Bible reading for January 18--19
Jan 18 -- Nehemiah 8 and Acts 18
Jan 19 -- Nehemiah 9 and Acts 19
"And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, 'This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.' For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, 'Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.'" (Nehemiah 8:9-10)
THE POWER OF THE WORD. God's word was read publicly (in this occasion, likely Deuteronomy) and the people were greatly affected (chapter 8). First it is conviction and sorrow for their failure to walk in God's ways. But then they are called to rejoice, because the Lord is working in their hearts. Worship and more confession follow in chapter 9. One major lesson to take away from these chapters is that God advances his plan on earth through his Word and Spirit. In Genesis, the Spirit was moving over the waters as God spoke the words of creation (Gen 1:2-3). Through Isaiah he says, "...so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (Isa 55:11). Ezekiel prophesies twice over the dead bones (Ezek 37:4-10), once with the word, and again to the Spirit ("breath; wind; spirit"). In our reading of Acts we see the gospel coming with the power of the Spirit: "While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" (Acts 10:44). The Apostle Paul said that the gospel came not just in word but "also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction" (1 Thess 1:5). "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers" (1 Thess 2:13). This is the pattern from beginning to end in biblical history, and it's the same pattern today: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom 10:17).
THE JOY OF THE LORD. The people in Nehemiah's day, now painfully aware of their failure before God, were unable to rejoice. But the day was "holy", that is, the Lord himself was granting them repentance and was renewing them to their covenant relationship with him. It was a spiritual revival. And the very process of conviction was a good thing, and would lead to better things, even the joy of the Lord. As believers we must always remember that the pain of self-discovery, and the cry of confession and repentance, are designed to lead us to eternal joy, not keep us in misery. Facing reality about ourselves may be painful momentarily, but eternally, it leads to the fullness of joy in God's presence (Ps 16:11). In Isaiah 55, just after the verse about God's word going forth and producing results, is this verse: "For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands" (Isa 55:12).
"So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily." (Acts 19:20)
AT CORINTH (ch 18). During his second missionary journey Paul and the team arrive in the city of Corinth (southern Greece). He stays there a year and a half with much success, though opposition comes with it. The Lord encourages Paul: "Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people" (18:9-10). And we, too, can go forward in confidence knowing that the Lord is with us and the gospel will bear fruit in the lives of people. As the eighteenth century evangelist, George Whitefield, once said, "We are immortal until our work on earth is done." Paul will pass through Ephesus briefly and then conclude his second missionary journey back in his home base in Antioch (v 22). After a while he will launch his third trip (v 23) and spend some time in Ephesus. Paul, a wise discipler and church planter, will visit many of the places he visited before and follow up with the young churches.
AT EPHESUS (ch 19). In this chapter we read of Paul's fruitful ministry in Ephesus. The gospel (through conversions) was beginning to empty the temple of Artemis. Of course, this brings about opposition and conflict. At this time Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: "But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Cor 16:8-9). Paul was not frightened by adversaries. We too should not be surprised by opposition, for the gospel brings differing responses: "For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life" (2 Cor 2:15-16).
REFLECT. In both our OT and NT readings we see the powerful advance of God's redemptive plan through his Word being proclaimed, and applied to hearts by the Holy Spirit. Here's the question: do you and I have full confidence in biblical truth, that God's Spirit will use it to bring conviction and new life both to ourselves and to others?
"How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority." (Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail")
This morning we watched the Sunday service at Parkside Church, including an excellent message by Alistair Begg on a difficult passage (2 Samuel 6:7). In the singing we were introduced to an older/newer song, and new to me, "Be Still For the Presence of the Lord." Begin here. In listening to various renditions of this song we came upon this BBC special, "Songs of Praise, The UK’s Favourite Hymn," and found this song to be #9 in the UK. We wondered, why can't we have more TV specials like this in America? How about, "America's Got Hymns" (AGH)?
And pray for our brethren in the ten most dangerous places in the world.
Image credit: photo by Dave Hoefler 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.