There is an old joke about two hikers who come across an angry bear. They run as fast as they can to get away, but one hiker stops, takes off his boots, and puts on a pair of running shoes. “What are you doing, fool!” the second hiker exclaims. “You can’t outrun a bear!” The first hiker responds, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, just you!” I wonder how the second hiker felt as his friend disappeared over the horizon? That feeling would describe the next word Paul shared, “forsaken.”
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9).
One of the saddest pictures the Apostle Paul painted was written after his trial before Nero:
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. … At my first defense, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (2 Timothy 4:9 – 16).
Paul was “persecuted, but not forsaken.” Listen as he continues:
But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it (2 Timothy 4:17).
I’ve always felt Nero looked like John Belushi. Can you picture the trial scene? Paul is a mess. He is not under house arrest as he was before. Now he is in a dark, cold, Roman prison. Nero is probably bored with it all. He listens because he has to, but the emperor is not interested. Instead of defending himself or begging for mercy, as Paul had done before, he shares the amazing Gospel story so that “all the Gentiles might hear it.”
Where did Paul find his strength? How did he endure? Because “the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.” Are you feeling alone? (Social distancing and quarantine can do that.) Don’t despair! Don’t give up! God is with us!