Small Group Leader Study Guide
Date: December 2, 2018
Series: The kings and the King: Season 4 (2 Kings)
Bible Text: 2 Kings 18-20
This Week’s Printables:
- Group Leader Study Guide (pdf)
- Group Discussion Guide (pdf)
- Chart: The Kings & Prophets of Israel & Judah (pdf)
Over the centuries of church history, many have read Jesus’ seven letters to the churches of Revelation and placed themselves somewhere on the spectrum from good to bad. Not surprisingly, most churches identify themselves as the Church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13), which was the mission-focused church and persevered during the hour of testing. On the other hand, few identify themselves with the Church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22), which was the prosperous church that became apostate.
How about you? Where do you place yourself on this spectrum? Unless you are the rare exception, you are more Laodicean than you care to admit. We all are. It’s difficult to read the description of the Church in Laodicea and not see the American church.
We live in a time of complete peace and prosperity. As we will see in today’s lesson from the life of King Hezekiah, peace and prosperity are two of the greatest challenges godly men and women face in their walk of obedience and faithfulness. In difficult times, Hezekiah was a model of prayer and complete trust in the Lord. During a time of peace and prosperity, he became prideful and boastful.
Randy Alcorn describes the challenge in clear language:
One of life’s greatest ironies is the change that occurs when a poor and humble person who walks with God is rewarded with prosperity. Often the person’s attention gradually turns away from the Lord. Unless corrected, she will ultimately be transformed into a proud, rich person who comes under God’s judgment. Ezekiel said to the king of Tyre, “With your wisdom and understanding you have amassed great wealth—gold and silver for your treasuries. Yes, your wisdom has made you very rich, and your riches have made you very proud” (Ezekiel 28:4-5).
Some wonder why God still blesses with wealth many once-godly Western nations. Perhaps the “blessing” is but a curse in disguise. In contrast, times of financial struggle may be God’s character-building gift to us. In the midst of prosperity, the challenge for believers is to handle wealth so that it acts as a blessing, not a curse.
John Steinbeck wrote a letter to Adlai Stevenson, which was recorded in the January 28, 1960, edition of the Washington Post. Steinbeck said, “If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much, and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy, sick.”1
What we will learn this week is that in the Bible, prosperity is often a form of testing rather than blessing. Nothing tests the resolve of a Christian to live a godly life dependent upon the Lord more than living in a time of great prosperity.
Jesus underscored this point when He stated, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24-25).
This is the challenge we all face today, and this is the point of this week’s lesson.
Memory Verse for This Week
Proverbs 15:16 “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.”
Core Belief: Stewardship
Stewardship (1 Timothy 6:17-19): We believe that everything we have, including our very life, belongs to God.
Take Home Truth
Our actions aren’t first, and neither are they final. God was, is, and will be on the throne, forever culminating it all to the glory of his name.
Can you think of a time in your life when things seemed hopeless? How did you respond?
How do you stay “needy” for God when you need for nothing?
Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?
Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead to one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.
Read the Text
Read 2 Kings 18-20.
In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.
Summarize what is happening in 2 Kings 18-20.
These three chapters cover the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. The Bible Narrator turns our attention back to Judah following the destruction of Israel, the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians.
Verses 1-6 of 2 Kings 18 provide an overall summary of Hezekiah. Bottom line, Hezekiah was a good king who, “did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done” (v. 3). In fact, he is one of the few kings of Judah in which there is no “but…” in his summary.
If you recall, many of the good kings “did what was right in the sight of the Lord,” but… they failed to remove the high places. Hezekiah did not make this mistake. Verse 4 tells us he removed the high places.
If there is a caveat to King Hezekiah’s reign, it is that he struggled during times of peace and prosperity. When challenges arose, and they did, Hezekiah turned to the Lord and is a model of a prayer warrior for us today. But, later in life, during a time of peace and prosperity, pride took root in Hezekiah and he became boastful. As we will see, this is a grave warning for us today.
- Hezekiah’s Reign over Judah; Assyria’s Threat to Peace & Security (2 Kings 18)
- God Deliver’s Jerusalem from Assyria (2 Kings 19)
- Hezekiah’s Illness, Prayer; God Extends Hezekiah’s Life; Hezekiah Becomes Pridful (2 Kings 20)
How does Hezekiah respond in times of great distress?
Hezekiah faced two great challenges during his reign: the menacing Assyrians who had just destroyed Israel and were now threatening Judah, and Hezekiah’s own health. During both times of distress, Hezekiah turned to the Lord in prayer.
- The Invasion by Assyria. Chapter 18:13ff describes the Assyrian invasion of Judah. From a military perspective, Judah was no match for the powerful and overwhelming Assyrian army. To communicate his demands, Sennacherib king of Assyrian sent his emmisary, Rabshakeh. This man has one mission: to get Judah to surrender. He paints a bleak picture for the people of Judah, all in front of the backdrop of a destroyed Israel. Chapter 19:1 tells us how Hezekiah responded. “As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD.” The Lord responded through Isaiah His prophet: “Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.” 2 Kings 19 ends with a vivid description of God’s destruction of the Assyrian army that surrounded Jerusalem.
- Hezekiah’s Illness. 2 Kings 20 describes for us Hezekiah’s next great challenge: personal illness. We are not given much detail about Hezekiah’s illness except that he was mortally ill and was “at the point of death” (v. 1). Again, Hezekiah turned to the Lord: “Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly” (v. 3). The Lord mercifully listened to Hezekiah’s prayer and extended his life 15 years (v. 6).
During both of these times of great distress, both personally and nationally, King Hezekiah demonstrated great faith in God by taking his problems to the Lord and trusting completely in Him rather than trying to solve his problems first. Prayer demonstrates complete dependence on the Lord. Prayerlessness demonstrates complete independence from the Lord.
What can we learn from Hezekiah’s witness during times of peace and prosperity?
With the trials of war and illness behind him, Hezekiah enjoyed a comfortable life during a time of peace and prosperity. There is much we can learn from how Hezekiah responded when at ease. Not unlike American Christians today, Hezekiah became complacent and even boastful.
2 Kings 20:12ff describes the final years of Hezekiah’s life. When the son of the king of Babylon came to visit Hezekiah and learn how he had recovered from his illness, rather than give glory to the Lord, Hezekiah took the glory for himself. Verse 13 describes for us Hezekiah’s boastful attitude.
Not long after, the Prophet Isaiah came for a visit. “What have you done?” (v. 14). That’s my paraphrase. Whoops. That’s when you know you’re in trouble.
Through Isaiah, God judges Hezekiah for his pride and tells him of the impending destruction of Judah and the king’s family by the Babylonians (vs 16-18). Hezekiah’s response is puzzling, yet, it is not surprising, for this is how many of us live our lives today. Essentially, he says, “good, at least it won’t happen during my lifetime.”
This whole picture should underscore for us how difficult it is to live a godly life during times of peace and prosperity. Like Hezekiah, we grow comfortable, complacent, and self-dependent rather than depending on God and trusting completely in him. Worst of all, in spite of all the cultural problems facing our nation today, many of us are happy to kick the can down the road. In many ways our comfort and prosperity today is at the expense of our children and grandchildren. But, our life is good, and that’s all that matters.
As we transition into the next part of our lesson, the example of Hezekiah is a powerful example of how many of us naturally respond during times or prosperity.
Application for Christians Today
For this portion of our group lesson, we will return to the book, The Church in Babylon: Heeding the Call to Be a Light in the Darkness by Erwin Lutzer. This week we will look at Chapter 10: “Jesus at the Church Door: Prayerless Pulpits, Satisfied Saints, and Spiritual Blindness.”
As a group, read Revelation 3:14-22.
Revelation 3:14–22 (ESV)
To the Church in Laodicea
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”
A couple of observations:
- Why is Jesus outside of the church asking to be invited back in?
- Is Jesus outside of our churches and lives today? If so, how do we invite him back into our churches and individual lives?
- This letter from Jesus is addressed to “the angel of the church in Laodicea.” The word translated “angel” is the same word as “messenger.” Consequently, it is appropriate to read this letter as addressed to the messenger of this church, or, in our contemporary terms, the pastor.
When you think of the church in general, do you think of a powerful church or a powerless church? Explain your answer.
We could spend a lot of time defining what describes a powerful church and a powerless church, but the best gauge is summarized in one word: transformation. Are lives being transformed?
In helping us understand the power of a transforming church, Erwin Lutzer points us to the example of Brooklyn Tabernacle and Pastor Jim Cymbala. In another book, Daniel Henderson describes the ministry of Brooklyn Tabernacle:
Pastor Jim Cymbala is well known for his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, which has captivated and challenged thousands of readers with stories of dramatically changed lives. His wife, Carol, leads the famous Grammy-award-wining Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. Cymbala preaches to over ten thousand every weekend in multiple church services. Every Tuesday night, thousands gather for the weekly prayer meeting, just as they have done for over forty years.2
Lutzer once asked Pastor Cymbala why people lined up for blocks to attend their Tuesday night prayer meeting. Cymbala replied, “Your people would pray too if they actually believed that God answers prayer!”
Ouch. That is painful, but true. Many of us simply do not believe in the power of prayer. The modern church spends most of its time and energy on ministries that, while beneficial, simply do not produce transformed lives.
If sermons delivered people from their sins and addictions, we’d probably be a holy people. But sermons, Bible studies, and seminars, apart from the unction of the Holy Spirit and the impact of the body of Christ, have no lasting results. Consequently, believers go on for years with little emotional and spiritual development. They struggle with the same sins, the same behavioral patterns, and the same inner and outer conflicts.3
We see powerless churches today because we are a prayerless people.
What does Jesus mean when he describes the Church in Laodicia as lukewarm?
Sometimes, this verse can be wrongly interpreted to mean hot is good, cold is bad, and lukewarm is a mixture of good and bad. That is not the best interpretation. Hot water is good. We cook with hot water, we bathe with hot water. Hot water can warm the soul with a cup of coffee or tea on a cold day.
At the same time, cold water is also good. Cold water is refreshing. We swim in cold water, we enjoy a refreshing class of cold water. We can splash some cold water on our face when we are hot and need a quick refresh.
Lukewarm is neither hot nor cold. It is useless. Jesus is saying be one or there other, hot or cold, but don’t be lukewarm or I will spit you out of my mouth.
Lukewarm describes many of us today. We are neither hot—passionate about the Lord and His gospel—or cold—refreshing with the power of His word and prayer. We are lukewarm. Meh.
If we have learned anything during our study of ancient Israel the last two years, it is this simple principle: God desires obedience more than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). God commands us to be a peculiar people (Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:9).
Is there a difference between the American way of life and the Christian way of life? What are the differences, if any?
Consider the words of Jesus, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
During Todd’s message of November 18, “Does Prosperity Equal Godliness?” He talked specifically about this issue. It is easy for us to confuse much of the prosperity we enjoy today as Americans with God’s spiritual blessings. But Jesus underscores here in Revelation 3 what Todd said in his sermon: we cannot equate material prosperity with spiritual blessing.
Many American Christians are lukewarm, but they are also very comfortable. Here is the question we all must wrestle with: has your comfortable American lifestyle blinded you to the true condition of your heart?
Listening to these words of rebuke from Erwin Lutzer:
Years of prosperity here in America have produced a younger generation that is not as loyal as their parents to their church and Christian ministries. Many are less likely to object to degrading movies, alternate sexual lifestyles, and various doctrinal compromises. Such people have bought into the self-absorbed culture in which we live. Take a good look at American culture, and you are essentially looking at our “church culture.”
Jesus taught that physical poverty doesn’t necessarily translate into a more spiritually vibrant relationship with God. But He did warn that it’s almost impossible to raise up true worshipers in a prosperous culture; it was difficult—though not impossible—for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Today, the Christian way of life is the American way of life. To put it more clearly, we are the culture.4
How can we be less “Laodicean” in our church and lives and instead draw closer to Jesus?
I think we have a good picture of the Laodicean church from our discussion so far:
- Comfortable, hence lukewarm
- Self-focused and self-deceived
- Independent from Jesus Christ (prayerless) rather than dependent (prayerful)
Jesus says in verse 19 we are to be zealous and repent. Repentance is not just an event, but a way of life. It is a daily acknowledgment of our total dependence on God. Repentance before God leads to humility and worship, which is the opposite of how many Christians live their life today.
Lutzer offers seven suggestions to help us be less American in our lifestyle and more Christian:
- We have too much noise and not enough quietness. Too many videos and emails, and too much television. Let us regularly turn off the noise to contemplate God in private worship and scriptural meditation.
- We have too much self-promotion and narcissism, as well as unrebuked covetousness, pride, and individualism. Let us intentionally become involved in the lives of those who hurt, the poor, and the lonely.
- We have too much self-righteousness, a feeling of superiority toward people who are different than we are racially, sexually, or religiously. Let us ask God to see people as He does, for all are created in God’s image. And then let us befriend them.
- We have too little prayer, too little weeping for both the saved and the unsaved. Too little passion for God, but much passion for our own schedules and interests. Let us witness to others through friendships and by helping them on their spiritual journey.
- We’re too selfish with our money and time; the little that we give to the kingdom might give us a deep sense of personal satisfaction, but it does not reflect the generosity of God toward us. Let us prove the words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
- We have too many marriages in crisis with seemingly no resolution of their conflicts, though both spouses claim to be Christians. Let us give priority to our own marriages and befriend those who are hurting, the divorced, the single parent, and the lonely child.
- We have too little effort in preserving the unity of the body: racially, economically, and ethnically. Let us intentionally build friendships within and outside our churches with those who are different than we are, learning and listening.5
Becoming A House of Prayer
“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices; Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – Isaiah 56:7.
Prayer Focus for the Week of December 2 …
Pray that God might teach us the meaning of genuine repentance: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19).
Pray that God will help us stay dependent upon Him through prayer even in times of peace and prosperity.
Questions to consider as you continue to reflect on what you learned this week:
- Take Action: What is your active plan to stay dependent upon God in times of prosperity? Review your notes from this week and develop a plan if you don’t have one. Write it out and place it where you can be reminded of it daily.
- Take Courage: Revelation 3:20 reminds us Jesus is at the door wanting to enter into our homes and church. He has not forgotten us, but many of us have forgotten Him. Is Jesus welcome in your home? Is Jesus welcome in our church? The easy answer is yes, but challenge yourself on this issue. Are there changes you need to make that will say to anyone who enters your home our our church, “Jesus is at home here.”
Work to memorize this week’s memory verse: Proverbs 15:16 “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.”
This week’s Core Belief is Stewardship (1 Timothy 6:17-19): We believe that everything we have, including our very life, belongs to God.
Take Home Truth is “Our actions aren’t first, and neither are they final. God was, is, and will be on the throne, forever culminating it all to the glory of his name.”
Remember to use the Daily Bible Reading plan as part of your walk with Christ, taking the time to reflect on each passage and what it means for your lives.
Take Home Truth
- Randy Alcorn, Managing God’s Money: A Biblical Guide (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2011). ↩
- Daniel Henderson and H. B. Charles Jr., Transforming Presence: How the Holy Spirit Changes Everything—from the inside out (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018). ↩
- Erwin W. Lutzer and Ed Stetzer, The Church in Babylon: Heeding the Call to Be a Light in the Darkness (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩