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).

Day 261: Look to the unseen

Ezra 3-4; 2 Corinthians 4

Today we continue the story of the exiles working together to rebuild their lives in Israel. Here is the historical context for Ezra (adapted from: Introduction to Ezra, ESV Study Bible, Crossway)

  • Cyrus king of Persia captures Babylon: 539 BC (Dan. 5:30–31)
  • First year of King Cyrus; issues proclamation freeing Jewish exiles to return: 538–537 (Ezra 1:1–4)
  • Jewish exiles return from Babylon to Jerusalem: 537? (Ezra 1:11)
  • The Altar is rebuilt and the people celebrate the Feast of booths: 537 (Ezra 3:1–2)
  • Temple rebuilding begins: 536 (Ezra 3:8)
  • Adversaries oppose the rebuilding: 536–530 (Ezra 4:1–5)
  • Temple rebuilding ceases: 530–520 (Ezra 4:24)

In Ezra 3, we read of the people laying the foundation of the temple. As they completed the foundation, many praised God and celebrated with great shouts of joy. But mixed in with the celebration were men of old who remembered the grandeur of Solomon’s temple, and they wept in bitter grief at what had been lost (3:13).

Later in Ezra 4, we read of the beginnings of opposition to the rebuilding of the temple, and this opposition continued for approximately 20 years (Ezra 4:4-5) – even resulting in the cessation of rebuilding altogether (4:24).

(Note: Ezra 4:6-23 is a tangent from the historical narrative which looks forward to other historical examples of opposition to the Jewish nation).

The Jewish people lived in this constant tension… Between celebration and grief (3:13) and rebuilding and opposition (4:24). This tension existed because they expected God to fulfill His promises physically… by restoring the world’s power and resources back into their grasp – to return them to the glory days of Solomon – when Israel was the most powerful nation on earth.

Their eyes were blind to God’s plan to restore them spiritually. This is what Ezekiel referred to when he said that God would replace their heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Eze. 36:26). Ezekiel looked forward to the new covenant – when God’s people would live by the Spirit instead of the law.

This is what Paul refers to when he says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:1). It is a beautiful picture of our physical brokenness alongside the treasure of our spiritual renewal.

This is the key to not losing hope during trial and suffering. Consider the Jews from our passage today… They had to endure 20 years of opposition to the rebuilding of the temple. How do you endure patiently during suffering? By taking your eyes off of what is seen, and putting them on what is unseen.

In order for the Jewish people to not lose faith, they had to fix their eyes on their covenant-keeping God. If he had bent the will of the mighty Persian king, surely he could handle a little opposition from the local officials! Their faith was being tested. Where would they rest their eyes? On the physical? Or the eternal?

We, too, live in a time of waiting for God to ultimately and finally fulfill His covenant promises to His people. We will endure affliction as we wait. So how do we not lose hope? How do we persevere in the faith? How can Paul so confidently say?

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair… (2 Cor. 4:8).

Paul has fixed his eyes on the Savior. He knows the eternal treasure is hidden inside the temporal jar of clay.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Day 260: God’s redemptive story

Ezra 1-2; 2 Corinthians 3

In Daniel, we read of King Cyrus of Persia conquering Babylon, and at the very end of 2 Chronicles, we read of Cyrus’ decree to let the Israelites return to their land to rebuild their temple. Today, we begin the book of Ezra which continues this redemptive story of God securing His people.

This story – of God creating a people to call His own – is the broad sweeping story of the whole Bible. Both of today’s passages fit snugly into God’s redemptive story!

Ezra begins with the people returning to the land of Judah. King Cyrus, moved by the sovereignty of God, not only allows – but equips – the Jews to return to their homeland. He also sends along the vessels of the temple originally confiscated by Nebuchadnezzar so many years before. This is a new beginning for God’s people. The 2nd Exodus! God bending the will of King Cyrus proves all of the prophesies from Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah true. God would restore his people!

But we know that the return of the exiles to Jerusalem was only a partial fulfillment of God’s plan for his people. Only in Christ are all the prophesies fulfilled. And with the coming of Christ came the ushering in of a new covenant…

Paul writes of this new covenant in today’s passage from 2 Corinthians. Rather than being a covenant of the law – which leads to death, it is a covenant of the Spirit. The old covenant led to death because the people had no power within themselves to keep the law. Whereas Jesus mediates the new covenant by fulfilling ALL the requirements of the old and then sending His Spirit to empower us to obey.

What a glorious story! God is creating a people for Himself! But we are still in the middle of the story… Just as the exiles looked forward to the day where all God’s promises would be fulfilled, we too look forward to Christ’s return and the glorious end of the story!

Why do look forward to the end? Because it is then that God will make all things new!

Day 248: Victory through submission

Isaiah 49:1 – 51:8; 1 Corinthians 9

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them (1 Corinthians 9:19).

Paul speaks of relating to people as their servant… from a position of humility. He was intentional about this. He made an effort to relate to people on their own terms – not from a position of superiority or piety (9:19-22).

I believe this was the Spirit’s work in Paul’s life – shaping him to be more like Christ. For Christ came into the world so that He could identify with the world. He came to save, not to judge. He came in humility, and associated with “sinners.” He came as a servant.

Which brings me to Isaiah. Isaiah’s “servant” was a mysterious figure. Jewish scholars of Jesus’ day (for the most part) had not connected the “servant” with the Messiah. It seems so obvious to us that the Servant in Isaiah has to be the Messiah. But the concept of a great conquering Messiah also being the “servant” was a new paradigm and a concept that even Jesus’ disciples didn’t fully grasp until after Jesus’ ascension.

But fortunately, we have the hindsight to see. We read two of the four Servant Songs (42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-952:13-53:12) in today’s reading. The voice in these “songs” is the Messiah himself. He was the one to rescue the remnant from the hands of captivity and restore his people in the land! And he is the one who rescues our souls from the clutches of death – and restores us to new life!

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

But consider the way in which the Servant saves… It is not through power and strength – but through righteous suffering. This was a new paradigm…

The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting (Isaiah 50:5-6).

Who would have thought that victory could be won through submitting to the strong? This is the way of the Kingdom. This is the way of our God!!

Behold, the Lord God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of [my adversaries] will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up. -The Servant, Isaiah 50:9

Day 244: My procrastinating…

Isaiah 40; 1 Corinthians 7

I confess that I’ve procrastinated in writing this post. Paul addresses marriage, singleness and divorce in this chapter, and frankly, I don’t want to write about those topics. Especially since Paul’s teaching isn’t crystal clear, and there is a myriad of views of exactly what Paul means – especially concerning divorce. He is also misunderstood regarding his dealings with marriage and singleness, and I don’t even want to go near the section about servitude in the middle of the chapter!

Now I’m exaggerating a bit. But there is quite a theological stir created by Paul’s teachings in this chapter.

I’ll say this… Divorce is painful – both before and after. I understand why God hates it so much. It’s a ripping of flesh, a tearing apart, and it hurts. But sometimes I think the church can judge too harshly when someone has been through this painful experience. The church should be there to offer God’s truths in a supportive and comforting way – not to condemn.

And regarding Paul’s comments on marriage and singleness. Some can misinterpret him and conclude that marriage is bad. ABSOLUTELY NOT! Marriage reflects the unity and diversity of the trinity itself! It was ordained by God in the very beginning as the foundation for all of civilization. Marriage is one of God’s primary tools for sanctification in the believer! Some are better equipped to spread the gospel because of their spouse’s support and influence. But others are not, and Paul falls into the single camp. God uses both singleness and marriage to purify His people and glorify His name. They are both good.

Now what about Isaiah? :)

Today’s reading in Isaiah is the beginning of a 15-chapter section that addresses the future exiles in Babylon. It is a period in Israel’s history where God’s wrath has (partially) been satisfied and God is working to rebuild and restore his people.There are many familiar verses in these chapters of Isaiah, for they speak of God’s comfort and grace.

It is easy to translate these chapters to the church, today – because we, too, live in a time where God’s wrath has been satisfied and He is working to build and strengthen his people. We can look to these chapters for comfort and strength as we, citizens of God’s spiritual Kingdom, live as exiles on this earth.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1).

Day 238: Secret Wisdom of God

Isaiah 24-25; 1 Corinthians 2

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”

Chapter 24 of Isaiah begins a four-chapter-section where Isaiah looks forward in time to the end of the world. We learn that God will destroy the earth (24:1-12), but will preserve a remnant (24:13). This remnant then emerges from every corner of the earth “singing for joy” (24:14-16)!

Chapter 25 describes the final salvation of God’s people when they will feast together on Mount Zion and the Lord will “swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).

What a wonderful promise – a promise that we anticipate with great longing!

We know this promise of salvation is only made possible by Christ’s once and for all sacrifice on the cross. This is the “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7).

Paul makes it clear that the revelation of God’s wisdom – the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection – can only be attained through the Spirit.

…no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God (1 Corinthians 2:11b-12).

If you understand the gospel, do not think yourself wise – but consider yourself loved by God. Your understanding is a gift – just as your salvation is a gift!

And because of the grace of God, we can look forward to the fulfillment of all God’s promises – to when death will be swallowed up forever and there will be no more tears and no more pain!!