Day 215: Forcing our eyes forward

2 Chronicles 8-9; Acts 27

Key Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 214: God Dwells Among Praise

2 Chronicles 4-7

Key Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 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 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 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.

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 168: A Righteous Branch

Jeremiah 21-23; John 19:1-22

Key Verses

Jeremiah 23:5-6
“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. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.'”

John 19:14-15
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?”

In Jeremiah 21, Jeremiah begins to jump around chronologically. He starts with Zedekiah, Israel’s last king and then goes backward to address Judah’s earlier kings.

Zedekiah was asking Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord, for Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was preparing to invade Jerusalem. It’s almost humorous to think Zedekiah thought God might give him a favorable message, for Jeremiah had been preaching destruction for years… starting in Josiah’s reign, (Judah’s last good king) and continuing through three generations after Josiah. Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz (Shallum), his son, Jehoiakim, and grandson, Jehoiachin (Coniah) were all evil kings. Jeremiah writes in Chapter 22 of all the ways they turned against the Lord.

At the end of Chapter 22, God says through Jeremiah,

“Write [Jehoiachin] down as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days, for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah” (Jeremiah 22:30).

This presents a severe problem: Would God keep his promise of 2 Sam. 7:16, that David’s throne would endure forever? And if so, how?

God answers this question in today’s Key Verses, Jeremiah 23:5-6, where he promises that a “Branch” would save Judah. He would be called, “The Lord is our righteousness.”

This is one of several Messianic prophecies that promised a future king. It was these prophecies that the disciples misinterpreted to mean that the Messiah would rule as a political king. Imagine their confusion and despair as they heard the crowds chant, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” and saw the inscription on the cross that read, “King of the Jews.”

The irony was cruel. They couldn’t understand that Jesus came to be so much more than just a Jewish political king. He came as King of Heaven, establishing a new spiritual Kingdom over the entire earth.

Eventually, Jeremiah’s prophecy of a righteous Branch will be fulfilled in the new heaven and the new earth, when the Kingdom of God is established in the new earth forever! Until then, we live in the times between the “now” and “not yet” of prophecy. We have the benefit of hindsight combined with the mystery of the future. Just like the disciples, I’m sure God will fulfill His word in ways so wonderful that we could never imagine!!!

Day 167: Hope in a Broken Flask

Jeremiah 19-20; John 18

Key Verses

Jeremiah 20:11
But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble;
they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.

John 18:12
So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.

Picture the scene… Jeremiah acquires a clay vessel, a flask of some kind, and assembles all of Jerusalem’s civic and religious leaders to meet him at… the dumping ground. It would be like an unpopular preacher asking the mayor to meet him at the dump! And what was Jeremiah’s message? He holds up his flask and breaks it – and says that Jerusalem will be reduced to pieces and thrown away – like the piles of broken vessels that surrounded them. Great message, eh?

Hidden in the message of brokenness is a message of hope. For Israel points forward to Jesus. Yes, Israel would be broken – but only to bring forth repentance and restoration. Jesus is the true Israel. And he was broken for our sakes…

We also read of Jeremiah’s brokenness in Jeremiah 20. He was broken by his circumstances as he was captured and beaten. We read of his sorrow and anguish as he doubts his call and he doubts his God. Jeremiah’s struggle is but a whisper compared to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane – as the synoptic gospels say he prayed so fervently that blood dripped from his brow.

In today’s reading, we see the results of those prayers as Jesus stands – strong and sovereign – in the face of arrest. The soldiers can only approach him when He allows it. Even throughout Jesus’ multiple trials, He seems calm and determined. His purpose was to die, His purpose was to be broken.

Just as Jeremiah broke the flask, and Jerusalem was destroyed – so would Jesus be broken and destroyed so that we might be repent and be restored! There is hope in a broken flask. There is hope in Jesus!

Day 166: Clay in the Potter’s hand

Jeremiah 16-18

Key Verses

Jeremiah 17:7-8
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Yesterday, we read of Jeremiah’s complaint to God as the people of Judah sought to ruin his life and his message. God instructed Jeremiah, “If you return, I will restore you” (Jer. 15:19).  Jeremiah had a choice to make…side with God or side with the people? We learn from today’s reading that Jeremiah chose to side with God (Jer. 16:19).

Jeremiah’s proclamation of faith in the midst of turmoil gives him the strength to persevere and continue to obey God’s calling. Listen to his cry of faith…

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved,
for you are my praise.
Behold, they say to me,
“Where is the word of the Lord?
Let it come!”
I have not run away from being your shepherd,
nor have I desired the day of sickness.
You know what came out of my lips;
it was before your face.
Be not a terror to me;
you are my refuge in the day of disaster (Jeremiah 17:14-17).

Jeremiah’s life was extremely difficult. Who could stand under such fierce and relentless opposition? On every side, people were seeking to kill him. God was truly his only refuge. And God proved himself faithful to Jeremiah.

Have you noticed the messages of hope sprinkled throughout the warnings of judgment? God promised to restore Israel in Jer. 16:15, and in Chapter 18, God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house. Here God reminded both Judah and Jeremiah that He is the Potter, and He can take a spoiled vessel and rework it to make it whole again. The Potter’s job is not to destroy, but to create. Sometimes, when a vessel is spoiled, the only way to make it whole is to tear it down and rebuild it. This is the picture of Judah. In the short-term, it is a message of destruction, but long-term, it is a message of restoration!

Jeremiah’s personal journey of faith mirrors this restoration story of God’s people. He is the potter. We are the clay – and as we surrender to the Potter’s hand, He reworks our spoiled, sinful hearts and He makes us whole!

Day 160: A Humble King

Jeremiah 3-4; John 13:1-20

Key Verses

Jeremiah 3:12-13
“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
that you rebelled against the Lord your God.'”

John 13:3-5
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Servitude. Is that a characteristic you would expect from God? This is the same God that spoke the world into existence. Are we to expect the mighty, sovereign, all-powerful God to be a servant?

According to traditional Jewish teachings, Jesus, the Messiah, was not supposed to come into the world to wash people’s feet and then die. No. That was a servant’s job. That was a criminal’s job. That was not the Messiah’s job.

But was it? The people didn’t understand this crucial part of God’s character… humble servitude.

What motivated Jesus to wash the dusty feet of his disciples? Humility. It was also humility that motivated God to condescend to the stiff-necked Israelites. In today’s passage from Jeremiah, most of Chapter 3 was God’s invitation to exiled Israel to repent and be forgiven. After all of the Baal worship, child sacrifice, and faithless living, God was still willing to forgive the penitent heart. We do not serve a Haughty God. No! We serve a Humble King.

Where is their room for pride in the presence of this God? His sheer power should cause us to tremble in fear. But his humility causes us to wonder – and to repent – and… to worship.

Humble King