Day 181: Back to the land of the Chaldeans

Ezekiel 1-3; Acts 7:1-19

We begin Ezekiel today. His story begins during the reign of Jehoiachin (grandson to Judah’s last good king, Josiah). Ten years before the fall of Jerusalem, when Jehoiachin had been on the throne for only three months, Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and carried Jehoiachin, his family, and 10,000 captives away to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-17). Ezekiel was among this first group of exiles carried to Babylon in 597 BC. He was 25 years old at the time.

Ezekiel began his prophetic ministry as an exile in Babylon around 30 years of age. His message was primarily to his fellow exiles, but the messages of Judgment and Hope are instructive for us today!

Today’s reading is Ezekiel’s description of his call to ministry. The ESV Study Bible summarizes this section of Ezekiel well…

The opening sequence of Ezekiel is the most elaborate and complex of the prophetic call narratives in the OT, and also one of the most carefully structured. In a vision, Ezekiel witnesses the awesome approach of the glory of God (1:1–28). Ezekiel receives his prophetic commission through swallowing the scroll God offers (2:1–3:11), thus both fortifying him and training him in obedience. After the glory of God withdraws (3:12–15), Ezekiel’s role is further refined by his appointment as a “watchman” (3:16–21). The sequence concludes with a further encounter with God’s glory (3:22–27). (ESV Study Bible, Notes on Ezekiel 1-3, Crossway Publishers)

Ezekiel’s encounter with the glory of God serves as a backdrop and contrast to his earthly circumstances. When compared to God’s glory, Israel’s sin is heinous, and this harsh attitude is reflected throughout Ezekiel’s judgment oracles.

In Acts, Stephen begins his defense recounting early Jewish history. Today’s reading summarizes most of Genesis, as Stephen recounts God’s promises to Abraham and the covenant of circumcision.

We are reminded of one interesting detail in Stephen’s discourse. He mentions that Abraham was originally from the land of the Chaldeans – which was the same land where the Judean exiles, including Ezekiel, were taken captive to….

…the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there (Ezekiel 1:3).

So God called Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans into the promised land of Canaan, and promised to make him into a great nation. And even though the promises to Abraham were fulfilled, because of Israel’s sin, God sent his people back to the land of the Chaldeans as exiles. But thankfully, we know that God is in the restoration business – and one day… we will all dwell in the New Jerusalem… forever, with no possibility of ever being sent back to the land of the Chaldeans!

Advertisements

Day 180: Faithful to the end

Jeremiah 51-52; Acts 6

We are introduced to Stephen today. He was the first disciple listed in the list of men chosen to help serve the widows in Acts 6:5. And he was the first non-apostle attributed with performing “signs and wonders” (6:8).

Luke makes a special attempt to compare Stephen to Jesus as he describes how the Greek Jews sought to accuse Stephen of blasphemy. Stephen’s trial before the Jewish council mirrored Jesus’ trial as they fabricated lies and found false witnesses to testify against Stephen.

Even Stephen’s countenance reflected Jesus, “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

We’ll spend the next three days reading his famous defense before the Jewish council. But his defense would only ensure that he shared the same fate as his Lord, Jesus. Yet another way his life reflected the life of the Savior…

So, as we are introduced to Stephen, we have come to the end of Jeremiah. Jeremiah concludes his book, first with the prophetic destruction of Babylon (Jer. 51). Not only did his prophesy point to the destruction of ancient Babylon, but ultimately to all of what Babylon symbolized – the final destruction of all who stand against God and His people. It is with God’s zeal for protecting His people in mind that we read of the inevitable fall of Judah. Interestingly, Jeremiah ends this extremely sad section in the same way that 2 Kings ends – with a shred of hope that the Davidic lineage did not die with the nation. The former Judean king, Jehoiachin, lives and with him lives the hope that God will not abandon his people but will restore the Kingdom and the Davidic King!

I wonder what happened to Jeremiah… What kind of life did he live in Egypt? Did he continue his prophetic ministry, exhorting the people to turn back to their God? Did he die in peace or was he killed for his continued faithfulness to God? However he died, I know he was welcomed in heaven with the words… “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Day 179: The last laugh

Jeremiah 49-50; Acts 5:17-42

Acts 5 is an amazing story of God’s protection and sovereign power as He sends his angel to free the apostles from prison. They were put in prison by the High Priest because he was enraged that the Apostles continued to preach in the name of Jesus…and the people were actually listening!

Imagine the surprise and humiliation of the High Priest and his council when they sent for the prisoners only to find them missing! And where were these Apostles? In the temple, teaching about the resurrected Christ!

As my 10-year-old would say… “Boom! In Your Face.” The power of the Jewish council was nothing in the face of God’s power and will. Their persecution would only serve to strengthen the church. Nothing could stand in God’s way.

As the Apostles stood before the Jewish council, the council was enraged at their boldness – so much that they wanted to kill them! But a practical Pharisee addressed his peers…

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God! (Acts 5:38-39)

This is truth! The ways of men are like a shadow, but the ways of God are sure and strong!

Think of Jeremiah as he boldly prophesied against the powerful nations of his day. Imagine what Nebuchadnezzar might have thought of Jeremiah’s prophecies against his mighty Babylon (Jer. 50), the most powerful nation of its day… I think Nebuchadnezzar would have laughed.

But do you know what exists of ancient Babylon today?? Nothing. It is an uninhabited ruin.* God’s ways are sure and strong. He always gets the last laugh :)

*ESV Study Bible, note on Jer. 50:39-40, Crossway Publishers

Day 178: Jealous Zeal

Jeremiah 46-48; Acts 4:32-5:16

Extraordinary. Powerful. Special

This section of Acts has been held up as the golden standard for church life. It is the ideal. Everyone living in such harmonious unity. Selling everything they owned so that no one would be in need. All done on a voluntary basis. Everyone considering others before themselves.

But consider this… This wasn’t just the “ideal” church – it was the first church. Every church in every nation would be affected by this first church. This was a very unique time. Never again would the church get a chance to start itself! And because of this, God sent His Spirit in an exceptionally powerful way to grow and equip the church.

The apostles were empowered by the Spirit in order to preach the resurrection of Christ and to perform many healings and signs. The text gives special attention to Peter, the leader of the church… indicating that the Spirit was so powerfully manifested in him that someone just had to be near Peter to be healed (5:15)!!

Because of this unique opportunity to begin what would become a worldwide religion… God not only equipped the church, but also guarded it…zealously!!!

This is evidenced by the immediate judgment of Ananias and Sapphira. Their sin wasn’t that they didn’t give all that they had. No, people were not forced to give. Their sin was that they were more concerned with how they were perceived by others than with telling the truth. They were hypocrites and liars. God would not tolerate the pollution of his church – not in this crucial time.

God’s zeal to guard the righteousness of his people is on full display in today’s reading in Jeremiah… as we begin to read God’s judgment on the nations. These nations had battled and persecuted his beloved people, so therefore, they would be punished.

Bottomline… don’t mess with God’s people! He is a jealous God, zealously guarding His children from corruption and sin.

Unfortunately… Ananias, Sapphira and the nations who conspired against Israel learned this the hard way…

Day 177: Opposition, pt. 2

Jeremiah 42-45; Acts 4:23-31

Yesterday, we learned of the opposition facing Jeremiah, the proclaimer of God’s will to the people and also the rising opposition against Peter, John and the apostles.

In today’s reading, the Judaens who were left after the murder of Gedalia, Babylonian governor of Judah, came to Jeremiah and asked him to inquire of the Lord as to what they should do. Jeremiah tells them… (and I paraphrase), “WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT GO TO EGYPT!!! Stay in Judah, and God will continue to protect and provide for you, but DO NOT GO TO EGYPT, OR ELSE YOU WILL DIE!”

So they went to Egypt.

Poor Jeremiah… He was dragged away by the apostate people he had loved and ministered to so faithfully. He was dragged to Egypt to watch the last of the Judeans perish.

But what of Peter and John? Their first response in the face of opposition was prayer…

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus (Acts 4:29-30).

Boom. That’s what you do in the face of opposition. You obey. And when you pray, you ask God to help you obey.

We can learn so much from these two scenes… What happened to the Judeans when they refused to listen to God’s word and rationalized their disobedience by calling Jeremiah a liar??? …they were destroyed in Egypt. Utter destruction is the final end of disobedience.

Whereas obedience leads to life. In Acts, the faith and obedience of Peter, John and the others resulted in the multiplication of the Kingdom, the expansion of the church, the increase of new converts. In other words, their obedience changed the world!

Bottomline: Disobedience leads to death. Obedience leads to life. Which do you choose?

Day 176: Opposition, pt. 1

Jeremiah 40-41; Acts 4:1-22

As Jeremiah watched Jerusalem fall and was marching as an exile to Babylon, he was given a reprieve – the opportunity to return to his beloved Jerusalem and be protected by the Babylonian appointed governor, Gedalia.

Life was good for the remaining Judeans under Gedalia’s leadership. The small remnant was allowed to sow the many fields that were abandoned. They gathered in “great abundance” (Jer. 40:12).

But there was an uprising of those from the royal line of Judah that would not accept God’s plan for welfare. They opposed God’s will and murdered the Babylonian governor, Gedalia.

Why? Why do we have to take matters into our own hands instead of trusting in the ways of God? We’ll read tomorrow that this initial opposition was the catalyst for the complete destruction of the small remnant in Judah.

Peter and John also faced opposition in today’s reading from Acts. Once again, the opposition comes from the Jewish elite, the ruling leaders of the Jewish council. They questioned Peter and John concerning the healing of the lame beggar… “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

This was the same ruling council that conspired to kill Jesus, had him arrested and held clandestine night trials – convicting Jesus to death. These men were certainly not sympathetic to the new Christian cause!

But this did not deter Peter from boldly proclaiming the truth!

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8-12).

Wow. Peter was bold. The council warned them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. How would Peter and John react in the face of such opposition? We’ll read tomorrow that they would turn toward God instead of oppose God as the small remnant of Judeans did.

God’s ways are always best, and typically, amazing things happen when you follow God despite opposition… But we’ll read more about that tomorrow :)

Day 175: The end and The beginning

Jeremiah 38-39; Acts 3

The end. The fall of Jerusalem. The burning, the slaughter, the slavery – it could have all been avoided if the people had listened to the word of the Lord given through Jeremiah the prophet.

It did not please God to destroy his beloved city. He tried to spare his people from such extreme suffering…

Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live (Jeremiah 38:2).

But they didn’t listen. They chose to believe the flattering words of false prophets who promised peace and prosperity. In the end, the real truth was revealed. Even Zedekiah king of Judah came to see the truth as his eyes were gouged out and he was led away to Babylon.

Contrast Jerusalem’s bitter end to its new beginning at the onset on the new covenant age. In Acts 3, the Spirit’s mighty work continues…

We see Peter and John. The Peter and John – who just three years prior – were ordinary fisherman leading ordinary lives. The gospels revealed their babe-like-faith as they walked with Jesus – questioning, doubting, denying, loving and following. Now we find them, empowered by the Spirit, healing and preaching with authority. You know Jesus had to be looking down with a father-like pride as the Spirit worked to build His people… as the world-wide church began with the sermons of a few fisherman in the hands of a mighty God!

Day 174: Two sermons

Jeremiah 36-37; Acts 2:14-47

Both of today’s readings contain sermons – which resulted in two very different responses…

In Jeremiah, we learn that Jeremiah had been banned from the temple grounds. So he dictated his message to his faithful friend, Baruch, who wrote down on a scroll God’s message to the people. Baruch went to the temple and read the scroll which gave an account of the people’s sins and called them to repent so that the Lord’s judgment might be averted. God, himself, wanted the message preached so that:

It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3).

Amazingly, this scroll found its way to the king. Surely, as the scroll was read in his presence, the fear of the Lord would cause him to repent and lead the people back to God! But no. Jehoiakim’s heart was hardened…

As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot (Jeremiah 36:23).

The king had no fear of God. His pride ensured the destruction of Jerusalem.

Now let’s consider Peter’s sermon from Acts 2.

Peter’s sermon was remarkable. The Holy Spirit opened his eyes to see how Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He quoted Joel and David. He used logic to prove that Jesus was the Messiah mentioned in David’s 16th Psalm. And after he proved that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he accused the people of killing him!

This wasn’t some sweet “come to Jesus” message. No! He accused the crowd of murdering the Son of God!!! I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot! But the Spirit was at work and the crowd was “cut to the heart.” Amazing. They didn’t make excuses or get defensive. They didn’t try to kill Peter or the other disciples, but they actually took responsibility for their sin and asked, “What shall we do?”

What should they do? What should have the king of Judah done when he heard the warnings in Baruch’s scroll? What should we do when we feel the prick of conviction – when we know we’ve done something offensive to God? What is the one thing that God has desired in every human heart going all the way back to Adam? Repentance. This can only be done through the power of the Spirit. In other words, we need God’s help to repent.

As we turn to God, he is pleased to help. God loves the penitent heart!

What was the result of the people’s repentance after Peter’s sermon? 3,000 people were baptized that day! The first church began and it was characterized by self-sacrifice and generous giving to others. The repentance of the crowd changed the course of human history!

Imagine what God could do through us today – if we humble ourselves, and repent??

Day 173: A mighty work

Jeremiah 34-35; Acts 2:1-13

Today we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise from Acts 1:8… “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

John Piper asserts that this power of the Spirit is “an extraordinary power. The experience promised is beyond the power of the Spirit in new birth and gradual sanctification.” He goes on to explain,

This promise that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8) and that they would be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49) was a promise given to sustain the completion of world evangelization, and all the ministry that supports it. The context of both texts makes that plain. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth.” (Excerpted from Tongues of Fire and the Fullness of God By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org)

Every now and then throughout the New Testament and church history, the Spirit comes in an unusually powerful way. Even though it manifests itself in different ways (i.e. the building shaking in Acts 4), it typically comes for the purpose of evangelization… In today’s reading, the Spirit comes as tongues of fire and enables the disciples to speak in different languages – all for the purpose of expanding the Kingdom!

This coming of the Spirit at Pentecost signifies the beginning of the New Covenant age.

In Jeremiah 34-35, we see why we need a “New” Covenant. The Old Covenant was dependent on the people’s obedience – which they miserably failed to do. Similarly, our hearts are exceedingly sinful, and it is impossible for us to meet the demands of the Covenant.

So God in his mercy made a New Covenant. A covenant dependent on Jesus’ obedience and Jesus’ sacrifice – and this New Covenant is available to anyone who believes – people from all nations and languages. This was evident at Pentecost as Jews were gathered from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)…

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome.

It is fitting that the first converts to Christianity were Jews representing every nation in the world! This work of the Spirit has so affected history that we are still affected by this event 2,000 years later. That’s one mighty work :)

Day 172: When, O Lord?

Jeremiah 32-33; Acts 1

In the tenth year of Zedekiah, when Nebuchadnezzar had Jerusalem under siege, Zedekiah imprisoned Jeremiah. And then God did something, well, strange. He told Jeremiah to buy a field, which made no sense, but Jeremiah did it anyway.

And then Jeremiah did something smart. After he obeyed, he prayed to God for understanding… “Why would you want me to buy a field when the whole land lies in waste?” And God in his mercy answered Jeremiah.

Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first (Jeremiah 33:6-7).

I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul(Jeremiah 32:40-41).

Jeremiah’s land purchase was a sign that God would restore the land and its people. God promised to make them dwell in safety and restore the fortunes of both Israel and Judah. The promises of good were both thorough and extravagant (just as God’s judgment was thorough and extravagant!)

Were these prophecies fulfilled just 70 years later when the people would return from captivity and rebuild the temple and the wall? Well, partly – but not to the extent that Jeremiah described….The world definitely did not fear and tremble at the good of Jerusalem…

What about when Jesus came? Interestingly, in the beginning of Acts, we read that the disciples wondered this same thing…

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (Acts 1:6-7).

Jesus basically said, “Sorry, I can’t tell you.”

But He did give insight into how the prophecy would be fulfilled in our present age…

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).

In other words, Jesus would expand his spiritual Kingdom on earth through the building of the church. But. We live in very dark times. The prophet Joel called this time the “last days.” We live in between the first and second coming of Jesus. We have not seen the fulfillment of all things!

No, I think this is one of those “already, not yet” prophecies. It was fulfilled partially after 70 years, and even more so after the first coming of Jesus, but it won’t be completely fulfilled until Jesus comes again and establishes His Kingdom in the New Earth.

Personally… I can’t wait!!!