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!

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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?

Day 176: Opposition, pt. 1

Jeremiah 40-41; Acts 4:1-22

Key Verses

Jeremiah 40:12
then all the Judeans returned from all the places to which they had been driven and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah at Mizpah. And they gathered wine and summer fruits in great abundance.

Acts 4:11-12
“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”

As Jeremiah watched Jerusalem fall and was marching as an exile to Babylon, he was given a reprieve – the opportunity to return to his beloved Jerusalem and be protected by the Babylonian-appointed governor, Gedalia.

Life was good for the remaining Judeans under Gedalia’s leadership. The small remnant was allowed to sow the many fields that were abandoned. They gathered in “great abundance” (Jer. 40:12).

But there was an uprising of those from the royal line of Judah that would not accept God’s plan for welfare. They opposed God’s will and murdered the Babylonian governor, Gedalia.

Why? Why do we have to take matters into our own hands instead of trusting in the ways of God? We’ll read tomorrow that this initial opposition was the catalyst for the complete destruction of the small remnant in Judah.

Peter and John also faced opposition in today’s reading from Acts. Once again, the opposition comes from the Jewish elite, the ruling leaders of the Jewish council. They questioned Peter and John concerning the healing of the lame beggar… “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

This was the same ruling council that conspired to kill Jesus, had him arrested, and held clandestine night trials – convicting Jesus to death. These men were certainly not sympathetic to the new Christian cause!

But this did not deter Peter from boldly proclaiming the truth!

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well” (Acts 4:8-10).

Wow. Peter was bold. The council warned them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. How would Peter and John react in the face of such opposition? We’ll read tomorrow that they would turn toward God instead of oppose God as the small remnant of Judeans did.

God’s ways are always best, and typically, amazing things happen when you follow God despite opposition… But we’ll read more about that tomorrow :)

Day 146: The quiet work of God

1 Kings 19-20; John 7:1-31

Key Verses

1 Kings 19:12-13
And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

John 7:15-16
The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”

Elijah had a great purpose, and he understood his purpose. He lived to defeat the apostasy in Israel. He battled against the worship of Baal and hoped for the people of Israel to turn to God with an undivided heart.

Elijah had just persevered through 3 years of drought, and led the people in a powerful display of God’s power. The people worshiped the Lord and killed the 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah must have thought he had won. His life purpose felt complete. The rain came and Elijah ran empowered by the Spirit all the way to Jezreel – to the home of Queen Jezebel.

I don’t know what Elijah expected… maybe for Jezebel to admit defeat, maybe fire from heaven to consume her, but he did not expect Jezebel to belittle his victory and threaten his life.

In the course of one rain storm, Elijah went from the heights of victory to the depths of despair. Consumed by disappointment, Elijah fled south through Judah to the southernmost town of Beersheba and further south into the wilderness. There, in complete despair, Elijah asked God to take his life.

We read in Chapter 19 of God’s graciousness to Elijah. God sends an angel to provide food and comfort. Elijah makes his way to Mount Sinai (Mt. Horeb) and God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

It is an invitation for repentance. “Elijah, pour out your heart to me. Tell me your fears. Let me encourage you with my Truth.” But Elijah is angry and disappointed. He justifies himself. So God tries to reveal His ways…

He tries to show Elijah that the battle will not be won with spectacular displays of power, but in quiet, persevering strength. God’s voice was in the whisper – not in the wind, earthquake or fire.

But Elijah’s disappointment blinds him to the truth, so when God asks him again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah’s answer remains unchanged.

God’s ways are quiet, yet strong. Mysterious, yet glorious. Invisible, yet powerful.

Jesus shows us the mysterious ways of the Father. Although Jesus demonstrated the power of God in signs and wonders, it was his humble sacrifice that broke the power of sin – and today, it is the Spirit that works quietly to turn our wandering hearts wholeheartedly to the Savior.

We must cling to these truths as we face disappointment and despair. God rarely offers “quick-fixes” to our problems, but works painstakingly slowly – to squeeze the most good out of every circumstance. Elijah’s character would be strengthened as he overcame his anger and despair and re-entered the battle to continue the fight against apostasy. We must also re-enter the battle – moment by moment – and continue to fight for righteousness to rule our hearts and our world!

Day 145: A Hard Choice

1 Kings 17-18; John 6:45-71

Key Verses

1 Kings 18:21
And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

John 6:66-69
After [this hard teaching] many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

I have come back to this Scripture in John many times over the course of my Christian life. I typically come here when I am at a crossroads in my faith. Some call it a crisis of belief or a choice between fear and faith. Whatever you want to call it, I read this passage when I know God is asking me to walk down a difficult road. The disciples were at that crossroads. They had a choice to make… stay with Jesus and relinquish control of their lives or walk away to follow their own path.

In today’s reading from 1 Kings, we see many “crises of belief…”

First, the prophet, Elijah, risked his life and delivered an unwelcome message to the evil king Ahab that there would be a three-year drought in the land. By prophesying a drought, Elijah was telling Ahab that his little god Baal, who supposedly controlled rain and fertility, was powerless against the living God.

Then God told Elijah to flee east of the Jordan and that He would direct the ravens to provide food. This made no earthly sense. The land east of the Jordan was desolate with no reliable source for food. Also, ravens don’t even take care to feed their own young… why would they feed Elijah?? But what choice did Elijah have? He obeyed and God kept Elijah alive through the drought.

The widow of Zarephath also faced a crisis of belief. She had enough flour and oil to make one small cake of bread for her and her son to share, but Elijah asked her to give it to him – with the promise that God would provide enough flour and oil to feed all three of them through the end of the drought. The widow chose wisely. She chose life and God rewarded her obedience.

In Chapter 18, we read the familiar story of Elijah confronting the people as he organized a contest between himself and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the people just as Jesus challenged the disciples. The people were faithless and silent. They didn’t have the faith to set aside their fertility god, Baal. They doubted the Living God.

Each time God calls me to obey, I have a choice. Do I echo the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” or do I remain silent, passive and ignore the voice of the Lord.

I pray for the grace to choose the Savior – I am more afraid of facing the perils of this life without Him than of facing what He has prepared for me. I desire obedience. I long for Jesus. I choose life.

Keeping up with the Kings
Judah: Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa (good), Jehoshaphat
Israel: Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Ahab

Day 125: The motivation for obedience

1 Kings 3-4; Luke 22:1-30

Key Verses

1 Kings 3:12-14
“Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

Luke 22:25-27
And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Solomon loves the Lord, and the Lord gives him great wisdom, but Solomon falters in the nitty-gritty daily-ness of his faith. He doesn’t obey God in all areas of his life, and eventually, his missteps lead him further and further away from God and God’s blessings. Specifically, we read of Solomon acquiring many horses (4:26) and turning back to Egypt to find a wife (3:1). These actions are in direct opposition to the laws for Kings written in Deuteronomy:

Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you,‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).

Solomon’s mistakes are a familiar road for many of us. Compromising obedience in daily life can slowly turn us completely away from our faith. Many times, apostasy is a slow burn and not a quick blaze.

In order to keep ourselves from falling away, we must cling to the hip of our Savior. His grace and help are our lifeline to an obedient life. The sacrament of communion (instituted in today’s passage from Luke) is a gift to us to help us remember the great Sacrifice of our Savior. His death is the evidence of His incomprehensible love for us! It is this love that should motivate us to obey…

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NIV).

Day 105: David’s Heart

1 Samuel 15-17; Luke 14:25-35

Key Verses

1 Samuel 16:7
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Luke 14:27
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Saul… He had the audacity to use religious duty as an excuse to disobey God’s word – and we learn from vs. 15:30 that Saul’s first priority was to have honor in the people’s eyes. So, God sent Samuel to anoint a new king, and we read from today’s key verse the qualification most important to God – the condition of the heart.

We see the valor of David’s heart as he faces Goliath in Chapter 17, but more importantly, we see his trust in God! David was also equipped with the Spirit. We read in Chapter 16 (vs. 13-14) that after David was anointed by Samuel, God’s Spirit departed from Saul and rushed upon David. This Spirit was not associated with salvation (as in the New Testament) but rather the Spirit was an Equipper – helping God’s chosen leader to accomplish his kingly purpose.

We too have been given a royal purpose…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2.9).

Jesus reminds us in today’s reading that discipleship requires whole-hearted commitment. But we have also been given the Equipper – the Holy Spirit – to help us accomplish this high calling.

So I ask… Are our hearts more like the self-serving Saul? Or more like the valiant David? I hope neither!!! I hope for my heart to be like Jesus! I think David would agree ;)

Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in your faithfulness (Psalm 26:2-3; of David).

Day 104: Saul’s Heart

1 Samuel 13-14; Luke 14:1-24

Many years have passed since Saul was anointed the king over Israel. Saul is now old enough to have a son, Jonathan, and Jonathan is old enough to command troops. We find Saul engaged in battle with the Philistines – and it is here in Chapter 13, that we first read of God rejecting Saul as king.

Key Verses

1 Samuel 13:13-14
And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Luke 14:11
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

What did Saul do that was so bad that God would remove his kingship? On the surface, it seems as if the punishment doesn’t match the crime. Saul was pressed from all sides…  Samuel was late in arriving, and Saul wanted to inquire of the Lord, so he took on the priestly role and offered the sacrifices in Samuel’s place… What’s the big deal?

Saul’s heart. That’s the big deal. Saul did not obey God in the face of difficult circumstances. And when questioned by Samuel, Saul had the opportunity to repent, but instead, he made excuses. He justified his sin.

Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14 only reinforces the truth that God is concerned with the heart – not religious duty or outward appearances.

God looked into Saul’s heart and saw a presumptuous man who trusted more in himself than in God. He saw independence and vanity – foolishness and pride. Saul was not a man after God’s own heart.

I shudder at what God sees when He looks inside my heart. Apart from Christ, I am ruined! But thankfully, my Rescuer lives… and works on my behalf to mold me to be more like Himself. This is my hope, and I am grateful.

Day 95: The diverse work of the Spirit

Judges 13-14; Luke 9:37-62

Key Verses

Judges 13:24-25
And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Luke 9:51
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

The next 10 chapters of Luke record Jesus’ teaching and work during his last journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:27). Jesus knew what would happen. He predicted his death for the 2nd time in vs. 44. But the disciples still didn’t understand…

But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. (Luke 9:45)

The disciples would understand – but only after the coming of the Holy Spirit. Like the disciples, we also depend on the Holy Spirit to help us understand God’s word and ways!

The Holy Spirit makes an appearance in today’s reading from Judges as well. It is by the power of God’s Spirit that Samson has the strength to overcome Israel’s enemy, the Philistines.

But.

As is typical of most Old Testament narratives, the author simply retells the story without commenting on the morality of the characters. This is a disadvantage to us as modern readers, because we aren’t as familiar with the ancient culture and Mosaic law. Actions that would have been so obviously horrendous to an ancient Jew are morally ambiguous to us. There are so many instances where Samson breaks God’s law, but you have to be familiar with the laws concerning Nazarites to catch them!

In Chapter 14, he marries a Philistine, touches a dead carcass, and partakes of strong drink at his marriage feast. Nazarites were strictly forbidden to touch anything dead or to partake in strong drink. His flagrant disregard for God’s law is offensive. Yet God sends His Holy Spirit to Samson in spite of his sin. How amazing is God’s grace!

Consider this nuance in Chapter 14… On the way down to marry the Philistine woman, Samson scrapes honey from a lion’s carcass – the very lion that he killed with his bare hands. This is a picture of what sin can do to our hearts. Samson’s pride and independence blinds him to the grotesque carcass. He’s oblivious to the stench and the flies… As we are tempted to compromise God’s standards for the pleasures of this world, we must remember this image of eating honey from a lion’s carcass. All we see is the honey – and we are blinded by the grotesqueness of the sin.

Unlike Samson, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to open our ears to understand God’s word, open our eyes to see the sin in our hearts and finally, to give us hearts to obey!

Day 94: Perplexed and Amazed

Judges 10:6-12:15; Luke 9:10-36

Key Verses

Luke 9:23-25
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

In Judges, we read of Jephthah. He is a double-sided puzzle to me…

On one hand, Jephthah showed extensive knowledge of Israel’s history and seemed to have faith in the God of Israel. But on the other hand, he made a rash vow which resulted in the sacrifice of his own daughter. The law provided an “out” for rash vows (Lev. 5:4-6), so it is unclear why Jephthah would do something so horrible as child sacrifice.

I think Jephthah’s story illustrates the consequences of idolatry and apostasy on the human heart. The heart becomes duplicitous – double minded.

I wonder what Jephthah and Israel would have thought of Jesus’ words in today’s Key Verse? These verses convict me… Because just like Israel, I make compromises and look to modern-day idols to fill my longings. It always amazes me to read of God working on behalf of his adulterous people. Even though God did not “raise up” Jephthah, He still used him to defeat Israel’s oppressors. But Jephthah’s half-heartedness led to horrible personal consequences. The nation also suffered for their idolatrous hearts… as Judges 12 describes civil war in Israel.

What do we do with a passage like this? I know what I do… I’m more thankful for Jesus! I’m thankful that my sin has been forgiven. I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit convicts and equips me. I’m thankful for Jesus’ life of compassion and grace. And I’m thankful to be swept up in a relationship with the living God.

Oh God, help me live a life worthy of the calling I have received. Help me to love and obey you with a whole heart!

**For commentary on other significant parts of Luke 9, such as Jesus’ first prediction of his death and/or the Transfiguration, see “Day 24: Setting the Stage”.