We are marching on in the NLT Chronological Bible in Day 45 of our rapid read through the Bible.  Today we begin to see in some early episodes of Jesus’ life and ministry a bit of Jesus’ character, and he is unusual and surprising,

When Jesus is twelve, he goes with his parents to Jerusalem.  They leave to return back to Nazareth and figure that Jesus is in the crowd of people who are headed north to Galilee. At the end of the first day, no Jesus!  They return to Jerusalem and search for him for three days!  Where do they find him?  In the temple talking with the religious leaders.  When his mother asks him what he is doing there, Jesus seems surprised (which is itself surprising), he responds: “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49, NLT) It will be awhile before his parents figure out what that particular statement means.

In another episode early in Jesus’ ministry, he begins to talk with a woman who comes out in the heat of the day to collect water from a well.  Before long, Jesus is telling her that if she drinks water that he will give her, she will never thirst again!  Needless to say, she is surprised and certainly wants that water.  When the woman claims that she is waiting for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus tells her that he is the Messiah.  Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples return and are surprised that Jesus is talking with a woman, (who we find out has had five husbands and is shacking up with her sixth man). Pretty soon, most of this woman’s fellow villagers come to faith in Jesus, proclaiming that he is the “Savior of the world.”  The only thing is, these are all Samaritans, who the Jews considered half-breeds and apostates.  They pretty much hated the Samaritans.  Do you think they were surprised that Jesus first announced he was the Messiah to Samaritans?

Finally, Jesus surprises the religious leaders when he heals a man who has been brought to him who is paralyzed.  He tells the man: “Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”” (Mark 2:5, NLT)

Say what?!?  Apparently, Jesus can not only heal paralysis, but he seems to think that he can also announce whose sins are forgiven.  This is very surprising (and doesn’t sit well with the teachers of religious law who witnessed the incident).

What we discover in the early ministry of Jesus is that he is simply not going to act like people think he should act, nor is he going to speak like people think he should speak.  He is going to say and do what is true, just, and right, and this will bring him into conflict with the Pharisees and religious leaders time and time again.  Jesus is more focused on proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God, than he is pleasing the notions of the religious leaders around him.

One wonders if the church has strayed a little too far from Jesus’ mission today.  We seem to always surprise the world around us, but not the way that Jesus surprised people.

 

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We are in Day 44 of our trip through the NLT Chronological bible reading it quickly as if it were a novel.  Today we finish the Old Testament! and begin the New Testament.

The Old Testament finishes with the book of Malachi.  Even though this message is to those who have returned from exile and are in the Promised Land again, God is still working to ensure that his people stay faithful to him.  Malachi calls the people to faithfulness and repentance.

In the last paragraph of the book we read this prophecy:

Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5–6, NLT)

And then God is silent for 400 years. No word from the Lord.  No prophets. No nothing.

Then one day, Zechariah the priest is doing his duty in the temple when suddenly:“While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him.” (Luke 1:11–12, NLT) Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, who is too old to have children, will bear a son, the angel tells him, and that son will prepare the way for the Lord.  Indeed, Jesus himself will tell the people later that Zechariah’s son, John, is (metaphorically) the prophet Elijah (Matt 11.14).

Meanwhile, a virgin named Mary is told by an angel that she herself will be the mother of the Messiah.  Nine months later, in a little town called Bethlehem, in a backwater region of the greatest nation on earth, Messiah is born.  The gospel of Luke, gives us a beautiful account of his appearing (Luke 2.1-20).

What God had promised from the earliest pages of Genesis, what God had worked for during the long years of Israel’s history, what God had sustained through Israel’s idolatry and unfaithfulness and consequent exile, he now brings to pass at the fullness of time:

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” (Galatians 4:4–5, NLT)

The good news is this: Because Jesus died for our sins, we are no longer slaves to the law, we are no longer slaves to sin.  We are free, in and through Jesus the Messiah.

Jonathan and Melissa Helser put it like this:

We are in Day 43 of our journey through the NLT Chronological Bible and today we deal mainly with Ezra and Nehemiah.  Ezra returns from Babylon in 458 BC and Nehemiah joins him (on temporary assignment from King Artaxerxes) in 445BC.

What we notice almost immediately about the returnees is that they have had a fundamental shift in their thinking about Yahweh.  The attitude of the people before 70 years of exile is demonstrated by the Jews who fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar:

Then all the women present and all the men who knew that their wives had burned incense to idols…answered Jeremiah, “We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want. We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles!” (Jeremiah 44:15–17, NLT)

Those who returned from Babylon were completely different from the generation that went into exile.  God had graciously removed their penchant for idolatry and now they were serious about following the word of the Lord.  The Jews who were in the Promised Land would never again follow pagan gods.  They would have their problems, indeed, we find in the New Testament that the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme and now their weakness is adding to what God has said and making a bunch of rules that he never commanded, nor intended, but for now, the idolatry is gone and the people are open to the word of the Lord, willing to repent and turn from their sins.

We get a good snapshot here of the character of God.  We see his graciousness; he punished Judah’s sin, but the punishment was limited, and he restored them to the land.  We see that his punishment serves a purpose, it is for the good of those who endure the correction, to restore them to faithfulness in God.  We see that through it all God was moving and working to bring about his purpose which always stands:  the Promised Land needed to be prepared for the coming of Messiah.

And so it was.

 

We are in Day 42 of our journey through the NLT Chronological Bible reading it like a novel so that we begin to see the broad themes and connections between books of the Bible.  Today’s reading covers mainly the books of Zechariah and Esther with a short stop in the book of Ezra for some historical background.  These books date from 520 BC to March 7, 473 BC.

To steal a quote out of context from Winston Churchill the book of Zechariah is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”[Churchill was talking about Russia] There is the known knowns (as SecDef Rumsfeld would have put it):

  • A Call to Justice and Mercy
  • Promised Blessings to Jerusalem

Then there are the unknown knowns:

  • A Lampstand and Two Olive Trees
  • Four Chariots
  • A Flying Scroll
  • A Woman in a Basket

What is going on with all of this imagery and symbolism?  It’s a mystery to me, although we do know that Zechariah has many of the most obvious prophecies of Messiah (Zechariah 9.9, 12.10, and 13.7). The important point here, I think, is that we can work to understand the Scriptures as well as possible and there are times when they will still befuddle us. This keeps us humble and forces us to always return to what is clear in the Bible, the known knowns.

The book of Esther is a literary masterwork.  It is a fascinating story in its own right, made more fresh and poignant when one listens to it read.  We see the foppish King Xerxes, who fires his wife for not acting lewdly in front of a hall full of drunken soldiers and administrators.  We meet Esther and watch as her character develops from a passive young lady who follows her nephew’s instructions to Queen Esther, who acts boldly to save her people from an existential threat.  We encounter the wicked Human, implacable foe of all the Jews in the whole Persian empire.

In the center of the book, and the hinge upon which the whole book rests, we have a king who has a sleepless night (Esther 6.1).  From that sleepless night, Mordecai is lifted up, Haman’s destruction begins, and the Jews are saved from extermination by the actions of Queen Esther.  Here is the greatest reversal of fortune for the Jews since the salvation at the Red Sea during the Exodus.  This reversal of fortune points us forward to the coming of Messiah who will tell those who come to arrest him: “Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.”” (Luke 22:53, NLT) John Piper once tweeted about Jesus on Easter: ” “Betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, abandoned by the eleven, forsaken by God. Darkness, you get one hour. Then you die.”

And darkness did die, the day that Christ rose from the dead, thereby conquering death, and becoming the way of salvation for those who follow him by faith.  This is the greatest reversal of fortune in all of history.

On Day 39 in our trip through the NLT Chronological Bible reading it like a novel, we saw how God fulfilled his word; the nation of Judah was destroyed and taken into exile in Babylon.  Is this the end of Judah?  Is God still committed to his people even though they no longer occupy the Promised Land?  What will become of them?

Our readings today cover the time between April 26, 571 BC and Sep 21, 520 BC.  Ezekiel and Ezra were kind enough to exactly date some of the events that they recorded.  We quickly discover that God has not abandoned his people at all!  Indeed, he is still speaking to them through the prophets, he is still active, watching over his people and caring for them.

At the highest levels of government in Babylon, Daniel is protected from the perfidious plot of those who would destroy him as he spends the night in a den of hungry lions, but is protected from being devoured by the power of God. The aftermath of that night is declared in an absolutely beautiful scene between Daniel and King Darius:

Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den. When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:19–20, NLT)

Yes, Darius. He was.

Amazingly, in 538 BC, King Cyrus declares that the exiles in Babylon may go home to Judah, exactly fulfilling the prophecy that God’s punishment of Judah was only for a time. The exiles start to return in several waves, the temple begins to be rebuilt and the people reoccupy the land, all under the protection of King Cyrus. This is precisely what the prophet Isaiah had prophesied almost 150 years before:

When I say of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,’ he will certainly do as I say. He will command, ‘Rebuild Jerusalem’; he will say, ‘Restore the Temple.’ ”” (Isaiah 44:28, NLT)

Here is what we learn about God from today’s reading:  God will keep his promises.  God will not abandon his own people, even when they are faithless, even when they are not in the Promised Land, he is still God, he is still in control, he is still working for their good, because of his great love for his people.

We are in Day 40 of our trip through the NLT Chronological Bible, reading it quickly as if it were a novel.  Ironically enough, today we encounter two of the most difficult issues about the Bible: imprecatory psalms and Ezekiel 40-48.

The last psalm in the Bible chronologically is Psalm 137.  It is a psalm written in Babylon and lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem, though we do not know who authored it (Ezekiel perhaps?).  In the psalm, the author calls down curses (imprecations, thus the term “imprecatory psalm”) on Babylon:

O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!” (Psalm 137:8–9, NLT)

Huh?  Did I read that correctly?  The author wants Babylonian babies smashed against rocks?  What is going on here (and in other imprecatory psalms)?

I don’t have a lot of time to explain in depth but a couple of things to notice here.  First, the Babylonians smashed Jewish babies against the rocks, raped and killed Jewish women and generally pillaged all of Jerusalem.  The psalmist is calling for God to bring down on their heads, exactly what they themselves did.  Second, these curses upon their enemies are curses on God’s enemies, no psalmist ever asks for personal revenge.  Third, the Babylonians were opposed to God.  When all is said and done, either God will win the day, or the Babylonians and their gods will win the day.  The writer of Psalm 137 wants God to win.

Practically, whenever you pray that God’s will be done in this world, then you are also praying the opposite, that those who oppose God’s will, who are wicked and do evil things and refuse to surrender to Jesus ,would be blocked from having their wickedness rule human affairs.  In it’s own way, this is imprecatory. At the end of history, either God will win or Satan, wickedness, and evil will win.  I want God to win, and I pray to that end.

The prophet Ezekiel receives a revelation on April 28, 573 that has always baffled me.  Ezekiel chapters 40-48 is a long prophecy of a future temple with very exact measurements, priests, temple sacrifices, altars, etc.  The rebuilt temple and the temple that Herod built at the time of Jesus do not fit this prophecy measurement wise.  What temple is this and when will it be and why are there going to be a future need for sacrifices, given the fact that Christ died for sins once for all?

I haven’t a clue.  I’ve read through this passage probably 25 or 30 times and I’m no closer to understanding Ezekiel 40-48 then I was before.  Scholars have their theories: some say it is a literal temple during the millennial reign of Christ (but why sacrifices?), others say it is all symbolic of God’s future reign (but why the exact measurements and altars and priests?).  Search me.

The faith lesson here is that there are just some things that God hasn’t chosen to fully reveal to us.  They are baffling and mysterious and God hasn’t seen fit to clarify them. Meanwhile, one rock solid thing I do know from the last chapters of Ezekiel is this:“The distance around the entire city will be 6 miles. And from that day the name of the city will be ‘The Lord Is There.’”” (Ezekiel 48:35, NLT)

The Lord will be there and the Lord will be in control, that is where I want to be.

We are in Day 39 of our trip through the NLT Chronological Bible reading it quickly as if it were a novel.  In Jerusalem the destruction of the temple on August 14, 586 BC begins, about a month after Babylon breached the walls and conquered Jerusalem.  The writer of Chronicles has a very poignant comment as Judah is carried off to captivity:

So the message of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said.” (2 Chronicles 36:21, NLT)

The reader cannot help but be moved by the sadness contained in this comment.

Indeed, the book of Lamentations is a poetic outpouring of the sadness surrounding the fall of Jerusalem and final destruction of Judah.  The book is an acrostic, in each chapter, each verse begins with words containing consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, except the third chapter in which each three verses begins with words starting with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The book is an amazing piece of poetry.

In addition, when a Hebrew writer wanted to emphasize something, wanted the reader to grasp the key point of a section of writing, they would put that point exactly  in the center of what they were writing.  Do you know what is in the center section of the center chapter (3) of Lamentations?  “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” (Lamentations 3:22–24, NLT)

This is a powerful reminder that even though Jerusalem has been destroyed and Judah ceased to exist as a nation, Yahweh has not forgotten his people. Yahweh’s faithfulness is great!

Meanwhile, in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel hears of Jerusalem’s fall on January 8, 585 BC,  six months after the fact. The Lord has beautifully comforting words to the Jews in Babylon in the aftermath of Judah’s destruction, even though Israel’s shepherds (leaders) have failed them, God is the Good Shepherd, he will not fail his people:

I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” (Ezekiel 34:15–16, NLT)

Surely the faith lesson we learn about the Lord on this day is that God has not and will never abandon his people; that even when our human spiritual leaders fail us, God will never fail us.