Good or bad, my favorite movie genre is action-adventure, but I also really enjoy another one quite a bit…can you guess what it is?
Often westerns are also action-adventure…but even when they aren’t…there is something about heading back to that day-and-age…and those locations…that I really enjoy. John Wayne is one of my favorite actors…and although his career was far from limited to westerns, it’s hard for me to find a western he acted in that I don’t like.
Although less popular within society as time has progressed, many western plots of old could be summarized as “cowboys versus Indians.” In old westerns the good guys were generally the cowboys…and the bad guys were the Indians.
Reality is, of course, that the U.S.’ history with with Native Americans is unforgivable, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Indians were always the good guys and the cowboys always the bad guys. It is just good to remember, even today, that movies at best take liberties with history, and at worst…which often seems to be true with modern films…totally distort it.
However, let’s get back to the old-time westerns and imagine we are in a wagon train crossing the plains, heading for promises implicit in “Go West, young man.” We have circled the wagons and are under massive attack from Indians (you know, the bad guys in our movie script)…and it is pretty clear we are doomed.
We are soon to run out of bullets, and those who are against us are too numerous.
Who do we hope will appear over the horizon?
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
And I wouldn’t be surprised if joy at seeing the Calvary was something that really did happen in the Old West. When it seems something horrible is definitely going to happen and you are saved, how else would you react?
More with Us
Which leads me to something I read during yesterday’s Bible reading. It was about a good King in Judah…Hezekiah. Let’s turn to 2 Chronicles 32:1-3:
32 After these things and these acts of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself. 2 And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem, 3 he planned with his officers and his mighty men to stop the water of the springs that were outside the city; and they helped him.
Hezekiah was a good king, but that doesn’t mean his life was without worry. The King of Assyria was overwhelming nations left and right, and set his sights on Judah. Hezekiah had to make a choice…who was he going to trust to deliver his nation from Sennacherib? A little further on in 2 Chronicles 32:6-8 we find out:
6 And he set combat commanders over the people and gathered them together to him in the square at the gate of the city and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, 7 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. 8 With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.
Who did Hezekiah trust?
The Most High!
And that was a smart move!
20 Then Hezekiah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed because of this and cried to heaven. 21 And the LORD sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword. 22 So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all his enemies, and he provided for them on every side. 23 And many brought gifts to the LORD to Jerusalem and precious things to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time onward (2 Chronicles 32:20-23).
Did the Calvary come for Hezekiah?
Boy did it! And the bad king from Assyria found out that all his blasphemous boasting against the God of Israel was foolish.
Hezekiah was right when he said, “Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him.”
However, when you read through the Bible, Hezekiah isn’t the first to identify “there are more with us than with him”…and the previous time is one of my favorite passages in Scripture…it reminds me of the movie, “The Matrix”:
8 Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” 9 But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.” 10 And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice.
11 And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” 13 And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” 14 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-17).
The king of Syria (not Assyria) thought he had a mole in his ranks, because the king of Israel kept escaping his grasp. It turns out that it wasn’t a traitor…it was a prophet of God…that was revealing the kings plans to the enemy. So, easy way to solve that…go get the prophet!
And Elisha’s servant freaked out when he saw “an army with horses and chariots…all around the city.”
What were the wise prophet’s words?
“Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
The reason I said it reminds me of “The Matrix” is because in that movie we humans are all in a computer simulation, and we have to break out of it to see the real world.
After Elisha’s prayer his servant could see the real world…
“So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Now, that’s cool…and no less true now. We may not have “horses and chariots of fire all around us” sitting and standing here in Strasburg, but there could be angels with us as I preach…protecting us from those would do us harm.
Who You Trust
Elisha and Hezekiah were very wise in who they trusted.
Who you trust matters more than anything else.
When I trained as a drug and alcohol counselor in the Navy, I had to attend many Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The second step in AA’s twelve steps is “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” (see this). In a meeting I remember how an attendee said that it didn’t matter what you believed that higher power was, for instance you could choose a doorknob.
Perhaps for 12 step purposes, anything will suffice…but in the real world…the real world spiritual realm (which is just as real as what your five senses can detect)…it matters a whole, whole bunch who you put your trust in.
Faith does not save you. The object of your faith does.
Which leads us to a different king, Asa:
14 Abijah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place. In his days the land had rest for ten years. 2 And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. 3 He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim 4 and commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment. 5 He also took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars. And the kingdom had rest under him (2 Chronicles 14:1-5).
Asa came before Hezekiah, but like him was a good king.
At least initially.
16 In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. 2 Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the LORD and the king’s house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, 3 “There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.” 4 And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store cities of Naphtali. 5 And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah and let his work cease. 6 Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them he built Geba and Mizpah.
7 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. 8 Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, he gave them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” 10 Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in the stocks in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time (2 Chronicles:1-10).
Asa had to decide who he was going to trust.
Just like Hezekiah, Asa had every reason to be worried. But, unlike Hezekiah, he turned to man instead of the Lord.
And although “trusting man” seemed to work that one time, it was very foolish…and really showed a greater issue with a king who began his reign doing “what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord”:
12 In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians. 13 And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign (2 Chronicles 16:12-13).
I’ve told you that reading about all the bad kings in the Old Testament is painful for me. You know what is even more painful? When a good king turns bad.
Asa turned bad…and even in his illness…wouldn’t seek the Lord’s help. Contrast him, again, with Hezekiah:
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.’ ” 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3 “Now, O LORD, please 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. 4 And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: 5 “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, 6 and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake (2 Kings 20:1-6).
Is our God a God who listens to prayer…who answers prayer?
And Hezekiah didn’t turn to a doorknob to ask for healing. He turned to the God who had proven Himself before and extended his life another 15 years.
Hezekiah had his problems (e.g. see 2 Chronicles 32:24-26), but unlike Asa he knew who really had his back.
And it wasn’t a doorknob…or any man.
Who Will You Trust?
Elisha and Hezekiah were very wise in who they trusted.
They lived in a dispensation when God, on this side of eternity, would step in to prove all other Gods false and Him true.
In some ways our age is harder on faith. God does not promise if we follow him we’ll never be hungry, never be ill, or never be killed by the hordes at our gates.
Christians around the world pray as fervently and humbly as Hezekiah, yet they are persecuted…often to death.
Does that mean God no longer has our backs?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Those words come after the “faith chapter” in Hebrews…where we are reminded of those who put their trust in God…including some who it didn’t work out so well with this side of eternity:
35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:35-40).
God still has our back…just like he had the back of those who stoned, sawn in two, and killed with the sword.
They put their trust in God…and we are extolled to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” and trust in “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
Because He has proven Himself trustworthy…”who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the thrown of God.”
Let’s pray for reformation, but I will admit I think the world is in its final, downward spiral before the end. God has His faithful, including you my beloved brothers and sisters, but the world is progressively trusting anything but the Creator.
But, the Calvary is coming folks. Have confidence.
Things are likely to get much, much worse before the Calvary arrives.
But, the Calvary is coming. Have confidence.
No matter how tempted you are to trust someone or something else to deliver you.
Be like Hezekiah…not Asa.
Put your trust in the Most High…and Him alone.
The Calvary is coming.
How do we know?
What we read in Hebrews alluded to it.
The Calvary is coming because of what Jesus did on the Cross.
Or, should I say…
The Calvary is coming because of Calvary!