Day 264: A godly sorrow

Ezra 9-10; 2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:16

In today’s reading, Ezra learned that the Israelites had already succumbed to the temptation to intermarry with the local foreigners. Even though less than one hundred years had passed since the people first returned to Judah, they were already diluting the Jewish faith with foreign gods.

Some might judge Ezra’s response as extreme. He tore his clothes and wept and mourned. But he knew what this meant for the future of his people. He knew that compromising in this one area would open the floodgates and lead to apostasy and judgment. He did not want Israel to repeat her history!

Fast forward to today’s reading in 2 Corinthians and we find Paul addressing the exact same issue. Paul uses Old Testament imagery to drive home the point that the church is God’s covenant family, and because of His grace and mercy, we should strive to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

Our sin should bring us much grief and sorrow. But, it should not lead to despair and hopelessness! Listen to the Israelite’s response to their sin (from Ezra)…

…the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah […] addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this (Ezra 10:1-2)!

Why was there hope? Because of God’s Great Grace and Mercy!

But God’s grace and mercy can only be experienced through humility and repentance. Both Paul and Ezra describe repentance in today’s passages. Ezra describes how the people not only “wept bitterly” over their sin, but made drastic decisions to make things right. And Paul describes how the Corinthians’ repentance brought him much joy.

In both cases, repentance restored the relationship with God and brought about God’s comfort and grace. This is the beauty of repentance!

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret… (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

We must never believe that our sin is out of the reach of Forgiveness. The shadow of the cross covers our greatest sins!

Day 263: Leadership (Biblical-style), pt. 1

Ezra 7-8; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Ezra and Paul – both were amazing leaders…

Today’s passage in Ezra fast-forwards 57 years from the building of the temple to describe Ezra, the priest, coming to Jerusalem. We learn from the text that Ezra wasn’t just any priest…he could trace his lineage all the way back to Aaron. He also had authority from the king of Persia AND extensive knowledge of the law of Moses. But in addition to all of his earthly qualifications, he dedicated himself to serving God and studying His law (Ezra 7:10). He was uniquely qualified to lead the people of God. 

Now consider Paul’s testimony from our reading in 2 Corinthians…He was beaten, imprisoned and starved (among other afflictions) yet he persevered in his apostolic calling (2 Cor. 6:4-10) . Paul’s leadership was refined through weakness – and because of Paul’s weakness – the power of God was revealed. Paul was also uniquely qualified to lead the people of God.

Both leaders respected and loved the Lord, His word and His people. But above all, they gave their very lives in service to their God. Leadership begins with service and requires great sacrifice. Are you cut out to be a leader in God’s kingdom? If so, get used to being on your knees – in humble reliance on God for all he’s called you to be!

Day 262: Our eternal home

Ezra 5-6; Haggai 1-2; 2 Corinthians 5

The book of Haggai serves as a rich commentary to these chapters in Ezra. Haggai (along with Zechariah – which we’ll read through in December) was the local prophet who encouraged the people to restart building the temple. Evidently, all the earlier opposition pushed the people into complacency. They were content to live in their own houses while the house of the Lord lay in ruins. God had something to say about this!

He had sent drought and hail in the hopes that the people would turn to him for help, but they continued in their self-sufficiency. In spite of this, God was merciful and intervened through the prophet Haggai.

There are so many rich layers woven throughout these passages.

First, we see that the Jews’ responded to Haggai’s message in obedience – so that the temple was completed! The temple represented God’s continued presence with his people and his faithfulness to keep his promises.

But glaringly obvious to everyone was the fact that the temple did not compare to Solomon’s former temple. God addressed this in Haggai:

Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, [and] work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not (Haggai 2:3-5).

God asserted that the temple’s outward grandeur was of secondary importance to His presence. This second temple served as a stepping stone to the day when the temple would no longer be a physical building – but rather God would manifest His presence within His people.

Paul touches on these themes in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians. He teaches that we are not at “home” in our physical bodies – rather we long for “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). Paul says that while we are on earth, we “groan” for our heavenly tent – for “mortality to be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).

So, in many ways, this second temple’s lack of grandeur is a physical picture of our life on earth. We long for more… We long for our eternal home.

Lastly, we see a hint of the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the last verse of Haggai. The hint isn’t obvious, but it’s there!

On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:23).

Zerubbabel was the current governor of Judah, but he was also a descendant of the last king of Judah, Jehoiachin (1 Chron. 3:16–19, where Jehoiachin is called Jeconiah). And if Zerubbabel was descended from the last king of Judah, that meant he was also descended from King David. And who was prophesied to come from the line of David to establish his Kingdom on earth? Yes. Jesus.

“On that day” (Haggai 2:23), looks forward to the end of the age, when the temple is replaced by the Lord himself!

…for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb … and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it (Rev. 21:22, 24).

Yes, one day, this man, who knew no sin – but became sin, so that we might become His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21)…this man will take his place as the final temple. And then, and only then, will we be home.

The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:9).

Day 261: Look to the unseen

Ezra 3-4; 2 Corinthians 4

Today we continue the story of the exiles working together to rebuild their lives in Israel. Here is the historical context for Ezra (adapted from: Introduction to Ezra, ESV Study Bible, Crossway)

  • Cyrus king of Persia captures Babylon: 539 BC (Dan. 5:30–31)
  • First year of King Cyrus; issues proclamation freeing Jewish exiles to return: 538–537 (Ezra 1:1–4)
  • Jewish exiles return from Babylon to Jerusalem: 537? (Ezra 1:11)
  • The Altar is rebuilt and the people celebrate the Feast of booths: 537 (Ezra 3:1–2)
  • Temple rebuilding begins: 536 (Ezra 3:8)
  • Adversaries oppose the rebuilding: 536–530 (Ezra 4:1–5)
  • Temple rebuilding ceases: 530–520 (Ezra 4:24)

In Ezra 3, we read of the people laying the foundation of the temple. As they completed the foundation, many praised God and celebrated with great shouts of joy. But mixed in with the celebration were men of old who remembered the grandeur of Solomon’s temple, and they wept in bitter grief at what had been lost (3:13).

Later in Ezra 4, we read of the beginnings of opposition to the rebuilding of the temple, and this opposition continued for approximately 20 years (Ezra 4:4-5) – even resulting in the cessation of rebuilding altogether (4:24).

(Note: Ezra 4:6-23 is a tangent from the historical narrative which looks forward to other historical examples of opposition to the Jewish nation).

The Jewish people lived in this constant tension… Between celebration and grief (3:13) and rebuilding and opposition (4:24). This tension existed because they expected God to fulfill His promises physically… by restoring the world’s power and resources back into their grasp – to return them to the glory days of Solomon – when Israel was the most powerful nation on earth.

Their eyes were blind to God’s plan to restore them spiritually. This is what Ezekiel referred to when he said that God would replace their heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Eze. 36:26). Ezekiel looked forward to the new covenant – when God’s people would live by the Spirit instead of the law.

This is what Paul refers to when he says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:1). It is a beautiful picture of our physical brokenness alongside the treasure of our spiritual renewal.

This is the key to not losing hope during trial and suffering. Consider the Jews from our passage today… They had to endure 20 years of opposition to the rebuilding of the temple. How do you endure patiently during suffering? By taking your eyes off of what is seen, and putting them on what is unseen.

In order for the Jewish people to not lose faith, they had to fix their eyes on their covenant-keeping God. If he had bent the will of the mighty Persian king, surely he could handle a little opposition from the local officials! Their faith was being tested. Where would they rest their eyes? On the physical? Or the eternal?

We, too, live in a time of waiting for God to ultimately and finally fulfill His covenant promises to His people. We will endure affliction as we wait. So how do we not lose hope? How do we persevere in the faith? How can Paul so confidently say?

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair… (2 Cor. 4:8).

Paul has fixed his eyes on the Savior. He knows the eternal treasure is hidden inside the temporal jar of clay.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Day 260: God’s redemptive story

Ezra 1-2; 2 Corinthians 3

In Daniel, we read of King Cyrus of Persia conquering Babylon, and at the very end of 2 Chronicles, we read of Cyrus’ decree to let the Israelites return to their land to rebuild their temple. Today, we begin the book of Ezra which continues this redemptive story of God securing His people.

This story – of God creating a people to call His own – is the broad sweeping story of the whole Bible. Both of today’s passages fit snugly into God’s redemptive story!

Ezra begins with the people returning to the land of Judah. King Cyrus, moved by the sovereignty of God, not only allows – but equips – the Jews to return to their homeland. He also sends along the vessels of the temple originally confiscated by Nebuchadnezzar so many years before. This is a new beginning for God’s people. The 2nd Exodus! God bending the will of King Cyrus proves all of the prophesies from Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah true. God would restore his people!

But we know that the return of the exiles to Jerusalem was only a partial fulfillment of God’s plan for his people. Only in Christ are all the prophesies fulfilled. And with the coming of Christ came the ushering in of a new covenant…

Paul writes of this new covenant in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians. Rather than being a covenant of the law – which leads to death, it is a covenant of the Spirit. The old covenant led to death because the people had no power within themselves to keep the law. Whereas Jesus mediates the new covenant by fulfilling ALL the requirements of the old and then sending His Spirit to empower us to obey.

What a glorious story! God is creating a people for Himself! But we are still in the middle of the story… Just as the exiles looked forward to the day where all God’s promises would be fulfilled, we too look forward to Christ’s return and the glorious end of the story!

Why do look forward to the end? Because it is then that God will make all things new!