Day 215: Forcing our eyes forward

2 Chronicles 8-9; Acts 27

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 9:3-4
And when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his cupbearers, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.

As we read the final chapters in the Chronicler’s description of Solomon, I am struck by all that was omitted from Solomon’s life…

There is only a brief mention of Solomon’s many wives, and nothing is mentioned of how his great wealth turned his heart from the Lord. All of his possessions and prosperity are presented in the most positive way.

I have to remember the Chronicler’s purpose in writing. He focused on all the goodness of David and Solomon’s reign in order to encourage the post-exilic community – who were living in a Jerusalem far removed from the wealth and glory of Solomon’s days.

The Chronicler wanted to force the people’s eyes forward. By reminding them of the promises of the Davidic covenant, he gave his readers hope in the sure promises of God – that God would send a Righteous Branch from the seed of David, and that He would restore His Kingdom on earth.

This is our hope as well. But because we live in a later time in history, we understand more of how God has initially fulfilled his promises. He has sent the Righteous Branch and He has restored His Kingdom on earth – but only partially. The work will not be completed until Christ comes again and we live together with him in the new heaven and the new earth. Then, Christ’s reign will surpass the prosperity of Solomon!

But just like the exiles, these truths must be our comfort – a hope to force our eyes off of our tragic circumstances in this world tainted by sin. Consider Paul in today’s reading from Acts… he literally had lost every physical possession. He was a prisoner sailing to Rome, and at the end of Acts 27, even the ship was destroyed. The only thing Paul had to claim as his own on this earth was his life. And even his life, he had given to Christ.

Where was Paul’s comfort? Where was his hope? His hope was in the resurrected Jesus. His eyes were focused on the future promises that Christ would come again.

As we read of Solomon’s glorious reign over Israel, we are encouraged to fix our eyes on Jesus. We must force our eyes off of our longings, anxieties and difficult circumstances – and let the promise of peace and prosperity under the rule of Christ encourage us to march forward in faith.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!

Day 214: God Dwells Among Praise

2 Chronicles 4-7

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 5:13b-14
…the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.

2 Chronicles 7:14
…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

The theme of God’s glory dwelling in God’s temple is prevalent throughout Scripture.

This theme was especially meaningful to the original readers of 2 Chronicles, the post-exilic community. They had sacrificed so much to rebuild the temple – and still, it paled in comparison to Solomon’s temple. The Chronicler recounts how the Shekinah glory descended on the Holy of Holies “when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 5:13).

The external grandeur of Solomon’s temple didn’t cause God to descend; rather, it was the praise of His people that drew God’s glory down.

Later, after Solomon’s heartfelt prayer of dedication (6:12-42) and God showing his approval of Solomon’s prayer by consuming the offerings with fire and filling the temple with His glory (7:1-3), God appeared to Solomon and made this well-known promise.

…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

This is one of the clearest descriptions of repentance and the blessings it brings. Repentance results in forgiveness for the individual and healing for the community. God’s loving-kindness is revealed in the face of true repentance. He loves the penitent heart!

Think of the impact these truths would have had on the post-exilic community!!!

We serve a God who not only forgives, restores and heals – but who also dwells among the praise of His people! What sort of Sovereign and All-Powerful being chooses to live among the lowly and sinful? Only One who is good and filled with loving-kindness. 

These chapters helped to restore hope and faith in God among the post-exilic community. And they do the same for us – living in the church age – as we wait for the return of our Forever King!

Day 190: Inside the Mind of an Exile

Ezekiel 24-25; Acts 11

Key Verses

Ezekiel 24:21-23
Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword. And you shall do as I have done; […] you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another.

Acts 11:17-18
If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Imagine being captured and sent to a foreign land. You would be separated from your family – your sons, your daughters, your friends. And if you were one of the first exiles to leave Jerusalem, the only news of your homeland would come from a man named, Ezekiel.

You knew He was one of the Lord’s true prophets because he only spoke when God opened his mouth to speak. Otherwise… he was mute (Ezekiel 3:26-27). So each time he spoke, you listened, and hoped for good news – but he only had messages of judgment.

So you ignored him and went about your relatively free existence in a foreign land. You settled down in your own house and built a new family. But one day, in the 9th year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month of king Zedekiah’s reign, God opened Ezekiel’s mouth and he spoke a parable that was so terrifying, so horrible that you couldn’t ignore it. God’s last words would stay with you. And shake you…

I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord God (Ezekiel 24:14).

And you knew, your beloved nation and city and people would be destroyed. And then, something unexpected and strange happened…

Ezekiel’s beloved wife died, the delight of his eyes, and he refused to mourn for her. So you wondered and you asked, “Why are you acting so strangely Ezekiel? Does this have meaning for us exiles?”

And Ezekiel confirmed your worst fears – that Jerusalem and the temple and the people would fall by the sword. And that God commanded that you, too, would not mourn – that you were to not show any outward signs of grief.

And you might wonder your whole life why… Why so much suffering, Lord? Why were we not allowed to grieve? 

Now imagine that after you died, and hundreds of years passed by, you were able to see the Son of God squeeze into human form and show God’s glory to your people. But in a horrible twist, He received an even more severe judgment than that of Jerusalem. Then you would know… that you shared in the sufferings of God.

God suffered as he watched his beloved Jerusalem burn to ashes – and he suffered as he watched his Son endure the shame and agony of a criminal’s cross. And Ezekiel suffered as his wife died and the exiles suffered in a foreign land knowing that their home was lost.

Have you ever wondered… “Why? Why so much suffering Lord?” In many ways, knowing that you share in the sufferings of God – answers the question “Why?” There is purpose for the pain. There always is.

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!!!

Day 170: Power to Break the Yoke

Jeremiah 27-29; John 20

Key Verses

Jeremiah 29:11-12
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.

John 20:18
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

God often commanded his prophets to be living “word pictures” to his people. In Jeremiah 27:2, God told Jeremiah to: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.” Jeremiah wore the wooden yoke as a sign to the people that they would endure the yoke of slavery under Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.

We have a yoke as well. Our yoke is spiritual – the yoke of sin – which leads to death.

Some time later, Hananiah the prophet broke Jeremiah’s yoke and declared the people free from the yoke of the king of Babylon.

Hananiah was a false prophet and had no power over the yoke of slavery.

In John 20, we see the Only One who has the power to break the yoke of slavery. He appears first to Mary, and then to the twelve. He has broken the heavy yoke of sin and death and given us a new yoke…one that is easy and light.

Jeremiah, in Chapter 29, sends a message from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon. He takes away any hope that their stay will be short. Seventy years – the people would be in Babylon – and Jeremiah encouraged them to settle down and seek the welfare of the city.

But Jeremiah also gives a message of hope to the exiles – a message that is relevant to us today, as we too are spiritual exiles living in a foreign land. He reminds the people in Jeremiah 29:11-12 of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love in the loving promise of a “future and a hope.”

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we, too, have a future and a hope. He has rescued us from the yoke of slavery. He has plans for us, and these plans are good…He is our hope!

Day 362: Mourning turned to Dancing!

Zechariah 7-8Revelation 19

The events of Zechariah 7 took place two years after the visions in the preceding chapters (Zech. 1:1; 7:1) but two years before the completion of the temple (Zech. 7:1; Ezra 6:14-15). As the chapter opens, men came from Bethel to ask whether they should continue their mourning rituals. For approximately 70 years, the people had fasted during specific times to commemorate the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. Since the temple was being rebuilt, the people wondered, “Should we continue to fast?” Listen to God’s answer!

And the word of the Lord of hosts came to [Zechariah], saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace (Zechariah 8:18).

God was changing their mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11)! He promised them the blessing of His presence and favor!! But their joy and gladness was just a foretaste of the joy and gladness His people will experience at the Bridal Supper of the Lamb recorded in Revelation 19!

In this one chapter of Revelation we see the stark contrast of those who are judged and those who are redeemed in Christ. The Great Babylon is destroyed. And then Christ comes to earth. He does not come as a meek lamb – but on a white war-horse brandishing a sword. The battle is swift, and the kings of the earth are killed while the beast and the false prophet are captured!

And the mourning is turned to dancing! Christ has the victor’s crown. He is the King! This is our future – sure as rain. We will gather with all the redeemed and cry out…

Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory (Revelation 19:6-7).

Do you believe it? “These are the true words of God” (Revelation 19:9). May our hope be sure in Christ!!

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 361: The beauty of Prophesy and The lure of Babylon

Zechariah 4-6Revelation 18

Prophesy…it’s complex and beautiful, multi-layered and mysterious – all of which reflect God’s character. Today’s reading is thick with the many horizons of prophesy…

Our reading opens with Zechariah’s 5th vision. We learn that Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, will complete the rebuilding of the temple, not by his own might, but by the power of the Spirit (just as the world-wide church is supported by the power of the Spirit!).

In the 6th vision, we see a flying, gigantic scroll. It is a covenant-document declaring judgment on those who sin against both man and God. This one scroll finds fulfillment in the seven scrolls of Revelation.

In the 7th vision, iniquity is removed from the land. All wickedness, personified in a woman, would be held in a basket, deported away from Jerusalem and taken to “Shinar” which is Babylon. This was meaningful to the exiles, but it also points forward to the end of time – when Babylon is destroyed (Rev. 17-18).

Zechariah’s visions end with a reprise of the four horsemen from his first vision. This time they are equipped for war.

All of these visions are consummated in the symbolic act of crowning the High Priest, Joshua, with a golden crown. Reference is made to the “Branch” from Jeremiah 33:15 – which points forward to Jesus. Zechariah says of the ‘Branch,’ “It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne” (Zechariah 6:13). When Jesus came to earth, he did not build a physical temple, but rather a spiritual temple, His church.

This is the beauty of prophesy!! All of these visions applied to the exiles of Zechariah’s day and encouraged them to press on to rebuild the temple. These prophesies also point forward to the church age – to our present-time – when Jesus is building His spiritual kingdom and temple on earth in His church. But these visions also point even further forward in time to the end of the age, when all iniquity will be wiped from the land (Zec. 5:6)!!

Even today’s reading in Revelation is a prophesy that finds its roots in Jeremiah’s prediction of the destruction of ancient Babylon (Jer. 51). The similarities between Jeremiah 51 and Revelation 18 are striking. In Revelation, the prophesy is expanded to include the whole of the world that is against God – its economic systems, luxuries and even its entertainment. All of it will be destroyed in the blink of an eye. The world is left with nothing, mourning the loss of everything upon which they have built their lives. In the end, the foundation of prosperity proves to be sinking sand. And the persecuted saints watch the great Babylon’s destruction from the comforts of heaven. The irony is thick.

In the middle of the vision, another angel proclaims a message which is meant for us

Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven (Revelation 18:4).

The lure of the harlot is strong. The temptress of prosperity is intoxicating. We must resist the devil and his schemes! We must come out of Babylon! We must fix our eyes on Jesus – daily reminding ourselves that we live not for today – but for eternity!! I pray for the grace to stand against the great Babylon – while leading others to the beauty and majesty of Christ!

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 360: God always wins.

Zechariah 1-3Revelation 17
The book of Haggai was read on Day 262.

Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai who was a contemporary of Ezra. In other words, Zechariah prophesied after the Babylonian exile during the years that the exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple. It was a time of discouragement for many of the exiles because they wrongly assumed their lack of prosperity and power implied that the Lord’s favor had left them.

The first half of Zechariah is a series of eight visions – very similar in substance and style to those recorded in Revelation! In the first vision (Zech. 1:7-17), we see the same four riders that were released upon the earth in Revelation 6.

The 2nd vision (Zech. 1:18-21) describes four horns which are probably patterned after Daniel’s 4 beasts in Daniel 7:3-8. Today’s reading from Revelation 17 uses these same verses from Daniel as its backdrop.

The 3rd vision (Zech. 2:1-13) records the measuring of Israel – which is echoed in Revelation 11:1-2. From Revelation, we learn that the measuring symbolized the sealing and protection of God’s people. From Zechariah, we learn that God, Himself, is the protector, “And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst” (Zech. 2:5).

All three visions were a great encouragement to the exiles – but these visions transcend time and also point to God’s protection of His people in the church age!

Before we consider Zechariah’s 4th vision, let’s turn our attention to today’s reading from Revelation. Chapters 17, 18 and part of 19 all give a big-picture view of the final judgment of the 7 bowls. Today we see the prostitute and the beast – which encapsulate the horrors of Daniel’s four beasts in Daniel 7:3-8. We learn from Rev. 17:5, that the prostitute is in fact, Babylon, which represents all of the world’s powers, people and rulers that are against God and His people. We see her sitting on the beast in the desert – a sexually grotesque image contrasting the beauty and purity of the woman in Revelation 12:1-2 (who represents God’s people).

We learn from the angel’s descriptions of the beast that he slips in and out of history’s view. He is a master of deception. Paul Gardner writes, “His presence is always felt in this fallen world, but he is not always seen. Satan can appear as an angel of light. The inhabitants of the earth (those who are not Christ’s) will be astonished when they see him because they have not realized who stands behind their life of rebellion against God. They have not always seen who ‘pulls their strings'” (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg. 227).

The seduction of the harlot is strong. Even John marveled in her presence (17:6). Were it not for the protection of the angel, who knows if John would have been seduced by her wares. We must guard ourselves against the lure of this world, for beneath it all lies Satan, the horrible dragon who lives to devour.

Which leads us to Zechariah’s 4th vision (Zech. 3). It is a vision of Satan accusing the people. And we see the remarkable scene of God removing the filthy rags of the high priest (who represents His people) and re-clothing him with clean garments. But the vision gets better! For it ends with the promise of Jesus, the righteous Branch of David, removing the iniquity from the land (3:9)!

God always has the last word. We see at the end of Revelation 17, God’s ironic power-play as the beast and rulers of this world turn on themselves in a twisted civil war to destroy the harlot (Rev. 17:16-17).

Game over. God wins. He always does.

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

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!

Day 257: A life well lived

Daniel 5-6; 1 Corinthians 16

Today, we read the end of the historical narrative of Daniel’s life. He lived most of his life in exile, in service to foreign kings for close to 70 years! During that time, he remained faithful to God, and God kept him alive in a figurative lions’ den for all that time!

Daniel lived to see part of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream fulfilled – as he witnessed the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians. Daniel continued to serve the Medo-Persian court – so well, in fact, that his jealous colleagues arranged to have him thrown in the lions’ den.

Wrapped up in this familiar children’s sunday school story… is the culmination of one man’s lifelong journey of faith. Daniel was faithful in a time when most of Israel had turned away. His trust in His God turned the hearts of foreign super kings. God honored Daniel’s perseverance!

We also come to the end of 1 Corinthians. We read Paul’s final exhortation to the Corinthian believers…

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:13).

I think Daniel would say a hearty “Amen” to this list of commands!

The New Testament consistently teaches that perseverance is evidence of a saving faith. As members of God’s kingdom, we are called, similarly to Daniel, to persevere as exiles in this foreign land. May we follow Daniel’s example as we live life in the lions’ den with our eyes fixed on our Savior!