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!

Day 255: A Strong Mountain

Daniel 1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:1-34

Ahh. Daniel. He is a character that shines in the darkness. Daniel was among the first group from Judah to be exiled to Jerusalem. He lived during the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s ministry. These prophets didn’t have too many encouraging words about the people of their time! But Daniel and his friends stand in stark contrast. They were faithful, and similar to the way God showed favor to Joseph (Gen 39-41), God showed great favor to Daniel and his friends.

The story recorded in Daniel 1-2 is probably familiar. But don’t let the familiarity steal its wonder! First, God greatly rewarded Daniel’s faithfulness to the law. God wasn’t honoring Daniel’s religious works, God was exalting a heart that strived to stay faithful in and amongst a foreign culture.

But the highlight of this story is God’s revelation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Somehow Nebuchadnezzar realized this wasn’t any ordinary dream, and Daniel’s trust in God’s faithfulness paved the way for God to use Daniel as His ambassador to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon!

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream revealed the future destruction of Babylon and the rise and fall of three subsequent earthly kingdoms. But on a deeper level, the dream revealed the sovereignty and power of God.

This God gave the tyrant-king, Nebuchadnezzar, the dream.

This God gave the faithful, Daniel, the interpretation.

This God would destroy the Babylonian kingdom and all future kingdoms – so that HIS KINGDOM would grow to fill the whole earth and endure forever! 

Listen to Daniel’s interpretation…

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever (Daniel 2:44).

Paul speaks of this same eternal kingdom in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians! Paul cites Jesus’ resurrection as the proof of this eternal kingdom. His resurrection represents the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:23) – or the first of many others who would one day be raised from the dead. At the end of the age, when all have been resurrected into new life, Paul says…

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:24).

This is the fulfillment of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream! Christ is the stone which destroys all other kingdoms to pieces and grows into a strong mountain which fills the whole earth (Daniel 2:35)! And we are a part of that mountain! Thanks be to God!

Day 249: The transcendent gospel

Isaiah 51:9 – 53:12; 1 Corinthians 10

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

Paul details the Israelites idolatrous history in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians as a warning to the church… “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (10:12).

We, too, should heed Israel’s history, for hidden in her history is the love of Jesus Christ for the sinner.

Consider the flow of today’s passages from Isaiah.

Isaiah 51 is written to the Babylonian exiles. Why were they exiles? God’s chosen people were being punished for the gross sin of breaking God’s Law, especially for the sin of idolatry.

But.

God gave his afflicted people good news. He exhorted them to no longer fear men – because He would rescue them from their oppressors! And God, in Isaiah 52, promised that His people would return to Jerusalem in peace for the sake of His name!

The exiles experienced the gospel. They experienced salvation based on grace, alone!!

And then we come to the final servant song…the familiar words of Isaiah 53. Here we learn how forgiveness is made possible…how grace is made available to us all…Forgiveness and Grace are available because of The Servant…

He was pierced. He was afflicted. He was silent before his accusers. He was the sacrificial lamb, led to slaughter.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

Here is the gospel – written by Isaiah 700 years before Jesus came in the flesh!

This gospel must be the agent for change in our lives…for we are also called to walk in the way of “the servant.”

This is the message Paul has been preaching to the Corinthian church over the last few chapters of 1 Corinthians…

He teaches that as members of Christ’s body, every decision and action we make should be influenced by affecting good to others (10:24) and bringing glory to God (10:31). We are called to lay aside our self-interests. We are called to become like The Servant.

Day 247: Our story is a Gospel Story

Isaiah 46-48

These chapters in Isaiah are just the gospel wrapped in exemplary language. Isaiah esteems the exclusive power of God and mocks the idols of Babylon. Listen to the opening verses…

Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
as burdens on weary beasts.
They stoop; they bow down together;
they cannot save the burden,
but themselves go into captivity.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save (Isaiah 46:1-4).

God doesn’t need the faith of his people to carry out his purposes. He will keep his Covenant promises for his name sake, in spite of the people’s stubborn hearts…

Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
you who are far from righteousness:
I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
for Israel my glory (Isaiah 46:12-13).

For Babylon and all those who trust in the salvation of idols will be handed over to destruction…

You felt secure in your wickedness,
you said, “No one sees me”;
your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray,
and you said in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me.”
But evil shall come upon you,
which you will not know how to charm away;
disaster shall fall upon you,
for which you will not be able to atone;
and ruin shall come upon you suddenly,
of which you know nothing (Isaiah 47:10-11).

But hear the good news which rings out to all who have sinned and fallen short of faithfulness and righteousness…

For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously,
and that from before birth you were called a rebel.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger,
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:8-10).

But he has sent someone to rescue us! One greater than the powerful Cyrus. He has sent someone to deliver us both from the hands of this world and from the stubbornness of our own hearts! He has sent his servant!

And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit (Isaiah 48:16).

He comes in the power of the Spirit to rescue us from the darkness in our souls. This is the will of our Lord. He leads us in the way we should go!

Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it out to the end of the earth;
say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!” (Isaiah 48:20).

Do you see the beauty of the gospel wrapped in the history of Israel? It is our story, our salvation story. He is our God, the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel!