Psalm 22:1–8; 2 Chronicles 12:13–13:22; Acts 20:17–31

Originally published 2/9/2017. Revised and updated 2/8/2019.

Psalm 22:1–8: This psalm opens with the words uttered by Jesus in his final agonizing throes on the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (2) In all the Bible, I think there are no words that so poignantly convey the hopelessness of abandonment and utter loneliness as these nine words. And in the centuries since our psalmist ascribed these words to David and being the words that Jesus spoke, (albeit in Aramaic rather than Hebrew) at the end of his earthly life, how many thousands of others have come to this psalm and found that it so perfectly describes their emotional and physical state?

The verses that follow amplify the despair of God being far away and indifferent to our plight:
My God, I call out by day and You do not answer,
by night—no stillness for me. (3)

Beyond abandonment there is the underlying sense that God has betrayed him. Where is the God in whom David’s ancestors put their trust? Where is the God who blessed Israel? After all, God came to their rescue, so why has he abandoned me?
In You did our fathers trust,
they trusted, and You set them free.
To You they cried out, and escaped,
in You they trusted and were not put to shame. (5,6)

Abandonment and the sense of betrayal lead inevitably to self-loathing—the only possible human explanation for why the God who aided others has refused to rescue David:
But I am a worm and no man,
a disgrace among men, by people reviled.
All who see me do mock me—
they curl their lips, they shake their head. (7,8)

For us Christians there is no way this final couplet cannot instantly evoke the scene at the foot of the cross as the crowd howls in execration at this self-proclaimed “King of the Jews,” who cannot even save himself, much less others.

But also for us Christians, we realize that in this moment of God’s apparent abandonment of Jesus, his death has assured us that we will never be abandoned. Even though we may find ourselves in circumstances that seem as if God has decided we are not worthy of redemption, we will come to know deep down that we will never be abandoned. God may often seem far away and uncaring, but in Jesus the hope to which we cling never fades.

2 Chronicles 12:13–13:22: Rehoboam reigns over Judah 17 years, but there is no eulogy from our authors upon his death: “He did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord.” (12:14) May this never be part of my eulogy!

The kingdom of Israel had split upon Solomon’s death and Jeroboam reigns in the north—what in Jesus’ time has become Samaria. In the 18th year of Jeroboam’s reign, Rehoboam’s son, Abijah, becomes king of Judah. There has been great tension between the northern and southern kingdoms and war breaks out between them: 400,00 men from Judah, who are vastly outnumbered by 800,000 men from Israel to the north.

Abijah challenges Jeroboam by telling him he is the mere son of David’s servant, while he is David’s blood. He shouts, “Do you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?” (13:5). He goes on to accuse Jeroboam of treason as he “rose up and rebelled against his lord; and certain worthless scoundrels gathered around him and defied Rehoboam son of Solomon, when Rehoboam was young and irresolute and could not withstand them.” (13:7)

Then, just before the battle commences, Abijah accuses Jeroboam of abandoning God by driving out the legitimate priests and appointing “Whoever comes to be consecrated with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods.” (13:9) But, Abijah continues, “as for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not abandoned him. We have priests ministering to the Lord who are descendants of Aaron, and Levites for their service.” (13:10) Therefore, he concludes, “See, God is with us at our head, and his priests have their battle trumpets to sound the call to battle against you.” (13:12a) Abijah issues his final warning: “O Israelites, do not fight against the Lord, the God of your ancestors; for you cannot succeed.” (12b) The battle commences.

At first it looks as though Israel’s superior numbers will soundly defeat Judah as Israel surrounds them on all sides. But in their desperate moment, the Judeans “cried out to the Lord, and the priests blew the trumpets. Then the people of Judah raised the battle shout.” (15a) And Judah is victorious. However, our authors are quick to point out that it was “God [who] defeated Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah.” (15b) They go on to editorialize, “thus the Israelites were subdued at that time, and the people of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their ancestors.” (18) 

The moral of this story is clear: even when we are outnumbered in whatever battle we may be fighting, if we have been faithful as Abijah was we can call upon God to aid us. However, unlike this internecine battle, victory may not always be ours even when our faith is great.

Acts 20:17–31: Before Paul departs Miletus to sail to Jerusalem, he asks the leaders of the Ephesian church to make the 63 mile trek from Ephesus to Miletus to meet with him.

Paul gives his valedictory speech to the church at Ephesus, but his message would certainly apply to all of the other churches in Europe and Asia that Paul founded. He reminds them that he has been serving “the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.” (19)

Despite those trials, he has accomplished much as the first missionary: “I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus.” (20, 21)

Paul says, “as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.” (22) So, we know he is headed to Jerusalem because of the tug of the Holy Spirit. But he also knows that this same Holy Spirit “testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.” (23) Paul’s call is far greater than even his life. Which brings us to the question every Christian must as at some point in his or her life: Are we willing to work to carry the good news to others as Paul did. And more crucially, lay down our life for Jesus? I certainly have doubts about me…

I’m sure Luke was writing at a time when there was nascent persecution of the church—persecution more severe than a mere riot in the streets of Ephesus. Paul warns the Ephesians directly of persecution to come—both within and outside the church: “I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.” (29, 30)

In the end, Paul’s words are an encouragement to follow where the Spirit leads—no matter where that may take us. As we know, thousands of Christians have accepted their Spirit-led fate and laid down there life in the name of Jesus—right up to the present day. We also know that persecution can come from within the church itself—as Martin Luther and the other reformers could amply testify.  Paul concludes with the same warning Jesus gave to his disciples at the end of his earthly ministry: “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears.” (31)

The questions for me are: Am I alert to the working of the Holy Spirit? Would I be willing to follow the Holy Spirit into danger? And would I be willing to call out deviance from the Gospel within the church?

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