Day 215: Forcing our eyes forward

2 Chronicles 8-9; Acts 27

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 9:3-4
And when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his cupbearers, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.

As we read the final chapters in the Chronicler’s description of Solomon, I am struck by all that was omitted from Solomon’s life…

There is only a brief mention of Solomon’s many wives, and nothing is mentioned of how his great wealth turned his heart from the Lord. All of his possessions and prosperity are presented in the most positive way.

I have to remember the Chronicler’s purpose in writing. He focused on all the goodness of David and Solomon’s reign in order to encourage the post-exilic community – who were living in a Jerusalem far removed from the wealth and glory of Solomon’s days.

The Chronicler wanted to force the people’s eyes forward. By reminding them of the promises of the Davidic covenant, he gave his readers hope in the sure promises of God – that God would send a Righteous Branch from the seed of David, and that He would restore His Kingdom on earth.

This is our hope as well. But because we live in a later time in history, we understand more of how God has initially fulfilled his promises. He has sent the Righteous Branch and He has restored His Kingdom on earth – but only partially. The work will not be completed until Christ comes again and we live together with him in the new heaven and the new earth. Then, Christ’s reign will surpass the prosperity of Solomon!

But just like the exiles, these truths must be our comfort – a hope to force our eyes off of our tragic circumstances in this world tainted by sin. Consider Paul in today’s reading from Acts… he literally had lost every physical possession. He was a prisoner sailing to Rome, and at the end of Acts 27, even the ship was destroyed. The only thing Paul had to claim as his own on this earth was his life. And even his life, he had given to Christ.

Where was Paul’s comfort? Where was his hope? His hope was in the resurrected Jesus. His eyes were focused on the future promises that Christ would come again.

As we read of Solomon’s glorious reign over Israel, we are encouraged to fix our eyes on Jesus. We must force our eyes off of our longings, anxieties and difficult circumstances – and let the promise of peace and prosperity under the rule of Christ encourage us to march forward in faith.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!

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Day 204: Genealogy and Deathly long sermons

1 Chronicles 7-9; Acts 20:1-16

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 9:1
So all Israel was recorded in genealogies, and these are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel. And Judah was taken into exile in Babylon because of their breach of faith.

Acts 20:9-10
And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”

The long genealogy of Israel ends in today’s reading from 1 Chronicles. The “Chronicler” has framed Israel’s entire history in the context of genealogical lists!

Remember, the Chronicler lived in post-exile Jerusalem and wanted to remind the people of their history and heritage. The structure* of these nine chapters reveals his purposes…

  • He covers Judah first… the royal tribe, the lineage of King David, and the main tribe of the southern kingdom.
  • He ends with Benjamin, using the tribes of the southern kingdom to bracket* the other tribes.
  • In the very center, or heart* of the genealogies, is the Levite tribe – representing the spiritual heart of the nation.
  • The inclusion of the northern tribes affirms that God considered all of Israel his chosen people – and there were some from the northern tribes living in the post-exile Jerusalem.

If you drill down into each tribe’s genealogies, they were strategically structured to remind the people of their heritage. He recounted how both the northern and southern tribes “broke faith” with God (1 Chronicles 5:25-26, 1 Chronicles 9:1, respectively). Since they were on the other side of judgment, he was trying to point to God’s grace of restoration – so that they might order their lives around the law of God and experience a more full restoration.*

If the detailed genealogies in 1 Chronicles aren’t enough, we are inundated with even more details, as we read about Paul’s travels in Acts. Sandwiched between these details, however, is a humorous story of Paul boring a young man to sleep with his “prolonged speech.” And then, as Paul “talked still longer,” the man was sleeping so soundly that he fell from the third story window and died! Thankfully, Paul was given the power to revive him. This “interruption” was no deterrent to Paul who kept talking until daybreak.

Hidden in the humor of this story is a glimpse of Paul’s character… He was wholly devoted to his mission to teach the gospel. Nothing would distract him – not even the death of a bored seeker!

Think of how easily we are distracted by both the pleasures and plights of this world. We must not be distracted! We must keep our eyes fully focused on His word and work in this world!!

*ideas or words with an asterisk (*) came from the study notes of the ESV Study Bible (Crossway).

Day 197: Two Visions

Ezekiel 40; Acts 16:1-15

Key Verses

Ezekiel 40:4
And the man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.”

Acts 16:9-10
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

I just read in one of my commentaries… “Interpreters do agree on one point… Ezekiel 40-48 is one of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible.” Great.

I know why it is difficult. These prophecies have not been fulfilled, and therefore, theologians have different interpretations of its meaning.

Ezekiel 40-48 is the 2nd “temple vision” in Ezekiel. The first vision in chapters 8-11 showed the abominations of idolatrous people before the destruction of the temple. This second vision occurs 14 years (to the day) after the fall of the city and the destruction of the temple. Through visions, God shows Ezekiel a vision of a future, a rebuilt and restored temple.

Here’s the controversy… Some scholars believe this vision is a literal temple that will be built one day in the future. Others believe this rebuilt temple is symbolic of God’s presence with his people during our current church age – and still, others believe this vision is symbolic of perfect worship in the New Earth.

Not that it matters much… but I lean toward a symbolic interpretation of this vision – especially since Ezekiel was a priest (in his life in Judea) and would have been extremely familiar with the old temple. Temple life would have been deeply valuable to Ezekiel, so it makes sense that God would wrap the restoration of Israel in the context of a symbolically “perfect” temple.

But let’s look at the text… This video is especially helpful in picturing the temple as Ezekiel describes it in Chapter 40. Just a word of caution… this is one person’s visual interpretation. It is helpful, but not authoritative :)

Moving on to Acts 16, we read of the beginning of Paul’s 2nd missionary journey where the text describes another vision! In this case, God used the vision to direct Paul to preach the gospel in far-away Europe. So Paul obeyed, traveling north into the Roman colony of Philippi. Philippi was so far removed from Jewish culture that there wasn’t even a Jewish temple! Undeterred, Paul and his companions approached a group of women who were praying by a riverside.

From a human perspective, this makes no sense. Why go north to Philippi instead of south to more familiar territory? Why approach women instead of the influential men of the city? But God’s ways are not our ways.

God planned for the first convert in Europe to be an ordinary woman named Lydia. The church in Philippi started in her house and grew to be a major influence in the region. The influence of the church in Philippi ripples to this day as we are instructed by the letter that Paul wrote to the Philippian church.

God used Paul’s obedience in the face of ambiguity to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth! Has God ever asked something of you that didn’t make earthly sense?? I have found that obedience in the face of ambiguity brings about the richest blessings. May we have the faith to follow Jesus… wherever He may lead!

Day 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!

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 172: When, O Lord?

Jeremiah 32-33; Acts 1

Key Verses

Jeremiah 32:40-41
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.

Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

In the tenth year of Zedekiah, when Nebuchadnezzar had Jerusalem under siege, Zedekiah imprisoned Jeremiah. Then God did something, well, strange. He told Jeremiah to buy a field, which made no sense, but Jeremiah did it anyway.

Then Jeremiah did something smart. After he obeyed, he prayed to God for understanding… “Why would you want me to buy a field when the whole land lies in waste?” And God in his mercy answered Jeremiah.

Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first (Jeremiah 33:6-7).

Jeremiah’s land purchase was a sign that God would restore the land and its people. God promised to make them dwell in safety and restore the fortunes of both Israel and Judah. The promises of good were both thorough and extravagant (just as God’s judgment was thorough and extravagant!)

Were these prophecies fulfilled just 70 years later when the people would return from captivity and rebuild the temple and the wall? Well, partly – but not to the extent that Jeremiah described….The world definitely did not fear and tremble at the good of Jerusalem…

What about when Jesus came? Interestingly, in the beginning of Acts, we read that the disciples wondered this same thing…

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority (Acts 1:6-7).

Jesus basically said, “Sorry, I can’t tell you.”

But He did give insight into how the prophecy would be fulfilled in our present age in Acts 1:8. In other words, Jesus would expand his spiritual Kingdom on earth through the building of the church. But. We live in very dark times. The prophet Joel called this time the “last days.” We live in between the first and second coming of Jesus. We have not seen the fulfillment of all things!

In summary, I believe Jeremiah’s prophecy of the restoration of Israel is one of those “already, not yet” prophecies. It was fulfilled partially after 70 years, and even more so after the first coming of Jesus, but it won’t be completely fulfilled until Jesus comes again and establishes His Kingdom in the New Earth.

Personally… I can’t wait!!!

Day 356: Two Beasts

Micah 6-7Revelation 13

Two beasts…one affects nations and governments; the other deceives the church. Both beasts are given their authority by the dragon, by Satan himself.

The background for the first beast comes from Daniel 7.

The first beast resembles all four beasts that Daniel saw emerge from the sea before the Son of Man appeared (Dan. 7:1–8, 21). As those beasts symbolized kingdoms (Dan. 7:17, 23), so this beast, a composite of them all, represents every human empire—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and their successors—that demands absolute allegiance and trust, enforcing its demand with coercion (ESV Study Bible, Study notes re: Revelation 13:1-2, Crossway).

I believe the first beast is still active today…in obvious world leaders who brutally kill Christians as well as in the subtle influences of Humanism. The first beast is among us, but even more dangerous is the 2nd beast…

If the first beast lies behind secular powers who strive to overthrow all that is Christian, the second beast comes as a prophet drawing people towards worship.  In other words, this beast targets people within the church itself (P. Gardner, Revelation, pg 183).

Both beasts are disturbing parodies of Christ. The first beast’s “mortal wound which was healed” is a twisted echo of Christ’s resurrection (13:3, 12). And the 2nd beast looks like a lamb, but speaks falsehood (13:11, 14).

The beasts are the Satanic influences in our world. In light of such fierce opposition, John exhorts the church to endure (13:10).

We can endure because God has given us hope. Our hope is in the promises of God – that He will gather His children in the last days and usher us into His Kingdom forever. There, we will live in peace and perfect relationship with Him and one another. This is our hope. This is our future!

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old (Micah 7:18-20).

Disclaimer: I humbly and cautiously offer an interpretation of the book of Revelation based on my Reformed understanding of Scripture, an Amillennialist eschatology, and a heavy reliance on the book, Revelation, The Compassion and Protection of Christ by Dr. Paul Gardner.

Day 292: The final days of Job

Job 40:6-42:17

And Job died, an old man, and full of days (Job 42:17).

I think Job 42 has to be one of the most satisfying chapters in all of Scripture. It begins with repentance and ends with restoration. And not just a small restoration, but an overflowing, abounding with grace and mercy restoration!

What is most encouraging to me is not how God vindicates Job before his friends or how God doubles Job’s possessions or even how God gives him a new family. All of these things are wonderful, but… what most encourages me is that God does not rebuke Job. God rebukes his friends, but not Job, himself.

Job’s anger against God never tipped the scales to “sinning against God.” That’s encouraging to me. I guess through all of Job’s questions and tantrums, he continued to seek and pursue God relentlessly. And we can see Job’s great love for God in the anguish he experienced when he (wrongly) concluded that God had abandoned him. Through Job, I learn that God can handle my anger. He will not leave me or forsake me. This is a great comfort!

I’ll conclude our study of Job with one last question…

Did Job ever learn the why behind his suffering? No. In the end, knowing the who was enough. Like Job, we typically will never fully understand the why’s of our suffering. We must be content with knowing the Who!

Day 268: The joy of the Lord

Nehemiah 8-10

These chapters in Nehemiah are a foretaste of the final restoration we will experience in the new heaven and new earth! They depict the beautiful renewed relationship between God and His people. It begins with the people assembling together to hear the reading of the Law.

This was an important occasion. They had even built a platform on which Ezra would stand as he read. And as he read, the Levites were stationed throughout the crowd to ensure the people understood!

They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (Nehemiah 8:8).

After hearing and understanding the Law, the people wept over their sin (Neh. 8:9). This response from the people proves that they really understood what was read. Because then they could see how great their sin and the sins of their forefathers really were.

But Ezra and Nehemiah told the people not to weep – it was to be a day of celebration! The people were to rejoice over their renewed relationship with their God. It is in this context that Nehemiah says the well-known verse… “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).

What was the source of God’s joy? The humble repentance of His people!!

After the priests recounted Israel’s long and troublesome history (Neh. 9), they renewed their covenant relationship with God by committing to uphold the Mosaic Law (Neh. 10).

The gospel is found in the vivid details of this passage. God’s word should cause us to grieve over our sin. But we have a God who really loves us. We can approach His throne to find grace and forgiveness because of the value He places on His relationship with us! He rejoices over our repentance. He is happy to renew and restore us… And from God’s joy, we are given the strength to stand – forgiven – in His presence! 

May our penitent hearts be his joy, and may His grace be our strength!

Day 262: Our eternal home

Ezra 5-6; Haggai 1-2; 2 Corinthians 5

The book of Haggai serves as a rich commentary to these chapters in Ezra. Haggai (along with Zechariah – which we’ll read through in December) was the local prophet who encouraged the people to restart building the temple. Evidently, all the earlier opposition pushed the people into complacency. They were content to live in their own houses while the house of the Lord lay in ruins. God had something to say about this!

He had sent drought and hail in the hopes that the people would turn to him for help, but they continued in their self-sufficiency. In spite of this, God was merciful and intervened through the prophet Haggai.

There are so many rich layers woven throughout these passages.

First, we see that the Jews’ responded to Haggai’s message in obedience – so that the temple was completed! The temple represented God’s continued presence with his people and his faithfulness to keep his promises.

But glaringly obvious to everyone was the fact that the temple did not compare to Solomon’s former temple. God addressed this in Haggai:

Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, [and] work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not (Haggai 2:3-5).

God asserted that the temple’s outward grandeur was of secondary importance to His presence. This second temple served as a stepping stone to the day when the temple would no longer be a physical building – but rather God would manifest His presence within His people.

Paul touches on these themes in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians. He teaches that we are not at “home” in our physical bodies – rather we long for “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). Paul says that while we are on earth, we “groan” for our heavenly tent – for “mortality to be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).

So, in many ways, this second temple’s lack of grandeur is a physical picture of our life on earth. We long for more… We long for our eternal home.

Lastly, we see a hint of the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the last verse of Haggai. The hint isn’t obvious, but it’s there!

On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:23).

Zerubbabel was the current governor of Judah, but he was also a descendant of the last king of Judah, Jehoiachin (1 Chron. 3:16–19, where Jehoiachin is called Jeconiah). And if Zerubbabel was descended from the last king of Judah, that meant he was also descended from King David. And who was prophesied to come from the line of David to establish his Kingdom on earth? Yes. Jesus.

“On that day” (Haggai 2:23), looks forward to the end of the age, when the temple is replaced by the Lord himself!

…for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb … and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it (Rev. 21:22, 24).

Yes, one day, this man, who knew no sin – but became sin, so that we might become His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21)…this man will take his place as the final temple. And then, and only then, will we be home.

The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:9).