Bible reading for January 20--21
Jan 20 -- Nehemiah 10 and Acts 20
Jan 21 -- Nehemiah 11 and Acts 21
"Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests." (Nehemiah 9:38)
THE BEAUTY OF COVENANT (ch 10). We had a very interesting discussion in our young adult Bible study recently about why most couples today prefer to live together rather than get married, and how do we make a case for God's design in marriage. We spoke of the security, stability, sacrificial love, intimacy, maturity, and faithfulness which are possible through covenant marriage. Covenant is one of the most beautiful words in the Bible! A covenant is a solemn mutual agreement between people or between God and people. It was to be permanent, and was considered more serious than a contract or temporary commitment. When in relation to the Lord the human role had more to do with submission to God, and a pledge of faithfulness to fulfill his will. In Nehemiah 10 we see the names of those who were affirming their vows before the Lord. This, actually, was a covenant renewal, whereby these people were pledging to walk with God again in terms of the Mosaic covenant. However, all through the OT Israel's track record in upholding her part was marred by chronic unfaithfulness. We in the New Testament are in a better covenant with God through the death of our Lord Jesus, and being recipients of his grace, are united to him forever. The lesson here is that God desires that we be in covenant relationship with him -- to know his love, protection, security, faithfulness, and eternal generosity. Why not take a moment now to thank him for his covenant love toward you in Christ?
MOVING TO THE CITY (ch 11). One out of every ten families would be chosen by lot (and some will volunteer) to move to Jerusalem to live. At that time Jerusalem was largely an abandoned, ruined city. But the rebuilding had begun and one day the city again would be thriving with people, families, businesses, and above all, vibrant worship at the Lord's temple. It would be seen as an honor to live and raise families there: "...the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God... And of Zion it shall be said, 'This one and that one were born in her;' for the Most High himself will establish her" (Psalm 87:2ff). We who have come to Christ likewise are part of the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city (Rev 21-22). Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2-3). Our homeland is not the city of man, but the City of God!
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)
ONWARD TO JERUSALEM (ch 20). Paul begins to make his way back to Jerusalem and we see his farewell gathering with the elders from Ephesus. What a touching portrayal of Paul's relationship with these fellow believers! Please read my comments regarding this chapter ("On to Jerusalem") and some lessons for church leadership here.
WELCOME HOME (ch 21). The missionary team makes it back to Jerusalem in time to celebrate Pentecost. Luke is a careful historian and notes the details of their travel route. Along the way they learn by the Holy Spirit that Paul will be arrested and turned over to the Roman authorities. When Paul visits the temple, a riot ensues because the Jews assume he has desecrated the courtyard with his Gentile friends. Roman soldiers rescue Paul from the beating he is receiving from the crowd, and begin to carry him off, but he asks permission to speak to the crowd. The steps to the Roman garrison will provide the podium for Paul's message to the crowd, which we'll read in the next chapter.
REFLECT. The Apostle Paul did not shy away from speaking to the crowd which was intent on beating him. How remarkable! He loved the gospel, but he also loved the Jewish people: "... I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." (Rom 9:2-3). Do you and I have that kind of love for our relatives and neighbors, to speak up for their eternal welfare even if they might be against us?
THE DREADFUL OATH OF OFFICE. Pray for our newly elected officials. Whether the last election was stolen or not, or whether the majority of Americans really want these changes of power or not, one thing is certain -- God will not be mocked. Those who are taking office not only need to faithfully serve all Americans, but more seriously, they need to realize that God will judge them for the standards of righteousness they promote. It's a fearful thing for officials to be sworn into such positions of power, and they should feel the dread, not of man, but of God. Their ultimate accountability is not to their party, or to the voters. Leaders will be judged by the standards of God's holy and eternal laws. It would be one thing to live quietly at home in unrighteousness, but quite another to make laws and policies which will affect millions of people. May these officials be gripped by the seriousness of this.
INAUGURAL PRAYERS. The image above is from the printed program of Dwight Eisenhower's inauguration in 1953. Unlike most presidents before and after, Ike himself prayed from the podium, and this was the text. And here's another, by Billy Graham at the 1969 Inauguration of Richard Nixon: "Thou alone hast given us our prosperity, our freedom and our power. This faith in God is our heritage and our foundation! Thou hast warned us in the Scriptures, 'If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?' As George Washington reminded us in his farewell address, morality and faith are the pillars of our society. We confess these pillars are being eroded in an increasingly materialistic and permissive society. The whole world is watching to see if the faith of our fathers will stand the trials and tests of the hour. Too long we have neglected Thy word and ignored Thy laws. Too long we have tried to solve our problems without reference to Thee. Too long we have tried to live by bread alone. We have sown to the wind and are now reaping a whirlwind of crime, division, and rebellion. And now with the wages of our sins staring us in the face, we remember Thy words, 'If my people who are called by my Name shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.' Help us this day to turn from our sins and to turn by simple faith to the One who said, 'Ye must be born again.' So we pray, O God, as we enter a new era, that we as a nation may experience a moral and spiritual restoration."
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.