Jan 8 -- Ezra 8 and Acts 8
Jan 9 -- Ezra 9 and Acts 9
Jan 10 -- Ezra 10 and Acts 10
"Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles." (Ezra 10:6)
RETURNING HOME. In chapter 8 we read the names of the Jews who made the long journey back to Jerusalem along with Ezra. God provides a company of Levites, needed to lead worship at the rebuilt temple. God also provides gold and silver, and a safe journey. They had fasted and prayed, and the Lord's hand was upon them (8:18, 31). But in chapter 9 and 10 we discover that things are not well in Judea. The persistent problem of religious compromise had again taken hold in the nation, and the leaders were foremost in this offense (9:2). God has willed that his people marry others who are consecrated to the Lord (2 Cor 6:14-16). Children were to be reared in the nurture of the truth about God (Malachi 2:15). Ezra's mourning and prayer is recorded in chapter 9, and the people's humble response in chapter 10. The breakup of some of those families seems harsh, but it was necessary for the preservation of the nation and the faith. In the church age, the Apostle Paul does not say believers should abandon unbelieving spouses, but accepts the fact that unbelievers might leave their families (1 Cor 7:12-16).
NATIONAL MOURNING. In Ezra and Nehemiah, we learn that rebuilding the city is secondary to rebuilding the people. The Lord prepares a place for his people, but more importantly, he prepares his people for that place. The greatest factor in the welfare of a nation is the godliness of its people, not in its abundance of its resources. In our own time of national mourning it is too easy to sink into partisan blaming: "It's their fault!" Even democracy itself will fail a nation if the people are ungodly. Ponder Jesus' words in Luke 13:1-9. It is time to confess, as did believers of old, "our sins", not just mine or yours or theirs, but all of our shared moral failures. "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain" (Ps 127:1). As we face 2021 we should sing more like this: "All Glory Be To Christ," here performed by the Petersen family.
"'To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.' While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word." (Acts 10:43-44)
SURPRISING RESPONSES. In the record of the Acts of the Apostles we have witnessed the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen (ch 7). This also introduces us to an early persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus, who will later become known as Paul the Apostle. Saul was his given Hebrew name, and being born a Roman citizen, he also had a Latin name, Paulus. Much of the later chapters in Acts have to do with Paul's preaching and missionary work. Meanwhile, chapters 8 through 11 will look at the ministries of Philip and of the Apostle Peter. There are some surprising responses to the gospel. Saul, of course, is at first in violent opposition. But the gospel is expanding outward, both geographically and ethnically. Many Samaritans believe ("...in all Judea and Samaria...", Acts 1:8), but one star convert, Simon, who was a prominent occult practitioner, turns out to be a fake. He "believes", but wants the power of the Spirit mainly to advance his career. On the other hand, a visiting Ethiopian official comes to faith by understanding an Old Testament prophecy about Christ. Then we have the sudden and unexpected call of the Lord upon Saul, turning a persecutor into a servant of Christ in the blink of an eye. There was no protracted invitation or altar call, but rather a very straightforward command, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do" (9:5-6). Another surprising conversion is that of Cornelius, a Roman military commander, along with his family and friends (chapter 10). They hear the gospel from Peter, believe it (even as they are hearing it), and the Holy Spirit comes upon them at once (cf Eph 1:13).
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT? It is the experience of church history that apparent friends can become foes, and deadly foes can become friends, and salvation comes to the most unlikely (and undeserving) of persons. In the unfolding of God's story things are not always as they seem. Do you have a sense of hope for human history? Do you believe God is at work and guiding events for the glory of Christ? Are you despairing at the fall of a political leader, or trusting in another leader (or party) to bring about what only the Lord can do? It is not partisanship but piety which pleases the Lord. As the song says, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in His wonderful face / And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace." (Lyrics: Helen Howarth Lemmel) Take a moment to listen to Shane and Shane as they sing this hymn.
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.