Psalm 138:6–8; 1 Kings 22:29–53; John 20:10–23

Originally published 12/01/2016. Revised and updated 12/01/2018.

Psalm 138:6–8: Even though God is God, he does not forget even the most humble person: “For high is the Lord yet the lowly he sees.” (6a) Likewise the powerful—here with the clear implication that their actions whether good or bad—will not escape God’s notice: “and the lofty, from a distance, He knows.” (6b) No human action can be hidden from God’s view, something the psalmist is asking us to remember when we face a decision or temptation. Equally implicit here is that God also knows our sins of omission, especially when we ignore the poor and the widows.

In an echo of Psalm 23, our poet knows that God will accompany him and protect him from the wiles of his foes:
Though I walk through the midst of straits,
You give me life in spite of my enemies’ wrath.
” (7a)

In other words, even when we are oppressed, God is close beside us.

God’s companionship is not merely passive:
You stretch out Your hand,
and Your right hand rescues me.
 (7b)

God’s right hand represents God’s saving power. We see real assurance here; this is not a psalm that asks where God is in times of trouble. Our psalmist knows that God is beside him and is active in his life.

That’s both a challenge and a comfort for me. Too often I tend to think of God as a passive abstraction, but this psalm reminds me that God will reach down and rescue me if I but ask. Of course God’s rescue may not be exactly what I have in mind, but the fact that I am still here 72 years after my birth tells me that God is indeed who the psalmist says he is in the last verse:
The Lord will requite me.
O Lord, Your kindness is forever.”
(8a)

And even in this assurance we can ask, as the psalmist does here, for his continued rescue because we are the creatures and God is our Creator:
Do not let go of Your handiwork. (8b)

The reality of God’s rescue is something we too easily forget.

1 Kings 22:29–53: Even though he is well aware of Micaiah’s prophecy, Ahab decides to enter into battle with Aram. Devious coward that he is, tells Jehoshaphat that “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” (30). He does this because he knows that the king of Aram has instructed his soldiers to fight only “the king of Israel” and assumes they will mistake Jehoshaphat for him and kill Judah’s king instead. Indeed, when they see only Jehoshaphat wearing kingly robes on the battlefield the Aram soldiers think he is Ahab. But Jehoshaphat cries out that he’s not the king of Israel, and is able to get the Aramites to stop pursuing him. I think this is a good example of what the psalmist above meant when he asks God, “Do not let go of Your handiwork.

Ahab doubtless thinks that by wearing a disguise he has cleverly escaped his prophesied fate. However, in proof that one cannot escape God, “a certain man drew his bow and unknowingly struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate.” (34). His men prop the mortally wounded Ahab up in his chariot so he can observe the battle. He dies as the sun sets and as his blood drains from his body into the bottom of the chariot.

Later, while soldiers clean the blood-soaked chariot by the “pool of Samaria,”Ahab’s blood drains to the ground where “the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the word of the Lord that he had spoken.” (38) Even kings, try as they might, cannot escape God’s judgement.

Our authors shift focus away from Ahab and now provide us with details about Jehoshaphat’s reign, noting that “He walked in all the way of his father Asa; he did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord.” (43a). Nevertheless, he was no David and “the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and offered incense on the high places.” (43b) However, he made peace with the king of Israel and eliminates the “remnant of the male temple prostitutes who were still in the land in the days of his father Asa.” (46)

Things were not quite so peachy up north in Israel where Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, is now king: “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father and mother, and in the way of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin.” (52) We can be confident that Ahaziah will meet a fate similar to his father’s.

John 20:10–23: John and Peter have run off to tell the others about the empty tomb. The area around the tomb is deserted when Mary Magdalene arrives. She sees two angels, which she mistakes for mere mortals, one of whom asks why she is weeping. She replied that Jesus’ body is missing and “I do not know where they have laid him.” (13) In one of the great dramatic moments of the New Testament, Mary turns around and sees Jesus. “But she did not know that it was Jesus.” (14) Jesus asks her the same question the angels did, and assuming he’s the gardener, Mary pleads, “tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (15)

It takes only a single word, her name, for Mary to recognize Jesus at last. Just as Jesus knows our names. She starts to hug him, but Jesus tells her not to. But the reason—“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father” (17)—has always puzzled me. Was Jesus somehow non-corporeal? What does the imminence of his ascension have to do with his physical state? He repeats the ascension business when he tells Mary to go tell “my brothers.” Mary does as instructed, but alas, we do not hear the disciples’ reply. We can probably assume that John and Peter are already back and have given the same news, and that Mary provides confirmation.

Hiding out in a locked room for fear of Jewish reprisals, the disciples see Jesus somehow just appear before them. Jesus show his hands and side to eliminate doubt about who he is. By this time they believe he really is Jesus and “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (20)

Now Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (21). Unlike the gospel of Matthew, where he simply utters the command to go, here, Jesus adds, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (23) The Comforter whom Jesus promised to them in the upper room discourse has indeed arrived. I think it’s important to note that the Holy Spirit did not just come so the disciples could hide out. Rather, Jesus has given them the substantial assignment to forgive sins. The message is clear: Having the Holy Spirit means we are to go out into the world and act on Jesus’ behalf—even when we’d rather just sit around and feel all warm and spirit-filled.

 

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