Day 175: The End and The Beginning

Jeremiah 38-39; Acts 3

Key Verses

Jeremiah 39:16-18
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the Lord, […] because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.

Acts 3:6-7
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

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 of 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 worldwide 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

Key Verses

Jeremiah 36:3
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.”

Acts 2:37-38
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

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 He “may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

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

Key Verses

Jeremiah 34:2
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Go and speak to Zedekiah king of Judah and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”

Acts 2:4
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

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

Key Verses

Jeremiah 32:40-41
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.

Acts 1:8
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.

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

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).

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 in 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!

In summary, I believe Jeremiah’s prophecy of the restoration of Israel 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!!!

Day 217: A mix of evil and good

2 Chronicles 13-16; Acts 28:16-31

I love the historical books because they are stories about people. Inevitably, these people are flawed – some more than others, but God’s grace and faithfulness are always center-stage!

In today’s reading, there are four main characters: Three ancient kings and Paul.

Paul’s story in Acts comes to an end in today’s reading. We find Paul imprisoned in high standing in Rome – receiving guests in self-provided housing. I’ve always thought this was a strange way for Acts to end…seemingly in the middle of the story without any conclusion. But I think this is a fitting end to Acts – for we leave him in the middle of ministry – preaching the gospel to anyone who would hear! He also wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon during this Roman imprisonment, and there is extra-biblical evidence that Paul was released and continued his ministry to the far-reaches of Spain before he was imprisoned for a 2nd time in Rome and martyred.

Paul. He embodied the grace of Jesus Christ as God changed him from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s boldest ambassador! How could you not be inspired by Paul’s story??!!

The other characters from today’s reading include three ancient kings. Two “evil” kings, Jeroboam and Abijah, and one “not so evil king,” King Asa…

The Chronicler makes a great effort to contrast Jeroboam, evil king of Israel with the kings of Judah. Even though Abijah, king of Judah, was described as doing “what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” the priests and people of Judah had remained faithful to God. Jeroboam, on the other hand, had created his own cult religion to separate himself from his Judahite brothers. In 2 Chronicles 13, we read of these two kings going to war, and even though Israel’s army was double in size, God gave Judah the victory to show his favor toward Judah’s faithfulness.

And then we read of Asa, son of Abijah and king of Judah. He wasn’t as amazing as Paul. But he wasn’t as evil as the other two kings. He was a mix of both.

Asa began his reign in exemplary fashion, destroying the high places and other modes of idol worship that had sprung up during his father’s reign. He also gathered all of Judah together to renew their covenant commitment. Asa enjoyed military favor as God gave him great victory over the huge Ethiopian army. But, as Asa aged, he began to take God’s grace for granted and instead of relying on the Lord, he turned to self-reliance.

Asa was a good man, and that was his problem. He became overconfident in his old age and neglected his need for God.

Out of all the characters in today’s reading, I relate to Asa the most.

How easy it is to slip into self-reliance when we are enjoying the blessings of God’s favor!! 

I know I will never be as amazing as Paul. And God-willing, I will never be as evil as Jeroboam and Abijah. But Asa… well, I can easily slip into Asa’s sin of self-reliance. I pray for God to keep my brokenness ever before me so that I might never take God’s grace for granted!!!

Day 216: The Master’s Story

2 Chronicles 10-12; Acts 28:1-15

God’s sovereignty is a mystery. We see his hand at work in these chapters, weaving his story with the tainted fabric of the human heart. Somehow He uses our sin nature to weave His grand story of redemption…

Consider Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who refused to heed the counsel of the wise and heeded the counsel of his rash comrades – and because of this foolishness, the Kingdom of Israel was split in two. Yet God said, “This thing is from me.” Somehow God used Rehoboam’s youth and pride to carry out his will.

God gave security to Judah for the sake of the faithfulness of his priests and people and saved them from destruction when Rehoboam humbled himself in repentance. God masterfully orchestrated His story – for the sake of the individual and for his collective people. He works every detail to fulfill His grand plan.

We see his sovereignty on display in Acts. It was God’s will that Paul should sail to Rome, and because God willed it, it would come to pass. No storm, shipwreck or viper would hinder God’s plan. When Paul arrived in Rome, he was greeted by Christians – evidence that the gospel had spread from Jerusalem to the far-reaches of Italy. God’s will would be done. His story would be told. No human can thwart God’s plan!

If you feel like you’ve messed up God’s plan for your life – well, you give yourself too much credit. God is bigger than our miscues. He can use every detail, every mistake, even our sin to bring about His good purposes. The first step back to God is repentance. God loves the penitent heart!

Day 215: Forcing our eyes forward

2 Chronicles 8-9; Acts 27

As we read the final chapters in the Chronicler’s description of Solomon, I am struck by all that was omitted from Solomon’s life…

There is only a brief mention of Solomon’s many wives, and nothing is mentioned of how his great wealth turned his heart from the Lord. All of his possessions and prosperity are presented in the most positive way.

I have to remember the Chronicler’s purpose in writing. He focused on all the goodness of David and Solomon’s reign in order to encourage the post-exilic community – who were living in a Jerusalem far removed from the wealth and glory of Solomon’s days.

The Chronicler wanted to force the people’s eyes forward. By reminding them of the promises of the Davidic covenant, he gave his readers hope in the sure promises of God – that God would send a Righteous Branch from the seed of David, and that He would restore His Kingdom on earth.

This is our hope as well. But because we live in a later time in history, we understand more of how God has initially fulfilled his promises. He has sent the Righteous Branch and He has restored His Kingdom on earth – but only partially. The work will not be completed until Christ comes again and we live together with him in the new heaven and the new earth. Then, Christ’s reign will surpass the prosperity of Solomon!

But just like the exiles, these truths must be our comfort – a hope to force our eyes off of our tragic circumstances in this world tainted by sin. Consider Paul in today’s reading from Acts… he literally had lost every physical possession. He was a prisoner sailing to Rome, and at the end of Acts 27, even the ship was destroyed. The only thing Paul had to claim as his own on this earth was his life. And even his life, he had given to Christ.

Where was Paul’s comfort? Where was his hope? His hope was in the resurrected Jesus. His eyes were focused on the future promises that Christ would come again.

As we read of Solomon’s glorious reign over Israel, we are encouraged to fix our eyes on Jesus. We must force our eyes off of our longings, anxieties and difficult circumstances – and let the promise of peace and prosperity under the rule of Christ encourage us to march forward in faith.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!

Day 213: A Great Purpose & Work

2 Chronicles 1-3; Acts 26

A Great Work typically flows from a Great Purpose…

Consider Solomon, ruler of Israel in its most prosperous time. He describes the people of Israel as “numerous as the dust of the earth.” Solomon prays for wisdom to rule such a large people. And then he gets to work building the temple. This is his great purpose – to build a house for God. Solomon understands the weight of the work when he says,

But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him? (2 Chronicles 2:6).

Solomon was given a Great Purpose and the privilege of a Great Work.

In Acts 26, we read of Paul’s testimony to the Palestinian king, Agrippa. How is it that Paul is standing before the king of Palestine?? Two years ago, the Jews created such a riot in the temple that the Roman tribune had to arrest Paul. And to save Paul from their conspiracy to kill him, Paul was sent to the Roman governor (first Felix, and now Festus) who lived on the coast in Caesarea.

Think of how God has used the false charges created by the Jews… Paul has been able to testify to the resurrection of Jesus to a Roman tribune, two Roman governors and now the king of Palestine! This two-year “interruption” has been used to bring the gospel to the highest ranking officials in the land!!

Jesus had given Paul a Great Purpose on the road to Damascus. Listen to His words:

I am sending you [to your people and to the Gentiles] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:17).

His purpose was to open their eyes with the gospel of truth – to testify to the death & resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s great purpose led him to do a great work! Just as Solomon built the temple of God, Paul worked to build the temple of the New Testament… he worked to build the church.

Two men. Two great purposes and Two great works.

Which leads me to ask…. What is your purpose? And what is your great work? Not all of us are called to build the house of God or plant churches in distant lands – but all of us have been given a Great Purpose.

Whether a missionary or a box maker, a CEO or a janitor, we are all called to work in a way that gives God glory. This is our purpose – to glorify the God of the universe in all that we say and do!

We have been given a Great Purpose. We have been given the Holy Spirit to equip us to carry out a Great Work! The question is… are you willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to do the Great Work that God has prepared for you? 

Day 212: The folly of the earth

1 Chronicles 28-29; Acts 25

Today we see David – publicly ordaining Solomon as king of Israel. And as the entire assembly is gathered for this grand affair, David prays. In this prayer, we see his heart, and amazingly, it is a humble heart… After 40 years of experiencing strength on the battlefield, influence over other nations, power to judge his own people, and the sovereignty to govern as he willed – he still defers to his Creator…

Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;

you are exalted as head over all.

Wealth and honor come from you;

you are the ruler of all things.

In your hands are strength and power

to exalt and give strength to all.

Now, our God, we give you thanks,

and praise your glorious name.

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand (1 Chronicles 29:11b-14, NIV).

How many current world leaders would be able to genuinely pray David’s words?? Power seduces and can dull the mind to the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty over the earth. Despite David’s dance with greatness, in the end, he still recognized that God was the True King of Israel, and he, David, was just a steward of God’s resources and power.

In Acts, we read of tribunes, governors and kings – each with their own limited power delegated through Caesar. With each subsequent chapter, we are introduced to a different inept ruling authority. Injustice is on center-stage as Paul is imprisoned for years without a fair judgment.

I wonder if these men had the same view of the world that David did? Did they understand that they were just stewards of God’s resources and power? Unfortunately, they all seem like foolish men drunk on their pomp and circumstance! (but maybe that’s just me…)

David, albeit flawed, was the precursor to Christ. If any man had the right to  “pomp and circumstance” it was Jesus! But He traded the grandeur of heaven for a stable… and absolute, universal power for a criminal’s death.

Apart from the grace of Christ, we are nothing. How do you think Paul was able to endure the years of unjust imprisonment? Only through the comfort of Christ! Our dignity comes from being made in the image of God and being redeemed by the blood of His Son. Our hope is found In Christ… alone!!

Day 211: Israel’s political disparity

1 Chronicles 25-27; Acts 24

The political contrast between Israel in the Old and New Testaments is wide.

David would always be the “standard” for Israelite kings. Today we read of all the people he organized for temple service, as well as the thousands he commanded who served in the nation’s military. Israel was a major world power. David extended Israel’s borders and had significant political weight in the world.

Jesus was born into a very different Israel. It was no longer a sovereign nation, but was ruled by Rome. Rome instituted its own governors and officials throughout all of Israel. Even though the Jews maintained the Sanhedrin, their own religious ruling council, they had no true governmental control.

The Jews had been waiting for a “Messiah” to come and re-establish Israel as a major world power. One of the reasons Jesus was rejected as Messiah by most of the Jewish council was that he wasn’t a political figure. They couldn’t accept the radically different notion that Jesus came to establish a heavenly or spiritual Kingdom on earth.

Consequently, the Jewish Sanhedrin was very much against the new sect of Jews who believed Jesus to be their Messiah. First, they didn’t want this new sect stealing even an ounce of their limited power and influence. And secondly, I imagine the thought of a Messiah having come and not returning sovereign rule to Israel – was… well – a very bitter pill to swallow.

So, in today’s reading – we see Paul, standing before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. Felix organized a trial, and the Jewish council sent a delegation from Jerusalem to testify against Paul.

The entire conflict between the Jews and Paul could be summarized in one word: Resurrection. Paul, himself, admitted this to Felix when he said…

It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day (Acts 23:21).

The resurrection of Jesus was just as world-changing – just as life-altering back then as it is today. If Jesus’ resurrection was FACT, then his claims to deity were true, and the Jewish Sanhedrin would be forced to accept that they killed the Messiah. And if Jesus was really the Messiah, all of their hopes and aspirations for a Sovereign Israel would be lost. There was just too much to lose. It was much easier for the Sanhedrin to turn a blind eye to the facts, than to admit the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

Their lust for power was so strong that they were willing to do anything to silence Paul. Even break their own law (and Roman law) to conspire to kill him.

But God used Felix, the corrupt Roman governor, to protect Paul from ambush and death. Indifferent to Paul’s innocence, Felix kept Paul imprisoned, albeit comfortably, for two years. What better way to protect Paul from the rage of the Jewish Sanhedrin than to keep him locked up in a Roman prison!!! What men intended for evil, God worked out for good!