Day 201: The Lord is Here

Ezekiel 47-48; Acts 18

Key Verses

Ezekiel 48:35
“And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There.”

Acts 18:9-10
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Today, we come to the end of Ezekiel’s vision of a rebuilt and restored temple – and also to the end of the book!

We read of waters that trickle from the inner sanctuary and flow out of the temple forming a river with extraordinary life-giving properties. The vision continues with an idealized allotting of land to the 12 tribes – including land for the Prince, Levites and common ground for food to be harvested for the workers of the city.

The vision ends with the gates of the city described… One gate for each son of Jacob. It points forward to the imagery used to describe the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21:12-14.

In a most striking ending, Ezekiel reveals the name of this city – located just south of the rebuilt temple… Its name is “The Lord is There.” This name summarizes the entire emphasis of Ezekiel… The first half of the book described Judah’s gross sin which led to God leaving the temple and his people. The second half is filled with promises of restoration culminating in this final temple vision describing how God’s glory will return to the rebuilt temple.

This is all wonderful, but it hasn’t happened yet! We know and trust that God will dwell with His people forever in the new Jerusalem. But what about now? Where is God now?

Well… we see evidence of His sovereignty and Presence in today’s reading from Acts…

From leading Paul to stay in Corinth – to multiplying Paul’s ministry into Priscilla and Aquila – who then teach and train the effective minister, Apollos… God’s Spirit is at work. God is at work leading and building, equipping and empowering. The Corinthian and Ephesian churches experienced the power of His presence. His Spirit lived in them, and His Spirit lives in us.

Where is He now? The Lord is here!

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Day 200: The Prince

Ezekiel 45-46; Acts 17:16-34

Key Verses

Ezekiel 46:9-10
“When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by the north gate to worship shall go out by the south gate. […] When they enter, the prince shall enter with them, and when they go out, he shall go out.”

Acts 17:30-31
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Today’s reading from Ezekiel continues his final vision of a restored and rebuilt temple. Yesterday, we read how God’s glory returned to his temple. God entered the temple through the outermost East Gate. Ezekiel 45 opens with the declaration that this gate should remain shut – no one shall ever enter or exit through this gate again. This implies that God will not be leaving. His presence with His people is permanent. It is eternal.

But one allowance is made…

Only the prince may sit in [the East gate] to eat bread before the Lord. He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way (Ezekiel 45:3).

The prince. He is an interesting character. This is the first mention of him in this vision, but Ezekiel has made mention of a prince before in 34:23-24 and 37:24-25. These passages refer to the prince as “my servant David” and having “forever” rule.

Ezekiel’s language echoes Jeremiah’s prophecies concerning this future leader…

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land (Jeremiah 23:5).

These words from Jeremiah match perfectly the descriptions of the prince in Ezekiel’s vision. The prince is to ensure justice (45:7-12) and be a leader in worship (45:17; 22). Even though he is set apart to share fellowship with God in the holy East gate, he is still considered to be one of the people. He is instructed to enter the temple when the people go in, and exit the temple when the people go out (46:10). He is one of them. He identifies with them.

Does this sound like someone you know??

Paul spoke of Him to the philosophers of Athens. He said that God had appointed a man who will “judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). Isn’t that what Jeremiah said? And isn’t that what Ezekiel described?

Friends, our prince is Jesus. He is just. He sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us because he identifies with us. He rules with righteousness. And his love for us compelled him to die in our place. What else could we ask for? What else could we need?

Day 199: God’s Glory Descends

Ezekiel 43-44; Acts 17:1-15

Key Verses

Ezekiel 43:1-5
Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

Ezekiel’s first temple vision – before Solomon’s temple was destroyed – ended with God’s glory leaving the temple through the East gate (Ezekiel 11:22-23). In Ezekiel’s second temple vision, we read of God’s glory returning to a rebuilt temple through the East gate (Ezekiel 43:1-5).

No matter to what interpretation you ascribe, whether you believe this future temple will be rebuilt physically or whether this temple is symbolic of God’s relationship with His people in some future age… The return of God’s glory to dwell among His people is the most important aspect of Ezekiel’s vision!!

Yes, Ezekiel goes into great detail to describe the sacrifices and duties of the priests. It all harkens back to the giving of the Mosaic law in Exodus and Leviticus. These are all important reminders of God’s holiness and our need for a sacrificial Savior… But the returning of the Glory of God is the climax!

In the Old Testament, the temple was the dwelling place of God’s glory. We see this in Exodus as God’s glory descended upon the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-35) – and in 1 Kings as God’s glory descended upon Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). But in the New Testament, God’s presence dwells among his people in the context of the church.

As Paul and his companions were traveling through Macedonia, they weren’t just creating individuals who believed in Jesus… No, they were creating communities, congregations… they were planting churches. In Acts 17, Paul visited Thessalonica and Berea, but when he left those places, he left behind groups of people who would meet together to worship Jesus as God. He left behind churches.

Paul makes it clear that because of Jesus’s final sacrifice, the temple has been replaced by the church as the worship center for the believer.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

The “you” in these verses is plural. Paul is talking to a collective “you.” He is talking to the church. 

In the past, God’s glory descended upon the Holy of Holies in the innermost chamber of his temple. In the future new Jerusalem, there will be no need for a temple, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22). But right now, in this present age… the temple is us, the church. And God’s glory has descended, and God’s glory dwells among us! That, friends, is something to celebrate!

Day 198: A Little Goes a Long Way

Ezekiel 41-42; Acts 16:16-40

Key Verses

Acts 16:30-33
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And 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 wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

Ezekiel 41-42 continues the detailed description of the rebuilt, restored temple of Ezekiel’s vision. (For interpretations of these chapters, see yesterday’s post).

If you watched the 3D visualization of Ezekiel 40, the makers of that video have two additional videos that depict Ezekiel 41-43. Again, they are very helpful, but not authoritative in their interpretation.

For Ezekiel 41, click here.
For Ezekiel 42-43, click here.

Yesterday in Acts, we read of Lydia, the first convert of the Philippian church. Today, we read of another convert… the jailer. He and his entire household were saved.

What is so fascinating about this entire chapter – is how obvious it is that God is the one at work. Paul, Silas, and Luke are faithful to preach the gospel, but they cannot open hearts to understand the truth or replace a heart of stone with a heart of flesh. God is the one who does that… in both Lydia and the jailer.

This little Philippian church is a miraculous work of the Spirit. And don’t think that because they were small in number, that they had little impact on the world. On the contrary, Paul later testifies to the generosity of this church to the Corinthians…

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:1-4).

We can infer from this passage that after Paul left Philippi, the church suffered through affliction and poverty. Yet, they had “abundance of joy” and it “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”

They stand as an example to us today. Whatever our circumstances, we are called to care for the poor and needy around us. As a Christian, we are to pattern our lives after Christ – which means we are to live life sacrificially. This is impossible apart from the work of the Spirit in our lives!

God, help me take my eyes off of my own suffering and open my eyes to see how I might enter into someone else’s world. Help me live a life of sacrifice… wholly devoted to you. Amen.

Day 197: Two Visions

Ezekiel 40; Acts 16:1-15

Key Verses

Ezekiel 40:4
And the man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.”

Acts 16:9-10
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

I just read in one of my commentaries… “Interpreters do agree on one point… Ezekiel 40-48 is one of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible.” Great.

I know why it is difficult. These prophecies have not been fulfilled, and therefore, theologians have different interpretations of its meaning.

Ezekiel 40-48 is the 2nd “temple vision” in Ezekiel. The first vision in chapters 8-11 showed the abominations of idolatrous people before the destruction of the temple. This second vision occurs 14 years (to the day) after the fall of the city and the destruction of the temple. Through visions, God shows Ezekiel a vision of a future, a rebuilt and restored temple.

Here’s the controversy… Some scholars believe this vision is a literal temple that will be built one day in the future. Others believe this rebuilt temple is symbolic of God’s presence with his people during our current church age – and still, others believe this vision is symbolic of perfect worship in the New Earth.

Not that it matters much… but I lean toward a symbolic interpretation of this vision – especially since Ezekiel was a priest (in his life in Judea) and would have been extremely familiar with the old temple. Temple life would have been deeply valuable to Ezekiel, so it makes sense that God would wrap the restoration of Israel in the context of a symbolically “perfect” temple.

But let’s look at the text… This video is especially helpful in picturing the temple as Ezekiel describes it in Chapter 40. Just a word of caution… this is one person’s visual interpretation. It is helpful, but not authoritative :)

Moving on to Acts 16, we read of the beginning of Paul’s 2nd missionary journey where the text describes another vision! In this case, God used the vision to direct Paul to preach the gospel in far-away Europe. So Paul obeyed, traveling north into the Roman colony of Philippi. Philippi was so far removed from Jewish culture that there wasn’t even a Jewish temple! Undeterred, Paul and his companions approached a group of women who were praying by a riverside.

From a human perspective, this makes no sense. Why go north to Philippi instead of south to more familiar territory? Why approach women instead of the influential men of the city? But God’s ways are not our ways.

God planned for the first convert in Europe to be an ordinary woman named Lydia. The church in Philippi started in her house and grew to be a major influence in the region. The influence of the church in Philippi ripples to this day as we are instructed by the letter that Paul wrote to the Philippian church.

God used Paul’s obedience in the face of ambiguity to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth! Has God ever asked something of you that didn’t make earthly sense?? I have found that obedience in the face of ambiguity brings about the richest blessings. May we have the faith to follow Jesus… wherever He may lead!

Day 196: The Answer to Every “Why?”

Ezekiel 38-39; Acts 15:22-41

Key Verses

Ezekiel 39:21-22
“And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them. The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God, from that day forward.”

Acts 15:39-41
And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Ezekiel 38-39 contain the prophecies concerning the mysterious “Gog of Magog.” It is tempting to follow an eschatological tangent when reading Ezekiel 38-39. Scholars differ on whether this is a historical figure from the past or one to appear in the future – and some scholars point to Revelation 20 and say this is a description of God’s final defeat of Satan and his armies in the last days.

But here are my thoughts about the mysterious “Gog of Magog.” It’s a mystery. Period. So, instead of chasing that rabbit trail, let’s focus on a phrase that is found 60 times in the book of Ezekiel and 5 times in these two chapters. This phrase answers every “why” question you’ve ever had. I promise!

Why does God curse?
Why does God bless?
Why does God scatter?
Why does God gather?
Why does God bring death?
Why does God bring life?

Why, Why, Why? The answer is found in Ezekiel…

So I will show my greatness […] Then they will know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 38:23).

I will send fire on Magog […] and they shall know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 39:6).

the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel (Ezekiel 39:7).

The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God (Ezekiel 39:22).

Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God… (Ezekiel 39:25; 28a)

God’s purpose for everything He does – whether in Judgment or Restoration – is that every person and every living creature will know that He. Is. Lord. Period. 

Fast forward to Acts 15… where we find God using an argument between Paul and Barnabas to double the missionary manpower. Now instead of just two men going out to preach the gospel, it’s four. Consequently, more people will know that “He is the Lord!”

And here’s another question… what was Paul’s and Barnabas’ motivation to risk their lives to preach the gospel?? So that all people would know that He is the Lord.

John Piper writes, “God’s aim is to be admired and magnified and honored in all the churches and in all of culture and among all the nations” (©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org).

Shouldn’t this be our aim too??

His Lordship is the foundation for our very existence – the foundation of our lives. This fact should rule every decision, every reaction, every relationship, conversation, thought, and whim. He is the Lord. May our lives reflect this truth so the world will know…He is the Lord! Period.

Day 195: A Steady Gospel

Ezekiel 36:16-37:28; Acts 15:1-21

Key Verses

Ezekiel 36:26-27
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Acts 15:8-9
And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to [the Gentiles], by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

How fitting that these two passages should be read together.

God promises to give his people a new heart and a new spirit in Ezekiel 36:26-27. Then God explains how he will do this through one of the more well-known visions of Ezekiel…He will breathe new life into their dry bones. He does this both emotionally and spiritually – he gives them hope and he gives them life.

Ezekiel 37:14 makes it clear that the source of this new life is from the Spirit – which is exactly what Peter tells the elders in Jerusalem concerning the inclusion of uncircumcised Gentiles into the church (Acts 15:8)! Then Peter hands out the Truth with laser-like precision…

Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the [Gentile] disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (Acts 15:10).

Peter understood that anyone who is saved – is saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus. No one in the Old Testament was saved through observing the Mosaic law. They were saved by grace through their faith in God. Ezekiel teaches this same truth in today’s reading…

But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God (Ezekiel 37:23).

Who does the cleansing? Can we cleanse ourselves? Can circumcision, rituals, or good works cleanse our wretched hearts? Of course not! God is the only one powerful enough to do this. And he does it because of his grace.

Isn’t it amazing to see the same gospel revealed through both Ezekiel and Peter?! Hundreds of years separated the two men – yet they were united by one message and one God!

Day 194: The New Outweighs the Old

Ezekiel 35:1 – 36:15; Acts 14

Key Verses

Acts 14:21-22
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Ezekiel 36:8, 11
“But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

The mountains and land of Israel were judged back in Ezekiel 6 & 7. The people’s great sins brought judgment even on the precious promised land of God. In today’s reading, we find the restoration of the mountains and land of Israel in Ezekiel 36.

Ezekiel uses the technique of contrast to highlight the messages of restoration and hope. First, there is the obvious contrast between the judgment of the land in Chapters 6 & 7 with this message of restoration in Chapter 36. But Ezekiel also contrasts the mountains of Israel with Mount Seir in Edom. He introduces his message of restoration with a harsh judgment oracle found in Chapter 35.

The effect is striking. God will restore the mountains and the land in such a way that they will be better than their old counterparts. The new outweighs the old. This is the way of God!

This judgment of the land is not only symbolic. It emphasizes the importance of the land as one of the past blessings promised to Abraham and points forward to the total restoration of the land in the new earth. We will be blessed greatly by this restoration. This is something to look forward to!

In Acts 14, we read of the final travels of Paul’s first missionary journey. There are so many details in this chapter… Healings, stonings, sermons to Gentiles and sermons to Jews. But most importantly, we are reading of the beginnings of the church!

Because we live in the church age – the age between the two comings of Christ, we have experienced a foretaste of the restoration promised in these later chapters of Ezekiel. Jesus’ death and resurrection enable the restoration to begin… in the context of the church – as we experience God’s presence and grace in community with other believers. But we look forward to the day – when all things will be made new

And we can be sure that the new will outweigh the old. For this is the way of God!

Day 193: The Good Shepherd

Ezekiel 33-34; Acts 13

Key Verses

Ezekiel 34:12
As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

Acts 13:38-39
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

We know the end for those who are under the law of Moses… death by sword, famine, pestilence, and disease. In Ezekiel 33, Ezekiel receives word that the city of Jerusalem has fallen. All of his warnings have come to pass. What Jeremiah witnessed firsthand, Ezekiel must hear from a fugitive (Ezekiel 33:21).

The way of the law is destruction – not because the law is corrupt. No! Rather, because we are corrupt! We need a Savior. We desperately need a Savior!

And in Ezekiel 34, we read of our Savior. He is our Shepherd. We are his sheep. He gathers us and protects us. Jesus harkens back to this passage when He proclaims In John 10, “I am the Good Shepherd.” In this same chapter, Jesus expands the “sheep” to include Gentiles…

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16).

Which leads us to Paul in Acts 13. Paul has embarked on his first missionary journey and here we read Paul’s beautiful presentation of the gospel.

His message created quite a stir in Antioch – so much so that “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” And since Antioch was primarily Gentile, that meant that Gentiles crowded the Jewish synagogue to hear Paul’s message.

Paul always went to the synagogues first to proclaim the good news of the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, but it was the Gentiles that responded with joy and faith (Acts 13:48).

This is the Good Shepherd bringing in the other sheep. This is the Good Shepherd opening the door to us! We are now members of his flock. He is our Good Shepherd, and we are to follow Him. How could we not?? Sheep are helpless without the Shepherd.

Day 192: Sovereignty and Power

Ezekiel 29-32

Key Verses

Ezekiel 32:12
I will cause your multitude to fall by the swords of mighty ones, all of them most ruthless of nations.
“They shall bring to ruin the pride of Egypt,
and all its multitude shall perish.”

Consider God’s sovereignty as he used the king of Babylon as an instrument of His wrath against the nations, and specifically, against Egypt, as described in these chapters.

Our God controls the will of kings. He causes them to rise and fall. He uses them for his purposes. The ramifications of this kind of Sovereignty are both awe-inspiring and terrifying…

And even more amazing to me is that Ezekiel’s prophecies against Egypt actually came true! Consider this prophecy: “Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army” (Ezekiel 29:19). Check out what the ESV Study Bible says about this verse…

This prophecy was given in 571 b.c. and Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egypt in 568 (this is described in detail in Jeremiah 43–44 and also recorded in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 10.180–182). Egypt was subsequently subject to Persian rule (beginning in 525 b.c.), was conquered by Alexander the Great and made part of his empire in 332, and was conquered by the Romans and became part of the Roman Empire in 31. (Crossway)

Egypt never regained its power in the world. Never. Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled just a few years after it was made! The most powerful rulers on this earth are mites compared to God and his sovereignty.

Who is this God we serve? Who is He who builds and destroys, blesses and curses? Are we subservient to a harsh, selfish Ruler who destroys on a whim? Or do we serve a God who has created us in His image, who molds us with the tender care of a Father, who is preparing us for an eternity shared with Himself?

We must keep the person of Jesus in our minds as we consider God’s sovereignty and power. Jesus came to save, not to destroy. Jesus was the manifestation of God’s glory on earth – and because of Jesus, we do not have to face the wrath of God. He faced it for us. And considering the suffering that Judah endured… I am extremely grateful to be spared from the wrath of God!