Prayer Changes Lives
Sermon 1719 2 Kings 18-19 November 1, 2020
Impossible odds. No way out. Trapped. That could describe Martin Luther as he tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Leo had the Holy Roman Emperor Charles at his beck and call. The Spanish army could fall upon Germany, split as it was between little kingdoms and free cities. Who could say political expediency wouldn’t get the better of faithful Elector John Frederick so that he would hand Luther over to spare his people and throne?
Impossible odds. No way out. Trapped. That could also describe Hezekiah, king of Judah, seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus. Jerusalem was under siege by a part of the Assyrian army. There was no hope for any rescue attempts. Surrounded on all sides, there was no way out. And where would they go? All of the other fortified cities of Judah had been taken.
Hezekiah, perhaps leaving a powerful example for Martin Luther over two thousand years later, prayed to the Lord. He believed
Prayer Changes Lives
1. God will glorify his name.
2. God will deliver his people.
Unless you are talking about David, you can almost write off most of the kings in the Bible. All those in the north, in Israel, were terrible. Most of those in the south were bad. Hezekiah was the exception. “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him (1 Kings 18.5-7).”
High praise, but accurate. Here was a believer. Here was a hero of the faith. But even saints eventually have to pay the price for refusing to give the Assyrians their protection money. After a decade of independence, the Assyrians show up with an overwhelming army. Hezekiah cannot overcome those odds. He asks for terms of peace. Both sides agree to a heavy fee (Hezekiah has to strip the Temple of every bit of silver and gold in it) and the Assyrians would let bygones be bygones. As soon as the money exchange hands, the Assyrians go back on their word. They show up with a huge army and a barrel-chested spokesmen to discourage the inhabitants of besieged Jerusalem. He is very clear. Don’t depend on Egypt. Don’t depend on your Lord—Hezekiah has angered him. Don’t depend on your non-existent army. Your Lord told us to destroy your city. Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you. Surrender and we will take you to a new and good land. No gods of other nations have stood up against us. “How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from our hands (18.35)?”
Those were fighting words. So Hezekiah prayed.
“Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord (19.14-15).”
Hezekiah prayed. Hezekiah prayed because he knew prayer changes lives.
One time, towards the end of his life, someone asked Martin Luther why the Reformation succeeded. Historians are still arguing about that. The invention of the printing press, the discovery of the New World, the rise of the merchant class, the threat of the Ottoman Turks. Luther responded that prayer was the secret to the Reformation’s success. Prayer was a bulwark and strong fortress against all the devil’s schemes and against all the attacks of wicked men.
But how does prayer change lives? God will glorify his name. Look at how Hezekiah ended his prayer.
“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 (19.19).”
Prayer changes lives in that God’s name is glorified. When I think of almost all these Sunday School stories, the crossing of the Red Sea, David and Goliath, Solomon’s prayer at the Temple dedication, that is always the punch line. Believers are praying that God may glorify his name. Believers are acting so more and more people may hear about the Lord.
Back in the early days, I got a call from a daughter. Her mother, a Lutheran from North Dakota, was dying. No, she hadn’t been in church a long time. Would I see her? I did. For three days before she passed I visited. Never met her husband. He ran a, well, I don’t want to say it in front of children, but one of those businesses that mar the streetscape of so many American cities as they demean the female gender. One of her last wishes was that her husband would get out of the business.
I did her funeral. The husband didn’t come. What a number. But I drive by his old place quite often. It is on the way to my car mechanic on Boulder Highway, just north of Warm Springs. It is a motorcycle repair shop now. And it is run by Christians. I know that because it has a painting of the Ten Commandments on the outside of the building, way up and way big so people can see it from the highway.
In a place where flesh was pedaled once, now God’s name is glorified. Funny how things work out.
In a place where forgiveness of sins was bought and sold, the Gospel of free grace was proclaimed. What message glorifies God? Is it his anger over sin? Is it his threats to punish all who break his commandments? Those statements are true. God is angry over sin. Every time our consciences bother us—I shouldn’t have told that white lie, I should have been nicer to that clerk—every time our consciences bother us, that is an echo of God’s anger over our thoughtless, loveless behavior. He asks us to look out for each other. So often we are only looking out for ourselves. But Luther called that “God’s alien work.”
The work God wants to be known for is his forgiveness of sins, his deliverance from death and the devil, his, well, I guess salvation is the word that summarizes it. He showed the world he could deliver the unarmed Children of Israel from the hands of the mighty Egyptians. Forty years later, the people of Canaan were still talking about it. He showed the world he was not like the false gods of all the nations the Assyrians had destroyed, the nations of Hamath, Arpad, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah. Baal had not protected Samaria from the Assyrians. But the Assyrians didn’t take weak Jerusalem, huddled behind its stained walls. The God of Israel was different. The God of Israel was real. The God of Israel offered deliverance.
Every time people hear that Gospel of salvation through faith in the God of the Bible, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, God glorifies his name. He alone is exalted. He alone is praised.
Prayer changes lives. God will deliver his people.
“Deliver us,” Hezekiah prayed. “That night 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! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there (19.35-36).”
So silently did the angel of the Lord do his work that the mighty Assyrian warriors died quietly in their sleep. Tent mates woke up the next day to find a dead man in the cot next to them. Captains rose, expecting to muster their battalion but no one responded to reveille. One corporal showed up at the mess tent to find everything stowed away.
It took twelve hours for the Union and the Confederate armies to kill or wound over 23,000 soldiers at the battle of Antietam in 1862. It took one night for the angel of the Lord to kill one hundred and eighty-five thousand. The lion’s share of the Assyrian army left to besiege Jerusalem was gone. And not a survivor could tell you how it happened. No wonder the King of Assyria quickly ordered his army elsewhere in Judah to break camp and beat a hasty retreat back home. No wonder the Assyrians did not bring another army against Judah for years. Even the Babylonians, restless and powerful subjects of the Assyrian Empire, found out about it and sent a fact-finding embassy to Hezekiah to find out how he did it. But that’s another story.
Prayer changes lives. God will deliver his people. Jerusalem was saved. The family tree of Jesus was saved. Our hope of heaven was saved. No Jerusalem, no Jews. No Jews, no Virgin Mary. No Virgin Mary, no Jesus. No Jesus, no hope for mankind. No need for a Martin Luther because there would be no Gospel to proclaim. No need for Green Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church, because everybody would know God was out to get them, since there was no payment for sin which a human could offer that would ever be enough.
But God will deliver his people.
Let’s look at two prayers of Martin Luther which direct us to the deliverances the Lord works for his people.
“I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger. Keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please you. Into your hands I commend my body and soul and all things. Let your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
“I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, that you have graciously kept me this day. Forgive me all my sins, and graciously keep me this night. Into your hands I commend my body and soul and all things. Let your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
Luther is praying for deliverance from all harm and danger. He is asking for an ability not to fall into sin or to be forgiven his sins. And in both cases, he is asking for deliverance from the wicked foe through God sending his holy, guardian angel.
Prayer changes lives. That Luther died of natural causes after a long (for his day) life, shows the Lord delivered him from earthly harm and danger as well as the schemes of our wicked foe, the devil. That Luther spoke so glowingly about forgiveness, “he has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death,” shows that God answered his prayers for forgiveness as well.
These are the types of deliverance we can pray for and can expect from our Lord. Health and safety, a good conscience before God through sins forgiven, the devil kept at bay so he cannot destroy any shred of happiness we have in this life, but also cannot throw our eternal life into the garbage can.
Oh, I know these deliverances aren’t miraculous in the eyes of the world. It’s not like there are one hundred and eighty-five thousand dead enemy soldiers on our front doorstep. It’s not like we are going to win a couple million dollars in a lottery. It’s not like we are going to discover the cure for cancer, the common cold and figure out how to lose ten pounds. But these are the deliverances that keep us going, day by day. These are the deliverances that keep us trusting in the Lord, day by day. These are the deliverances of life, which is led day by day.
Most people would say the important things are the things we use every day. These are every day deliverances in answer to every day prayers from a God who reputation for love, compassion and forgiveness goes out into our world every day. This is important.
Prayer Changes Lives
1. God will glorify his name.
2. God will deliver his people.
Yes, prayer helps when faced with impossible odds and existential threats. Prayer helps even more when we haven’t gotten to that point yet. Pray. It will help more than we can imagine.