Day 225: The Resurrection Life

2 Chronicles 35-36; Romans 8:1-17

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 36:15-16
The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.

Romans 8:1-2
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

We finish 2 Chronicles today with not much fanfare… The Chronicler flew through the last four kings of Judah in lightning fashion – and blasted through the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to end with hope…the declaration of the re-building of the temple by the Persian (Gentile) king, Cyrus.

The Davidic Covenant stands strong. The rebuilding of the temple is the first step toward restoration for God’s people as they look forward to the coming of their Messiah!

Fast forward to Romans 8, and we find one of the most hope-filled chapters in all of the New Testament. It is Paul’s celebration of the gospel and the Messiah’s saving work on the cross. You can sense the exuberant joy in his words as he describes the work of the Spirit in the believer’s life to both save and sanctify.

Let me tell a story that illustrates the beautiful principles in Romans 8…

My daughter, Anne, was injured in a horrible automobile accident when she was 5 years old. She almost died, but God in his mercy preserved her life. She now lives with a traumatic brain injury.

She continues to make great strides in her recovery, but in the first year after the accident, if you corrected her… “Anne, please don’t touch that,” there was something in her brain that made her touch “that.” She couldn’t stop herself. She would touch it over and over and then start to cry because she knew she shouldn’t do it, but she couldn’t stop herself. It was heartbreaking.

In a way, her struggle was an allegory of Romans 7-8…. In her heart, she loved the “law” and wanted to obey, but her flesh was broken and she had no power to fix it (7:22-23). Her desire to do what was right caused her to grieve the brokenness in her flesh. She needed help from outside of herself. She needed to be rescued…

Since then, Anne has experienced much physical healing so that she can now overcome her impulse to disobey a command. But she doesn’t take that for granted! She knows that obedience with a pure heart is only possible with the help of God’s Spirit in her. And the Spirit is so evident in her life! She has a miraculous ability to understand deep spiritual concepts and Biblical truth. She looks to God for help and trusts him with a precious child-like faith. The Spirit inside her is evidence that she is a child of God. Romans 8 is Anne’s testimony!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! (Romans 8:15-17, The Message)

These verses also describe the restored people of Israel. Christ is their hope, and Christ is their salvation!

Advertisements

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 185: To the Ends of the Earth!

Ezekiel 12-14; Acts 8

Key Verses

Acts 8:1, 4
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

Today we see the immediate results of the stoning of Stephen. Persecution increased against the new Christians, and they “scattered.”

What was intended to hurt the church, God used to grow it. We read as Philip brings the gospel to Samaria. The coming of the Spirit by Peter and John’s command served to legitimize the new believers in Samaria. Even non-Jews could receive the Holy Spirit!

Then we see Philip, by the power of the Spirit, sharing the gospel with an Ethiopian! Can’t you see what’s happening!? The gospel is spreading to the far corners of the world! Why? Because persecution caused the church to scatter. I love it when God outsmarts the enemy!

It’s hard to transition from the exciting beginnings of the church to Ezekiel’s judgment oracles over apostate Israel…. So, we’ll discuss Ezekiel more thoroughly tomorrow :)

Day 178: Jealous Zeal

Jeremiah 46-48; Acts 4:32-5:16

Key Verses

Jeremiah 46:28
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
for I am with you.

Acts 5:14-15
And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.

Extraordinary. Powerful. Special

This section of Acts has been held up as the golden standard for church life. It is the ideal. Everyone living in such harmonious unity. Selling everything they owned so that no one would be in need. All done on a voluntary basis. Everyone considering others before themselves.

But consider this… This wasn’t just the “ideal” church – it was the first church. Every church in every nation would be affected by this first church. This was a very unique time. Never again would the church get a chance to start itself! And because of this, God sent His Spirit in an exceptionally powerful way to grow and equip the church.

The apostles were empowered by the Spirit in order to preach the resurrection of Christ and to perform many healings and signs. The text gives special attention to Peter, the leader of the church… indicating that the Spirit was so powerfully manifested in him that someone just had to be near Peter to be healed (5:15)!!

Because of this unique opportunity to begin what would become a worldwide religion… God not only equipped the church but also guarded it…zealously!!!

This is evidenced by the immediate judgment of Ananias and Sapphira. Their sin wasn’t that they didn’t give all that they had. No, people were not forced to give. Their sin was that they were more concerned with how they were perceived by others than with telling the truth. They were hypocrites and liars. God would not tolerate the pollution of his church – not in this crucial time.

God’s zeal to guard the righteousness of his people is on full display in today’s reading in Jeremiah… as we begin to read of God’s judgment on the nations. These nations had battled and persecuted his beloved people, so, therefore, they would be punished.

Bottomline… don’t mess with God’s people! He is a jealous God, zealously guarding His children against corruption and sin.

Unfortunately, Ananias, Sapphira and the nations who conspired against Israel learned this the hard way.

Day 177: Opposition, pt. 2

Jeremiah 42-45; Acts 4:23-31

Key Verses

Jeremiah 42:11-12
Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land.

Acts 4:31
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Yesterday, we learned of the opposition facing Jeremiah, the proclaimer of God’s will to the people and also the rising opposition against Peter, John, and the apostles.

In today’s reading, the Judeans who were left after the murder of Gedaliah, Babylonian governor of Judah, came to Jeremiah and asked him to inquire of the Lord as to what they should do. Jeremiah tells them… (and I paraphrase), “WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT GO TO EGYPT!!! Stay in Judah, and God will continue to protect and provide for you, but DO NOT GO TO EGYPT, OR ELSE YOU WILL DIE!”

So they went to Egypt.

Poor Jeremiah… He was dragged away by the apostate people he had loved and ministered to so faithfully. He was dragged to Egypt to watch the last of the Judeans perish.

But what of Peter and John? Their first response in the face of opposition was prayer…

And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus (Acts 4:29-30).

Boom. That’s what you do in the face of opposition. You obey. And when you pray, you ask God to help you obey.

We can learn so much from these two scenes… What happened to the Judeans when they refused to listen to God’s word and rationalized their disobedience by calling Jeremiah a liar??? …they were destroyed in Egypt. Utter destruction is the final end of disobedience.

Whereas obedience leads to life. In Acts, the faith and obedience of Peter, John and the others resulted in the multiplication of the Kingdom, the expansion of the church, the increase of new converts. In other words, their obedience changed the world!

Bottomline: Disobedience leads to death. Obedience leads to life. Which do you choose?