My Only Aim Is to Finish the Race and Complete the Task

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2 KINGS 17:1-18:12 | ACTS 20:1-38 | PSALM 148:1-14 | PROVERBS 18:6-7

We appear to be approaching the end of this long string of kings spanning several generations on both sides, i.e., Israel and Judah. 

The latest king of Israel is Hoshea, counterpart of Ahaz, king of Judah.  It is said that Hoshea’s reign lasted a mere nine years, but here was another king who didn’t do anything to reverse the bad record of his ancestors; rather, he continued all the abhorrent practices of idolatry as always, plus he also managed to ruin some good relations with neighbors. 

And so, it isn’t long before Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria, i.e., what is considered modern day Iraq, attacks, defeats, and takes away masses of the Hebrew people as prisoners of war.  The Lord allows this to happen as a consequence for disobedience and outright rebellion to his commandments. 

The text tells us the exact reason for this as follows: 14 But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the LORD their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”

Continuing on with the story, we see that on the other side, Hezekiah is the new king of Judah, but here is someone who for a change, appears to be radically different from his predecessors.  Here is a king who is only twenty-five years old when he ascended the throne, and yet he had the grave wisdom to do what was “right in the eyes of the Lord.” 

And the text elaborates as follows:  5 Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the LORD and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.

Turning now to our reading in the book of Acts, we find Paul continuing in his ministry through Macedonia and Greece.  In a town called Troas, there is an incredible account of a young man who falls asleep listening to one of Paul’s long sermons!  He falls three stories down and is presumed dead. 

What Paul does is immediately reminiscent of what Elijah and Elisha did in similar circumstances:  he lays the young man down and lies upon him, and it is as if this action allows for life to permeate from Paul’s living body into the dead one, and lo and behold, the young man is raised from the dead! 

These are indeed fascinating accounts that attest to the power of these great men of God who, by virtue of their great faith were able to infuse life into bodies from which all signs of life had departed.

Next, we see Paul bidding farewell to the believers at Ephesus.  He has stayed with them long, on and off, but he must move on, and he tells the elders in the church of Ephesus these things:  “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Paul’s parting words to the Ephesians are a testament to the incredible man that he was:  dedicated to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to one and all, and to teach and exhort the believers to grow in the grace of God. 

It was not enough to believe; it was even more important to believe and then live a life that would reflect that belief.  That meant working hard to help the weak—both spiritually and physically. 

Paul says:  35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”  

May it be that we take this exhortation as a personal one to live our lives in accordance with Paul’s advice.

Turning now to our reading from the psalms, we find yet another one of praise.  This psalm is written by the psalmist as an exhortation to the various elements in nature—sun, moon, stars, etc.—to offer praise to God.  David says:

13 Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

Finally, two verses from the book of Proverbs that serve as reminders to the gross value of the import of one’s words on one’s being:

6 The lips of fools bring them strife,
and their mouths invite a beating. 

7 The mouths of fools are their undoing,
   and their lips are a snare to their very lives.

“Tell the bees…because nothing else has changed”

Tell the Bees

Tell the bees. They require news of the house;
they must know, lest they sicken
from the gap between their ignorance and our grief.
Speak in a whisper. Tie a black swatch
to a stick and attach the stick to their hive.
From the fortress of casseroles and desserts
built in the kitchen these past few weeks
as though hunger were the enemy, remove
a slice of cake and lay it where they can
slowly draw it in, making a mournful sound.
And tell the fly that has knocked on the window all day.
Tell the redbird that rammed the glass from outside
and stands too dazed to go. Tell the grass,
though it’s already guessed, and the ground clenched in furrows;
tell the water you spill on the ground,
then all the water will know.
And the last shrunken pearl of snow in its hiding place.
Tell the blighted elms, and the young oaks we plant instead.
The water bug, while it scribbles
a hundred lines that dissolve behind it.
The lichen, while it etches deeper
its single rune. The boulders, letting their fissures widen,
the pebbles, which have no more to lose,
the hills—they will be slightly smaller, as always,
when the bees fly out tomorrow to look for sweetness
and find their way
because nothing else has changed.