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 211: Israel’s Political Disparity

1 Chronicles 25-27; Acts 24

Key Verses

Acts 24:14-16
But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

The political contrast between Israel in the Old and New Testaments is wide.

David would always be the “standard” for Israelite kings. Today we read of all the people he organized for temple service, as well as the thousands he commanded who served in the nation’s military. Israel was a major world power. David extended Israel’s borders and had significant political weight in the world.

Jesus was born into a very different Israel. It was no longer a sovereign nation, but was ruled by Rome. Rome instituted its own governors and officials throughout all of Israel. Even though the Jews maintained the Sanhedrin, their own religious ruling council, they had no true governmental control.

The Jews had been waiting for a “Messiah” to come and re-establish Israel as a major world power. One of the reasons Jesus was rejected as Messiah by most of the Jewish council was that he wasn’t a political figure. They couldn’t accept the radically different notion that Jesus came to establish a spiritual Kingdom on earth.

Consequently, the Jewish Sanhedrin was very much against the new sect of Jews who believed Jesus to be their Messiah. First, they didn’t want this new sect stealing an ounce of their limited power and influence. And secondly, I imagine the thought of a Messiah having come and not returning sovereign rule to Israel – was… well – a very bitter pill to swallow.

So, in today’s reading – we see Paul, standing before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. Felix organized a trial, and the Jewish council sent a delegation from Jerusalem to testify against Paul.

The entire conflict between the Jews and Paul could be summarized in one word: Resurrection. Paul, himself, admitted this to Felix when he said…

It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day (Acts 23:21).

The resurrection of Jesus was just as world-changing – just as life-altering back then as it is today. If Jesus’ resurrection was FACT, then his claims to deity were true, and the Jewish Sanhedrin would be forced to accept that they killed the Messiah. And if Jesus was really the Messiah, all of their hopes and aspirations for a Sovereign Israel would be lost. There was just too much to lose. It was much easier for the Sanhedrin to turn a blind eye to the facts, than to admit the truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

Their lust for power was so strong that they were willing to do anything to silence Paul. Even break their own law (and Roman law) to conspire to kill him.

But God used Felix, the corrupt Roman governor, to protect Paul from ambush and death. Indifferent to Paul’s innocence, Felix kept Paul imprisoned, albeit comfortably, for two years. What better way to protect Paul from the rage of the Jewish Sanhedrin than to keep him locked up in a Roman prison!!! What men intended for evil, God worked out for good!

Day 205: His Strength in Our Weakness

1 Chronicles 10-11; Acts 20:17-38

Key Verses

1 Chronicles 10:14
[Saul] did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.

1 Chronicles 11:9
And David became greater and greater, for the Lord of hosts was with him.

Acts 20:24
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Today we read one of my favorite sections of Acts, Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders.

Not only is Paul’s speech thick with theology, but it is also heavy with emotion, giving us a glimpse of the impact Paul’s pastoral care had on the church.

Also noteworthy is Paul’s commitment to obeying the Lord no matter the personal cost. Paul’s whole-hearted devotion is uncomfortably challenging to me! But the reading in 1 Chronicles reminds me of an encouraging truth…

God was not with Saul, and he failed…miserably. Whereas God was with David, and even though he lived through great hardship on his road to the throne (all of which is omitted from 1 Chronicles), he was empowered by God to not just endure the hardship – but to overcome it.

Paul’s deep commitment to his call did not come from something inside himself. He didn’t muster up that sort of faith through self-will. No! He was empowered by the Spirit.

So are we! As I am convicted of a lack of devotion and feeling feeble in my faith, I realize that this is exactly the way I should feel, because I am weak. I know that if I confess my weakness to God – he will meet me there and empower me to meet life’s challenges.

This is the way of the gospel. God has resurrection power – the power to bring life out of death. This is the same power he uses to bring strength out of weakness. His grace is sufficient. It always is!

Day 171: A New Covenant

Jeremiah 30-31; John 21

Key Verses

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Hope. Restoration. Renewal. This is the aroma of Jeremiah 30-31. It is in these verses that we find the promise of a New Covenant – the only time this phrase is used in the Old Testament.

God makes a new covenant through Jesus. The Law that was written on stone tablets and so easily forgotten would now be written on the heart. The Law becomes internal so that it can never be lost or destroyed. It is a permanent, forever-type-of Law – that flows from God forgiving iniquity and choosing to remember our sin no more.

Jeremiah could not have known the far-reaching implications of his words. We know that forgiveness of sins is only possible because of Jesus and His Sacrifice. The gospels and epistles of the New Testament teach that Jesus is the mediator of this New Covenant – a covenant based on grace – not on our ability to keep the covenant demands. Yet the purpose of the New Covenant remains the same as the Old… “I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

In the final chapter of John, we see our God… kneeling on a sandy shore, cooking fish for his friends; restoring Simon Peter and commissioning him to lead the church. Just a typical day in the life of the Master.

I’m going to miss the gospels. I love reading Jesus’ words and picturing his life on the move. The beauty of the New Covenant is that Jesus’ teaching is written on the tablet of our hearts. He is close. And I am grateful.

Day 170: Power to Break the Yoke

Jeremiah 27-29; John 20

Key Verses

Jeremiah 29:11-12
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.

John 20:18
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

God often commanded his prophets to be living “word pictures” to his people. In Jeremiah 27:2, God told Jeremiah to: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.” Jeremiah wore the wooden yoke as a sign to the people that they would endure the yoke of slavery under Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.

We have a yoke as well. Our yoke is spiritual – the yoke of sin – which leads to death.

Some time later, Hananiah the prophet broke Jeremiah’s yoke and declared the people free from the yoke of the king of Babylon.

Hananiah was a false prophet and had no power over the yoke of slavery.

In John 20, we see the Only One who has the power to break the yoke of slavery. He appears first to Mary, and then to the twelve. He has broken the heavy yoke of sin and death and given us a new yoke…one that is easy and light.

Jeremiah, in Chapter 29, sends a message from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon. He takes away any hope that their stay will be short. Seventy years – the people would be in Babylon – and Jeremiah encouraged them to settle down and seek the welfare of the city.

But Jeremiah also gives a message of hope to the exiles – a message that is relevant to us today, as we too are spiritual exiles living in a foreign land. He reminds the people in Jeremiah 29:11-12 of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love in the loving promise of a “future and a hope.”

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we, too, have a future and a hope. He has rescued us from the yoke of slavery. He has plans for us, and these plans are good…He is our hope!

Day 133: Disbelieving for Joy!

Proverbs 18-19; Luke 24:36-53

Key Verses

Luke 24:39-41
And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Jesus appears to his disciples and proves to them that he is flesh and blood – not a spirit. They touch him. He eats. And they marvel.

“Disbelieved for joy.” Imagine if someone told you that you had just won $5 million? Or if you or your wife had been infertile for years, and at a regular checkup, she learns that she’s pregnant? You would wonder if it could really be true. It would just seem too good to be true! …Or if a man offered to take the punishment for your sins by dying in your place – and then rose from the dead??!!

Sometimes I think the gospel is too good to be true. And the idea that God will make a new heaven and a new earth and we will get to live in perfect communion with God and each other for all eternity. Well… that seems too good to be true, too! I understand how the disciples felt. I resonate with “Disbelieving for joy.”

But it is this hope that gives us the strength to persevere through this difficult world. And it is God’s grace that gives our hearts and minds understanding into the gospel – and all the joy that it contains…and we dare to hope that it’s true. And we marvel. :)

Day 132: Understanding

Proverbs 16-17; Luke 24:1-35

Key Verses

Luke 24:32
They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

Proverbs 16:16
How much better to get wisdom than gold!
To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.

Understanding. Jesus’ followers needed it. They needed it during the darkness of the Crucifixion and during the darkness of His burial. They needed understanding during the hours that passed – with all hope lost – in utter despair.

Understanding. The women didn’t understand when they came to the tomb Sunday morning. The angel asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Could it be? They didn’t understand. Not yet…

And Jesus – walking with the men on the road to Emmaus. Luke tells us that He opened the Scriptures to them – revealing from the Law and the Prophets that the Christ had to suffer and die. And then – their eyes were opened. And they understood.

Understanding. True understanding of the Scriptures – how Jesus is the culmination of all redemptive history – is a gift from God. A gift that should be valued over all this world can offer!

Day 77: Resurrection Power

Deuteronomy 29-30; Mark 16

Key Verses

Deuteronomy 30:6
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Mark 16:6-7
And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

The resurrection. Thinking in literary terms… this is the climax of the story. Everything – everything – in the Old Testament and the gospels points and leads to this one moment.

Jesus’ resurrection proves that God has power over death and sin, which is the cause of death. This is the same power that God uses to change our hearts and give us new life.

Apart from the power of God, we are dead in our sin. But when our weak faith is mingled with God’s grace and compassion toward us, we are changed…

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:18-19 NIV).

Because of the resurrection, we are set free from the burden of the law and fear of the curse. Instead, we are given a new heart, the power to obey and the gift of eternal blessing!

Day 46: The Great Reversal

Leviticus 21-22; Matthew 28

Key Verses

Leviticus 22:21
And when anyone offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering from the herd or from the flock, to be accepted it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it.

Matthew 28:5-7
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.

Leviticus 21-22 are difficult passages for me. Taken alone, they could portray God as uncompassionate and harsh. Especially difficult are the passages referring to “without blemish.” No priest or animal could have a blemish. That meant no blind priests in the tabernacle. Hunchbacks were not tolerated. Even if your hand was injured, you were not allowed. This seems like a different God than the one who made the blind see and the lame walk.

But I have an idea… What if God is painting a picture of his original design? What if he is pointing back to what should have been – before sin entered the world… Sin corrupted everything… even our physical bodies. Disability, sickness, and death were not part of God’s original plan. There was no “blemish” before sin.

But the resurrection of Christ undoes the effects of sin. It is the resurrection which begins the great reversal. What did C.S. Lewis write in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe?

Though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. But if she could have looked a little further back… she would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.

Yes! Death is working backward. We live in the time after the resurrection… when God takes our blemishes and redeems them – and he transforms them – and then he makes them into something…good.

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.