Before I begin talking too much, I would like to ask you some questions. The theme for this year’s preteen camp is relying on Christ, who is our rock. What are some areas in your life where it is important to rely on Christ? What are some things that people rely on instead of Christ? Does relying on Christ mean that one does not have to take responsibility for acting based on what God and Jesus Christ do? What is the boundary between our own responsibility and our reliance on Christ? These are not easy questions, and I do not expect perfect answers to them. What I do expect, though, is for all of us to be able to think about these problems. We are constantly faced in life with situations where our responsibility to do something, or not to do something, is combined with an understanding that we rely on God for everything to work out. Our actions are not sufficient to bring about the desired result, but God still expects that when we rely on Him that we do not simply sit on our hands and not do anything at all.
Do any of you have any favorite stories in the Bible when it comes to relying on God or Christ? I know I do. I would like us to turn to one of these stories, in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30. This is a bit of a long story, but we are going to read through it and ask some questions along the way as we do. 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 reads: “It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi). And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord. Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’ And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them— here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the Wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle.Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high. So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying, “Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.” Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them. And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another. So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much. And on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, for there they blessed the Lord; therefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Berachah until this day. Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, with Jehoshaphat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. So they came to Jerusalem, with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of the Lord. And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel. Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around.”
There are some obvious lessons we can take from this passage. Judah is invaded by a large coalition of armies from Moab, Ammon, and Edom, three nations that were descended from relatives of the Israelites but ones who were usually hostile to them. Did God want to give Judah the strength to fight this coalition of nations that was much stronger than it? No, He wanted them to stand still and watch Him do the work, and to praise Him while the coalition broke up and destroyed themselves completely right before their eyes, and that is exactly what happened. Here we see an example where God asks those who are relying on Him, who have prayed to Him for deliverance, simply to serve as appreciative witnesses of what He has done. And sometimes that is how God wants us to rely on Him. Is this always how God responds, though?
No, it is not. The Book of Acts contains two stories about God and Christ freeing an apostle from prison, and the response of the apostles in the two cases are very different. I want us to think of some lessons that we can learn from these stories. The first story is when Peter is freed from prison in Acts 12:5-19: “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.” So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.” Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place. Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.”
What do you think about the behavior of the servant Rhoda? Do you think it’s funny that she heard Peter and believed him to have been rescued from prison but being so interested in letting the others in the household know that she didn’t open the gate to him? What do you think about the behavior of the others? Were they prepared for God to have saved Peter from prison? Should they have believed Rhoda instead of telling her that she had heard Peter’s angel instead? Do you believe that God sends angels at least sometimes to protect us from various difficulties, as these believers did? Do you believe it was right for Herod to kill the prison guards who had failed to keep Peter in prison because of divine intervention? Was it their fault that Peter had escaped prison?
The second story is quite different in terms of how the apostle responded to being freed from prison. Let us turn to Acts 16:16-34, which reads: “Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.”
Why was Paul annoyed at the demon-possessed slave girl telling people to listen to him and Silas? Was it right that Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and thrown into prison without a trial or hearing or anything like that? Had they done anything wrong? Certainly the slaveowners whose property had its value taken away thought so. Why didn’t Paul and Silas run away from the prison after being miraculously freed by God? Why did the jailer initially attempt to kill himself when the prison doors were open? Why did he then ask what it was necessary to do to be saved? What were Paul and the Philippian jailer expected to do in response to the miraculous behavior of God in delivering both of them?
What are some ways in which we can respond to these blessings in our own lives? Do you know of any cases where you have been asked to rely on God in some area of your life? What happened? How did God respond? Hopefully we can all think about the way that the Bible talks about reliance on God and Christ and what that means, as in our own lives we often face the temptation either to do nothing and believe that reliance on God means that we are not active at all, or to believe that everything depends on us, and either to take credit for what goes well or to feel despair at what does not end working out well at all.