Bible reading for Jan 4-5.
Jan 4 -- Ezra 4 and Acts 4
Jan 5 -- Ezra 5 and Acts 5
"This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:11-12)
DEALING WITH OPPOSITION. One of the more hurtful things I've experienced as a believer is to have my words deliberately twisted and my motives maligned. Perhaps it was in something I've written or spoken, but to have my words (or actions) deliberately misinterpreted and publicly misrepresented is very painful. Such hostility is seen in both of our readings today. In Ezra the adversaries of the Jews write a cunning letter to the Persian emperor, and government suppression stops the temple rebuilding project. And in Acts we see the early church being opposed by the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Throughout history God's work on earth in redeeming the lost and gathering his people is often opposed by enemies, at first by using seduction and compromise, then lies and misrepresentation, then threats and intimidation, and finally with force and violence.
EZRA. Here's a quick line-up of the Persian emperors involved: Cyrus (600--527 BC), Cambyses (527--521), Darius (521--486), Xerxes (aka Ahaseurus)(486--465), and Artaxerxes Longimanus (465--424). They were generally favorable to the Jewish people. The chronology of the events of these two chapters is complex. See Constable's commentary on this here. As you read these chapters, ask the following questions: as we enter 2021 what can we learn here about how to deal with the temptation to compromise, giving in to fear, or responding impatiently -- especially, when the powers that be (whether popular or political) are aligned against us? What can we learn from Ezra 4-5 to help us face adversaries today?
ACTS. Throughout the book of Acts we will see that hostility toward the gospel results in persecution of the followers of Christ. This is normal. In his preaching Peter was filled with the Spirit, enabling him to speak freely and boldly for Christ. The rest of the fellowship prayed also for boldness, and they too were filled with the Spirit and spoke freely of Christ. This word for boldness (parresia) means that the believers were outspoken, free, and confident in the their witness for Christ. Such boldness is one of the signs of the filling of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. The early church also shared resources generously with one another. Barnabas sold some land and donated the proceeds. It was not long before this practice was spoiled by hypocrisy and deception (5:1-11). There is swift judgment from God, and the stature of the apostles increases even more (5:12-16). The apostles are arrested again, but miraculously are released. Meanwhile God's work continued: "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (5:42). As you read these chapters ask, how did the Apostles respond to the authorities that opposed them? What kept them going? Where did the early Christians find their boldness to speak out for Christ?
FINALLY, CONSIDER for a few minutes this paraphrase of Ephesians 6:10-18 by Eugene Peterson... "God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out." (Eph 6:10-18 The Message)
THE READING SCHEDULE I am working from is here in PDF. My next post will be for Wednesday and Thursday's readings.
TODAY (SUNDAY) I heard two really fine sermons, both on 2 Corinthians 1. Neil Damgaard spoke at Grace Church this morning. And Jim Krouscas spoke at BCF. By the way, and for what it matters, both are VT alumni and Dallas Seminary grads. Good preachers, both of them.
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. A recommended resource is NETBible.org, a ministry of bible.org.