Day 222: No Longer Under the Law

2 Chronicles 26-28; Romans 6

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 26:3, 5
Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.

Romans 6:14
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

I think Romans 6:14 is one of the clearest statements distinguishing the Old Covenant (law) from the New (grace).

The three kings from today’s reading are perfect illustrations of the burden of living under the burden of the law.

Uzziah (Chapter 26) began in good fashion… “He set himself to seek God […] and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5). Uzziah enjoyed the blessings of God in military strength and victory. But Uzziah became prideful and presumed upon the law of the Lord by trying to do the duty of a priest. God gave him the opportunity to repent by sending the priest to warn him, but Uzziah became angry. “When he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord” (26:19).

Jotham (chapter 27) was portrayed as upright throughout his reign, and he enjoyed God’s favor. Whereas, Ahaz (chapter 28) was idolatrous and suffered under God’s judgment.

This is the Old Covenant. Living under the law was burdensome. Sin was inevitable. But God, in his grace, would relent if His people repented. Otherwise, they faced judgment.

In contrast, the New Covenant is founded on Grace and offers freedom from the burden of the law. Listen to how Paul begins Chapter 6 of Romans…

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)

Paul answers, “By no means!” But the reason for his answer is complicated, and it is the key to the difference between the Old and the New Covenants. Paul’s answer involves the difficult concept of union with Christ…

Christ’s death and resurrection have defeated the power of sin in the believer’s life! As believers in Christ, we are united with him in his death and life, so that we have His power to overcome the sin in our hearts. When we turn to Christ in repentance and faith, a powerful spiritual transaction occurs. Our hard hearts are given life…they are transformed from stone to flesh through the indwelling of Holy Spirit.

  • The Old Covenant exposed sin through the lens of the law, but provided no power to overcome sin.
  • The New Covenant defeats the power of sin through the death and life of Christ.

Living under the new Covenant of Grace does not remove our responsibility…we are still able to sin and we are still accountable for our actions! But. We have the power of Christ to help us obey!

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14).

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Day 212: The Folly of the Earth

1 Chronicles 28-29; Acts 25

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 29:11b-13, NIV
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.

Today we see David – publicly ordaining Solomon as king of Israel. And as the entire assembly is gathered for this grand affair, David prays. In this prayer, we see his heart, and amazingly, it is a humble heart… After 40 years of experiencing strength on the battlefield, influence over other nations, the power to judge his own people, and the sovereignty to govern as he wills – he still defers to his Creator…

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand (1 Chronicles 29:14, NIV).

How many current world leaders would be able to genuinely pray David’s words? Power seduces and can dull the mind to the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty over the earth. Despite David’s dance with greatness, in the end, he still recognized that God was the True King of Israel, and he, David, was just a steward of God’s resources and power.

In Acts, we read of tribunes, governors, and kings – each with their own limited power delegated through Caesar. With each subsequent chapter, we are introduced to a different inept ruling authority. Injustice is on center-stage as Paul is imprisoned for years without a fair judgment.

I wonder if these men had the same view of the world that David did? Did they understand that they were just stewards of God’s resources and power? Unfortunately, they all seem like foolish men drunk on their pomp and circumstance! (but maybe that’s just me…)

David, albeit flawed, was the precursor to Christ. If any man had the right to  “pomp and circumstance” it was Jesus! But He traded the grandeur of heaven for a stable… and absolute, universal power for a criminal’s death.

Apart from the grace of Christ, we are nothing. How do you think Paul was able to endure the years of unjust imprisonment? Only through the comfort of Christ! Our dignity comes from being made in the image of God and being redeemed by the blood of His Son. Our hope is found In Christ… alone!!

Day 211: Israel’s Political Disparity

1 Chronicles 25-27; Acts 24

Key Verses

Acts 24:14-16
But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

The political contrast between Israel in the Old and New Testaments is wide.

David would always be the “standard” for Israelite kings. Today we read of all the people he organized for temple service, as well as the thousands he commanded who served in the nation’s military. Israel was a major world power. David extended Israel’s borders and had significant political weight in the world.

Jesus was born into a very different Israel. It was no longer a sovereign nation, but was ruled by Rome. Rome instituted its own governors and officials throughout all of Israel. Even though the Jews maintained the Sanhedrin, their own religious ruling council, they had no true governmental control.

The Jews had been waiting for a “Messiah” to come and re-establish Israel as a major world power. One of the reasons Jesus was rejected as Messiah by most of the Jewish council was that he wasn’t a political figure. They couldn’t accept the radically different notion that Jesus came to establish a spiritual Kingdom on earth.

Consequently, the Jewish Sanhedrin was very much against the new sect of Jews who believed Jesus to be their Messiah. First, they didn’t want this new sect stealing an ounce of their limited power and influence. And secondly, I imagine the thought of a Messiah having come and not returning sovereign rule to Israel – was… well – a very bitter pill to swallow.

So, in today’s reading – we see Paul, standing before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. Felix organized a trial, and the Jewish council sent a delegation from Jerusalem to testify against Paul.

The entire conflict between the Jews and Paul could be summarized in one word: Resurrection. Paul, himself, admitted this to Felix when he said…

It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day (Acts 23:21).

The resurrection of Jesus was just as world-changing – just as life-altering back then as it is today. If Jesus’ resurrection was FACT, then his claims to deity were true, and the Jewish Sanhedrin would be forced to accept that they killed the Messiah. And if Jesus was really the Messiah, all of their hopes and aspirations for a Sovereign Israel would be lost. There was just too much to lose. It was much easier for the Sanhedrin to turn a blind eye to the facts, than to admit the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

Their lust for power was so strong that they were willing to do anything to silence Paul. Even break their own law (and Roman law) to conspire to kill him.

But God used Felix, the corrupt Roman governor, to protect Paul from ambush and death. Indifferent to Paul’s innocence, Felix kept Paul imprisoned, albeit comfortably, for two years. What better way to protect Paul from the rage of the Jewish Sanhedrin than to keep him locked up in a Roman prison!!! What men intended for evil, God worked out for good!

Day 203: Genealogy and Riots

1 Chronicles 4-6; Acts 19:21-41

Key Verses

Acts 19:28-30
When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him.

In 1 Chronicles, the genealogy continues… But in Acts, there is quite the uproar!

This passage begins by outlining Paul’s travel itinerary that will comprise the rest of the book of Acts. He “resolved in his spirit” to visit the churches in Macedonia (Philippi, Thessalonica & Berea), then of Achaia or Greece (Corinth). He then planned to return to Jerusalem and ultimately, Rome (Acts 19:21).

Then the passage returns to events occurring in Ephesus. It would seem that Paul’s ministry was hurting the business of the idol-makers. One specific silver-smith, Demetrius, was especially perturbed, so he decided to assemble his cohorts and accused the disciples of slandering the “great goddess Artemis.” This small assembly multiplied into a riot – with all the crowds piling into the great amphitheater and shouting for TWO HOURS, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Oh my. Now, let me interject… I’ve been to Ephesus. I’ve sat in this amphitheater and let me tell you…this isn’t some quaint outdoor theater! This place is HUGE. As I sat in this theater, I imagined the mob – screaming for two hours. It’s hard to imagine how loud it must have been. The whole city would have heard, for the amphitheater was close to the main thoroughfare of the city.

ephesus

Paul wanted to go to the theater. Who knows why! But, thankfully, the disciples prevented Paul from going. We learn something about Paul’s character. He was not a coward!

Here’s what’s cool…. Do you remember what the mob was screaming about? Artemis, the goddess. Have you ever heard of this goddess? Does she have any influence over your life? Did she change the course of history?? I didn’t think so.

The mob can scream all they want to – the fact is… the city of Ephesus and their precious goddess, Artemis, are in ruins. But Jesus, the God of creation and of all of history – stands forever.

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 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 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 190: Inside the Mind of an Exile

Ezekiel 24-25; Acts 11

Key Verses

Ezekiel 24:21-23
Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword. And you shall do as I have done; […] you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another.

Acts 11:17-18
If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Imagine being captured and sent to a foreign land. You would be separated from your family – your sons, your daughters, your friends. And if you were one of the first exiles to leave Jerusalem, the only news of your homeland would come from a man named, Ezekiel.

You knew He was one of the Lord’s true prophets because he only spoke when God opened his mouth to speak. Otherwise… he was mute (Ezekiel 3:26-27). So each time he spoke, you listened, and hoped for good news – but he only had messages of judgment.

So you ignored him and went about your relatively free existence in a foreign land. You settled down in your own house and built a new family. But one day, in the 9th year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month of king Zedekiah’s reign, God opened Ezekiel’s mouth and he spoke a parable that was so terrifying, so horrible that you couldn’t ignore it. God’s last words would stay with you. And shake you…

I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord God (Ezekiel 24:14).

And you knew, your beloved nation and city and people would be destroyed. And then, something unexpected and strange happened…

Ezekiel’s beloved wife died, the delight of his eyes, and he refused to mourn for her. So you wondered and you asked, “Why are you acting so strangely Ezekiel? Does this have meaning for us exiles?”

And Ezekiel confirmed your worst fears – that Jerusalem and the temple and the people would fall by the sword. And that God commanded that you, too, would not mourn – that you were to not show any outward signs of grief.

And you might wonder your whole life why… Why so much suffering, Lord? Why were we not allowed to grieve? 

Now imagine that after you died, and hundreds of years passed by, you were able to see the Son of God squeeze into human form and show God’s glory to your people. But in a horrible twist, He received an even more severe judgment than that of Jerusalem. Then you would know… that you shared in the sufferings of God.

God suffered as he watched his beloved Jerusalem burn to ashes – and he suffered as he watched his Son endure the shame and agony of a criminal’s cross. And Ezekiel suffered as his wife died and the exiles suffered in a foreign land knowing that their home was lost.

Have you ever wondered… “Why? Why so much suffering Lord?” In many ways, knowing that you share in the sufferings of God – answers the question “Why?” There is purpose for the pain. There always is.

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!