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Paul makes it clear that because of Jesus’s final sacrifice, the temple has been replaced by the church as the worship center for the believer.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 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 185: To the Ends of the Earth!

Ezekiel 12-14; Acts 8

Key Verses

Acts 8:1, 4
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

Today we see the immediate results of the stoning of Stephen. Persecution increased against the new Christians, and they “scattered.”

What was intended to hurt the church, God used to grow it. We read as Philip brings the gospel to Samaria. The coming of the Spirit by Peter and John’s command served to legitimize the new believers in Samaria. Even non-Jews could receive the Holy Spirit!

Then we see Philip, by the power of the Spirit, sharing the gospel with an Ethiopian! Can’t you see what’s happening!? The gospel is spreading to the far corners of the world! Why? Because persecution caused the church to scatter. I love it when God outsmarts the enemy!

It’s hard to transition from the exciting beginnings of the church to Ezekiel’s judgment oracles over apostate Israel…. So, we’ll discuss Ezekiel more thoroughly tomorrow :)

Day 183: Death Turned Upside-Down

Ezekiel 6-7; Acts 7:44-60

Key Verses

Ezekiel 7:27
“The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.”

Acts 7:55-56
But [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

I am attending a funeral today. It’s my second one in a month. Death. I really hate death.

We were created to never have to endure death. We were supposed to live in the Garden, in perfect communion with God and each other. Death was unthought of back then, but sin changed all that.

Today we read of the church’s first martyr. Stephen died with the vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. It’s the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is described as “standing” instead of sitting at God’s right hand.

Death is a strange thing. On one hand, it is odious – something that was never supposed to be. But on the other hand, God turns it upside down and somehow uses it for good. Stephen’s death was a catalyst for church growth. Death impassions people. God has consistently used persecution and death as a means to grow his church.

Recently, I was reading a Romanian pastor’s doctoral thesis on suffering, martyrdom and the rewards of heaven… He argues that suffering on earth advances the Kingdom of Heaven – the prime example being Jesus, Himself. If we are called to suffer and/or die for the Kingdom, it is a great Eternal victory!

And I think there lies the key. Eternal. An Eternal Perspective changes everything.

Sometimes when I read passages of judgment like the ones we find in today’s reading from Ezekiel, I become indignant. “Why did the children have to suffer and die right along with their apostate parents?” And then I might go even further and question God’s goodness that He might bring about suffering AT ALL!!

But when I entertain those types of thoughts, I know I’ve lost my eternal perspective.

Wouldn’t I choose to suffer for a little while on earth and gain eternal bliss – rather than have earthly bliss and suffer an eternity of torment???

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 Corinthians 4:17).

Our dot of an existence on this earth must be invested wisely for the sake of our eternities. If that means we must suffer to bring about repentance and a character that is more like Christ’s – well so be it! I don’t think Stephen, who is alive with Christ in heaven, regrets his choice to suffer for the sake of the Truth. Do you?

Day 180: Faithful to the End

Jeremiah 51-52; Acts 6

Key Verses

Jeremiah 52:31
And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison.

Acts 6:5
And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…

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 prophecy 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 Jeremiah’s account of the 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

Key Verses

Jeremiah 50:18-20
Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing punishment on the king of Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria. I will restore Israel to his pasture, […] for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.

Acts 5:29-31
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

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

Key Verses

Jeremiah 46:28
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
for I am with you.

Acts 5:14-15
And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.

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 of 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 against 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

Key Verses

Jeremiah 42:11-12
Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land.

Acts 4:31
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

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 Judeans who were left after the murder of Gedaliah, 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

Key Verses

Jeremiah 40:12
then all the Judeans returned from all the places to which they had been driven and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah. And they gathered wine and summer fruits in great abundance.

Acts 4:11-12
“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”

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” (Acts 4:8-10).

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 :)