This past weekend has been an emotional high for me as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Emmanuel Church. We are indeed grateful to the Lord for all what He has done for us; we were saved, baptized, married, ordained, and commissioned at this evangelical church! Further, I was asked to preach at Banaswadi Bible Church, a church we pioneered 16 years ago, on the theme: Roots & Fruits (2 Kings 19:30), the key text for their care cells. It was also my joy to be at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital for their 34th Thanksgiving ‘B’Day to re-cast their vision and lead their staff retreat by establishing a biblical basis on which to revitalize their mission statement: To provide quality wholistic care to all people and train others to do the same; sharing the love of Jesus Christ, drawing people to Him, and growing together into a mature community.
These are my thoughts on God’s promise regarding “taking roots downward,” which is daily relying on God’s grace, and “bearing fruit upward,” or building His Kingdom with self-sacrificial love:
Sennacherib, the Assyrian king led a military siege against Jerusalem, where the strategy in war was to attack during sowing and harvest time. Against this pagan king’s pride and boasting we read of Hezekiah, king of Judah’s prayer and trust in God for deliverance. Verses 29-30 contains God’s prophetic assurance through His servant Isaiah. It reveals God’s providential care in troublesome times. For that year, though crops could not be planted, God’s people would eat whatever grows wild. The 2nd year, they could rely on what naturally grows out of uncultivated land. But the 3rd year, God assured them they would “sow and reap, plant vineyards and drink the vine of the land”–a sure sign that with their enemies out of the way, they would experience plenty and prosperity.
Now then, a horticultural metaphor is used to refer to the remnant who would come through the crisis (God always has His faithful few) who would be nourished (take root) and flourish (bear fruit) because of divine deliverance. Isaiah clarifies that their national security and economic prosperity is something the “zeal of the Lord” will accomplish because of His covenant with David, and for His own namesake. “The Angel of the Lord” then killed over 185,000 of Sennacherib’s men who woke up to find themselves dead! The arrogant king was defeated and driven away, and God’s people were ‘successful’.
For the above three faith communities I love, God has proved to be Emmanuel, “with us” (Isa.7:14), and our Ebenezer, “help until now” (1 Sam. 7:12). Yet a closer look at the text taught me that our churches and Christian organization, if not carefully guarded can become E/chabod—functioning as usual, but with “the glory departed” (1 Sam. 4:21). We have experienced God’s gracious love and protective care in the past and, I believe, the best is yet to come. However, bearing fruit in God’s kingdom and mentoring means equipping and releasing, not controlling and patronizing.
Here are some lessons worth noting from this passage:
1. God-given success is not for boasting, but to be a blessing to others (v. 26).
2. God knows everything, keeps record, and is always in control (v. 27-28).
3. God hears the heart cry of His people and answers even while we ask (v. 20).
4. God gives us “signs” to reassure us of His empowering presence (v. 29).
5. Signs, grounded in God’s merciful grace, require obedient trust (cf. Isa 7:11).
6. We reap what we sow; let us sow in righteousness in order to reap in mercy.
7. Success is not self-generated, but God-ordained, and calls for humble praise.
8. Grace proffers a theology of hope, not presumption; don’t take it for granted.
9. During crisis, Immanuel God is with, for, and among us (deeper and dearer!).
10. Our covenant-keeping God blesses us for his own glory and namesake!