Bible reading for January 13-14
Jan 13 -- Nehemiah 3 and Acts 13
Jan 14 -- Nehemiah 4 and Acts 14
"So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work." (Nehemiah 4:6)
LABOR (ch 3). Principle: the work is divided, and everyone has a part. Observe the many people involved in this wall-building project. What stands out to you? What's unusual or unexpected about these people? Here is a diverse group of volunteers placed in various locations, united in their work to benefit the whole. "Diversity" has become a politically-charged word in our culture, but Christians must agree that in God's creation, and among his redeemed people, there is great diversity. Membership in the body of Christ transcends race, gender, class, ethnicity, education, age, party, wealth, and rank. There is one major difference, however, in how the Bible views diversity: the biblical concept of diversity finds its cohesion in the unity of God's will and purpose. In Nehemiah's day it was rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. In our day it is allegiance to our Lord Jesus and the glory of God. One good cross-reference here would be Ephesians chapter 4 (also, 1 Corinthians 12) where we see the diverse gifts and callings of God's people. We work for God's glory and for the greatest good of others. So we should ask ourselves, "Do we recognize the gifts and talents of others? Do we know our own assignment? Do we see the big picture of what God is doing and how our labors fit in? Are we actually working side-by-side with others? Are we using our talents, or lack of talents, to avoid doing the work set before us?"
OPPOSITION (ch 4). Principle: opposition will come; courage and wisdom will be needed. What are the various forms this opposition takes, as seen in this chapter? How does Nehemiah organize the people for their protection? They were living in a hostile environment, but they also needed to get their work done! There was both the positive aspect of work, and the more negative aspect of defense. Jesus taught a lot about the need for watchfulness: "Watch and pray..." (Matt 26:41; cf 16:6; 25:13; Lu 21:34). The Apostle Paul, as well, taught this: "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong" (1 Cor 16:13; cf Eph 6:18). And Peter: "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). These days we often think of our opponents merely in terms of political or cultural differences. But our real enemies are "not flesh and blood" (Eph 6:12). So, we should ask ourselves, "Do I know who my enemies are? Am I prepared to work and to defend the work at the same time? Am I alert and vigilant toward the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy? Do I shy away from conflict when I should face it squarely? Am I seeking God for the wisdom and courage needed to face intimidation and deception?"
REFLECT. Read D. A. Carson's devotional regarding the faithfulness of two Bible characters we are reading about: "The same God is behind both situations, of course. In both situations, a lone servant of God faces the challenge of building up and strengthening God’s people in the teeth of opposition from some pretty hostile customers. Both men are in danger, in part for political reasons, though Peter’s danger is the more immediate. Both are unflinching in their loyalty to the living God and to the mission to which each is called." Read more here.
"And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus..." (Acts 13:32-33)
THE FIRST MISSIONARY TRIP (ch 13-14). Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark -- later the author of the Gospel of Mark -- depart on a mission to Cyprus and then to the southern cities of Asia Minor (13:5), which is Turkey today. John Mark doesn't complete the trip, which will become an issue later. The responses in each city are often mixed: openness, misguided enthusiasm, faith, opposition, and rejection. Some Jews believe in each city, but a greater number of Gentile seekers, sometimes called "God-fearers," come to faith in Christ. Though uncircumcised, these seekers respected the law of Moses and attended synagogue teaching. Usually, a new church was formed at each city where the missionary team visited. Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians just after this trip, to the believers in Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and the surrounding region.
THE PREACHING OF PAUL. In chapter 13 we are treated to the first public message by the Apostle Paul recorded in Scripture (13:16-41). His appeal centers on the Scriptural promises regarding the lineage of David and the Messiah's resurrection, along with the testimony of witnesses. Key OT passages are taken from Psalm 2, Psalm 16, and Isaiah 55. Forgiveness is now proclaimed, and the hearers are called upon to believe: "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses" (13:38-39). Salvation is promised, salvation is accomplished through our Lord Jesus, and forgiveness is given to all who believe. This is the gospel!
NARRATIVES AND COUNTER-NARRATIVES. The gospel is a metanarrative which spans human history. A metanarrative is a great Story by which all other stories are understood. The gospel includes both promise and fulfillment, transcends history, and has eternal consequences. Paul's preaching is shaped by this metanarrative. In our culture today we hear much about narratives. Many hold that there is no such over-riding metanarrative. And yet we see people today gripped by story-lines which for them have a way of shaping their entire perception of reality. On the political left we see that race and racism (and perhaps sexual identity) is a defining reality to all other perceptions. That's one narrative. On the political right we see that a grand anti-God conspiracy by progressives is the defining reality. That's a counter-narrative. There are some truths to be seen in both perspectives. The Christian's challenge, however, is to have his or her reality shaped by the one great narrative, the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. Other, lesser narratives may be at play, but we should beware of being played by any one group's political narrative as defining reality. Christians should never check their brains at the door of any one political group's narrative, nor receive their truth claims uncritically. Here's a good question from The Dispatch this morning: "Do you think your political beliefs are mostly informed by the news sources you read, or do you think you mostly seek out news sources that affirm your existing political beliefs?" The answer to that question might help us sort out which, and how much, other narratives are controlling our perception of reality.
Image credit: photo of stonework by Paul Zoetemeijer 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.