll see pride being subdued. You will see humility growing.
And then take hope in this last thought, a thought that is becoming more precious to me now that I'm seeing more and more of the prevalence of my pride: The day is coming when you and I will be completely freed from pride and boastfulness and self-exultation. Free!
Steve Fuller is lead pastor of Mercy Hill Church in San Jose, California.