Bible reading for January 6-7
Jan 6 -- Ezra 6 and Acts 6
Jan 7 -- Ezra 7 and Acts 7
"For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel." (Ezra 7:10)
EZRA. The Persian emperor Darius decrees and supports the work of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem (chapter 6). The prophets Haggai and Zechariah (we'll read their words when we get to the Minor Prophets) encourage God's people during this time. Chapters one to six are related to the first return under the leadership of Zerubbabel in 536 BC. Ezra, priest and scribe, arrives in the second wave of returning exiles in 458 BC (chapter 7). Nehemiah will be in the third group in 445 BC. See my chart above.
THE LORD IS ACTIVE in the rebuilding of the nation. Note how he "stirs up the spirit" or "turns the heart" of people. And three times we are told that the "hand of the Lord" was upon Ezra (7:6, 9, 28). Central to Ezra's life and ministry was the word of God (7:10). First he studied, then he practiced, and then he taught it to the people. Both in Ezra and Nehemiah we learn that rebuilding the temple and walls, respectively, are secondary to the spiritual restoration of the people. The Lord prepares a place for his people (cf John 14:2-3), but more importantly, he prepares a people for that place (2 Pet 3:11-14).
"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6:4)
ACTS. The church faces problems not just from hostile outsiders, but also from internal conflicts (chapter 6). Widows were dependent on charitable giving, and apparently, the Hebrew-speaking (culturally Hebrew) widows were better cared for than the Greek-speaking (culturally Hellenistic) widows. Seven godly men, all with Greek names, were chosen to oversee this ministry of care. This was a good decision, and likely, the origin of the diaconate (deacons) within the church. Particularly, Stephen stands out as a man of faith, having supernatural power, and being an effective evangelist. He is brought to trial and makes his defense as recorded in chapter 7. His walk-thru-the-OT is designed to demonstrate that all those whom God sent to Israel, including Joseph, Moses, and the prophets, were rejected by the people. It is not because people lack evidence that they do not welcome Jesus as Messiah, but it's because of their stubborn, hardened hearts. (This is true not just of the Jews but also of Gentiles! See Romans 1--3.) Stephen becomes the church's first martyr. Read more here.
WHAT'S IMPORTANT. Like Ezra, the apostles and the early church realized the priority and centrality of God's word -- to study it, apply it, teach it, proclaim it, quote it, and when necessary, die for it (Acts 2:42; 4:31; 5:42; 6:4, 7). So far in the book of Acts I notice at least four things that the early church took very seriously: 1) God's word, which included public proclamation of the gospel and congregational teaching; 2) prayer (lots of fervent prayer); 3) justice and compassion within the church; and 4) faithful, Spirit-empowered witness to Christ even to death. These should be the church's priorities today! What if Ezra had "set his heart" to keep up on the news or community events? What if the apostles had said, "we will devote ourselves to church activities and meeting needs"? Or worse, "we will devote ourselves to social media and entertainment"? Where would God's people be? Let us remember that "the only authoritative word ever published is that which comes from the Holy Scriptures" (A. W. Tozer). And J. I. Packer wrote, "It is for the Bible to form and reform the church... it is for the church to keep and keep to the Bible."
RESOURCES. As always, I recommend using the excellent notes found at netbible.org. You can also receive daily Bible reading emails from The Gospel Coalition here.
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.