2 Chronicles 14:1-7; 16:1-13
“Finish strong! Don’t quit! Don’t give up!” Those words ring loud and clear in the ears of any athlete, of any runner especially. I used to hear those words when I was lifting weights in high school and when I was doing cross training workouts back in Nebraska. “Finish strong! Don’t quit! Don’t give up!” means exactly what it says. Don’t give up, push through the tiredness, push through the muscle burn, find that next gear and finish, complete the race, leave it all on the field, complete the task at hand. Those final strides, those finals minutes and seconds of a workout or in a game can be hard, they can be absolutely grueling, but one is encouraged to “Finish strong!”
Life itself is often compared to a race. Not a sprint or a dash, but more like a marathon. Paul tells the young pastor Timothy near the end of Paul’s life, “the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6b-7). Paul had a hard life. After becoming a follower of Jesus, he was beaten, left for dead, ran out of town, amongst a long list of other things. Living for Christ was not easy for Paul, but he pushed on. Through the bruises, the beatings, the blood … Paul finished strong. He never gave up sharing the good news of Jesus. He shared it right up to the moment he was executed.
King Asa in our reading from 2 Chronicles this evening is one who came out of the gates strong as king. He was a totally different kind of king than that of his father and grandfather. Under the reign of King Asa’s grandfather Rehoboam, ten of the twelve tribes seceded from his kingdom, thus splitting Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah. King Asa’s father Abijah was just as wicked has Rehoboam.
But 2 Chronicles 14:2 tells us that Asa was not like his father or grandfather. We’re told that “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God”. That verse raises the question, “What did he do that was good and right in the eyes of God?” Well …
King Asa, we’re told went out and removed, destroyed the altars of foreign, false gods. He went to the high places, places where the people of Canaan often associated with the worship of their gods and smashed their sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles which were used in the worshipping of false gods. Asa cleaned up the land and led the nation of Judah to once again follow the one true God. He led the people to seek out the LORD, the God of their fathers, to obey His laws, His instructions, His commands. And the people did. They leaned upon the LORD their God for their strength.
King Asa also leaned upon God in the midst of a war. At the end of chapter 14, the author tells how King Asa was severely outnumbered and knew that if he was to go battle on his own, he would be destroyed. So he called upon the LORD to help him and He did. The LORD struck down King Asa’s enemy.
But then we get to the last part of our reading, the last part of King Asa’s reign. The Northern King of Israel invades the southern kingdom of Judah. Being the good king that Asa was, being one who followed the LORD, you would expect him to turn to the LORD again. Nope. Not this time. “Come on Asa! Finish strong! Don’t quit! Don’t give up!”
But he does. He gave up. Instead of calling upon the LORD, he takes all the gold and silver out of the treasuries of the LORD’s temple and bribes the King of Aram who is in an alliance with the Northern King of Israel. He bribes the King of Aram in order to save his back. Asa purchased peace for Israel, but at what cost?
This whole exchange with King Asa sounds similar to the story of Judas. Judas is a disciple of Jesus. He is part of the inner circle, part of the twelve. He has been with Jesus during Jesus’ public ministry. In being with Jesus, Judas has seen God in action. He has seen the sick healed, the blind given back their sight, the deaf given back their hearing, the lame given back the ability to walk, the dead raised to life. Judas has about seen it all.
But on the night when Jesus was betrayed … Satan entered into Judas. Judas left the table in that upper room and met up with the chief priests. The chief priests, wanting to get rid of Jesus at whatever the cost, take 30 silver coins, probably from the treasury in the Lord’s temple, and bribe Judas.
In King Asa’s situation, one of the prophets comes up to him and rebukes, he corrects the king. The prophet reminds him that “Hey, you were severely outnumbered in a battle before and you called upon the LORD and He saved you. Why don’t you do it again? Finish strong! Don’t quit on God! Don’t give up on Him!” But Asa still refuses. He doesn’t see his error. He doesn’t feel the need to repent. Instead he has the prophet thrown in prison.
Even when Asa gets an infection in his foot, he still doesn’t turn to God. Instead he turns to his physician who can’t do anything for him.
Judas gets corrected by Jesus in the Garden. Jesus actually gives Judas an opportunity to repent of his sins, but like King Asa, Judas does not. He betrays Jesus and hands him over to sinful men.
But unlike King Asa, Judas feels guilty for what he has done. So guilty that he goes back to the temple, back to the chief priests, back to the ones who should be offering forgiveness on behalf of God … but instead of receiving mercy, instead of receiving forgiveness, Judas is turned away. The money he was paid, the 30 silver coins, he throws at chief priests. Because it is blood money, they can’t put it back into the treasury.
Overwhelmed with guilt, Judas gets a rope, finds a tree, and then hangs himself. In hindsight, knowing the love Jesus has for his followers, we could say to Judas, “Finish strong! Don’t quit! Don’t give up on Jesus!”
I look at these two men, I look at King Asa and I look at Judas and at times … I see me. I see us. At times in our lives we are leaning heavy on God, asking Him to help us through, to give us the strength to “Finish strong! Not quit and not give up!”
And yet there are other times where we give all the credit of our healing to the doctors, we give all the credit to our successes to ourselves and all of our determination and hard work. We toss God to the side and try to put ourselves in His shoes. It’s in those moments where we need someone to correct us, to make us realize our sin, to say to us “Finish strong! Don’t quit on God! Don’t give up on Him!”
Don’t give up on Him because He hasn’t given up on you. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane prayed for God to remove the cup of wrath from Him. But notice what He said, “Not my will be done, but your will be done.” When He was being arrested, Jesus told His disciples that He could call down angels to defend Him, but he didn’t. He could have said when the first whip cracked across His, when that first nail was driven into His Hand … “Nope, I’m going to do this. They aren’t worth it.” Instead, Jesus finished strong. He did not quit, He did not give in. As Luther puts it, Jesus has “redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
Jesus didn’t take money from the Lord’s treasury to pay for you, to buy you back … you are too valuable for that. Jesus willing shed His blood, to buy you back, to pay the ransom for you so that you can live with Him forever in the new heavens and new earth. That precious blood money is what sets you, me, and all who believe in Jesus as their Savior apart for glory and gives us all the strength to “Finish strong! Not quit and not give up!” Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.