Day 217: A Mix of Evil and Good

2 Chronicles 13-16; Acts 28:16-31

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 16:7-9
At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”

I love the historical books because they are stories about people. Inevitably, these people are flawed – some more than others, but God’s grace and faithfulness are always center-stage!

In today’s reading, there are four main characters: Three ancient kings and Paul.

Paul’s story in Acts comes to an end in today’s reading. We find Paul imprisoned in high standing in Rome – receiving guests in self-provided housing. I’ve always thought this was a strange way for Acts to end…seemingly in the middle of the story without any conclusion. But I think this is a fitting end to Acts – for we leave him in the middle of ministry – preaching the gospel to anyone who would hear! He also wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon during this Roman imprisonment, and there is extra-biblical evidence that Paul was released and continued his ministry to the far-reaches of Spain before he was imprisoned for the 2nd time in Rome and martyred.

Paul. He embodied the grace of Jesus Christ as God changed him from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s boldest ambassador! How could you not be inspired by Paul’s story?!

The other characters from today’s reading include three ancient kings. Two “evil” kings, Jeroboam and Abijah, and one “not so evil king,” King Asa…

The Chronicler makes a great effort to contrast Jeroboam, evil king of Israel, with the kings of Judah. Even though Abijah, king of Judah, was described as doing “what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” the priests and people of Judah had remained faithful to God. Jeroboam, on the other hand, had created his own cult religion to separate himself from his Judahite brothers. In 2 Chronicles 13, we read of these two kings going to war, and even though Israel’s army was double in size, God gave Judah the victory to show his favor toward Judah’s faithfulness.

And then we read of Asa, son of Abijah and king of Judah. He wasn’t as amazing as Paul. But he wasn’t as evil as the other two kings. He was a mix of both.

Asa began his reign in exemplary fashion, destroying the high places and other modes of idol worship that had sprung up during his father’s reign. He also gathered all of Judah together to renew their covenant commitment. Asa enjoyed military favor as God gave him great victory over the huge Ethiopian army. But, as Asa aged, he began to take God’s grace for granted and instead of relying on the Lord, he turned to self-reliance.

Asa was a good man, and that was his problem. He became overconfident in his old age and neglected his need for God.

Out of all the characters in today’s reading, I relate to Asa the most.

How easy it is to slip into self-reliance when we are enjoying the blessings of God’s favor!! 

I know I will never be as amazing as Paul. And God-willing, I will never be as evil as Jeroboam and Abijah. But Asa… well, I can easily slip into Asa’s sin of self-reliance. I pray for God to keep my brokenness ever before me so that I might never take God’s grace for granted!!!

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Day 216: The Master’s Plan

2 Chronicles 10-12; Acts 28:1-16

Key Verses

2 Chronicles 12:7
When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the Lord came to Shemaiah: “They have humbled themselves. I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak.”

Acts 28:15
And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.

God’s sovereignty is a mystery. We see his hand at work in these chapters, weaving his story with the tainted fabric of the human heart. Somehow He uses our sin nature to weave His grand story of redemption…

Consider Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who refused to heed the counsel of the wise and heeded the counsel of his rash comrades – and because of this foolishness, the Kingdom of Israel was split in two. Yet God said, “This thing is from me.” Somehow God used Rehoboam’s youth and pride to carry out his will.

God gave security to Judah for the sake of the faithfulness of his priests and people and saved them from destruction when Rehoboam humbled himself in repentance. God masterfully orchestrated His story – for the sake of the individual and for his collective people. He works every detail to fulfill His grand plan.

We see his sovereignty on display in Acts. It was God’s will that Paul should sail to Rome, and because God willed it, it would come to pass. No storm, shipwreck or viper would hinder God’s plan. When Paul arrived in Rome, he was greeted by Christians – evidence that the gospel had spread from Jerusalem to the far-reaches of Italy. God’s will would be done. His story would be told. No human can thwart God’s plan!

If you feel like you’ve messed up God’s plan for your life – well, you give yourself too much credit. God is bigger than our miscues. He can use every detail, every mistake, even our sin to bring about His good purposes. The first step back to God is repentance. God loves the penitent heart!

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 196: The Answer to Every “Why?”

Ezekiel 38-39; Acts 15:22-41

Key Verses

Ezekiel 39:21-22
“And I will set my glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid on them. The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God, from that day forward.”

Acts 15:39-41
And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Ezekiel 38-39 contain the prophecies concerning the mysterious “Gog of Magog.” It is tempting to follow an eschatological tangent when reading Ezekiel 38-39. Scholars differ on whether this is a historical figure from the past or one to appear in the future – and some scholars point to Revelation 20 and say this is a description of God’s final defeat of Satan and his armies in the last days.

But here are my thoughts about the mysterious “Gog of Magog.” It’s a mystery. Period. So, instead of chasing that rabbit trail, let’s focus on a phrase that is found 60 times in the book of Ezekiel and 5 times in these two chapters. This phrase answers every “why” question you’ve ever had. I promise!

Why does God curse?
Why does God bless?
Why does God scatter?
Why does God gather?
Why does God bring death?
Why does God bring life?

Why, Why, Why? The answer is found in Ezekiel…

So I will show my greatness […] Then they will know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 38:23).

I will send fire on Magog […] and they shall know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 39:6).

the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel (Ezekiel 39:7).

The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God (Ezekiel 39:22).

Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God… (Ezekiel 39:25; 28a)

God’s purpose for everything He does – whether in Judgment or Restoration – is that every person and every living creature will know that He. Is. Lord. Period. 

Fast forward to Acts 15… where we find God using an argument between Paul and Barnabas to double the missionary manpower. Now instead of just two men going out to preach the gospel, it’s four. Consequently, more people will know that “He is the Lord!”

And here’s another question… what was Paul’s and Barnabas’ motivation to risk their lives to preach the gospel?? So that all people would know that He is the Lord.

John Piper writes, “God’s aim is to be admired and magnified and honored in all the churches and in all of culture and among all the nations” (©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org).

Shouldn’t this be our aim too??

His Lordship is the foundation for our very existence – the foundation of our lives. This fact should rule every decision, every reaction, every relationship, conversation, thought, and whim. He is the Lord. May our lives reflect this truth so the world will know…He is the Lord! Period.

Day 192: Sovereignty and Power

Ezekiel 29-32

Key Verses

Ezekiel 32:12
I will cause your multitude to fall by the swords of mighty ones, all of them most ruthless of nations.
“They shall bring to ruin the pride of Egypt,
and all its multitude shall perish.”

Consider God’s sovereignty as he used the king of Babylon as an instrument of His wrath against the nations, and specifically, against Egypt, as described in these chapters.

Our God controls the will of kings. He causes them to rise and fall. He uses them for his purposes. The ramifications of this kind of Sovereignty are both awe-inspiring and terrifying…

And even more amazing to me is that Ezekiel’s prophecies against Egypt actually came true! Consider this prophecy: “Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army” (Ezekiel 29:19). Check out what the ESV Study Bible says about this verse…

This prophecy was given in 571 b.c. and Nebuchadnezzar conquered Egypt in 568 (this is described in detail in Jeremiah 43–44 and also recorded in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 10.180–182). Egypt was subsequently subject to Persian rule (beginning in 525 b.c.), was conquered by Alexander the Great and made part of his empire in 332, and was conquered by the Romans and became part of the Roman Empire in 31. (Crossway)

Egypt never regained its power in the world. Never. Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled just a few years after it was made! The most powerful rulers on this earth are mites compared to God and his sovereignty.

Who is this God we serve? Who is He who builds and destroys, blesses and curses? Are we subservient to a harsh, selfish Ruler who destroys on a whim? Or do we serve a God who has created us in His image, who molds us with the tender care of a Father, who is preparing us for an eternity shared with Himself?

We must keep the person of Jesus in our minds as we consider God’s sovereignty and power. Jesus came to save, not to destroy. Jesus was the manifestation of God’s glory on earth – and because of Jesus, we do not have to face the wrath of God. He faced it for us. And considering the suffering that Judah endured… I am extremely grateful to be spared from the wrath of God!

Day 191: Working for Our Good

Ezekiel 26-28; Acts 12

Key Verses

Ezekiel 28:35-36
When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered […] then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt.

Acts 12:11
When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

In Ezekiel, we are right in the middle of the oracles of judgment against the nations. Most prophetic books contain prophecies concerning nations other than Israel and Judah. This shows that God is not just sovereign over the affairs of Israel, but over the whole earth!

God’s sovereignty and power are on full display in Acts 12 as we read of Peter’s miraculous rescue from prison. Peter was put in prison after the apostle James was killed by Herod.

In Acts, James’ death comprises one sentence. But think of the implications. James was the brother of John, the gospel writer and close companion of Jesus. I imagine how sad John must have been as well as the other members of the early church.

Human logic tells us that the church would have shrunk under such severe persecution. But God is not ruled by human logic…

But the word of God increased and multiplied (Acts 12:24).

What man intended for harm, God used for good.

Even today’s passage in Ezekiel ends with an encouraging message. For right in the middle of the foreign nation oracles, God reminds his people that he is judging the nations for their good (Ezekiel 28:35-36).

God’s sovereignty and power are only a comfort in the context of his loving-kindness… He is working on our behalf… He is working for our good.

Day 185: To the Ends of the Earth!

Ezekiel 12-14; Acts 8

Key Verses

Acts 8:1, 4
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

Today we see the immediate results of the stoning of Stephen. Persecution increased against the new Christians, and they “scattered.”

What was intended to hurt the church, God used to grow it. We read as Philip brings the gospel to Samaria. The coming of the Spirit by Peter and John’s command served to legitimize the new believers in Samaria. Even non-Jews could receive the Holy Spirit!

Then we see Philip, by the power of the Spirit, sharing the gospel with an Ethiopian! Can’t you see what’s happening!? The gospel is spreading to the far corners of the world! Why? Because persecution caused the church to scatter. I love it when God outsmarts the enemy!

It’s hard to transition from the exciting beginnings of the church to Ezekiel’s judgment oracles over apostate Israel…. So, we’ll discuss Ezekiel more thoroughly tomorrow :)

Day 179: The Last Laugh

Jeremiah 49-50; Acts 5:17-42

Key Verses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 155: Gracious Delay

2 Kings 21-23; John 11:1-17

Key Verses

2 Kings 22:17-20
My wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. But to the king of Judah, [king Josiah], …because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, […] I also have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’”

John 11:4-6
But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

2 Kings 21 is filled with the atrocious actions of  Judah’s most evil king. Manasseh rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah had torn down, offered his son as a child sacrifice, and consulted evil spirits for counsel. Manasseh’s complete apostasy brought an end to God’s patience with Judah; consequently, He declared that judgment would rain down upon the city of David.

Then Manasseh’s grandson, King Josiah, discovered the books of the Law and realized that destruction was exactly what Judah deserved. He mourned his country’s apostasy and humbled himself before God. What did God do in the presence of a truly repentant heart? He did as he always does – God relented!

Seriously?! God delayed the judgment because one man repented. How could I ever doubt God’s goodness and kindness and His overwhelming desire for repentance in his people? Repentance always brings blessing. Lack of repentance ultimately leads to judgment.

Josiah’s response to God’s grace was obedience. Josiah’s reforms were such that he exceeded David in observance of the Law – observing Passover in a way that had not been done since the days of the Judges, surpassing both Hezekiah and even David in faithfulness to God’s law!

But it was not enough to undo the evils of the earlier generations. God’s Covenant was broken, and his judgment – though delayed – was set.

In John, we read of a different sort of delay. Instead of delaying judgment, Jesus delayed healing – and his beloved friend, Lazarus, died as a result. But as we’ll read tomorrow, the suffering caused by the delay, only served to magnify God’s power and goodness.

Both stories of God’s “delays” are stories of grace. How often do I grumble when God delays to answer my prayer or change my circumstances? Chances are, His delay is for my good. His delay is a work of grace!

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, Hezekiah (good), Manasseh, Amon, Josiah (good), Jehoahaz, Eliakim/Jehoiakim
  • 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 154: Secure

2 Kings 18-20; John 10:22-42

Key Verses

2 Kings 19:15, 19
And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. […] So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”

John 10:27-29
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

As believers in Christ, our eternity with God is secure. This is a Truth that makes me marvel… Jesus promises in today’s New Testament passage that no one can snatch us out of His hand!

Today’s Key Verse from the book of John is dripping with theology. The source of understanding, faith, and eternal life is God himself. We are powerless to gain eternal life – it is God’s gift to His sheep. If we are powerless to earn it, we are also powerless to lose it. God is our assurance of life eternal!

Hezekiah’s story in 2 Kings illustrates the theology of Jesus’ words.

Where was Hezekiah’s security? As Jerusalem was surrounded by the great Assyrian army and King Sennacherib shouted his threats of destruction, where did Hezekiah turn? Did he trust in his own strength or wisdom? No. He humbled himself and went to the house of the Lord.

The Lord delivered Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrian king.

God also delivers his children from the snares of sin and sets them safely upon the rock of salvation! He has delivered me, and I am beyond grateful!

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, Hezekiah (good)
  • 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