Day 183: Death Turned Upside-Down

Ezekiel 6-7; Acts 7:44-60

Key Verses

Ezekiel 7:27
“The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.”

Acts 7:55-56
But [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

I am attending a funeral today. It’s my second one in a month. Death. I really hate death.

We were created to never have to endure death. We were supposed to live in the Garden, in perfect communion with God and each other. Death was unthought of back then, but sin changed all that.

Today we read of the church’s first martyr. Stephen died with the vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. It’s the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is described as “standing” instead of sitting at God’s right hand.

Death is a strange thing. On one hand, it is odious – something that was never supposed to be. But on the other hand, God turns it upside down and somehow uses it for good. Stephen’s death was a catalyst for church growth. Death impassions people. God has consistently used persecution and death as a means to grow his church.

Recently, I was reading a Romanian pastor’s doctoral thesis on suffering, martyrdom and the rewards of heaven… He argues that suffering on earth advances the Kingdom of Heaven – the prime example being Jesus, Himself. If we are called to suffer and/or die for the Kingdom, it is a great Eternal victory!

And I think there lies the key. Eternal. An Eternal Perspective changes everything.

Sometimes when I read passages of judgment like the ones we find in today’s reading from Ezekiel, I become indignant. “Why did the children have to suffer and die right along with their apostate parents?” And then I might go even further and question God’s goodness that He might bring about suffering AT ALL!!

But when I entertain those types of thoughts, I know I’ve lost my eternal perspective.

Wouldn’t I choose to suffer for a little while on earth and gain eternal bliss – rather than have earthly bliss and suffer an eternity of torment???

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 Corinthians 4:17).

Our dot of an existence on this earth must be invested wisely for the sake of our eternities. If that means we must suffer to bring about repentance and a character that is more like Christ’s – well so be it! I don’t think Stephen, who is alive with Christ in heaven, regrets his choice to suffer for the sake of the Truth. Do you?

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Day 182: The Last Word

Ezekiel 4-5; Acts 7:20-43

Key Verses

Ezekiel 5:5-6
“Thus says the Lord God: This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her; for they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes.”

Acts 7:39-40
“Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.'”

These chapters in Ezekiel sound strange to our modern ears.

God commanded Ezekiel to enact the forthcoming siege of Jerusalem in some sort of bizarre street theater presentation. It involved a clay model of the city and symbolic acts including laying on his side and scattering hair. Yep. Scattering hair.

But as I think back throughout the Old Testament, this was a common way for God to communicate to his people. Not necessarily scattering hair:) I mean communicating through symbols or symbolic acts. The tabernacle and temple were built using symbols – all revealing a glimpse of God’s character and redemptive plan. Even the daily sacrificial system was a consistent reminder of the cost of sin that was re-enacted by the priests daily.

Word pictures. Symbolic acts. Different layers of meaning. Poetic imagery. God used all of these techniques to reveal Himself to his people. So even though it seems strange to me, Ezekiel symbolically acting out the siege to Jerusalem as described in Ezekiel 4 was consistent with how God had chosen to reveal Himself throughout the Old Testament – especially among His prophets.

After Ezekiel’s extended street theater, Chapter 5 records God speaking through Ezekiel… As God explained the significance of Ezekiel’s symbolic acts, we read a familiar message of judgment against Israel.

Sin and judgment. Most prophetic books begin with judgment and end with the hope of restoration. Restoration can only occur after the problem of sin has been dealt with…

As we turn our focus to Acts, we read that even Stephen is preaching on the sins of Israel. He reminds us that Israel had been turning against God from the very moment He rescued them from Egypt…

Our fathers refused to obey [Moses], but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us.’ (Acts 7:39-40)

It’s hard for me to read such harsh words of judgment. It’s like slogging through mud…covered with grime and filth. But understanding the reality of sin is the first step to restoration and hope. As a friend of mine used to remind me…”As the depths of your sin are revealed to you, so the cross becomes larger to cover you.” God has the last word. And thankfully, it is good.

Day 180: Faithful to the End

Jeremiah 51-52; Acts 6

Key Verses

Jeremiah 52:31
And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison.

Acts 6:5
And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…

We are introduced to Stephen today. He was the first disciple listed in the list of men chosen to help serve the widows in Acts 6:5. And he was the first non-apostle attributed with performing “signs and wonders” (6:8).

Luke makes a special attempt to compare Stephen to Jesus as he describes how the Greek Jews sought to accuse Stephen of blasphemy. Stephen’s trial before the Jewish council mirrored Jesus’ trial as they fabricated lies and found false witnesses to testify against Stephen.

Even Stephen’s countenance reflected Jesus, “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

We’ll spend the next three days reading his famous defense before the Jewish council. But his defense would only ensure that he shared the same fate as his Lord, Jesus. Yet another way his life reflected the life of the Savior.

So, as we are introduced to Stephen, we have come to the end of Jeremiah. Jeremiah concludes his book, first with the prophetic destruction of Babylon (Jer. 51). Not only did his prophecy point to the destruction of ancient Babylon, but ultimately to all of what Babylon symbolized – the final destruction of all who stand against God and His people. It is with God’s zeal for protecting His people in mind that we read Jeremiah’s account of the fall of Judah. Interestingly, Jeremiah ends this extremely sad section in the same way that 2 Kings ends – with a shred of hope that the Davidic lineage did not die with the nation. The former Judean king, Jehoiachin, lives and with him lives the hope that God will not abandon his people but will restore the Kingdom and the Davidic King!

I wonder what happened to Jeremiah… What kind of life did he live in Egypt? Did he continue his prophetic ministry, exhorting the people to turn back to their God? Did he die in peace or was he killed for his continued faithfulness to God? However he died, I know he was welcomed in heaven with the words… “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Day 183: Death turned upside-down

Ezekiel 6-7; Acts 7:44-60

I am attending a funeral today. It’s my second one in a month. Death. I really hate death.

We were created to never have to endure death. We were supposed to live in the Garden, in perfect communion with God and each other. Death was unthought of back then, but sin changed all that.

Today we read of the church’s first martyr. Stephen died with the vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. It’s the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is described as “standing” instead of sitting at God’s right hand.

Death is a strange thing. On one hand, it is odious – something that was never supposed to be. But on the other hand, God turns it upside down and somehow uses it for good. Stephen’s death was a catalyst for church growth. Death impassions people. God has consistently used persecution and death as a means to grow his church.

Recently, I was reading a Romanian pastor’s doctoral thesis on suffering, martyrdom and the rewards of heaven… He argues that suffering on earth advances the Kingdom of Heaven – the prime example being Jesus, Himself. If we are called to suffer and/or die for the Kingdom, it is a great Eternal victory!

And I think there lies the key. Eternal. An Eternal perspective changes everything.

Sometimes when I read passages of judgment like the ones we find in today’s reading from Ezekiel, I become indignant. “Why did the children have to suffer and die right along with their apostate parents?” And then I might go even further and question God’s goodness that He might bring about suffering AT ALL!!

But when I entertain those types of thoughts, I know I’ve lost my eternal perspective.

Wouldn’t I choose to suffer for a little while on earth and gain eternal bliss – rather than have earthly bliss and suffer an eternity of torment???

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 Corinthians 4:17).

Our dot of an existence on this earth must be invested wisely for the sake of our eternities. If that means we must suffer to bring about repentance and a character that is more like Christ’s – well so be it! I don’t think Stephen, who is alive with Christ in heaven, regrets his choice to suffer for the sake of the Truth. Do you?

Day 182: The last word

Ezekiel 4-5; Acts 7:20-43

Man. These chapters in Ezekiel are just strange to my modern self…

God commanded Ezekiel to enact the forthcoming siege of Jerusalem in some sort of bizarre street theatre presentation. It involved a clay model of the city, and symbolic acts including laying on his side and scattering hair. Yep. Scattering hair.

But as I think back throughout the Old Testament, this was a common way for God to communicate to his people. Not necessarily scattering hair:) I mean communicating through symbols or symbolic acts. The tabernacle and temple were built using symbols – all revealing a glimpse of God’s character and redemptive plan. Even the daily sacrificial system was a consistent reminder of the cost of sin that was re-enacted by the priests daily.

Word pictures. Symbolic acts. Different layers of meaning. Poetic imagery. God used all of these techniques to reveal Himself to his people. So even though it seems strange to me, Ezekiel symbolically acting out the siege to Jerusalem as described in Ezekiel 4 was consistent with how God had chosen to reveal Himself throughout the Old Testament – especially among His prophets.

After Ezekiel’s extended street theatre, Chapter 5 records God speaking through Ezekiel… As God explained the significance of Ezekiel’s symbolic acts, we read a familiar message of judgment against Israel.

Sin and judgment. Most prophetic books begin with judgment and end with the hope of restoration. Restoration can only occur after the problem of sin has been dealt with…

As we turn our focus to Acts, we read that even Stephen is preaching on the sins of Israel. He reminds us that Israel had been turning against God from the very moment He rescued them from Egypt…

Our fathers refused to obey [Moses], but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us.’ (Acts 7:39-40)

It’s hard for me to read such harsh words of judgment. It’s like slogging through mud…covered with grime and filth. But understanding the reality of sin is the first step to restoration and hope. As a friend of mine used to remind me…”As the depths of your sin are revealed to you, so the cross becomes larger to cover you.” God has the last word. And thankfully, it is good.

Day 181: Back to the land of the Chaldeans

Ezekiel 1-3; Acts 7:1-19

We begin Ezekiel today. His story begins during the reign of Jehoiachin (grandson to Judah’s last good king, Josiah). Ten years before the fall of Jerusalem, when Jehoiachin had been on the throne for only three months, Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and carried Jehoiachin, his family, and 10,000 captives away to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-17). Ezekiel was among this first group of exiles carried to Babylon in 597 BC. He was 25 years old at the time.

Ezekiel began his prophetic ministry as an exile in Babylon around 30 years of age. His message was primarily to his fellow exiles, but the messages of Judgment and Hope are instructive for us today!

Today’s reading is Ezekiel’s description of his call to ministry. The ESV Study Bible summarizes this section of Ezekiel well…

The opening sequence of Ezekiel is the most elaborate and complex of the prophetic call narratives in the OT, and also one of the most carefully structured. In a vision, Ezekiel witnesses the awesome approach of the glory of God (1:1–28). Ezekiel receives his prophetic commission through swallowing the scroll God offers (2:1–3:11), thus both fortifying him and training him in obedience. After the glory of God withdraws (3:12–15), Ezekiel’s role is further refined by his appointment as a “watchman” (3:16–21). The sequence concludes with a further encounter with God’s glory (3:22–27). (ESV Study Bible, Notes on Ezekiel 1-3, Crossway Publishers)

Ezekiel’s encounter with the glory of God serves as a backdrop and contrast to his earthly circumstances. When compared to God’s glory, Israel’s sin is heinous, and this harsh attitude is reflected throughout Ezekiel’s judgment oracles.

In Acts, Stephen begins his defense recounting early Jewish history. Today’s reading summarizes most of Genesis, as Stephen recounts God’s promises to Abraham and the covenant of circumcision.

We are reminded of one interesting detail in Stephen’s discourse. He mentions that Abraham was originally from the land of the Chaldeans – which was the same land where the Judean exiles, including Ezekiel, were taken captive to….

…the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there (Ezekiel 1:3).

So God called Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans into the promised land of Canaan, and promised to make him into a great nation. And even though the promises to Abraham were fulfilled, because of Israel’s sin, God sent his people back to the land of the Chaldeans as exiles. But thankfully, we know that God is in the restoration business – and one day… we will all dwell in the New Jerusalem… forever, with no possibility of ever being sent back to the land of the Chaldeans!

Day 180: Faithful to the end

Jeremiah 51-52; Acts 6

We are introduced to Stephen today. He was the first disciple listed in the list of men chosen to help serve the widows in Acts 6:5. And he was the first non-apostle attributed with performing “signs and wonders” (6:8).

Luke makes a special attempt to compare Stephen to Jesus as he describes how the Greek Jews sought to accuse Stephen of blasphemy. Stephen’s trial before the Jewish council mirrored Jesus’ trial as they fabricated lies and found false witnesses to testify against Stephen.

Even Stephen’s countenance reflected Jesus, “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

We’ll spend the next three days reading his famous defense before the Jewish council. But his defense would only ensure that he shared the same fate as his Lord, Jesus. Yet another way his life reflected the life of the Savior…

So, as we are introduced to Stephen, we have come to the end of Jeremiah. Jeremiah concludes his book, first with the prophetic destruction of Babylon (Jer. 51). Not only did his prophesy point to the destruction of ancient Babylon, but ultimately to all of what Babylon symbolized – the final destruction of all who stand against God and His people. It is with God’s zeal for protecting His people in mind that we read of the inevitable fall of Judah. Interestingly, Jeremiah ends this extremely sad section in the same way that 2 Kings ends – with a shred of hope that the Davidic lineage did not die with the nation. The former Judean king, Jehoiachin, lives and with him lives the hope that God will not abandon his people but will restore the Kingdom and the Davidic King!

I wonder what happened to Jeremiah… What kind of life did he live in Egypt? Did he continue his prophetic ministry, exhorting the people to turn back to their God? Did he die in peace or was he killed for his continued faithfulness to God? However he died, I know he was welcomed in heaven with the words… “Well done, good and faithful servant!”