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.

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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 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 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 321: Hall of Faith

Psalms 84, 86-87; Hebrews 11
(Psalm 85 was read on Day 227)

Faith. Without it, it is impossible to please God.

The author of Hebrews has laid out his case for the Supremacy of Christ. He has exhorted them to not drift away from Christianity back to the familiar ways of Judaism – but rather to strive to keep the faith.

Now he gives an entire chapter full of examples of faith from the Old Testament. These are people who persevered to claim their reward. Think of the encouragement this would bring to these young Jewish converts…

First, they would see that God’s grace pre-dated Abraham, and reached all the way back to Abel! This would remind them that their new faith in Christ was the exact same faith which was credited to Noah and Abraham as righteousness!

They would also be encouraged that imperfect men such as Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Japheth were included as men of faith. Perfection is not a requirement. It is faith in God which justifies the sinner.

Ultimately, they would be challenged to pattern their lives after these Old Testament heroes – men and women who suffered greatly because they believed a God they could not see and died before God’s promises were fulfilled. Yet they continued to trust in the goodness of God…

Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me (Psalm 86:3-7).

Faith is not just some shot in the dark, wishful thinking. A true, saving faith is a sure anchor for the soul based on the truth of God’s word. It is the belief that the unseen is more real than the seen.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

What do we hope for? A city on a hill, the New Jerusalem, filled with the glory of the Lord. We look forward to the day when every tear will be wiped away and the dim reflection of His presence in this world will be seen clearly in all His glory. We hope for Jesus and the wedding feast of the lamb and an eternity in perfect relationship with the Savior and with fellow man. These aren’t just wistful dreams – these are truths that we should be willing to die for!!!

Where is your faith? Do you place your hope in your own fleeting material wealth or aspirations of success? Is your hope in your spouse or in your children? Or is your hope in the unseen, yet eternal God who is trustworthy and true? Don’t sacrifice eternity for a lesser, instant pleasure.

Strive to enter His rest; persevere in your faith, and be one who overcomes to the end!

Day 320: Judgment as Motivator

Psalms 81-83; Hebrews 10:26-39
(Psalm 78 was read on Day 270 and Psalms 79 & 80 on Day 227)

Once again, the author of Hebrews warns the young Christian congregation to “hold fast” and not throw away their confidence… All of his previous warnings… “Don’t drift away,” “Strive to enter his rest,” “do not be sluggish,” culminate is this final exhortation to persevere.

The author paints a dramatic picture of the judgment awaiting those who deliberately disregard God’s commands. But he reassures the Hebrews that they are  “not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39).

Judgment is a bad word in our culture, but fear of judgment is a healthy motivator to repent and seek forgiveness from God!

We spend plenty of time talking about God’s love, and rightly so, for it is the magnitude of God’s love which compels us to obey. But we have to remember that God’s wrath is just as awesome and wonderful as His love. Old Testament prophecy and the book of Revelation both vividly describe the horror of God’s judgment. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

The writer of Hebrews has consistently used the fear of God’s judgment to persuade these young Christians to endure in their faith despite persecution and suffering. The more we learn of God’s impending judgment, the more thankful we become to be saved from it! And as we become confident in God’s saving power, we can boldly approach his throne to pray for justice in our world! We can pray for God to…

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked(Psalm 82:3-4).

Fear of God’s judgment also motivates us to speak and act out the truths of the gospel before an unbelieving world. When Christ comes again, he comes to judge the earth, and He delays his return so that the full number may be saved.

Therefore, Christ’s return is both a comfort and a motivator… His imminent return brings comfort to the suffering church, for when he comes, justice will Reign! But his return should also motivate us to proclaim the gospel and pray for the salvation of unbelievers in our midst – so that they will be saved from the wrath of God.

Judgment is not a popular idea – but it is still true. And we must not sweep this truth under the rug, but use it to motivate us to not drift away from God’s goodness and to reach out in love to a dying world. Come, Lord Jesus, Come!!

Day 304: The gift of God’s presence

Psalms 23-242 Timothy 2

The Presence of God…think about what a profound gift this is. Both of today’s Psalms celebrate his Presence… Psalm 23 is the familiar Psalm of comfort – promising God’s presence to the individual. While Psalm 24 celebrates God’s presence among the people. It was probably sung as David led the people in worship when he brought the ark (the symbol of God’s presence) back to Jerusalem.

Experiencing God’s presence both individually and corporately is one of the greatest gifts given to the Christian on this earth. Paul must have rested in the sure presence of his God as he waited to be executed…chained as a prisoner in Rome.

Paul’s circumstances elevate the urgency of his words to his beloved Timothy. We are given the privilege of listening to this intimate exchange, and Paul’s final instructions to TImothy are powerful.

Paul gives Timothy the strategy for world evangelization:

what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

This was Jesus’ strategy…focused discipleship resulting in spiritual multiplication. This is how Christianity spread over the whole earth – by entrusting the truth to faithful men (and women :)!

Paul had more to say to Timothy… He called Timothy to “share in the suffering of Christ” (2:3), to “Remember Jesus Christ” (2:8), and finally to handle the word of truth cautiously, increasing in kindness and not inciting quarrels (2:14-26).

These are profound instructions! …but impossible to accomplish without the constant presence of God in our lives.

It is the experience of His presence that affirms our salvation – that we are His. And encouraged by His preserving presence, we are given the strength to persevere… as good soldiers of Christ Jesus” (2 TImothy 2:3).

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).

Day 301: God’s crazy global strategy

Psalms 13-151 Timothy 3-4

The church…

…the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

“Church” is a mind-blowing idea! First, God calls us his “household.” He’s calling us his family!!! Then he promises that he will live among us. The church is where God’s presence dwells. And finally, the church’s role is to support and hold up the gospel to the world…to be the “pillar and buttress of truth.”

What an amazing calling!!! He doesn’t call us as individuals to reach the world with the gospel…No!! He calls us as members of his church! We are not supposed to do it alone.

This idea of living covenantally is not unique to the New Testament but originates in God’s Covenant Promises given in the Old Testament. God’s promise to establish a people for himself, “that He shall be their God, and they shall be His people” is a promise that weaves its way throughout all of Scripture. This promise manifests itself in God’s holy nation of Israel and then expands to the nations in the New Testament and includes all the members of His Kingdom, namely, His church.

In Psalm 14, David prays – not for individuals to be saved – but for community salvation!!

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad (Psalm 14:7).

Our culture is so individualistic that it’s hard to comprehend the importance of our role in the church body – but the church is extremely important to God…so important that Paul takes great care to instruct Timothy how to both lead and organize it…how to choose men for elders and deacons, how to fight false teaching, and finally, Paul affirms Timothy’s calling to lead God’s church – despite his youth.

God’s church is the vehicle through which he spreads his gospel to the world! It’s a mind-bending strategy…completely foreign to this world, yet you are called to be a part of it…

God is calling you to forsake your individual rights and throw your lot in with other redeemed sinners. He promises to dwell among you and change the world through you collectively. It’s not a popular way-of-life and will certainly be difficult. But it’s God’s idea and God’s calling… Are you in?

Day 259: The Lord of angel-armies

Daniel 10-12; 2 Corinthians 2

In today’s reading, it’s as if a curtain is parted between the physical and spiritual realms. And through this sliver of an opening, we see things too wonderful for us to comprehend! Daniel’s eyes were opened so that he could see fully into this spiritual world and he was so terrified, he couldn’t speak!

Surely, we underestimate the struggle for power that takes place in the spiritual realms. But Daniel 10 reminds us of the mighty warrior-angels who fight for God’s glory and people continuously!

In Chapter 11-12 we read the message revealed to Daniel by the angel… a most extraordinary description of the future. Amazingly, historians can confirm that every detail of Daniel 11:2-35 has been fulfilled (11:35 -12:13 looks further into the future). This is jaw-droppingly extraordinary…so extraordinary that some liberal scholars believe these verses could only have been written “after-the-fact!”

Now hear this…if you were Daniel listening to the angel account for the next hundreds of years of kings and conflicts, what would you think? I know what I would think…God is in absolute control! He has a plan, and He has appointed the time for the end – when all suffering will cease!

But we are not there yet…

We live in a time of great suffering and anguish…a time of natural disasters, world tyrants, persecution, fleeing refugees, disease, and emotional turmoil. Yet, in all these circumstances God can be glorified especially as the world sees the church act sacrificially to help those in need.

This is where the physical and spiritual realms collide in our world. Satan schemes to cause conflict and disunity among God’s people to destroy our witness in this world!

Paul refers to Satan’s work in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians 2:5-11… An excellent summary of this passage is found in the ESV Study Bible:

“The majority in Corinth had expressed their repentance by punishing the leader of the rebellion against Paul. Paul now calls them to follow his own Christlike example toward them by extending mercy to the offender, lest Satan have his way once again in the church” (ESV Study Bible, Crossway).

Satan seeks to tear apart the church. Every church split is a victory for Satan. Every person who calls the church hypocritical is a victory for Satan. The spiritual realm is alight with the battle for God’s glory on earth. Angels are not cute little keepsakes – they are warriors – fighting the demons of the air for God’s name’s sake!

We, too, are called into this battle for God’s glory! For whom do you fight? We fight for the sure victor…we fight for the Lord of angel-armies, the Lord of hosts!

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).