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!

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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 200: The Prince

Ezekiel 45-46; Acts 17:16-34

Key Verses

Ezekiel 46:9-10
“When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by the north gate to worship shall go out by the south gate. […] When they enter, the prince shall enter with them, and when they go out, he shall go out.”

Acts 17:30-31
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Today’s reading from Ezekiel continues his final vision of a restored and rebuilt temple. Yesterday, we read how God’s glory returned to his temple. God entered the temple through the outermost East Gate. Ezekiel 45 opens with the declaration that this gate should remain shut – no one shall ever enter or exit through this gate again. This implies that God will not be leaving. His presence with His people is permanent. It is eternal.

But one allowance is made…

Only the prince may sit in [the East gate] to eat bread before the Lord. He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way (Ezekiel 45:3).

The prince. He is an interesting character. This is the first mention of him in this vision, but Ezekiel has made mention of a prince before in 34:23-24 and 37:24-25. These passages refer to the prince as “my servant David” and having “forever” rule.

Ezekiel’s language echoes Jeremiah’s prophecies concerning this future leader…

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land (Jeremiah 23:5).

These words from Jeremiah match perfectly the descriptions of the prince in Ezekiel’s vision. The prince is to ensure justice (45:7-12) and be a leader in worship (45:17; 22). Even though he is set apart to share fellowship with God in the holy East gate, he is still considered to be one of the people. He is instructed to enter the temple when the people go in, and exit the temple when the people go out (46:10). He is one of them. He identifies with them.

Does this sound like someone you know??

Paul spoke of Him to the philosophers of Athens. He said that God had appointed a man who will “judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31). Isn’t that what Jeremiah said? And isn’t that what Ezekiel described?

Friends, our prince is Jesus. He is just. He sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for us because he identifies with us. He rules with righteousness. And his love for us compelled him to die in our place. What else could we ask for? What else could we need?

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.

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 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 193: The Good Shepherd

Ezekiel 33-34; Acts 13

Key Verses

Ezekiel 34:12
As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

Acts 13:38-39
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

We know the end for those who are under the law of Moses… death by sword, famine, pestilence, and disease. In Ezekiel 33, Ezekiel receives word that the city of Jerusalem has fallen. All of his warnings have come to pass. What Jeremiah witnessed firsthand, Ezekiel must hear from a fugitive (Ezekiel 33:21).

The way of the law is destruction – not because the law is corrupt. No! Rather, because we are corrupt! We need a Savior. We desperately need a Savior!

And in Ezekiel 34, we read of our Savior. He is our Shepherd. We are his sheep. He gathers us and protects us. Jesus harkens back to this passage when He proclaims In John 10, “I am the Good Shepherd.” In this same chapter, Jesus expands the “sheep” to include Gentiles…

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16).

Which leads us to Paul in Acts 13. Paul has embarked on his first missionary journey and here we read Paul’s beautiful presentation of the gospel.

His message created quite a stir in Antioch – so much so that “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” And since Antioch was primarily Gentile, that meant that Gentiles crowded the Jewish synagogue to hear Paul’s message.

Paul always went to the synagogues first to proclaim the good news of the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, but it was the Gentiles that responded with joy and faith (Acts 13:48).

This is the Good Shepherd bringing in the other sheep. This is the Good Shepherd opening the door to us! We are now members of his flock. He is our Good Shepherd, and we are to follow Him. How could we not?? Sheep are helpless without the Shepherd.

Day 192: Sovereignty and Power

Ezekiel 29-32

Key Verses

Ezekiel 32:12
I will cause your multitude to fall by the swords of mighty ones, all of them most ruthless of nations.
“They shall bring to ruin the pride of Egypt,
and all its multitude shall perish.”

Consider God’s sovereignty as he used the king of Babylon as an instrument of His wrath against the nations, and specifically, against Egypt, as described in these chapters.

Our God controls the will of kings. He causes them to rise and fall. He uses them for his purposes. The ramifications of this kind of Sovereignty are both awe-inspiring and terrifying…

And even more amazing to me is that Ezekiel’s prophecies against Egypt actually came true! Consider this prophecy: “Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army” (Ezekiel 29:19). Check out what the ESV Study Bible says about this verse…

This prophecy was given in 571 b.c. and Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egypt in 568 (this is described in detail in Jeremiah 43–44 and also recorded in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 10.180–182). Egypt was subsequently subject to Persian rule (beginning in 525 b.c.), was conquered by Alexander the Great and made part of his empire in 332, and was conquered by the Romans and became part of the Roman Empire in 31. (Crossway)

Egypt never regained its power in the world. Never. Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled just a few years after it was made! The most powerful rulers on this earth are mites compared to God and his sovereignty.

Who is this God we serve? Who is He who builds and destroys, blesses and curses? Are we subservient to a harsh, selfish Ruler who destroys on a whim? Or do we serve a God who has created us in His image, who molds us with the tender care of a Father, who is preparing us for an eternity shared with Himself?

We must keep the person of Jesus in our minds as we consider God’s sovereignty and power. Jesus came to save, not to destroy. Jesus was the manifestation of God’s glory on earth – and because of Jesus, we do not have to face the wrath of God. He faced it for us. And considering the suffering that Judah endured… I am extremely grateful to be spared from the wrath of God!

Day 189: Building the church

Ezekiel 22-23; Acts 10:24-48

Key Verses

Ezekiel 23:35
Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring.

Acts 10:45
And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.

From the days of Abraham, God had promised to create a people for himself, a nation, to call His own. And he did. He called them. He freed them. And he established them. But they chased after other gods. They played the whore…

So God judged His people, but promised to restore them. And He did. Then the people rebelled again, not by whoring after the gods of other nations, but by worshipping the god of self-righteousness.

So instead of judging his people, God sent His son, to take the Judgment His people deserved. And through His son, all the people of the world were blessed.

God threw open the doors to His Kingdom and invited all of His nation in, but very few responded. So… God invited others – the uncircumcised sort – the unclean Gentile. He invited them all into His Kingdom. And they came, and are still coming, along with their Jewish brothers, to this day.

God is bigger than the idolatry of a chosen nation. He can use it to bless all the nations, and is working to build His church, to this day!