Day 216: The Master’s Plan

2 Chronicles 10-12; Acts 28:1-16

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 12:7
When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the Lord came to Shemaiah: “They have humbled themselves. I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak.”

Acts 28:15
And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.

God’s sovereignty is a mystery. We see his hand at work in these chapters, weaving his story with the tainted fabric of the human heart. Somehow He uses our sin nature to weave His grand story of redemption…

Consider Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who refused to heed the counsel of the wise and heeded the counsel of his rash comrades – and because of this foolishness, the Kingdom of Israel was split in two. Yet God said, “This thing is from me.” Somehow God used Rehoboam’s youth and pride to carry out his will.

God gave security to Judah for the sake of the faithfulness of his priests and people and saved them from destruction when Rehoboam humbled himself in repentance. God masterfully orchestrated His story – for the sake of the individual and for his collective people. He works every detail to fulfill His grand plan.

We see his sovereignty on display in Acts. It was God’s will that Paul should sail to Rome, and because God willed it, it would come to pass. No storm, shipwreck or viper would hinder God’s plan. When Paul arrived in Rome, he was greeted by Christians – evidence that the gospel had spread from Jerusalem to the far-reaches of Italy. God’s will would be done. His story would be told. No human can thwart God’s plan!

If you feel like you’ve messed up God’s plan for your life – well, you give yourself too much credit. God is bigger than our miscues. He can use every detail, every mistake, even our sin to bring about His good purposes. The first step back to God is repentance. God loves the penitent heart!

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Day 209: The Substitute

1 Chronicles 20-22

Key Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 207: Celebrating God’s Presence

1 Chronicles 14-16; Acts 21:15-40

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 16:8-11
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!

Jerusalem. It is the backdrop for our reading today…

In 1 Chronicles, David had just captured Jerusalem and made it his home, and from that point forward, it would be known as “The City of David.” We read as David brings the ark into the city (this time, being careful to obey the Mosaic laws concerning carrying the ark!)

The “chronicler” describes a joyous celebration as the people praise and worship the Lord. It was a new beginning. A newly unified people being led by a godly leader.

It’s important to remember the original audience of 1 Chronicles… The “chronicler” was writing to encourage the post-exilic community. But consider the great differences between these two communities – both living in Jerusalem – during different points in their history.

David’s Israel was beginning anew and experienced a youthful joy. Unlike the post-exilic community, they hadn’t experienced the fullness of God’s judgment…yet. The post-exilic community was in the unique position of experiencing both God’s full judgment AND the beginnings of the promised restoration. The “chronicler” wanted to encourage them to celebrate their restoration with the joy exemplified by David and his Psalms. But their history also instructed them that observance of the Mosaic law was linked to blessing. Obedience was the road to further restoration. Obedience was where the former Israel failed. The restored Israel must hold the law closely. They must observe the law. They must.

In Acts, we see how this mindset had grown into a strict, legalistic observance of the Mosaic law. This legalistic mindset prevented the Jewish believers from totally accepting grace as the only means of salvation. The elders and apostles in Jerusalem accepted the theology of grace, but the new Jewish convert struggled to let go of the old traditions and rituals.

So the Jews in Jerusalem lashed out against Paul… This city who had witnessed the dancing of David and rose out of the ashes to welcome the exiles. This blessed city – killed the promised Messiah and attacked Paul with such passion that the Roman tribune had to arrest Paul to save him from the rioting crowd!

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)

The people of Jerusalem needed to look at David more closely. He celebrated the ark’s return to Jerusalem because it symbolized the return of God’s presence. He respected God’s law and he rejoiced in His provision and grace!

We must not overlook this lesson! We must not fall into a life of legalism and in so doing belittle the grace of God! If David celebrated the mere symbol of God’s presence, what should we do as Christians who have the very Spirit of God living inside us??

God dwells among us. We should celebrate!

Day 206: A Costly Misstep

1 Chronicles 12-13; Acts 21:1-14

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 13:7-8
And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart. And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.

Acts 21:13
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Chapter 13 begins the saga of returning the ark to Jerusalem. This act was significant because all Israel agreed to it (continuing the theme from chapters 10-12 of David unifying the nation), and it was an act of spiritual renewal. By bringing the symbol of God’s holy presence back into the assembly of the people, David was acting as both their military and spiritual leader.

The idea was great, but, unfortunately, the execution was poor… David did not ensure the ark was carried according to Mosaic law – that is – carried by the Levites via poles. Instead the ark was transported on a cart – similarly to the way the Philistines transported the ark when it was in their possession.

This was a costly oversight. When the oxen stumbled and the layman, Uzzah, reached out his hand to protect the ark, Uzzah was killed instantly by God.

This has always been a difficult passage for me. Why would God execute such severe judgment for an unintentional breach of the law when it seems He offers grace for far worse offenses? This is a difficult question, but looking at the context for this and other similar instances can shed some light…

God acted in a similar fashion with Aaron’s sons (Leviticus 10) and against Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). In both cases, God was in the process of establishing His people.

  • In the case of Aaron’s sons, the tabernacle had just been built, and Aaron’s first sacrifice had just been accepted. On the same day, his sons “offered unauthorized fire before the Lord” and they were killed instantly. God would not let the impure actions of Aaron’s sons pollute the sacrificial system that had just been established.
  • In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, the church was in its infant stages. The Holy Spirit was working mightily among the people, and God would not tolerate the lies of this couple polluting his earliest congregation.

Similarly, the context of Uzzah’s death was during an essential “establishment period.” David was bringing the ark into his city to be the centerpiece of worship, attempting to unify the people around the Mosaic law. God would not tolerate impurity. Especially not in the beginning stages of re-establishing His people under the rule of David.

Finding a pattern to make sense of God’s actions might be helpful, but I think the bigger issue lies within my own heart. When I react to God’s actions in a toddler-type fashion, (i.e. “That’s not fair!”), I know that my perspective is askew. God has every right in his holiness to kill any of us in our sinfulness at any time. But because he is gracious and doesn’t do it very often, I can slip into an attitude of entitlement.

I need to be more like Paul… His perspective is more in line with reality. He knew he had no claim on his life (Acts 21:13)…that his life belonged totally to Jesus. Why has God granted us the privilege of life? To bring him glory in all that we do! Our lives were bought with the precious blood of the Lamb. Who am I to clutch my life tightly as if it were mine to lose? The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Day 205: His Strength in Our Weakness

1 Chronicles 10-11; Acts 20:17-38

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 10:14
[Saul] did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.

1 Chronicles 11:9
And David became greater and greater, for the Lord of hosts was with him.

Acts 20:24
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Today we read one of my favorite sections of Acts, Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders.

Not only is Paul’s speech thick with theology, but it is also heavy with emotion, giving us a glimpse of the impact Paul’s pastoral care had on the church.

Also noteworthy is Paul’s commitment to obeying the Lord no matter the personal cost. Paul’s whole-hearted devotion is uncomfortably challenging to me! But the reading in 1 Chronicles reminds me of an encouraging truth…

God was not with Saul, and he failed…miserably. Whereas God was with David, and even though he lived through great hardship on his road to the throne (all of which is omitted from 1 Chronicles), he was empowered by God to not just endure the hardship – but to overcome it.

Paul’s deep commitment to his call did not come from something inside himself. He didn’t muster up that sort of faith through self-will. No! He was empowered by the Spirit.

So are we! As I am convicted of a lack of devotion and feeling feeble in my faith, I realize that this is exactly the way I should feel, because I am weak. I know that if I confess my weakness to God – he will meet me there and empower me to meet life’s challenges.

This is the way of the gospel. God has resurrection power – the power to bring life out of death. This is the same power he uses to bring strength out of weakness. His grace is sufficient. It always is!

Day 204: Genealogy and Deathly long sermons

1 Chronicles 7-9; Acts 20:1-16

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 9:1
So all Israel was recorded in genealogies, and these are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel. And Judah was taken into exile in Babylon because of their breach of faith.

Acts 20:9-10
And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”

The long genealogy of Israel ends in today’s reading from 1 Chronicles. The “Chronicler” has framed Israel’s entire history in the context of genealogical lists!

Remember, the Chronicler lived in post-exile Jerusalem and wanted to remind the people of their history and heritage. The structure* of these nine chapters reveals his purposes…

  • He covers Judah first… the royal tribe, the lineage of King David, and the main tribe of the southern kingdom.
  • He ends with Benjamin, using the tribes of the southern kingdom to bracket* the other tribes.
  • In the very center, or heart* of the genealogies, is the Levite tribe – representing the spiritual heart of the nation.
  • The inclusion of the northern tribes affirms that God considered all of Israel his chosen people – and there were some from the northern tribes living in the post-exile Jerusalem.

If you drill down into each tribe’s genealogies, they were strategically structured to remind the people of their heritage. He recounted how both the northern and southern tribes “broke faith” with God (1 Chronicles 5:25-26, 1 Chronicles 9:1, respectively). Since they were on the other side of judgment, he was trying to point to God’s grace of restoration – so that they might order their lives around the law of God and experience a more full restoration.*

If the detailed genealogies in 1 Chronicles aren’t enough, we are inundated with even more details, as we read about Paul’s travels in Acts. Sandwiched between these details, however, is a humorous story of Paul boring a young man to sleep with his “prolonged speech.” And then, as Paul “talked still longer,” the man was sleeping so soundly that he fell from the third story window and died! Thankfully, Paul was given the power to revive him. This “interruption” was no deterrent to Paul who kept talking until daybreak.

Hidden in the humor of this story is a glimpse of Paul’s character… He was wholly devoted to his mission to teach the gospel. Nothing would distract him – not even the death of a bored seeker!

Think of how easily we are distracted by both the pleasures and plights of this world. We must not be distracted! We must keep our eyes fully focused on His word and work in this world!!

*ideas or words with an asterisk (*) came from the study notes of the ESV Study Bible (Crossway).

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 186: Incomprehensible Grace

Ezekiel 15-16; Acts 9:1-22

Key Verses

Acts 9:20-22
And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Both of today’s passages are some of the most well-known of the Bible.

Ezekiel 16 is the graphic metaphor of Israel playing the whore. The descriptions of Israel’s harlotry border on grotesque – reflecting the seriousness of Israel’s sin.

In Acts, we read of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. This amazing story introduces Saul as a zealous persecutor of the church, and for some divine reason, Jesus chooses this arrogant “Jew among Jews” to take the gospel to the ends of the earth!

These passages have one thread – one aspect of God’s character in common… his incomprehensible Grace.

After sixty-one verses of Ezekiel’s graphic descriptions of Israel’s sin, you might think that Israel is beyond hope – that they’ve gone too far, that there is nothing to be redeemed, nothing left to be restored… UNTIL, the very end of the chapter…

I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God (Ezekiel 16:62-63).

He promises to atone for the sins of his people. We know the price of the atonement. We know the depth of the sacrifice that was made for this sinful people, for Israel, for the remnant, for us.

And then think about Saul… There is no better example of the power of God’s grace than in the transformation of Saul’s life. Jesus, the one who gave his life for our sins, appeared to Saul and asked Saul why he was persecuting Him, the risen Lamb of God.

If God’s grace can transform Saul, God’s grace can transform anybody… even me!

Day 184: The First Temple Vision

Ezekiel 8-11

Key Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just like that. He is gone.

But.

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

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

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

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

Day 171: A New Covenant

Jeremiah 30-31; John 21

Key Verses

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Hope. Restoration. Renewal. This is the aroma of Jeremiah 30-31. It is in these verses that we find the promise of a New Covenant – the only time this phrase is used in the Old Testament.

God makes a new covenant through Jesus. The Law that was written on stone tablets and so easily forgotten would now be written on the heart. The Law becomes internal so that it can never be lost or destroyed. It is a permanent, forever-type-of Law – that flows from God forgiving iniquity and choosing to remember our sin no more.

Jeremiah could not have known the far-reaching implications of his words. We know that forgiveness of sins is only possible because of Jesus and His Sacrifice. The gospels and epistles of the New Testament teach that Jesus is the mediator of this New Covenant – a covenant based on grace – not on our ability to keep the covenant demands. Yet the purpose of the New Covenant remains the same as the Old… “I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

In the final chapter of John, we see our God… kneeling on a sandy shore, cooking fish for his friends; restoring Simon Peter and commissioning him to lead the church. Just a typical day in the life of the Master.

I’m going to miss the gospels. I love reading Jesus’ words and picturing his life on the move. The beauty of the New Covenant is that Jesus’ teaching is written on the tablet of our hearts. He is close. And I am grateful.