Psalm 22:9–21; 2 Chronicles 14,15; Acts 20:32–21:4

Psalm 22:9–21: Our psalmist’s feelings of abandonment abruptly fade to the background as he recalls the gifts of faith in God: that our rescue and freedom come as a gift because God delights in us:
Who turns to the Lord, He will set him free.
He will save him, for He delights in him.” (9)

After all, the psalmist writes, we are God’s created beings from the very moment of our birth:
For You drew me out from the womb,
made me safe at my mother’s breasts.
Upon You I was cast from birth,
from my mother’s belly You were my God.” (10, 11)

And because of that close relationship with God he is the only place we can turn in times of trouble: “Do not be far from me,/ for distress is near,/ for there is none to help.” (12)

Now the psalmist describes the plight in which he found himself and why he felt abandoned by God. Confronting a powerful army—”brawny bulls”—who like lions “gaped their mouths at me” (14) David loses all courage in a breathtaking description of physical fear that envelops his entire body, bringing him close to death:
Like water I spilled out,
all my limbs fell apart.
My heart was like wax,
melting within my chest.
My palate turned dry as a shard
and my tongue was annealed to my jaw,
and to death’s dust did You thrust me.”  (15, 16)

Of course this description is also a detailed description of Jesus’ death by crucifixion. The line “like water spilled out” immediately evokes the image of the sword thrust into Jesus’ side. The image of Jesus’ suffering is intensified in the next verses:

For the curs came all around me,
a pack of evil encircled me.
they bound my hands and feet.
…It is they who looked, who stared at me.” (17, 21)

Can there be anything more desperately evil than dying on a cross while those around him stare up and mock Jesus? But it is the next verse that convinces us that the psalmist was unknowingly prophesying about Jesus death still hundreds of years in the future:
They shared out my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothes.” (19)

There is a final, gasping prayer, not unlike Jesus’ final gasping breaths on the cross:
But You, O Lord, be not far.
My strength, my aid O hasten!” (20)

Did our psalmist know he was writing of things to come? No. But this psalm is proof for me that God was already preparing an audacious plan to send Jesus to earth to die for us.

2 Chronicles 14,15: Abijah’s son, Asa, becomes king of Judah and “Asa did what was good and right in the sight of the Lord his God.” (14:2) He tears down all the idols and ‘high places,” and by following God, “the kingdom had rest under him.” (14:5) During this time of peace, Asa rebuilds fortified cities and defends Judah with “an army of three hundred thousand from Judah, armed with large shields and spears, and two hundred eighty thousand troops from Benjamin who carried shields and drew bows; all these were mighty warriors.” (14:8)

When the Ethiopians attempt to invade Judah, Asa wisely calls upon God for protection: “Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude.” (14:11) The Ethiopians are soundly defeated as the army pursues them “as far as Gerar” collecting nice booty along the way.

The prophet Azariah tells Asa and his army, “The Lord is with you, while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you abandon him, he will abandon you.” (15:2) As an example of this, the prophet reminds them about what happened to Israel when they followed idols instead of God.

As a result Asa and all of Judah take an oath that’s more than a little disturbing to our modern senses: “They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, …with all their heart and with all their soul. Whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.” (15:12, 13) But Judah is happy and “the Lord gave them rest all around.” (15:15)

Asa even took the idols away form his own mother. And even though every idol was not taken down, “the heart of Asa was true all his days” (15:17) and Judah enjoys 35 years of peace under his reign.

The covenant with Israel is really all quite simple isn’t it? Follow God and God alone and all will be well. Unfortunately, Asa turns out to be the exception to the rule.

Acts 20:32–21:4: Paul competes his valedictory speech to the Ephesians, noting that he had no ulterior motives—”I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing.” (33)—beyond showing them the “message of God’s grace.” Moreover, he supported himself without gifts from others: “You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions.” (34) And he reminds everyone that as Jesus said, “‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (35)

When Paul finishes speaking he kneels and prays. The emotion of his speech is intense, especially the realization that his friends from Ephesus will never see him again: “ There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again.” (37, 38) 

This passage has great resonance for me at this point in my life. Soon, I will be leaving friends and family—the place where I grew up and where I worked and where I have been in Christian community for almost 40 years—for a new adventure 2000 miles from here. There are indeed friends whom I may never see again. But like Paul, I feel led by the Spirit to a new place.

Which happily is not the hostility and potential disaster of Paul traveling to Jerusalem. They sail by a circuitous route from Miletus, eventually winding up in Tyre. Paul remains there for a week while his friends and disciples, who, “Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” (21:4)  We know Paul refuses to be deterred in his call to Jerusalem. But were it not for Paul going to Jerusalem and eventually ending up a prisoner in Rome the world may never have received his epistles, which are so essential to understanding and accepting the Good News of Jesus Christ.



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