Bible reading for weekend January 15-17
Jan 15 -- Nehemiah 5 and Acts 15
Jan 16 -- Nehemiah 6 and Acts 16
Jan 17 -- Nehemiah 7 and Acts 17
"...they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God." (Nehemiah 6:16)
THE WORK OF GOD. With the Lord, a lot can happen in a short time! We see this in both our OT and NT readings this weekend. In Nehemiah, the Jews complete the wall around Jerusalem in 52 days. In Acts, we read that churches have been planted in Samaria, Syria, Asia Minor (Turkey), and now Europe (Greece), within two decades after Christ's resurrection. History records that other apostles were spreading the gospel, for example, Thomas going east towards Parthia and India. But it's God's use of the Apostle Paul and his cohorts that reveals the remarkable move of God toward the heart of the Roman empire. In both Nehemiah and Acts we see that this work continues despite opposition from without and conflicts from within.
CONFLICTS WITHIN. In Nehemiah 5 and Acts 15 we see that the work of God seems nearly thwarted, not by enemies outside the camp, but by those who profess to be the people of God. Nehemiah uses his authority to restore justice, compassion, and peace to the community of Jewish exiles who have returned to Jerusalem. Then, fast-forward to the apostles' day and read about the council held in Jerusalem (AD 49), seeking to apply the gospel to the controversies between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. The meeting had a good outcome: "And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement" (Acts 15:31). Here's a little more on Acts 15.
IN NEHEMIAH. Some key words I have used in the study of Nehemiah are as follows: Chapter 5, Authority. Principle: a proper use of authority insures that there is justice, mercy, and order in the community. Some who are rich were taking unfair advantage of those who are poor, and Nehemiah uses his authority to restore fairness and compassion among the people of God. Chapter 6, Success. Principle: despite opposition and hindrances God grants success in his work. (Not our work, but his work!) Chapter 7, People. The list of names here reminds us that people are important to God. Principle: it's people, real people with names, that make up the community of God. Believer, do you realize that your own name -- just like the names recorded in the Bible -- has likewise been recorded for eternity? Jesus said, "...rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). We are known by name.
SETTLED. "And when the seventh month had come, the people of Israel were in their towns" (7:73). And so the people are settled, at least for a season. But this teaches us that ultimately the Lord will complete the work he began, and all of God's children shall make it home. The Lord spoke through the Apostle John, saying, "The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name" (Rev 3:12).
"And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.' (Acts 16:29-31)
ADVENTURES IN ACTS. The chapters 16 and 17 record Paul's second missionary journey. Take your time and enjoy reading these stories! Paul and Silas (aka Silvanus) add Timothy to their team and proclaim the gospel in Asia Minor (Turkey today). They attempt to head northward but the Spirit leads them westward, across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia (northern Greece). Chapter 16 records their ministry at the prominent city (and Roman colony) of Philippi. The Lord is at work in opening hearts (Lydia), deliverance (servant girl), a most timely earthquake, and the jailer's conversion. The team goes on to the cities of Thessalonica and Berea. Paul ends up in Athens and has the opportunity to speak to the philosophers gathered on the Areopagus (the Romans called it Mars Hill). In previous situations Paul "reasoned from the Scriptures" since this was accepted by most of his hearers. But here he steps back to argue first for the biblical God -- one, personal, independent creator God. This was necessary before his proclamation of Christ in the gospel. As in most other places, there was a mixed reaction.
REFLECT. God's work goes forward to completion despite all opposition and conflict: "...he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6; cf Isa 46:10; Eph 1:11). God's purpose will stand. It seems, however, that God's people themselves can be their own worst enemy! As Nehemiah said, "The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?" (Neh 5:9) How often have I said or done hurtful things towards others in the body of Christ? How often have I been a bad example or have contributed to conflict or misunderstanding in the church? We hurt those closest to us and frequently let down those we should be supporting. We need to remember that "... it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Pet 4:17) May such truths humble us, and may we trust God alone and not in our own hearts.
Image credit: photo of the Areopagus Hill, as seen today from the Acropolis, Athens, Greece, via Wikimedia Commons. 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.