Why Be Afraid to Die?
November 23rd, 1980 @ 7:30 PM
2 Kings 20:1-6
HEZEKIAH: WHY BE AFRAID TO DIE?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Kings 20:1-21
11-23-80 7:30 p.m.
It is a gladness for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to share this hour with the uncounted multitudes of you who are listening on KCBI, who has just had a beautifully successful Shar-A-Thon, and on KRLD, the great radio station of the Southwest. We invite you who are listening with the great throng of us in this sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Dallas to turn to 2 Kings, chapter 20, in the Old Testament, 2 Kings, chapter 20 and we shall read the first six verses; 2 Kings, chapter 20, verses 1-6 [2 Kings 20:1-6]. This is an identical chapter that you will find in the thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 38:1-6]. The two chapters are exactly alike. The title of the sermon is Hezekiah: Why Be Afraid To Die? Do we all have it? Then let us read it all out loud together, 2 Kings 20:1-6, out loud together:
In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.
Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying,
I beseech Thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying,
Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of My people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord.
And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for Mine own sake, and for My servant David’s sake.
[2 Kings 20:1-6]
This is the background of the subject Why Be Afraid to Die?
In reading and preparation for this message tonight, it was very interesting to me to read articles, very scientific in the world of academia, concerning the ever-present phenomenon of death. And in cool, calculating, removed, and impersonal approach, the scientists looking at death, speak of it as though it were a matter of recycling. Trees and leaves all fall to the ground and are recycled, fertilizing the earth and growing back up in vegetation once again, and animal life, dying and reliving. A salmon, for example, in spawning, will go back to the place where it itself was first hatched. And the salmon spawning there, laying its eggs in that place where it itself was born, will die, being food for the young fingerlings as they also begin the same cycle of life. That’s the scientific approach to the occurrence and the providence of death.
There are many articles, of course, that are written by philosophers. They look at the universal presence of death. And again, removing themselves, an impersonal approach, they speak of it as being a part of life; like two sides to the same coin: death and life, and life and death. And of course, all of us are aware of the merchandiser as he looks at death. It is a matter of the mortician. It is a matter of a casket, of a burial lot, of all the accouterments that go into a memorial service. He looks at death.
Hezekiah looks at death. And when he does, it is with dread and foreboding. Hezekiah was one of the best kings of Israel. He speaks to the Lord, “Remember how I have walked before Thee in truth with a perfect heart, have done what is good in Thy sight?” [2 Kings 20:3]. Good King Hezekiah; and yet when he looked at death—”Set thine house in order; for thou shalt surely die, and not live” [2 Kings 20:1]—he looked at it with dread and foreboding. Nor are we to think of Hezekiah when he looked into the face of death as though it were abnormal or peculiar or unique, for all of us are like that. Death has a horrible visage and we shield our very eyes and face from it. All existence reacts, recoils against the presence of death in that same way. A bug will run for its life. An animal will fight with fang and tooth and claw to protect its existence. All living recoils from the awesome presence of death. Death to the human race is especially terrible because of all of God’s creation, we are the one animal that can contemplate it, think about it, meditate upon it, see its coming. And in that meditation there is no comfort in what we see. A cadaver, the corruption, the horrible visage of decay and the waste of our physical frames; the lowering of the body into the earth; all of these things in contemplation are horrible. It is almost impossible for us to realize that this same body in which I live, will be corrupted and decaying and buried, just like that.
We are attached to this world, its sights and its sounds. And we cannot help it. This is the home we have known and the house in which we have lived. This is the life that we have been introduced to all of our days and to none other. We know no other. It is this planet alone and it is this life alone that is ours to share. Lot, when he was forced out of Sodom found himself finally unable to leave. And the angels seized upon Lot and forced him out of the city [Genesis 19:16-17, 22]. His dear wife, under the awesome threat of turning into a pillar of salt if she looked back, somehow found herself in the grip, the hold, the vise of nostalgia. That was her home, the only one she had ever known. Her other children were there. Seemingly, she could not help looking back [Genesis 19:26]. It is such a normal thing for us in this pilgrimage, like a family at the seashore, boarding a ship that shall take them to a strange and foreign land, they cannot help but one last, longing, lingering look at the home that they have known in the years past.
Hezekiah looks at death and his action, reaction is normal. It is like ours. Death has a foreboding appearance. Not only that, which is characteristic of us, but God is not unlike us. God looks at death, and God plainly—in the great resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians 15—God calls death an enemy: “For He must reign, till He have put all enemies under His feet. And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” [1 Corinthians 15:25, 26]. God Himself calls death an enemy. And God Himself says that “the sting of death is sin” [1 Corinthians 15:56]. God looks upon this world and what He sees is the trampling of the vineyard of His creation, the destruction of His Edenic garden, and the wasting of these who are the creation of His hands. The sting of death is sin [1 Corinthians 15:56]. And sin is universal: “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]. No man shall break that appointment. We may break other appointments, but we will not break that one. When that summons comes, we shall answer. It is an iron gate through which every one of us shall pass through. It is a swollen stream over which each one of us shall, shall be borne; shall cross.
I listened to a brilliant lawyer in our congregation Wednesday night. And he said, “You know, it is a strange personality trait. In all the years of my practice and my observation, I have never had anybody yet, in writing a will, say, when I die write thus and so, these codicils and these paragraphs. It is always if I die, if I die, I want this part of the estate to go this one and this part of the estate to go to that one. Never when I die, but if I die.” Somehow, all of us, think in terms of death as being a part of the experience of other people; but somehow never a part of the experience of our own. Death, universal, not intended, it is an interloper, it is an intervener, it is an intrusion. God never intended it. God calls death an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26].
Have you ever wondered, as you read the Bible, how is it that God might have taken us to heaven had there been no death? When I think about that, God placed us here to subdue the world, to replenish it, to multiply; and He made the man and the woman for to have a family [Genesis 1:27-28]. That was intended from the beginning. Well, as I think about that, this is a world just so large. And over the millennia, and the millennia, the thousands and thousands of years, the earth would have finally become not capable of further habitation had there been no passing away, no death of these who have lived here. And just thinking, how is it that God would have translated us to heaven had there been no death? And then thinking about that, I remembered this: how does Enoch go to heaven? He just sauntered in. He just walked in: “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” [Genesis 5:24]. He just stumbled into heaven. He just went for a stroll and he was in heaven. I remembered that. Then I thought and I remembered again, how did Elijah go to heaven? In a whirlwind; God’s fiery chariot and horses were present and just took him up to heaven [2 Kings 2:11]. I remembered that. In a fiery, in a fiery visitation and welcome, Elijah went to heaven. Then I remembered the Lord’s story of Lazarus. How did he go to heaven? The angels came, Jesus said, and took him to heaven [Luke 16:22]. And so as I thought about the Lord and His people here in the earth, I just think God had ten thousand things in mind about our Edenic, paradisiacal life, and how it would have been is beyond imagination. But sin came, and the waste of sin; and now the only entrance into heaven is in the experience and the phenomenon of death.
So that leads us to the great preaching of the New Testament. Where did it come from, and how did it begin? It began in the most abysmal despair that mind could imagine. All of those who loved Jesus, were the followers of the Lord, they believed that He was the King of Glory. He had come to bring liberty to the captives [Luke 4:18]. That was His sermon; the opening of the prison doors to them who were bound, joy for mourning, and praise for heaven. And they believed that the kingdom of God was in Him. And they followed Him with that full expectation. He was the promised Messiah, the King of Glory [Matthew 16:16].
It would be impossible for us to describe the ultimate, endless, darkening despair that seized upon those disciples when they saw Jesus crucified—not just die alone, die like a malefactor, die like a felon, die like an insurrectionist, die like a traitor [Matthew 27:38]—saw Him crucified by Roman soldiers [Matthew 27:32-50], saw the life pour out of Him, the crimson of His blood [John 19:34], and saw Him buried in a tomb [Matthew 27:57-61]. You can well understand how those two disciples on the way to Emmaus walked along and were sad, saying, “We had thought it would have been He who would have redeemed Israel” [Luke 24:13-21]. That is the birth of the gospel message of Christ.
Out of the darkness of that indescribably abysmal despair, the word came: “He is alive!” He lives. He has been resurrected. He is raised from among the dead [Matthew 28:5-7]. We have seen Him. And we have touched Him, and we have handled Him [Luke 24:36-40; John 20:24-28]. It is He Himself. It is Jesus of Nazareth. It was electrifying. It was too good to be true. The Bible says they believed not for abounding, overwhelming joy [Luke 24:41]. And when He appeared to Saul on the road of Damascus, He introduced Himself like that: “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:5, 22:8]. Not, I am the King of Glory [Psalm 24:8]. Not, I am the immortal glorified raised One who sits at the right hand of the throne of the power on high [Hebrews 8:1]. I am Jesus, the same Lord that walked in the days of His flesh by the side of the sea [Matthew 4:18]; that touched the blind and they were healed [Matthew 9:27-30], and touched the lepers and they were cleaned [Mark 1:40-42]. It was the same Lord Jesus. And that was the beginning of the gospel. It began in the marvelous good news that Jesus was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. And in the triumphant verses that closed this fifteenth chapter of the Book of 1 Corinthians that is—as I have observed many times, some of the great scholarly theologians of all time say—that this is the high-watermark of all revelation, the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 15:1-58]. When Paul comes to the concluding triumphal end of that marvelous chapter, he quotes [Isaiah 25]: “Death is swallowed up in victory” [1 Corinthians 15:54; Isaiah 25:8]. Think of that. Death, whose awesome visage is so universally seen, death is swallowed up in victory.
My brother, if you were to see a hero vanquished, a great warrior lying prostrate; however the unconquerable spirit of the warrior, you do not have any doubt about who is victor—not he but his enemy. When you look at yourself, and you see your life wasting away and your very flesh melting away, the tokens and the signs and the signals of death and the age that precedes it, you don’t have to ask who is the victor? He is, not we. And when you stand before an open grave and see someone you love, lowered into the heart of the earth, you don’t have to ask who is victor? He is; death is. And when you look into that darkening mystery of the life that you hope is to come, you can’t help but cry out, “O God, do You hear me when I cry? Do You see me when I weep? Do you see, Lord, the brokenheartedness of my life or do I just whisper to myself and am I just captured by a superstition that has endured from age to age to age. Lord, what is it to die?” This is the great victory and message of the gospel of Christ. We are not whispering to ourselves when we pray, but there is a God to hear [2 Chronicles 7:14].
Our tears, the Revelation says, our tears, the Book of Psalms says [Psalm 56:8], God gathers them up and they are precious in His sight. God sees our tears. The Lord said to Isaiah, “You go tell Hezekiah, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears [2 Kings 20:1-2, 5-6]. When we enter the dark chambers of death, it is the Lord who has preceded us. It is He that is victor and conqueror over the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. And if one somebody escapes, and He has [Matthew 28:5-7], then all of us can escape. The same door of liberation through which our Lord went through, we also can go through; because He lives, we shall live also [John 14:19]. “Death is swallowed up in victory” [1 Corinthians 15:54]. A concluding word; how shall it be, and what shall be the spirit of my heart when the time comes, inexorably, inevitably, certainly, that I shall die? Shall I be afraid? And shall I cling with the last breath that I have to gasp for one more breath?
If I can look at the life of Hezekiah, and if I could remember it for my own heart and life, it is best in the will of God. God gives what is best to those who leave the choice to Him [Romans 8:28]. God hears the prayers of His saints. He does. And Hezekiah pled with God for fifteen more years. And I have prepared in the message tonight, and I have not time to deliver it, God answered the cry of Hezekiah and gave him fifteen more years [2 Kings 20:6]. But those fifteen years destroyed Judah! In those fifteen years Manasseh was born; let me read just one, one, one verse: in Jeremiah 15, the Lord God says in 3 and 4: “Over Judah I will appoint . . . the sword to slay, and the dogs to tear, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the earth, to devour. . . . And I will cause them to be removed into all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah the king of Judah, for the sin that he did in Jerusalem” [Jeremiah 15:3, 4]. Manasseh was so vile and wicked a king that God says, “I will not overlook it: I have decreed the judgment of destruction and waste and captivity on Judah, because of the sins of Manasseh.”
Manasseh was born in that fifteen years. And Merodach-Baladan—and I haven’t time to expatiate on that—the king of Babylon, came with his emissaries to Hezekiah, and because of the pride of the king, good King Hezekiah—and it’s easy for a man, a good man to be proud—because of the pride of Hezekiah, the Lord God said to him, you shall, the kingdom shall, and all of its treasures, shall be carried away into captivity, and your sons, the generations, shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon [2 Kings 20:12-18]. Daniel was one of those eunuchs; Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego were three more of those eunuchs serving the king in Babylon [Daniel 1:6-7]—all because of an answer to Hezekiah’s prayer [2 Kings 20:5-6].
It is better to leave it in the hands of God. Lord, if it is today, Thy will be done. So prayed the blessed Jesus [Matthew 26:39]. If it is tomorrow, if God wills that it’s down to old age, God’s choice is best, whatever. And then, when the time comes, let me be unafraid. O Lord, I pray, that when that hour comes for me, it will be my finest hour; the church, looking upon me can say, “What a great victory we have in Christ Jesus.” And we are to look upon that translation, as Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain.”
I wish I had an hour to speak of what Paul meant: “to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]. As the Book of Hebrews in verse 22 of chapter 12 says, that means we are translated “into the city of the living God”—think of that; the New Jerusalem, heaven—”the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels” [Hebrews 12:22]. Think of that. Looking upon, the Revelation says they number myriads times myriads. That is the Greek of it; “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands and thousands of thousands,” it is translated [Revelation 5:11]. It is an untranslatable word. It is without number. Think of that, looking upon those angels without number: “To the general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven” [Hebrews 12:23]. Think of that. These are God’s people that have loved the Lord and are now in His presence. It is just like glory to think of that better thing God hath prepared for us [Hebrews 11:40].
Like those two old preachers; they made a covenant with each other, whoever went first the one remaining will perform that memorial service. They were both over eighty-five years of age. And as they walked down the church steps from a morning worship hour, a younger minister said to one of those old servants and soldiers of Jesus; asked him what he thought about leaving this world and going—translated to the world to come, and whether the old man dreaded that crossing of the river. And the old man replied, and I can just hear him say it, “Son, all the friends that I have ever known, most of them are over there. All of the deacons with whom I served are over there. My family all are over there. My Savior is over there. And when I walk down this street, it is a lonely walk for me, for I feel left behind, alone. And young man,” he replied, “when the day of my crossing comes, it will be a beautiful and heavenly and holy experience.” Home, that’s where our inheritance is [1 Peter 1:3-4]. The old-timers used to sing a song.
I am a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear;
heaven is my home:
Sorrows and danger stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland.
Heaven is my home.
[from “I’m But a Stranger Here,” Thomas Rawson Taylor]
Oh, come, angel band,
Come and around me stand;
O bear me above to my heavenly home,
Upon your snowy wings.
[from “My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast,” Jefferson Hascall, 1860]
And the angels came and took him to heaven. Why be afraid to die? If you know Jesus and if He is your Savior, to die is a gain in God’s purpose and God’s will for us [Philippians 1:21].
Now may we stand together? Our Lord in heaven, being human, we don’t have dying grace. But God will give us that grace when the time comes to die [Psalm 116:15]. God has given us living grace now, strength for the way, encouragement for the pilgrimage, guide us through this earthly life [Isaiah 41:10]. But when that ultimate day, when it comes, the same Lord God who saved us [Acts 4:12], will be the same Lord God who loving us will carry us and welcome us to our home in heaven [John 14:3]. And our Lord, may we live that life of perfect rest and peace.
God will take care of us,
Through every day,
O’er all the way,
God will take care of us.
[“God Will Take Care of You,” Thomas O. Chisholm]
In this sweet, precious moment, when we wait before the Lord, praying, a family you, a couple, one somebody you; tonight, give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]; come into the fellowship of the church; follow our Lord through the waters of the Jordan, being baptized [Matthew 3:13-17]; as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make that decision now. And in a moment when we sing; into that aisle or down one of those stairways, “Here we are, pastor, we are coming now.” And our Father may the angels if heaven attend these who answer with their lives tonight, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. Now while we pray, while we wait, while we sing, while our ministers and deacons are here to welcome you, down one of those stairways or down one of these aisles, “Pastor, here we are. We are coming to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], and to this dear church tonight,” while we sing our hymn, while we sing our song.
HEZEKIAH: WHY BE AFRAID TO DIE?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Kings 20:1-21
1. Looked at by science as recycling
2. Philosophy looks at death as a part of living, two sides of the same coin
3. Merchandiser looks at death with a view toward insurance, mortuary, casket, burial lot
II. Hezekiah’s response to death is normal
1. Looks at death with fear and foreboding, clinging to life
2. No man who thinks can call it a trivial thing
3. We become welded to this life
III. God’s view of death
1. He calls it an enemy
2. “sting of sin”
3. The unbreakable appointment
IV. Christian view of death
1. Preaching of the resurrection
2. Death swallowed up
3. To die is a gain, Philippians 1:21