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!

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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 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 179: The Last Laugh

Jeremiah 49-50; Acts 5:17-42

Key Verses

Jeremiah 50:18-20
Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing punishment on the king of Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria. I will restore Israel to his pasture, […] for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.

Acts 5:29-31
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

Acts 5 is an amazing story of God’s protection and sovereign power as He sends his angel to free the apostles from prison. They were put in prison by the High Priest because he was enraged that the Apostles continued to preach in the name of Jesus…and the people were actually listening!

Imagine the surprise and humiliation of the High Priest and his council when they sent for the prisoners only to find them missing! And where were these Apostles? In the temple, teaching about the resurrected Christ!

As my 10-year-old would say… “Boom! In Your Face.” The power of the Jewish council was nothing in the face of God’s power and will. Their persecution would only serve to strengthen the church. Nothing could stand in God’s way.

As the Apostles stood before the Jewish council, the council was enraged at their boldness – so much that they wanted to kill them! But a practical Pharisee addressed his peers…

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God! (Acts 5:38-39)

This is truth! The ways of men are like a shadow, but the ways of God are sure and strong!

Think of Jeremiah as he boldly prophesied against the powerful nations of his day. Imagine what Nebuchadnezzar might have thought of Jeremiah’s prophecies against his mighty Babylon (Jer. 50), the most powerful nation of its day… I think Nebuchadnezzar would have laughed.

But do you know what exists of ancient Babylon today?? Nothing. It is an uninhabited ruin.* God’s ways are sure and strong. He always gets the last laugh.

*ESV Study Bible, note on Jer. 50:39-40, Crossway Publishers

Day 178: Jealous Zeal

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

Key Verses

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

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

Extraordinary. Powerful. Special

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 177: Opposition, pt. 2

Jeremiah 42-45; Acts 4:23-31

Key Verses

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

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

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

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

So they went to Egypt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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 128: Teachable and Gracious

Proverbs 6-7; Luke 22:54-71

Key Verses

Proverbs 7:6-7
For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,

Luke 22:61-62
And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

There is a family in our church that seems especially wise – and accessible. The dad has used Proverbs 7 to teach his boys the dangers of sexual temptation. The chapter begins… “I have seen among the simple…” And the chapter continues to describe the actions of a foolish young man who chooses to seek out the adulteress instead of abiding by the clear instruction of 5:8 to “keep your way from her, and do not go near the door of her house.”

The dad and his boys keep each other accountable with a single phrase… “I have seen among the simple.” And when any of them speak this phrase – they know they are in danger of acting unwisely.

This is the way of community. Transparent accountability to one another with the promise of grace when we fail (because failure is inevitable).

We see this type of relationship between Jesus and Peter. In Luke 22:61, Jesus looks at Peter after he has denied Him for the third time. And Peter knows. He remembers Jesus’ prediction. He remembers his haughty recourse, and Peter crumbles under the weight of his sin. Jesus held Peter accountable for his actions, and Peter was teachable. He did not forsake Jesus’ reproof but wept with a repentant heart.

We know from the end of John, that Jesus forgives and restores Peter. Jesus is able to hold Peter accountable, but when Peter fails, He gives him grace.

We are called to be in this type of relationship. Whether it’s between a father and his sons, or between friends, or between an older and younger woman – we need someone to hold us accountable and to be gracious when we fail.

The obedient life is a difficult road – one we cannot hope to travel alone. Find a traveling companion – and get ready to be teachable and gracious. And rest together in the sufficiency of the Savior!