2 Kings 19:14-19 & Acts 4:23-31 Two Wartime Prayers that Moved the Heart of God (Jonathan Hastings)
Introduction: We are at War
FACT: We are at war. Bold. Underline. Italics. Exclamation point. We are at war. There are an estimated 600 million Evangelical Christians around the globe today making up about 8% of the world’s population. The majority of the other 92% are walking in darkness, held captive by our great enemy Satan who is the father of lies. Billions have been led astray by false forms of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Secularism, Materialism, Atheism, and vast array of other false religions. These all stand in opposition to the Gospel and often fight with great zeal against Jesus Christ and His people. We are engaged in a war for the souls of men, women and children. The Battle is real and it one that we cannot win on our own.
Stories of persecution
In a few weeks we will be celebrating Palm Sunday here at TPC. Six years ago, on Palm Sunday 2017, bombs blew up at two churches in Egypt, killing nearly fifty Christians and injuring more than one hundred others. Just hours after the blast, amid outrage and grief, Pastor Boulos stepped before his packed church in Egypt and gave the terrorists a three-point sermon that went viral worldwide. It was entitled “A Message to Those Who Kill Us.” His three points were simple: “Thank you,” “We love you,” and “We’re praying for you.” Pastor Boulos said “Thank you” because the terrorists gave the dead the honor to die as Christ died; and because the
terrorists’ actions made people outside the church mindful of their eternal destinies. (After the attacks, Egyptian churches overflowed with people who had never attended before). Then Pastor Boulos said “We love you” because even murderers and thieves love those who love them, but only followers of Jesus are taught to love our enemies. Pastor Boulos closed his
message with “We’re praying for you” because, he reasoned, if a terrorist could taste the love
of God even one time, it would drive hatred from his heart.
This is one story of persecution among millions through the ages. Across 76 countries, more than 360 million evangelical Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith today. We are indeed at war. And on our own, it is a war that we cannot win.
John Piper on Prayer as a War-Time Walkie Talkie
John Piper has been preaching that we are war for decades. In his book “Let the Nations Be Glad!” Piper says some convicting things about our major weapon in fighting this war against our adversary the devil – a weapon that we often misuse or do not use at all. That weapon is prayer as we know from Ephesians chapter 6 (which we read earlier). It is our primary firepower against the devil. But let me read directly from John
Piper’s book, because I’m not so sure we act like life is a battlefield. Piper says:
“Probably the number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission…[Our] field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission (go and bear fruit); [he] handed each of them a personal transmitter
coded to the frequency of the General’s headquarters, and [he] said, ‘Comrades, the general has a mission for you. He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters. If you stay true to his mission and seek his victory first, he will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and to send air cover when you need it.’
“But what have millions of Christians done? We have stopped believing that we are in a war. [There’s] no urgency, no watching, no vigilance. No strategic planning. Just easy peace and prosperity. And what did we do with the walkie talkie? We [have] tried to rig it up as an intercom in our houses and cabins and [our] boats and [our] cars – not to call in firepower for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask for more comforts [and
cushions] in the den.”
Four Elements of Earth-Shattering Missions Prayer
With that as our introduction, I want to turn to our two texts for today. We will be looking at two biblical prayers that were prayed in times of great distress for God’s people. We will look at one prayer in 2 Kings 19 and one prayer in Acts chapter 4. In both situations God’s people were at war and they were engaged against enemies they knew that they could not defeat. They knew they were hopeless unless God came to their rescue. So, they turned to Him in God- exalting, enemy-defeating prayer. In both instances, these prayers moved the heart of God and he acted with great power to help his people.
Both of these prayers follow a pattern and have 4 key elements that I want to examine. As we look at prayer as a weapon of war against the enemy, I want to encourage us to integrate these elements in our prayers as individuals, as families and as a church body here at TPC. We can use these prayers as roadmaps as we pray for the work of spreading the Gospel to every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Let’s look at the pattern first, and then we will look at how it plays out in these two prayers. The pattern is printed on the back of today’s bulletin.
The Pattern is:
We acknowledge the DIVINE POWER of God alone
We affirm our DEPENDENCE on God alone
We arouse the heart of God to DELIVER his people and to DESTROY our enemies
We appeal to God to DISPLAY HIS GLORY for all the earth to see
Hezekiah’s Prayer (2 Kings 19:14-19)
First, let’s consider Hezekiah’s prayer. Let us look at the historical backdrop. Hezekiah was King of Judah. He was a good king. In fact, the Bible says there were no kings of Judah before or after him that followed God like he did. In 2 Kings 18:5-7 we read:
5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him.”
Now these last words were the epicenter of the problem that Hezekiah was facing. He rebelled against the King of Assyria. He would not bow his knee to a pagan king. The King of Assyria was named Sennacherib and the capitol of his evil empire was “Ninevah” if you have ever heard of it. It is no wonder that brother Jonah had no love for this people.
So, Sennacherib was coming to extract his vengeance on this rebel king of Judah. He besieged Jerusalem with the largest most powerful army on earth. Then he sent a blasphemous letter (in 2 King 19:10-13) to Hezekiah that read:
‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar?
13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or
the king of Ivvah?’”
In verse 14 we read about what Hezekiah did upon receiving this letter. It says: “Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord.” What a glorious demonstration of faith. He didn’t sit and fret on his throne, filled with anxiety and fear. He didn’t sit and strategize and mull over all of his military options to fight or surrender. He went into the temple and spread the letter before the Lord and prayed! And what did he pray?
First, Hezekiah Acknowledged the DIVINE POWER of God alone:
15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.”
Consider these words in contrast to the blasphemy of Sennacherib who had mocked the God of the Israelites. Hezekiah here is saying to God, Sennacherib is a blasphemous liar, for we know, we believe, we have faith that you alone, not Sennacherib, are the Sovereign Lord who is above all kings and who sits enthroned over all nations.
Second, Hezekiah Affirmed His DEPENDENCE on God alone: In verse 16 we read:
“Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed.”
After acknowledging the power of God alone, Hezekiah humbly entreats God, demonstrating his complete dependence on God. He says incline your ear O Lord. Listen to me. Hear me. We need your help, Lord. And “Open your eyes Lord and see. “ If you don’t listen to us and see us, no one will hear us, see us, rescue us. The idols of the other nations did not save them. But we depend on you, the true and the living God who alone has the power to save us!
Third, Hezekiah Aroused the heart of God to DELIVER his people and to DESTROY their enemies: In verse 19 we read: “So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand.”
Only after acknowledging God’s power and sovereignty, and his dependence on God alone, Hezekiah appeals for help. He simply says, “O Lord our God, save us, please from the hand of Sennacherib.” His heart’s desire was for his people to be delivered and he knew that no one else could deliver from the mighty hoards of the Assyrians, so he simply says, “save us, please.” It is beautiful in its simplicity and earnestness.
Finally, Hezekiah Appealed to God to DISPLAY HIS GLORY for all the earth to see: “That all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” Hezekiah was praying for something bigger to happen than just for his people to be rescued. He knew the power of the Assyrian army, the arrogance of King Sennacherib, the wanton cruelty, and destruction and annihilation that they had wreaked on the entire Middle East. He knew that if God delivered His people and destroyed the Assyrians, then all the Kingdoms of the earth would know that there is only one and true and living God who answers prayer and is more powerful than any king or empire that sets themselves up against Him. He wanted God to deliver his people in the same magnificent way that he had delivered His people from the hands of Pharoah King of Egypt hundreds of years before and all of the world heard and trembled. He wanted God to be glorified far beyond the borders of Judah, and so he prayed for this very thing.
So what did God do in response to Hezekiah’s prayer?
Two things. First, God sent the prophet Isaiah to assure Hezekiah that God had heard his prayer and would surely come to the defense of his people. We will not read Isaiah’s entire message for the sake of brevity, but in verse 22 God says to Sennacherib:
“Whom have you mocked and reviled? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes to the
heights? Against the Holy One of Israel!”
And jumping down to verse 32-34 God says:
32 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
The second thing that happens is that God acts with great power. He sent his angel and destroyed the Assyrian army. In verses 35-37 we read:
35 And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
Indeed, now the whole world knew there was only one God, the God of Israel, that he alone had all power, and that He delivers His people from their enemies when they pray. The blasphemous king of Assyria and his mighty army were totally annihilated by Jehovah Sabbaoth—the God of Angel Armies.
The Prayer of the First Church (Acts 4)
Let us turn our attention now to the New Testament, to Acts chapter 4, to a prayer of the disciples, of the early church. The context here is that in chapter 3 Peter and John were going up to the temple to pray. Along the way they met a beggar who had been lame from birth who asked them for money. Peter replied:
“I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”
Peter then proceeds to preach a powerful gospel sermon at the end of Acts chapter 3 to everyone gathered at the temple. This results in Peter and John being arrested because all of this greatly annoyed the Jewish religious leaders. They interrogated them and asked them where they got the power to heal this man. Peter boldly says:
“Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus[a] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.[b] 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men[c] by which we must be saved.”
The religious leaders and rulers then ordered Peter and John to stop preaching about Jesus and doing miracles in His name.
“But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to
God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
“When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and prayed.”
What did they pray? Their prayer is very similar to Hezekiah’s, containing the same 4 elements although in a different order. Let’s take a look.
First, in verse 24, the church Acknowledged the DIVINE POWER of God alone: “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” Before they ask for rescue, they begin with worship, adoration and an affirmation of faith in God’s sovereignty and power over all things.
Second, the church Aroused the heart of God to DELIVER his people and to DESTROY their enemies: In verses 25-28 we read:
25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
They reminded God that these very same enemies of theirs, these Jewish religions leaders, who are now persecuting them had only a short time ago set themselves up against God and his Anointed son Christ Jesus and joined with the Gentiles to destroy him. But the disciples also acknowledged that all of this was part of God’s sovereign plan that he has predestined to take place.
Third, the Church Affirmed their DEPENDENCE on God alone: In verse 29 they pray:
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness”
We see that they have a simple prayer for help. Strengthen us to continue preaching your gospel in the midst of persecution. We need your help. We cannot win this war on our own. Protect us and strengthen us and give us boldness. We depend on you in this war for souls.
Finally, the church Appealed to God to DISPLAY HIS GLORY for all the earth to see: In verse 30 we read:
“while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your
holy servant Jesus.”
In addition to a plea for boldness, the church asks God to do signs and wonders through the Name of Jesus. They wanted something greater to happen than just to be able to continue to share their faith. They wanted God to act in powerful ways so that all the earth would know that salvation is found in no other name than in the powerful and beautiful name of Jesus Christ.
How did God answer this prayer? We see in verse 31:
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
God answered their prayer for boldness. He shook the earth and poured out the Holy Spirit upon them. Along with that, he also answered their prayer for miracles. In the next chapter, Acts 5 we read that they continued to do miracles in the Name of Jesus. People from all around brought the sick and demon possessed to the disciples and they were ALL healed.
Conclusion: As we draw to a close this morning, I want to offer three words of encouragement as we wage war for the souls of the lost through prayer, as we continue the battle of global missions and church planting among every tribe and language and people and nation.
First. Your prayers matter. The enemy wants you to believe that your prayers do not matter, that your prayers are not heard, that God is not moved by your prayers. That is a lie. James 5:16 says: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” In Revelation chapter 5 we get the glorious glimpse into the throne room of God. We see angels, elders, heavenly creatures and the redeemed from every nation are gathered to worship the Lamb of God. Here we see that our prayers are a fragrant incense before God. It says that angels and heavenly creatures and elders are holding golden bowls of incense before God. What is the incense that fills those bowls? The prayers of all the saints through the ages. They are a beautiful aroma to God and they move his heart. Your prayers matter and are effective in this battle. They are ever present in the throne room of heaven.
Second. We do not pray alone. Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit pray with us and pray for us. In Hebrews 7:25 we read: “Consequently, he (Jesus) is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” And in Romans 8:26-27 we read: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” We do not pray alone in this war.
Third, and finally, the war has already been won. As opposition to the Gospel grows stronger day by day, and persecution of the church intensifies, it is easy to be discouraged and to believe that we are losing the war. Perish the thought! King Jesus has already defeated sin and death and Satan through his death and resurrection. Satan is in the throes of death, wriggling and writhing and lashing out like the great serpent that he is. The final victory will soon be revealed, so let us persevere to the end in our faith and in our God-exalting, enemy-defeating wartime prayers. What shall we pray? And what shall we pray? Let us pray that the light of the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit will push back the darkness that holds almost 7 billion souls in slavery to the devil. Let us pray that the lost sheep will come into the fold of Jesus. Let us pray that the Church of Christ will prevail as we storm the gates of hell. Let us pray that the elect from every tribe and people and language and nation will be saved. And let us pray that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior to the glory of our Heavenly Father. And let us pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Come Quickly, and let your sovereign rule and reign be revealed for all of eternity!” To him be the glory. Amen.