Redemption in the Storm Part 5 - Hopelessness
In 2002, I was 17 years old and in year 12 at school. The overwhelming pressure of the upcoming exams and what I now realise was a lie, that the year 12 exams would determine my entire future and destiny, was building to a maximum. Its strange though, what we remember in retrospect. I remember very little about school, or home, or honestly almost any of it. But I do remember the World Cup 2002. South Korea and Japan hosted that year, and my favorite team was Brazil. I watched almost every single game in the entire World Cup that year and the previous World Cup which was as you might know was France 98. Brazil, my team, in 98 had made it to the final and in the final match after facing some pretty big dramas they got their butts kicked 3 nil by France.
The bitter taste of defeat was still in my mouth, and throughout the tournament I watched Brazil dominate every single match until they were at the final, this time against Germany and the seemingly impenetrable goalkeeper Oliver Khan.
I remember the final match.
My favourite player Ronaldo (not Christiano) came on the field.
He was the top scorer and worlds best player at the time and he had played like a man possessed the entire tournament.
My hero, the world's greatest player...
Had just gotten the world's worst haircut.
The entire head was shaved EXCEPT for his fringe which sat at the front of his head . It looked truly ridiculous.
But then the whistle blew and they played the best final I have ever seen with Ronaldo scoring twice and getting the ball past the world’s greatest keeper in a truly spectacular display.
As he held up the world cup after the game, having just been awarded the golden boot I sat back and laughed with joy and relief.
He had done it.
Undoubtedly the entire team deserved praise, but Ronaldo was what held it all together.
He was the super star that had proved worthy. All the World Cup promotional posters I’d been seeing for months had his face on them and he had well and truly lived up to the hype.
But that haircut. What the heck was that!
The question haunted me for years slowly at the back of my mind until one day while randomly scrolling through youtube, the alrogithms that be gave me a recommended video. “Ronaldo explains the haircut”
I immediately clicked it.
It was an interview with the man himself. Ronaldo explained what had happened was that four years prior to the 2002 world cup, in 98, the Brazilians had been destroyed. Not just in the final, but in their spirits . the weight of an entire nation had crumbled them and they felt hopeless. When they entered into the 2002 World Cup they were doing really well smashing all the other teams but when they got to the final, they started feeling the hopelessness return because of the last time they were in the final and what had happened then.
The media were hyping the german goalkeeper Oliver Khan as an unbeatable foe, (to be honest he hadn’t let a single goal through his goal the entire tournament up to this point) and Ronaldo had a leg injury that the media were over dramatising as well. That's all the brazillian team were talking about and they were just afraid and they felt hopeless. “we're going to get our butts kicked again, it's going to be the same as last time.''
So as Ronaldo went to prepare for the game, he was shaving his head and then he said to himself, “you know what, stuff it I am just going to leave the front bit” and then he went to training and no one talked about his leg injury because they were too busy talking about his dumb haircut and that they completely forgot about Oliver Khan or the Germans, they forgot about the potential leg injury because they were looking at Ronaldo’s hair. And soon they had even forgotten the haircut and were looking at the man himself.
Ronaldo was literally the world's best player at the time and they had forgotten this.
In my opinion, Ronaldo’s decision to get an incredibly terrible haircut won the 2002 world cup for Brazil.
“Get your eyes off the problem and just look at me”
Hezekiah is the name of one of the rare “good” kings of Israel in the Bible. Parts of his story are found in the bible in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles and Isaiah. He is even mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in matthew chapter 1.
In second Kings Chapter 18 we learn this about him :
“5 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. 6 He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. 7 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. 8 From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory”
2 Kings 18: 5-8
Hezekiah seems an incredible guy. So much so that it might initially confuse you that I’ve chosen to focus on Hezekiah for not 1 but 2 storms. The first one being Hopelessness.
Whenever I read about someone to whom God gives such a great rap, I deep down consider that they wouldn’t really be someone who goes through storms, or perhaps they go through them, but they're magically not affected.
But I'd be wrong. People aren't seen as righteous because they face no storms, but because they face God in the midst of them.
13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.
Sennacherib was no small king. His army was no small thing. And even across the expanse of time, he has proved to be a big figure in ancient history. The Assyrians aren’t a small enemy either. Vs 9 tells us that 10 years prior to this story, Sennacherib’s grandfather Shalmaneser had taken Samaria and wiped it out.
So when Sennacherib’s army shows up, the threat is real.
The incredible scope and size of the army is real.
And Hezekiah is overwhelmed.
When was the last time you felt overwhelmed?
What was your knee jerk reaction?
I'm not talking about the times you froze. I'm talking about when you actually acted.
Did you lie to cover yourself?
Did you run from your responsibility or blame shift to get out of it?
Did you steal or hurt someone to protect yourself?
Chances are, you might have.
Often times when we are faced with overwhelming situations, we do what we know is wrong.
Look at Hezekiah’s response.
14 So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.” The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace.
16 At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the Lord, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
So, Hezekiah the righteous king is feeling hopeless. So he compromises. The result of it is simply this, that the enemy gets honoured and God is dishonoured.
Where did he take this gold from? It wasn't just his treasure. Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace, Hezekiah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the Lord and gave it to the King of Assyria.
So, in his hopeless he dishonors God because he thinks he can compromise his way out of it. But even in giving away his treasure, in throwing his God under the bus to protect himself, it's still not enough.
17 The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.
King Sennacherib sends his commander. The commander stands at the wall with his army and shouts threats in the common tongue for everyone to hear. And he finishes his speech with the following 3 lies.
28 “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’
31 “Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 32 until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!
“Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ 33 Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? 35 Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”
Did you catch the lies?
They are the same ones the storm of hopelessness says to us.
1: there is no way out of this.
29 Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand.
2. You should take matters into your own hands.
31 Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 32 until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey.
3. God won’t will save you
32 b “Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ 33 Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 35How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”
I believe that God is infinitely creative. In fact, one of the things I'm looking forward to in Heaven is seeing God's creativity fully unleashed, and unbound by my limited ability to comprehend it.
But Satan isn't very creative.
He uses the same tactics time and time again. The same chess moves, the same carrots and sticks.
Hopelessness speaks to us. It spoke to Hezekiah, and it speaks to me, and you.
And it always says the same scripted message.
The reality of the situation was that the second they would have stepped out of that wall and listened to what the king of Assyria said they would have just become his slaves.
He wasn't coming for peace. He was an enemy king, coming to make them slaves. In his hopelessness, his feeling that all is already lost, King Hezekiah has already stripped off the greatest treasure that he has - all the gold and silver he can find, to appease the enemy king, but it's not enough. It will never be enough until Hezekiah’s people become Sennacherib’s slaves.
If you’ve seen the movie “Captain Phillips” starring Tom Hanks, There’s a scene where a Somalian pirate crew boards a US ship armed with his crew and their guns. The leader walks right up to the real captain, looks him in the eye and says “look at me, look at me. I’m the captain now.”
He’s scary, he’s got guns, he’s got a small army and he’s trying to convince everyone else, including the real captain (played by Tom Hanks) that he’s the captain now.
But the truth is that he isnt. He’s a pirate, not the captain.
That’s exactly what the king of Assyria does. He walks right up to the real king and says “look at me. I’m the king now. Do what I say, and if you don’t, there is only death.”
But it’s all a lie. The lie hides the fact that there is another option. The lie of hopelessness is that you need to compromise or your greatest fear will come true. But there's always a 3rd option.
Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it and he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: "LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. It is true, LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands., They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands., Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, LORD, are God. 2 Kings 19:14-19
His prayer is so honest. He doesn't say it's not a big deal because it IS a big deal. He doesn’t say the king hasn't beaten anyone before because he HAS. He just simply says “listen to what he said O LORD! Ultimately, it's not me that he's threatening, it's you that he's ridiculing!”
I couldn't help but think of David and Goliath in this story. Goliath is terrorising the whole israelite army. Then David comes and says “you’re insulting God and God's going to destroy you” It's awesome. And it’s the same thing that’s happening here with Hezekiah and the enemy King. But then God’s prophet Isaiah says gets a message from the LORD.
Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria. "Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria: "'He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the LORD. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.'" 2 Kings 19:20
Then this happens:
That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning--there were all the dead bodies!
I love this story because of that bit. What a spectacle.
Remember earlier when I mentioned the Ronaldo haircut? He made a spectacle of himself to prove a point. Just like that, God doesn’t just win, he makes a spectacule of his win. Can you imagine this? When the people go up the next morning there were dead bodies everywhere! One hundred and eighty-five thousand of them.
That's incredible, amazing and insane! What a spectacle!
Sennacherib King of Assyria was defeated. He withdrew, he returned to Nineveh and he never comes back.
Now here’s something even more interesting. This story is actually recorded in a few places in history. The historian Herodotus wrote about this story as well. He couldn’t understand what happened to the Assyrian army to make them retreat so randomly. He attempts to explain the story by saying that it must have been a plague of mice., Billions of mice appearing out of nowhere in the Assyrian camp, chewing up all the bowstrings and wrecking all the leather straps and then, they killed all the people (as mice do?)
Now, I don't think it was mice who stopped the Assyrian army. It is interesting though because before all this happens, God says that they will not enter the city or shoot an arrow head. You can’t shoot an arrow if you've got no strings.
God declared “He will not come before it with a shield.” You can’t lift up your shield if your leather straps are destroyed.
God said “He will not build a siege ramp against it.” You can't lift a siege ramp if your ropes are chewed.
Now to reiterate. I don't believe it was mice, because I believe it's exactly what the Bible says. I believe that the Bible is literal and if maybe I stand in front of God and he's like man you're a bit naive, you took it too literally, I'm okay with that, but the thing that I liked about this is simply that even a non-believer that knows this story describes and says this is nothing short or a miracle, this guy's army got wiped out in one night. What a spectacle.
The saga ends with one more verse. One day, when Sennacherib was worshipping in the temple of his god Nisrock his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and then they escaped to the land of Ararat and Esar-haddon his son succeeded him as King.
This big bad horrifying, terrifying enemy, this unbeatable champion that we need to quake in fear of, the breeder of hopelessness is just killed and it's so anticlimactic.
Ill admit, when I read it the first time I was disappointed, I honestly thought it would take more to defeat this enemy. But it is fitting after all. This great king Sennacherib it not worth meditating over, He’s not a character worth concentrating on. It's almost like God is saying get your eyes off the problem and look at me, am I not more splendid than this? Is this really worth taking your eyes off me for? This small thing? This little guy?
Hezekiah’s hopelessness is there because he's looking at the wrong thing. You see, hopelessness wasn't really worth it after all. The compromises that were made they weren’t really worth it after all. They didn't fix the problem in the first place, the only thing that was really worth it in the end was just looking at God and seeing what he would do. God doesn’t disappoint. He does something amazing and wonderful and it just blows everyone away.
I preached this chapter as a sermon a few years back, and when I got to this point I wanted to put things into perspective. So here is what I told my church, and I've written it out because I believe, though there may not be Assyrian kings threatening to wipe out our cities, we also face seemingly hopeless situations that drive us to fear, compromise, and shameful consequences. My congregation isn't alone of these examples, perhaps you are facing them too.
“Ladies I've seen too many Godly beautiful young women go for lesser men who don't love or serve God that are not going to lead them properly because they feel hopeless, they feel like if I don't go for this guy there's no one else and they feel afraid and the fear turns to hopelessness and hopelessness leads to compromise and in that compromise they give away their greatest treasure which is themselves and their future.
If you marry a non-christian guy or a guy that doesn't really love Jesus that's going to affect your children, it's going to affect your future. There are many people that I know that were going strong in their relationship with God and were busy with being obedient to Him. And now as a result of their hopelessness, they’re not in Gods house anymore, and they don’t walk with God anymore. They gave away their greatest treasure which was that their legacy and their faith.
Men I've seen too many of you lose yourselves to a shameful, wasted life playing at being boys and not becoming the men that God made you to be because you feel hopeless. You look at life and you think that walking God's way is too hard and that you can't do this and you feel hopeless, and so what happens? You become cowards. A coward is a person who is lacking in the courage to do or endure difficult or unpleasant things.
I've seen too many young men become cowards because they felt too hopeless and they just saw the difficulty of living God's way or obeying God or trusting God with their money or their future spouse or their life.
Sometimes I look around our church and I see that there are a number of people that just have this sin in their lives, and I know that everyone struggles with sin, but this is different. It’s this open and okay thing with sin and many of you are involved with it, and you’re so open about it and you put it on social media, and live like it’s completely ok. Why in Gods name would someone do this?
For some of you its because you don't care, so I don't know what I can say about that but for some of you it's literally because you feel hopeless, you feel like it's too hard, it's too hard to do the right thing all the time or that it's too hard to stay friends with your friends and they're doing all this stuff and you feel hopeless in the midst of it and you feel I've already stuff this up, that you’ve been that person and if you stop now you’ll look like a hypocrite and so you just hopelessly continue and in doing so you give up a great treasure. Your faith, your testimony and your legacy.
But Satan has lied to you AGAIN. There is a third option!
You can live a holy life you can!
And it's hard, in fact, it is almost hopeless but it's not. If you look and turn your eyes and say see what this story is saying, what God is saying, “get your eyes of the problem and look at me”.
If you do that then you will see that Holiness isnt an impossible task, Jesus made it possible. And if you have stuffed up before and swam in the swamp of sin and you feel like a hypocrite don’t be. Don't feel hopeless because of that. Look at the right person, look at the problem solver not the problem and overcome that hopeless feeling.
I have seen too many give up your greatest treasures, your faith, your honour, your legacy and it’s so not necessary. I often feel overwhelmed in my role, I feel hopeless. In my own life, battling my own sins, taking on my responsibilities and holding fast to the truth. Sunday afternoons I feel the most hopeless and I hear a voice and the voice whispers to me and says “stop preaching, just give up, no one is listening. No lives are being impacted and this is a futile task. You can't fail if you don't try”. That's the same voice that whispered to Hezekiah and it's the same voice that is whispering to you when you feel hopeless to give up our great treasure which is our faith, our hopes and our opportunities to trust in God.
All of you hear the voice too and it whispers to compromise, feed the thing that is overwhelming you but it's never going to be full. “You can't live holy so don't even try”. “It's just alcohol it doesn't matter if I drink too much.” “We are married in our hearts anyway so why not just have sex.” “We've stuffed up before and it's too hard and I just feel hopeless so I'll just keep doing it.”
But it's a lie, a cursed lie from Hell itself!
It's all a lie and it steals our treasure it trashes our faith, it tarnishes our testimony it takes away from who we are and ultimately and most importantly it dishonors God. You might read Hezekiah’s story and think the gold in the temple who cares it’s just gold, but the fact that it dishonored God, that's the tragedy, that's the thing that should break your heart, that's the thing that should have broken Hezekiah’s heart that when he compromised and gave away, he was really dishonoring God and it's not just that we dishonor God, we honour evil. It's not just that we take away from God what is his but we give that to literally God's enemy. There is nothing that should have the power to make us feel hopeless except maybe one thing.
There's one thing that should make you feel hopeless and that thing is when you look at yourself in front of God, when I stand in front of God and I realize how holy he is and how unholy I am, then I should feel hopeless.
Every time someone sees God in the Bible they feel hopeless for a moment and they fall on their face even John, Jesus’s closest friend, the disciple who sat next to him all the time when he saw Jesus in Revelation Chapter one he fell on his face as if he was dead, Ezekiel falls on his face as if he's dead, Isaiah screams woe is me, I'm undone” They feel this hopelessness because they see God's holiness and they see that they're not.
But even that only ALMOST deserves hopelessness because in the midst of that overwhelming problem there comes another spectacle. God is saying once more “get your eyes off the problem and look at me”.
There is an old hymn called turn your eyes upon Jesus, that I think sums up the lesson here. It says turn your eyes upon Jesus look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
I always used to like hearing this song and I thought the “things of earth that will grow strangely dim” were things like sin or worldly treasures or pleasures, but I think it also includes the things that overwhelm us, our fears, our terrors, our hopelessness.
If you're a single person and your deep desire is to get married and you're overwhelmed by feelings of despair, just look at Jesus, turn your eyes upon Jesus look full and his wonderful face and that fear will grow strangely dim. I promise it will, because that happened to me.
If your sin is too big for you and you are afraid of it’s weight and you feel hopeless to defeat it, turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face and that pull will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
If you’re coming to a realization maybe for the 1st time that you are a sinner in the hands of a rightly angry God that's an overwhelming thing but turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face and even that will grow strangely dim in the light of His Glory and grace.
I want to challenge you and plead with you. Let's not be people that are ruled by hopelessness. We have an amazing captain on our team we have the world's best...Brazil would have been stupid to be feeling hopeless with Ronaldo in his prime and we would be the same.
Jesus offers us redemption my friends, even in the storm of Hopelessness.