By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, February 4, 2001

2 Kings 20:1-7 Hezekiah's Illness

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover."

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, "Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: "Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, 'This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; indeed, I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.'"

Then Isaiah said, "Prepare a poultice of figs." They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered.

Mark 5:22-24, 35-43 Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus

One of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came, and seeing Jesus, fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." So Jesus went with him. . . .

[While they were on their way,] some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher any more?"

Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe." He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koumi!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around. (She was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Arcana Coelestia #6502 Spiritual sickness

In the spiritual world, "sicknesses" are evils and falsities. Spiritual diseases are nothing else, for evils and falsities rob our inner self of good health; they introduce mental disorders and at length states of depression. This, and nothing else, is what the Bible means when it mentions sickness.

Arcana Coelestia #7337.2 The Lord heals us

All the miracles that the Lord performed when he was in the world were symbolic of the future state of the church. For example, opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, loosing the tongues of the mute, enabling the lame to walk, and making the maimed and leprous whole meant that the kind of people symbolized by the blind, deaf, mute, lame, maimed, and leprous would receive the Gospel and be restored to spiritual health. This would be accomplished by the Lord's coming into the world.

This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; indeed, I will heal you. (2 Kings 20:5)

One of the things we used to debate in Seminary was whether God knew the future, and if so, whether it was just a general knowledge of the possibilities for the future or a detailed knowledge that extended to every single thing in the future. I always took the part of God having a full and detailed knowledge of the future--arguing that to God there was no such thing as past or future, since for God, everything is encompassed in the eternal now.

I don't know if that rather grand and theoretical argument convinced anyone on the other side of the fence. But this week I had a much more practical demonstration that God does, indeed, know the future. As our Sunday School teachers know, I set up this year's schedule of Bible lessons back in September, using Anita Dole's Bible Study Notes, Series 2. Most Sundays, I've been using the same story as the basis for my sermons, so that the service and Sunday School classes will be built around a common theme.

And as all of you know by now, this week, after months of struggling with repeated episodes of sometimes life-threatening congestive heart failure, Ruth Lemeé had an operation on her heart to repair a leaking valve that was contributing to her condition.

Imagine my amazement, then, when at the beginning of the week I looked at the Bible lesson for this Sunday and discovered that it was the story of King Hezekiah's illness! I certainly didn't know at the beginning of the year that in this small congregation, we would have someone in the hospital struggling with a life-threatening illness this week. So I conclude that someone higher up did know this, and planned in advance for us to have the most appropriate Bible reading just when we needed it!

In the story, King Hezekiah had a life-threatening illness. And the message came to him, through the prophet Isaiah, that he should put his affairs in order, because his life was at its end. Now, Hezekiah was one of the best kings of Israel, especially when it came to following the Lord. A couple of chapters earlier we are told:

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. (2 Kings 18:5, 6)

In those days, when someone was struck with an illness, it was considered a message--or a punishment--from God. So it came as an especially painful blow to Hezekiah when the prophet of the Lord told him that he was going to die. "Remember, O Lord," he prayed, "how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And he wept bitterly.

Perhaps if Hezekiah had reacted differently to his illness, God would have allowed him to die. If he had become angry and railed at God or had quietly resigned himself to his fate, perhaps the first message of the prophet would have come true, and his illness would have proved fatal. But Hezekiah was not only a righteous king; he was a tenacious one. Even in the face of death, he was willing to bring his plight to God in prayer, pleading his case, but still with the humble recognition that it was God's will, not his own, that would prevail.

God heard his prayers, and saw his tears. And though God's will does not change, the change that took place in Hezekiah through his prayer and his tears made it possible for God to express his true will, which is always for our healing and for our good. Before the prophet Isaiah had even left the grounds of the palace, the word of the Lord came to him again:

Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, "This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; indeed, I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David."

Because Hezekiah had showed himself to be a king who would submit himself to the will of the Lord and turn to the Lord for help when he was in need, God not only healed him and gave him fifteen more years to live, but also promised to deliver him and his capital city of Jerusalem from Assyria.

At that time, Assyria was one of the great empires of the ancient world. The Assyrians had already taken the northern kingdom of Israel captive. This happened in the fourth year of Hezekiah's reign over the southern kingdom of Judah, and it would have been fresh in Hezekiah's mind. Now the Assyrians were threatening the southern kingdom as well.

The Lord kept his promise, and Assyria never did conquer the southern kingdom of Judah--though Judah was eventually carried captive by Babylon. The Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity were the ancestors of the Jewish nation at the time of Christ.

And of course, the Lord also kept his promise to heal Hezekiah and give him fifteen more years to live and to reign in Judah.

These days, most people no longer think of sickness and death as punishments from God. It is true that if we live in careless and unhealthful ways, we can and will bring sickness upon ourselves. And it is also well-known that if we engage in excessive negative thinking, dwelling on dark and harmful thoughts, our minds and spirits can bring malaise upon our bodies. In today's scientific language, this is called "psychosomatic illness." From a spiritual perspective, it is a demonstration of the power of spirit over matter.

However, sometimes we become sick due to factors beyond our control, or due to things that we simply did not know about. It would be cruel and heartless to accuse every person who is ill of having sinned against God. The story of Hezekiah, the righteous king who fell ill, should be enough to assure us that this is a mistaken approach to illness. Instead, we are told in the Bible--especially in the Gospels--to visit those who are sick and dying, bringing them comfort by showing them our love and concern for them.

Regardless of whether it is due to our own folly or due to factors beyond our control, being sick is a joyless, painful affair. And especially when our sickness is life-threatening, it often causes us--and those who love us--to consider the deeper, eternal issues of life. I do not believe it is ever God's will that we should suffer. But I do believe that God allows us to endure these temporary sufferings while we are here on earth as a way to break us out of our tendency to focus on material things and on ourselves, and turn our minds and hearts toward God and spirit.

In our times of distress, if we, like Hezekiah, turn to God, pray to God, ask for help, and try to discern the deeper purposes that God has for our lives, then whether or not we are physically healed of the illness that we are suffering with, there will be a deeper healing in our spirits. Sometimes we may get impatient with God if we do not receive the physical healing we wish and pray for. And yet, as difficult as our physical ailments can be, how important are a few days, or months, or years of struggle and pain on earth if through them, we are blessed with a deep, inner health, strength, and joy that will last forever?

I believe God does want us to be physically healthy and live vigorously while we are here on earth. The divine ideal is to have a sound mind in a sound body. And yet, if we had to choose between our physical health and our spiritual health, it would be foolish to throw away what is eternal in exchange for temporary comfort in this world. This, I believe, is why God allows illness at all: because sometimes it is the only way we will learn to fully trust in God, gaining the deep lessons of patience and compassion for our fellow human beings. Sickness and death are difficult teachers, but their lessons run deep.

If we look at our struggles with sickness and various handicaps in this light, even though it may not take away our physical pain and struggle, it does lead us to a deeper kind of healing. What God especially desires is that we should be healed spiritually. In fact, the Christian word "salvation" comes from a Latin word that not only means to be saved, but to be healthy--in this case, spiritually healthy. And whether or not God gives us the physical healing we pray for, we will always be healed spiritually if we turn to God in prayer, asking for the presence of God's love and wisdom in our lives, and showing to one another the same love and compassion that Jesus showed to those who were sick and dying.

Spiritually, the diseases we suffer with come from the mistaken ideas we have adopted along the way, and especially from the harmful and destructive feelings that have taken up residence in our hearts. These are the causes of our inner sicknesses. Whether or not we intentionally engage in faulty ways of thinking and feeling, as long as these things dwell within us, we will always be spiritually sick. Far more than physical sickness, these are the things that throw our minds into disorder and confusion, and drag us down into depression and despair. These are the deeper sicknesses that no physician can heal, because their causes are spiritual, not material.

When we are facing a spiritual disease--a sickness within our soul--there is only one true Physician, and that is the Lord. While Jesus lived on earth, even the physical healing that he did was intended primarily to draw people upwards to spiritual health--to salvation. He did not simply heal people's bodies; through his healing he strengthened their faith, gave them deeper hope, and drew them toward himself--toward the presence of God on earth.

When Jesus opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, loosed the tongues of the mute, enabled the lame to walk, made the maimed and leprous whole, and even raised the dead back to life, these were outward signs and manifestations of the deeper power of the Lord to heal all of our deeper diseases.

Are there times when we are blind to the needs of others, not listening to all the signs that something is wrong in our lives? Our eyes can be opened and our ears unstopped if we will turn to the Lord and seek the understanding and insight that helps us to look beyond our own concerns and consider the feelings and the needs of those around us.

Are there times when we seem unable to voice our true thoughts and feelings, or powerless to move forward and take the next steps in our lives? We can find our voice if we draw strength from the Lord's truth that burns within us, longing to be expressed openly and clearly. We can gain the strength to move forward if we turn to the Lord in prayer, asking for help in overcoming our inability to break out of the rut that we are in.

Are we crippled and leprous in our hearts, feeling like only partial human beings--like people that no one would want to come near if they knew what was inside of us? The power of the Lord's love can make us whole again. The Lord can show us the angel that we were created to be, and enable us to exchange our old, lame, and withered inner life for a new angel-being that is God's will for us.

Do we feel that we have died inside--that there is nothing left, and we might as well give up all hope and live in our own personal hell? The Lord has power over our emotional and spiritual death. The Lord can raise us up to new life if we will only believe that it can happen to us, and ask in prayer--even the prayer of bitterness and weeping--for the touch of God's healing hands upon our souls. Amen.

Music: Words of Love
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer

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