Day 224: The battle within

2 Chronicles 33-34; Romans 7

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 33:12-13
And when [Manasseh] was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

Romans 7:22-23
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

We all have a mix of king Manasseh (evil) and king Josiah (faithful) in us. Romans 7 describes the tension between our new, regenerate nature and our old, sinful nature. It is the tension between the now (that we have been saved from the power of sin) and the not yet (that we still live in a sinful body) that causes Paul to cry out at the end of the chapter, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

But hear this… Manasseh, the evilest king that ever ruled Judah, the king who placed idols in the temple and sacrificed his children in the fire… when this evil king humbled himself before God and asked for help, God rescued him from his distress.

Manasseh’s apostasy still carried great consequences – as it was his evil influence that led the people so far away from God’s law that God promised to judge them with destruction and exile (2 Kings 21:11-15). The people’s sin was so heinous that not even the faithful King Josiah could turn away God’s judgment. But. The judgment was delayed – first because Manasseh repented, and second, because of Josiah’s faithfulness.

We all struggle with sin. Even Paul struggled with sin! But consider the common thread that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments… If we humble ourselves – that is… if we repent – God is faithful to forgive and restore. (If he restored the evil king Manasseh, then he can forgive anybody!)

But God not only forgives, he works his righteousness into our hearts – like a potter molding his clay. In other words, he sanctifies us. But I’m jumping ahead! Paul teaches about the work of the Spirit in sanctification in Chapter 8, and we’ll get to that… tomorrow :)

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Day 222: No Longer Under the Law

2 Chronicles 26-28; Romans 6

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 26:3, 5
Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.

Romans 6:14
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

I think Romans 6:14 is one of the clearest statements distinguishing the Old Covenant (law) from the New (grace).

The three kings from today’s reading are perfect illustrations of the burden of living under the burden of the law.

Uzziah (Chapter 26) began in good fashion… “He set himself to seek God […] and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5). Uzziah enjoyed the blessings of God in military strength and victory. But Uzziah became prideful and presumed upon the law of the Lord by trying to do the duty of a priest. God gave him the opportunity to repent by sending the priest to warn him, but Uzziah became angry. “When he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord” (26:19).

Jotham (chapter 27) was portrayed as upright throughout his reign, and he enjoyed God’s favor. Whereas, Ahaz (chapter 28) was idolatrous and suffered under God’s judgment.

This is the Old Covenant. Living under the law was burdensome. Sin was inevitable. But God, in his grace, would relent if His people repented. Otherwise, they faced judgment.

In contrast, the New Covenant is founded on Grace and offers freedom from the burden of the law. Listen to how Paul begins Chapter 6 of Romans…

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)

Paul answers, “By no means!” But the reason for his answer is complicated, and it is the key to the difference between the Old and the New Covenants. Paul’s answer involves the difficult concept of union with Christ…

Christ’s death and resurrection have defeated the power of sin in the believer’s life! As believers in Christ, we are united with him in his death and life, so that we have His power to overcome the sin in our hearts. When we turn to Christ in repentance and faith, a powerful spiritual transaction occurs. Our hard hearts are given life…they are transformed from stone to flesh through the indwelling of Holy Spirit.

  • The Old Covenant exposed sin through the lens of the law, but provided no power to overcome sin.
  • The New Covenant defeats the power of sin through the death and life of Christ.

Living under the new Covenant of Grace does not remove our responsibility…we are still able to sin and we are still accountable for our actions! But. We have the power of Christ to help us obey!

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14).

Day 220: A Strange Exchange

2 Chronicles 21-22; Romans 4

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 21:6b-7
And [Jehoram] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.

Romans 4:16
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all [Abraham’s] offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

After faithful Jehoshaphat died, his first-born son, Jehoram, was crowned king of Judah who then killed all of his brothers so that no one would challenge his throne. The royal line of David was dangerously thin – and lay in the hands of a murdering madman who rebuilt the high places and led the people into idol worship.

But it gets worse.

All of Jehoram’s sons were killed in battle except for Ahaziah – who took the throne upon Jehoram’s death. Ahaziah made an alliance with the evil son of Ahab and was killed by the same man who was ordained to destroy all of Ahab’s family. Ahaziah and all of his brothers were killed and there was no one to rule Judah!! So Ahaziah’s evil mother, the daughter of Ahab, took control of Judah and killed everyone in the royal family.

What??!!... The entire royal line of David was destroyed because of their alliance with Ahab’s evil family??  What about the promise that a Royal Branch of David would rule in peace forever??

Ah! We have to keep reading… The narrative continues like a Shakespearean play as we discover that Ahaziah’s sister (who was married to the faithful priest, Jehoiada) hid Ahaziah’s infant son from the royal mother’s massacre. There is one from the line of David who lives! And in tomorrow’s reading, he will take the throne in dramatic fashion!

This is the tragic history of Israel. Paul argues in Romans 4:15 that “the Jews, who had the written law, had even greater responsibility for their sin and as great a need to be saved from God’s wrath and justified by faith*.” The tragic events detailed in today’s reading definitely make it clear that all of Israel had a great need to be saved!

Paul teaches in Romans 4 that all people need to be saved by faith – that the Jews couldn’t trust in their possession of the law – or in their sign of circumcision – to save them. But that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised and before the giving of the Mosaic law (Romans 4:11).

Paul’s argument is clear. Heritage and Circumcision do not make you righteous. That is evident from the horror of today’s Old Testament passage! Rather, it was Abraham’s faith that was credited to him as righteousness.

Paul says that we, also, can be counted as righteous when we “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (Romans 4:24).

We are given credit for being righteous – only because of our faith – not because of our actions. It is a strange exchange. It’s an exchange based on grace!

*quoted from note on Romans 4:15 from the ESV Study Bible, Crossway

Day 209: The Substitute

1 Chronicles 20-22

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 21:17
Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.

1 Chronicles 21:26-27
And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

1 Chronicles 20 continues from the previous two chapters to show how David’s military victories prepared the way for Solomon’s peace and prosperity.

Chapter 21 recounts events from 2 Samuel 24… It’s a powerful story of sin, repentance, and redemption. David sinned by demanding a census and God sent a great plague on Israel as punishment for David’s sin. Then God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem.

Let’s think about this… Didn’t God just promise David that his son would build Him a house and He would establish his rule forever??!! Now God is about to destroy the “City of David.” It seems as if God’s covenant promise is in jeopardy because of David’s pride. 

God gave David the ability to see the angel “standing between heaven and earth and in his hand a sword stretched out over Jerusalem.” David realized that his sin had put all the promises of God at risk. He fell to his face and cried out to God…

Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people (1 Chronicles 21:17).

God did relent and spare Jerusalem…But – there had to be a substitute – something to receive the punishment intended for Jerusalem.

This story harkens back to Abraham lifting the knife over the body of Isaac – just in time, God provided a ram.

In this case, God commanded David to build an altar and offer a sacrifice at a specific place. The sacrifice would be the substitute.

And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath (1 Chronicles 21:26-27).

David’s repentance led to God’s relentance (yes, I just made up that word :)

But consider this detail in the text… In order to build that altar, David had to buy the land on which to build it. This piece of land would be the site of Solomon’s temple. Because of David’s repentance, God orchestrated the circumstances by which David bought the plot of land on which the future temple would be built.

Somehow, God redeemed a genuinely repentant heart and brought about a greater and more powerful good.

This story not only points back to Abraham and Isaac but points forward to God’s only Son. There must be a substitute. Our sin demands it. But thankfully… God’s goodness overrules our sinfulness!

Day 208: A Far-Reaching Gospel

1 Chronicles 17-19; Acts 22

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 17:11-14
“‘When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.'”

God’s house and an Eternal dynasty… The Davidic Covenant (found in today’s Key Verses) is God’s promise to David that his son would build God a house and that God would establish David’s throne forever…

These two promises – of a House and a forever King – became Israel’s hope and identity. To the (kingless) people in the post-exilic Jerusalem, the Davidic covenant pointed to their future hope for a Messiah.

For us, we can look to the kingdom under Solomon’s reign as a precursor of God’s eternal Kingdom on earth. The prosperity and peace of Israel haven’t been matched since the days of Solomon!

The Davidic Covenant joins the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants in describing God’s relationship with His people. The Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants promised to make a Great Nation. The Mosaic Covenant laid the foundation for how to live and worship in this nation.

The Mosaic law was a conditional covenant… if the people obeyed, they would be blessed. If they disobeyed, they would be cursed. But the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants were based on God’s loving kindness; they were not conditional on the obedience of the people.

Of all three Covenants, the promises made to Abraham give the broadest picture of God’s relationship with His people… God promised to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham and his family. David’s Covenant refines this promise to reveal how the nations would be blessed – through the Eternal King that would come from the line of David.

Somehow, the Jews of Paul’s day missed these points in the Great Promises.

Remember the context for today’s reading from Acts? Paul had just been arrested by the Roman Tribune to save him from the rioting crowd in Jerusalem. As Paul was being led to the barracks, he asked permission to speak to the crowds. Acts 22 records his testimony to the Jewish people.

The people listened as Paul spoke in the Hebrew language and defended his Jewish heritage. The people listened further as Paul described his encounter with Jesus – his “Damascus Road” experience – but they stopped listening when Paul reported that this Jesus had commanded him to go to the Gentiles. At this, the people became enraged, “shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air!”

The people had lost sight of the Abrahamic Covenant – the promise of which all the peoples of the earth would be blessed… And they had forgotten that David’s seed was the conduit for the blessing!

The pride that came from adhering to the strict moral demands of the Mosaic Law blinded the people to God’s love for all the nations. They misunderstood when Jesus spent time with “sinners” and died a criminal’s death. And they rioted against Paul at the mere mention of those wretched, lawless Gentiles.

We are tempted by the same pride. We can’t let the trap of moral superiority prevent us from taking the gospel to all people! There are no prerequisites for the gospel. It crosses every line – race, gender, nation, and tongue. Jesus came to bless all the peoples of the earth – even wretched, lawless people like us.

Day 202: Genealogy and Exorcisms (seriously)

1 Chronicles 1-3; Acts 19:1-20

Key Verses

Acts 19:8-10
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

We are going back to the historical books! 1 Chronicles was written after the exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, the city, and their lives. The writer of 1 Chronicles wanted to remind the Jewish remnant (who had returned from exile) of their history and renew hope in the covenant promises of God.

The writer was a priest and placed considerable value on the building of Solomon’s temple and practices of the priests. He also idealized the reigns of David and Solomon – maybe to renew the hope of a Messianic ruler that would come from the line of David.

He begins his writings with a long genealogy – beginning with Adam and continuing all the way to the post-exilic period. His purpose was to rebuild the people’s identity – to give them context and purpose in their rebuilt Jerusalem.

Transitioning to Acts 19, we read of Paul’s extended ministry in Ephesus. When reading, we must remember the heavy pagan influence on the culture. In this culture, healings and authority over evil spirits gave credibility to the gospel. In our culture, the gospel gains credibility differently (probably more through kindness and great personal sacrifice rather than exorcizing evil spirits ;) But it’s the same gospel and the same Spirit at work!

Luke makes this point at the end of our reading…

So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:20).

Was it Paul that prevailed mightily? Did the gospel go forth because Paul had a special skill or knowledge? No, it was the word of the Lord that increased and prevailed! Paul was a willing and obedient servant, so God used him mightily as a vehicle for His Word to prevail. So it is with us. We do not prevail because of all our special programs and ministries. It is the word of the Lord at work in us that prevails in our culture and in our world. We must be willing, but God does the work!

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 184: The First Temple Vision

Ezekiel 8-11

Key Verses

Ezekiel 11:17-20
“Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

These chapters record the first of Ezekiel’s two “temple visions.”

Remember… Ezekiel has been prophesying against Jerusalem while he is in exile in Babylon. He isn’t in Jerusalem to see the extent of the abominations performed against God in his own house.

So, through the Spirit, Ezekiel is somehow transported to Jerusalem where he is able to see the temple. The text reads, “the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem” (8:3). 

What Ezekiel sees is breathtaking. It’s as if someone has drawn back a curtain and all things that were invisible are now made visible.

He sees the spiritual realm existing right alongside the earthly realm. He sees leaders worshipping idols in the temple surrounded by the Glory of the Lord. And then tragically, Ezekiel records the slow exodus of the Glory from the temple…

Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house (Ezekiel 9:3).

The Glory is no longer in the Holy of Holies but has moved to the threshold of the house – the gate, the exit.

As the vision continues, we see God’s brutal execution of judgment, but we also see God’s glory inch away from his sinful people…

Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim (Ezekiel 10:18).

God didn’t just… leave. He inched. It’s almost as if Ezekiel’s vision mirrors the longsuffering of God – the longing for repentance, the waiting for repentance. It is only, as the-most-last-resort, that God finally leaves.

Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city (Ezekiel 11:22-23).

And just like that. He is gone.

But.

Just before He left, He made a promise. That he will gather the exiles from the ends of the earth, and give them a heart of flesh…“And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:17-20).

God’s covenant promises are based on nothing but the character of God. His promise to “be our God” is not based on OUR ability to be righteous but based on HIS kindness, HIS goodness, and HIS righteousness.

God’s wrath has been poured out. His wrath has been satisfied. We are no longer objects of His wrath – but recipients of His grace!

Later in the book of Ezekiel, he has a second “temple vision.” But this vision is not of God leaving His people – but of Him gathering His people and establishing a New Jerusalem. What a day that will be!! I. Can’t. Wait!

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!!!