There are two big takeaways that we have to consider from the contrast between Hezekiah, who lived without the promise of Heaven, and Paul, who very much embraced eternity through Christ. And the first of these takeaways is this:
Most of us face death, and therefore, life, like Hezekiah, not like Paul.
Most of us, when faced with things that could signal the end of our lives, do not say, "Yes, Lord! For whether I live or whether I die, it is all for You, and oh, how I long to be with You and so Heaven is truly a gift." Rather, we cry out, "Oh Lord, please no! I'm sorry! I'm horribly sorry! I have done a wicked, terrible thing...."
As though death is some sort of punishment for us.
And here, of course, is where theology necessarily gets a bit muddled. Because death is some sort of punishment for us; it's the byproduct of the curse, the natural consequence of our sin. There's not a man among us who can argue anything different, at least not successfully. We are all aware that death was not part of the original plan, that it was not woven into the essence of Adam and Eve but was knit into the fabric of the first fig leaves, the coverings of their shame. So to a certain extent, we are right when we cry out against death, when we repent and turn away and turn back to God and long for death to be delayed, or better yet, defeated.
On the other hand, death has already been defeated. Of this much, we can also be sure. It's written right there in the pages of the Gospels. The story of Jesus is the saga of death's defeat; that's one of the main points of the whole thing. So when we cry out against death, we are confessing some hesitation at the Cross. We are admitting there is something we have not quite grasped onto yet, something we do not quite yet believe.
None of this has to do with faithfulness, by the way. Hezekiah was a faithful man, an incredibly faithful man as far as kings in the Old Testament go. He did amazing things for the sake of God's name among a people who had turned away from Him. But the kind of faithfulness possible for Hezekiah without the promise of Heaven is profoundly different from the kind of faithfulness possible for Paul with it, and Paul, too, was a faithful man. An incredibly faithful man.
The problem is, as people of the new covenant, we are far too often living like people of the old covenant. We are far too desperate for, and content with, fifteen more years (the mercy given to Hezekiah in his pleading) than desperate for, and content with, eternity (the promise of Heaven under which Paul lived).
And if God's people are longing for more of this world, if we are satisfied with fifteen more years, what hope do we offer to this same world that is perishing? What convincing argument do we have that our God is any good thing at all, if the best He can offer us, according to our own assertion, is more of the same? More of this world?
It's hard to hold on to Paul's theology. It's hard to say, "You know what? I could take this place or leave it because God is with me wherever I go." It's hard because there are a lot of things in this world that we're attached to, a lot of people and places we never seem ready to let go of, even for the sake of greater things. It's hard because there's so much about Heaven that exists beyond our imaginations, and our imaginations have even lied to us a little bit. (Anybody that's never had a vision of Heaven that includes us all floating around in bath robes on fluffy clouds, playing harps? Anybody looking forward to that?) It's hard for us to live like a people in anticipation and embrace of Heaven.
But these fifteen more years are killing us.
So that's the first thing we have to recognize about the difference between Hezekiah and Paul: most of us are living like Hezekiah, and it's a disgrace. It's a disgrace to the promise of Heaven and to the God who makes that promise. It's a disgrace to us, who are more willing to live under the curse than in living hope. It's a disgrace to the theology that we profess to proclaim, a theology that has not taken hold of Heaven at all except, perhaps, as a good idea and maybe a little bit of mystery. And it's not because we don't love God. We do.
We just don't necessarily believe Him.
And that's...a big problem. A big, big problem.
But there might be an even bigger problem.... The second thing we need to understand here, tomorrow.