Day 175: The End and The Beginning

Jeremiah 38-39; Acts 3

Key Verses

Jeremiah 39:16-18
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the Lord, […] because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.

Acts 3:6-7
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.

The end. The fall of Jerusalem. The burning, the slaughter, the slavery – it could have all been avoided if the people had listened to the word of the Lord given through Jeremiah the prophet.

It did not please God to destroy his beloved city. He tried to spare his people from such extreme suffering…

Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live (Jeremiah 38:2).

But they didn’t listen. They chose to believe the flattering words of false prophets who promised peace and prosperity. In the end, the real truth was revealed. Even Zedekiah king of Judah came to see the truth as his eyes were gouged out and he was led away to Babylon.

Contrast Jerusalem’s bitter end to its new beginning at the onset of the new covenant age. In Acts 3, the Spirit’s mighty work continues…

We see Peter and John. The Peter and John – who just three years prior – were ordinary fisherman leading ordinary lives. The gospels revealed their babe-like-faith as they walked with Jesus – questioning, doubting, denying, loving and following. Now we find them, empowered by the Spirit, healing and preaching with authority. You know Jesus had to be looking down with a father-like pride as the Spirit worked to build His people… as the worldwide church began with the sermons of a few fisherman in the hands of a mighty God!

Day 174: Two Sermons

Jeremiah 36-37; Acts 2:14-47

Key Verses

Jeremiah 36:3
It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

Acts 2:37-38
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Both of today’s readings contain sermons – which resulted in two very different responses…

In Jeremiah, we learn that Jeremiah had been banned from the temple grounds. So he dictated his message to his faithful friend, Baruch, who wrote down on a scroll God’s message to the people. Baruch went to the temple and read the scroll which gave an account of the people’s sins and called them to repent so that the Lord’s judgment might be averted. God, himself, wanted the message preached so that He “may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Amazingly, this scroll found its way to the king. Surely, as the scroll was read in his presence, the fear of the Lord would cause him to repent and lead the people back to God! But no. Jehoiakim’s heart was hardened…

As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot (Jeremiah 36:23).

The king had no fear of God. His pride ensured the destruction of Jerusalem.

Now let’s consider Peter’s sermon from Acts 2.

Peter’s sermon was remarkable. The Holy Spirit opened his eyes to see how Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He quoted Joel and David. He used logic to prove that Jesus was the Messiah mentioned in David’s 16th Psalm. And after he proved that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he accused the people of killing him!

This wasn’t some sweet “come to Jesus” message. No! He accused the crowd of murdering the Son of God! I’m surprised there wasn’t a riot. But the Spirit was at work and the crowd was “cut to the heart.” Amazing. They didn’t make excuses or get defensive. They didn’t try to kill Peter or the other disciples, but they actually took responsibility for their sin and asked, “What shall we do?”

What should they do? What should have the king of Judah done when he heard the warnings in Baruch’s scroll? What should we do when we feel the prick of conviction – when we know we’ve done something offensive to God? What is the one thing that God has desired in every human heart going all the way back to Adam? Repentance. This can only be done through the power of the Spirit. In other words, we need God’s help to repent.

As we turn to God, he is pleased to help. God loves the penitent heart!

What was the result of the people’s repentance after Peter’s sermon? 3,000 people were baptized that day! The first church began and it was characterized by self-sacrifice and generous giving to others. The repentance of the crowd changed the course of human history!

Imagine what God could do through us today – if we humble ourselves, and repent?

Day 169: …that I may relent

Jeremiah 24-26; John 19:23-42

Key Verses

Jeremiah 26:3
“It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent.”

John 19:30
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

What a heavy passage. This is the fourth time I’ve had to write about Jesus’ death. I think John’s account is the saddest to me because John wrote as an eyewitness. He was the only disciple – that we know for certain – who was there, watching as Jesus died.

John’s description of Jesus’ mother standing by her son’s cross – it’s just heartbreaking. And Jesus’ care for his mother as he entrusts her to John is heart-wrenching.

John sprinkles evidence throughout his eyewitness account that everything happened according to Scripture…the division of Jesus’ garments, the soldiers casting lots, the offering of vinegar, the unbroken bones and the piercing of His side… they were all done in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.

Jeremiah 24-26 goes backward in time… he begins with Nebuchadnezzar taking one of the first groups of exiles back to Babylon. And then in Chapter 26, Jeremiah “flashbacks” to the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign where he stands in the temple and begs the people to repent so that God’s impending judgment might be averted. Listen to the people’s response…

And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

At first, it seems like Jeremiah might be killed by the same type of angry mob as Jesus was… But by God’s grace, the people came to their senses and determined not to kill Jeremiah – so that they might not “bring great disaster upon themselves.”

What is this world that we live in?

Have you ever wondered why God subjected Jeremiah to such hardship? Why did God even bother with the people??? God answers in Jeremiah 26:3, “It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent…”

All God wants is repentance. But the people refused to hear the truth. Their pride blinded them to their need for change.

Jesus died because of this pride – this hatred in every human heart for the truth. But Jesus also died to vanquish this pride and darkness found in every human heart.

Have you ever wondered why God subjected Jesus to such hardship? Why does God even bother with us??? God’s answer is the same as it was in Jer. 26:3:

“It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent.”

Day 161: Motivated by Love

Jeremiah 5-6; John 13:21-38

Key Verses

Jeremiah 5:1
Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
look and take note!
Search her squares to see
if you can find a man,
one who does justice
and seeks truth,
that I may pardon her.

John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jeremiah 5-6 concludes a series of sermons Jeremiah probably gave during Josiah’s reign (3:6). Chapter 5 opens with God asking Jeremiah to find one man who does justice – one man who seeks truth – so that He might pardon him. And Jeremiah can’t. The people are so absolutely corrupt that not one person could be found. God laments…

How can I pardon you?
Your children have forsaken me
and have sworn by those who are no gods.
When I fed them to the full,
they committed adultery
and trooped to the houses of whores.
They were well-fed, lusty stallions,
each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.
Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord;
and shall I not avenge myself
on a nation such as this? (Jeremiah 5:7-9).

God desires to pardon his people – but what good would that serve? When he blesses them, they despise him. Even in judgment, there is grace, for God could never utterly destroy his people. God says twice in these chapters that he would destroy but “not make a full end” (5:10; 18). He will preserve a remnant. A remnant of people from whom the Promised One would come.

The Promised One… Jesus, betrayed by his own disciple. Jesus, abandoned by his closest friends in his darkest hour. Jesus, taking the punishment for our apostate selves, accomplished what Israel could not – perfect obedience motivated by love for the Father.

Not motivated by duty, or self-preservation – but by love.

God sent Babylon to destroy Judah because he loved them. God sent his only son to die on our behalf because he loves us. Even Jeremiah was motivated by love – love for God and love for his brethren.

Jesus – in the face of betrayal – gave his disciples a “new” commandment – a commandment to love as Christ has loved.

How does Jesus love us? Not in a sweet, sentimental way – but in a sacrificial – other seeking – sort of way. This is the sort of love God calls us to. This was the sort of love Jeremiah was called to. And even though we are not called to be prophets as Jeremiah was, we are called to love our neighbor sacrificially… so the world will see – that the world might be saved!

…Now if I could only practice what I write! Lord, help me to love others as you love me. Please pry my eyes off of myself and help me see the broken and lost – and give me compassion – and the grace to love them well.

Day 160: A Humble King

Jeremiah 3-4; John 13:1-20

Key Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humble King

Day 158: Restoring and Redeeming

Lamentations 3-5; John 12:1-19

Key Verses

Lamentations 3:24-25
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.

John 12:12-13
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

Lamentations 3 is a poem whose main character has suffered greatly. Listen to some of the words he uses to describe his afflictions…
“rod of his wrath, darkness, broken bones, besieged, bitterness, walled me in, heavy chains, shuts out my prayer, cower in ashes…”

He attributes his suffering and afflictions to God. He names God as his judge. And then he says this:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

How in the world could a man who has suffered so grievously under the hand of God speak of his mercies and steadfast love?

These are probably the most well-known verses in Lamentations. But rarely do we consider the context. Just before these verses, the man speaks of the humility of his heart. His soul is “bowed down.” The suffering has changed his heart. He is humble and penitent. There was a purpose for the pain.

Also, through his changed heart, he is able to understand and trust more deeply in God’s Covenant promises. Listen to what he writes later in the chapter:

For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men (Lamentations 3:31-33).

This man is encouraging the suffering exiles of Judah to remember God’s Covenant promises. God has only punished the people because his patience did not result in repentance. As suffering works in their hearts to produce repentance and humble dependence upon their God, God will both restore and redeem the nation!

We see the Eternal King of this nation in today’s New Testament reading… riding into the restored Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. He, too, would suffer – giving his life to redeem His people. And He too would rise to say…

His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning!

Somehow the man depicted in the poem of Lamentations 3 found a way to remember both the pain of suffering and God’s faithfulness. We must trust that God has a purpose for our pain… His purposes involve restoring and redeeming!

Day 153: The Door

2 Kings 15-17; John 10:1-21

Key Verses

2 Kings 17:22-23
The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

2 Kings 17 is the culmination of all of God’s warnings. Samaria was captured, the people were carried away, and Israel fell to Assyria. The people broke the Covenant. They failed to walk in the law outlined in the Pentateuch. And all of the curses described in Deuteronomy 28 came to pass…

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. (Deut. 28:49-50).

They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you (Deut. 28:52).

And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul (Deut. 28:64-65).

Israel’s judgment came after hundreds of “second chances.” God longed for his people to repent. They chose to walk away, and they experienced his wrath.

It is true that God is holy and should be feared. But He is also fiercely loving, merciful and kind. We know this because of the person of Jesus. We find him today inviting us into a saving relationship. He is the Door – the only way to a right relationship with God. He is the Good Shepherd, and He cares for his sheep.

God doesn’t require perfect adherence to his laws to enter through the Door. Rather, He requires only that we know that we can’t keep the law perfectly and that the only “work” we can offer Him is our humble need to be saved.

He still longs for repentance. He sent His son to show us the depths of his love for us. He is patient, long-suffering and kind. Yet people continue to walk away. The Door is there – and grace and forgiveness are waiting for those who humbly enter…

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture (John 10:9).

Keeping up with the Kings

  • Judah: Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa (good), Jehoshaphat (good), Jehoram (son of Jehoshaphat), Ahaziah (killed by Jehu), Queen Athaliah, Jehoash (only surviving son of Ahaziah: good), Amaziah (good), Azariah (Uzziah, good), Jotham (good), Ahaz
  • Israel: Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram (or Joram, son of Ahab), Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II, Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, Hoshea

Day 152: Floods of Mercy

2 Kings 11-14

Key Verses

2 Kings 13:22-23
Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now.

As I read through these chapters in 2 Kings, I’m struck by the long-suffering patience of God. After almost 300 years of being independent of Judah, there has not been one king of Israel that did “right” in the eyes of the Lord. Even Jehu, who demolished Baal worship, “was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of  Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 10:31).

But God continued to show mercy… continued to wait for repentance. Consider the example from today’s Key Verses: “The Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them.” God seemed to give Israel every chance to repent. He waited and waited and interceded and sent Elijah and waited and sent Elisha and waited and waited some more. But in the end, Israel did not repent, and Israel would be destroyed.

God’s mercy to Israel reminds me of a quote from Charles Spurgeon…

Slow to anger. He can be angry, and can deal out righteous indignation upon the guilty, but it is his strange work; he lingers long, with loving pauses, tarrying by the way to give space for repentance and opportunity for accepting his mercy. Thus he deals with the greatest sinners, and with his own children much more so: towards them his anger is short-lived and never reaches into eternity, and when it is shown in fatherly chastisements he does not afflict willingly, and soon pities their sorrows.

From this we should learn to be ourselves slow to anger; if the Lord is longsuffering under out great provocations how much more ought we to endure the errors of our brethren! And plenteous in mercy. Rich in it, quick in it, overflowing with it; and so had he need to be or we should soon be consumed. He is God, and not man, or our sins would soon drown his love; yet above the mountains of our sins the floods of his mercy rise.

– taken from The Treasury of David (Psalm 103:8)

Yet above the mountains of our sins the floods of mercy rise. Beautiful. Both the truth and the words… are beautiful!

Keeping up with the Kings

  • Judah: Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa (good), Jehoshaphat (good), Jehoram (son of Jehoshaphat), Ahaziah (killed by Jehu), Queen Athaliah, Jehoash (only surviving son of Ahaziah: good), Amaziah (good)
  • Israel: Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram (or Joram, son of Ahab), Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II

Day 147: The River

1 Kings 21-22; John 7:32-53

Key Verses

John 7:37-38
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

I love today’s New Testament passage. It characterizes the discourses found in John…

Typically, Jesus communicates a spiritual truth, and the people misunderstand Him because they try to apply His words to the physical world. In today’s reading, Jesus is speaking of his death and says, “Where I am, you cannot come.” His audience interprets Him literally. They wonder where he could go that they could never follow. They completely misunderstand. In some ways, it’s humorous. In other ways, it’s tragic.

I wonder if they understood the symbolism when Jesus stood on the last day of the Feast of Booths and declared, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” The Jews celebrated the Feast of Booths to commemorate the way God provided for them in the wilderness after they had been delivered from Egypt. The Israelites would not have survived their desert wanderings without God’s consistent provision of water and food. Consequently, water was a key symbol of the celebration of the Feast of Booths. And here we see Jesus, standing on the last day of the feast, declaring that He is the Living Water – the source of all life. What a powerful picture!

What was the people’s response? Some believed, some did not. It is the same today… Some come humbly and repent and others walk away, unchanged.

As I’ve studied the Bible this year, I’ve been struck by one truth that weaves its way through both the Old and New Testaments. God desires repentance, and when the sinner repents, He forgives.

This forgiveness is offered to anyone. Even to Ahab, the evilest king to ever rule Israel, ever. Seriously, he was The. Most. Evil. King. in all of Israel’s history. In today’s passage from 1 Kings 21, Ahab repents, and God relents…

And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house” (1 Kings 21:28-29).

God’s offer of grace and forgiveness extends beyond our comprehension. He doesn’t just offer to quench our thirst – He offers “rivers of living water.” More grace and forgiveness and life than we could ever imagine! He is the river, and He invites us to come and to drink.

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

Day 130: The Path of the Righteous

Proverbs 10-12; Luke 23:26-43

Key Verses

Luke 23:32, 40-43
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. The [criminal said,] “…we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Two convicts hung on either side of Jesus – one mocked and the other was accepted. Why? Proverbs gives us the answers…

The wise of heart will receive commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin. 10:8

Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
but he who rejects reproof leads others astray. 10:17

What the wicked dreads will come upon him,
but the desire of the righteous will be granted. 10:24

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom. 11:2

With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor,
but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. 11:9

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid. 12:1

The thoughts of the righteous are just;
the counsels of the wicked are deceitful. 12:5

In the path of righteousness is life,
and in its pathway there is no death. 12:28

There were two men dying next to Jesus. But one took responsibility for his sins and accepted his punishment as just. He was humble and teachable of heart. This man was counted righteous – not because of his gleaming record (he was a criminal!) but because of the humble state of his heart and his trust in the person of Jesus. God declared him righteous by His GRACE. The righteous man would live with Jesus in Paradise.

The book of Proverbs consistently teaches that those who receive reproof with teachable hearts are considered righteous – but those who despise reproof are fools. And so it is with the gospel, you have to know you’re a sinner to recognize your need for a Savior. Those righteous in their own eyes will perish.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).