Bible reading for January 11-12
Jan 11 -- Nehemiah 1 and Acts 11
Jan 12 -- Nehemiah 2 and Acts 12
"Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?" (Nehemiah 2:3)
REBUILDING THE WALLS. We begin a new book, Nehemiah, about a man who leads the third wave of Jews returning from Babylon to their homeland in the fifth century B.C. A few years previously Ezra made the same trip, and worked on restoring national worship. Nehemiah will focus on rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem for the city's security and dignity. But the central concern for both Ezra and Nehemiah was the rebuilding of God's people. In the first two chapters we observe Nehemiah's prayer (and his heart) for his kinsmen back in their homeland. He embraces his people's failures as his own, and since he is a man of high position in the Persian empire, he asks for success in helping his fellow Jews to rebuild. In chapter two Nehemiah lays out his plan to the Persian monarch Artaxerxes, acquires the resources needed, travels the long journey home, evaluates the work for himself, and then begins by motivating the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem's walls.
PRINCIPLES OF MINISTRY. This book contains many lessons on what it means to rebuild God's people as a community. We were created for community, and so Nehemiah is working to restore that community. The book of Nehemiah contains many truths for Christian ministry today. Currently, in our church's young adult ministry we are studying Nehemiah. I have sought to summarize each chapter with a one-word summary of those principles of ministry. Also, we consider a number of questions for self-evaluation.
PRAYER (ch 1). We summarized chapter one with the word, Prayer. Nehemiah prays, and we see here, as well as throughout the Scriptures, that prayer is important from first to last. We need to ask, as we live and/or lead in community, "Have I prayed about each decision I make? Do I see the big picture of God's work of redemption in history? Do I feel his concerns on my heart? Have I identified with God’s people in their failures and need? Do I know God’s character and promises? Do I trust his providence? Am I willing to step out in faith and be involved in his work?"
PLANNING (ch 2). Chapter two is summarized as Planning. Nehemiah plans his work, knows his direction, assesses what he needs, and views the work that needs to be accomplished. His planning resulted in well-informed and timely action. And so we ask, "Am I adequately informed before I take actions, or before I speak of intended action? Am I thoughtful, and do I know the task that lies before us? Have I taken the trouble to get first-hand knowledge of situations? Am I bringing others into this information -- and my intentions -- at the right time? Am I handling opposition in the right way? Have I established proper boundaries?"
THE CITY BUILDER. The wall-builder Nehemiah foreshadows the great City-builder himself, Jesus Christ (Heb 3:3; Rev 21-22). We see these ministry principles exemplified in his life, too. Our Lord was a man of constant prayer: "And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35; cf Matt 14:23; 26:36-44; John 17:1ff). Even now at the right hand of the Father in heaven he intercedes for us (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). His overwhelming desire was to fulfill his Father's will (John 5:19) and to complete the work given to him (John 17:4). He came with purpose, and with a plan from his Father. He said, "I will build my church" (Matt 16:18), and so we can have full confidence that his church will finally be built, completed according to God's will and design!
"But the word of God increased and multiplied." (Acts 12:24)
THE GOSPEL ADVANCES. Peter is called on the carpet for having fellowship with Romans. One group that caused problems in the early church was a sect of observant Jews who had become believers in Jesus. They maintained, however, that any Gentiles (e.g., Romans) coming to Christ needed to comply with all the Mosaic laws to become "kosher," or ceremonially clean in God's eyes. This was called the "party of the circumcision" (v 2), also known as Judaizers. Peter's testimony about the Roman "Pentecost" (Acts 10) silenced this Jewish purity party for a while. But the issue will come up again in a few chapters, as the churches are now adding many non-Jewish believers into their congregations. The second half of chapter 11 tells us how Saul of Tarsus, now a believer for a few years, comes to be teaching in the Gentile church at Antioch in Syria, where believers are called "Christians" for the first time. From there Paul and Barnabas will soon launch the first missionary journey. In chapter 12 James (a son of Zebedee) is martyred, and Peter is imprisoned, but miraculously released. Herod Agrippa I dies horribly, and we will encounter his son, Agrippa II, later in this book. The Lord is advancing his message, and at the same time humbling the pride of earthly powers.
REFLECT. As you survey the news of our nation and of the world, how do you respond? It may seem that things are out of control, with churches experiencing conflict and division, and with the powers of this age vigorously opposing the gospel of our Lord Jesus. But this was true even in the first century! Today, will you thank God that his plan for history is moving forward, and that the word of God is increasing and multiplying?
Image credit: photo by Amanda Edwardsen on Unsplash. 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.