Day 224: The battle within

2 Chronicles 33-34; Romans 7

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 33:12-13
And when [Manasseh] was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

Romans 7:22-23
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

We all have a mix of king Manasseh (evil) and king Josiah (faithful) in us. Romans 7 describes the tension between our new, regenerate nature and our old, sinful nature. It is the tension between the now (that we have been saved from the power of sin) and the not yet (that we still live in a sinful body) that causes Paul to cry out at the end of the chapter, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

But hear this… Manasseh, the evilest king that ever ruled Judah, the king who placed idols in the temple and sacrificed his children in the fire… when this evil king humbled himself before God and asked for help, God rescued him from his distress.

Manasseh’s apostasy still carried great consequences – as it was his evil influence that led the people so far away from God’s law that God promised to judge them with destruction and exile (2 Kings 21:11-15). The people’s sin was so heinous that not even the faithful King Josiah could turn away God’s judgment. But. The judgment was delayed – first because Manasseh repented, and second, because of Josiah’s faithfulness.

We all struggle with sin. Even Paul struggled with sin! But consider the common thread that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments… If we humble ourselves – that is… if we repent – God is faithful to forgive and restore. (If he restored the evil king Manasseh, then he can forgive anybody!)

But God not only forgives, he works his righteousness into our hearts – like a potter molding his clay. In other words, he sanctifies us. But I’m jumping ahead! Paul teaches about the work of the Spirit in sanctification in Chapter 8, and we’ll get to that… tomorrow :)

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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).

Day 194: The New Outweighs the Old

Ezekiel 35:1 – 36:15; Acts 14

Key Verses

Acts 14:21-22
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Ezekiel 36:8, 11
“But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

The mountains and land of Israel were judged back in Ezekiel 6 & 7. The people’s great sins brought judgment even on the precious promised land of God. In today’s reading, we find the restoration of the mountains and land of Israel in Ezekiel 36.

Ezekiel uses the technique of contrast to highlight the messages of restoration and hope. First, there is the obvious contrast between the judgment of the land in Chapters 6 & 7 with this message of restoration in Chapter 36. But Ezekiel also contrasts the mountains of Israel with Mount Seir in Edom. He introduces his message of restoration with a harsh judgment oracle found in Chapter 35.

The effect is striking. God will restore the mountains and the land in such a way that they will be better than their old counterparts. The new outweighs the old. This is the way of God!

This judgment of the land is not only symbolic. It emphasizes the importance of the land as one of the past blessings promised to Abraham and points forward to the total restoration of the land in the new earth. We will be blessed greatly by this restoration. This is something to look forward to!

In Acts 14, we read of the final travels of Paul’s first missionary journey. There are so many details in this chapter… Healings, stonings, sermons to Gentiles and sermons to Jews. But most importantly, we are reading of the beginnings of the church!

Because we live in the church age – the age between the two comings of Christ, we have experienced a foretaste of the restoration promised in these later chapters of Ezekiel. Jesus’ death and resurrection enable the restoration to begin… in the context of the church – as we experience God’s presence and grace in community with other believers. But we look forward to the day – when all things will be made new

And we can be sure that the new will outweigh the old. For this is the way of God!

Day 193: The Good Shepherd

Ezekiel 33-34; Acts 13

Key Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 192: Sovereignty and Power

Ezekiel 29-32

Key Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 191: Working for Our Good

Ezekiel 26-28; Acts 12

Key Verses

Ezekiel 28:35-36
When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered […] then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt.

Acts 12:11
When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

In Ezekiel, we are right in the middle of the oracles of judgment against the nations. Most prophetic books contain prophecies concerning nations other than Israel and Judah. This shows that God is not just sovereign over the affairs of Israel, but over the whole earth!

God’s sovereignty and power are on full display in Acts 12 as we read of Peter’s miraculous rescue from prison. Peter was put in prison after the apostle James was killed by Herod.

In Acts, James’ death comprises one sentence. But think of the implications. James was the brother of John, the gospel writer and close companion of Jesus. I imagine how sad John must have been as well as the other members of the early church.

Human logic tells us that the church would have shrunk under such severe persecution. But God is not ruled by human logic…

But the word of God increased and multiplied (Acts 12:24).

What man intended for harm, God used for good.

Even today’s passage in Ezekiel ends with an encouraging message. For right in the middle of the foreign nation oracles, God reminds his people that he is judging the nations for their good (Ezekiel 28:35-36).

God’s sovereignty and power are only a comfort in the context of his loving-kindness… He is working on our behalf… He is working for our good.

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!

Day 188: Longing for the good…

Ezekiel 20-21; Acts 10:1-23

Key Verses

Ezekiel 20:43-44
“And there you shall remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.”

Acts 10:15
And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

I was just talking with my 10-year-old son about Ezekiel…

Me: I’m so tired of the heavy judgment oracles. They just seem especially… harsh.
Him: Is the whole book that way?
Me: No, only half. The last half contains visions of hope and restoration.
Him: Well there’s your explanation, Mom. The contrast is the point. If the judgment weren’t so dark, then the restoration wouldn’t seem as sweet.

I think he has a point. But it doesn’t make the first half of the book any easier to bear… at least for me.

In Acts, we begin the long narrative of Peter and Cornelius, the Gentile Centurion. This account lays the foundation for the inclusion of Gentiles in the church and the cessation of clean/unclean guidelines and other ceremonial laws – including festivals and circumcision.

All of these laws were established to make Israel unique among the nations and point to Christ as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. After Christ came and opened the Kingdom to people from all tribes and nations, the need to distinguish a nation through ceremonial laws was made obsolete. Christians are to be characterized by love for their neighbor that comes through a circumcised heart – not the external sign of circumcision.

The promise of Ezekiel looks forward to this Church age…

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 (Ezekiel 36:26).

See… there is good news in Ezekiel ;)

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!